Friday, February 23, 2007

Another good soundbyte

A&L Daily directed me to Terry Eagleton's review of a new life of T. S. Eloit by Craig Raine.

Eagleton isn't terribly fond of Raine's take on Eliot, and his major complaint so closely echoes a discussion I had recently with Short-Schrift, that I'll quote it here.
Why do critics feel a need to defend the authors they write on, like doting parents deaf to all criticism of their obnoxious children? Eliot's well-earned reputation is established beyond all doubt, and making him out to be as unflawed as the Archangel Gabriel does him no favours. It is true that the poet was a sourly elitist reactionary who fellow-travelled with some unsavoury political types in the 1930s, and as a Christian knew much of faith and hope but little of charity. Yet the politics of many distinguished modernist artists were just as squalid, and some—Pound and Junger, for example—were quite a lot worse. There is no need to pretend that all great writers have to be uxorious, liberal-minded, philosemitic heterosexuals. Why does Raine write as though discovering that Eliot was a paedophile would change our view of Four Quartets? Neither is it just a question of "fine poetry, pity about the politics." The fact that apart from Joyce and Woolf, almost all of the major "English" modernists were radical reactionaries, askew to the orthodox liberal consensus of their age, is a condition of their achievement, not a regrettable corollary.
Interestingly, my part in the argument with Short-Schrift (which was prompted by Clive James' essays in Slate) was that it's fair to consider Borges' politics in a view of his work, but I would agree wholeheartedly that even if our view of an artist as a person colors our view of his/her work, that it is both pointless and dishonest to demand that they be saints.

After all, it is the art that we seek to understand and emulate, not the artist.


angela said...

wait wait wait...eliot was a pedophile?

i guess that makes sense.

i need more information.

Gavin said...

I don't think that Eagleton is saying that Eliot was a pedophile, I think he's just trying to make a point that even if we were to discover that Eliot had been a really bad person that the poetry would still stand on its own.