Thursday, September 6, 2007

On Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1917)

今日は、T・S・エリオットの評論『伝統と個人の才能』(Tradition and the Individual Talent、1919年)を巡って短いアーティクルを書きました。興味があるならぜひ読んでいただけたらと思います。

"To divert interest from the poet to the poetry is a laudable aim,” T.S. Eliot declares in his acclaimed essay, “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1917). In the essay Eliot reintroduces the notion of the inconspicuous artist―- the old classical interpretation of the artist-as-mirror―- which went out of fashion in the early Romantic period and was replaced with a radically new view that placed the author’s interior life at center. The points made in Eliot’s essay soon became some of the key concepts of the Formalist critics, particularly the New Critics, who advocated a kind of criticism that, to quote Eliot, “is directed not upon the poet but upon the poetry.” Eliot later distanced himself from New Criticism, calling it “the lemon-squeezer school of criticism” and referring to their work as “bogus scholarship.” Nevertheless, his influence on their method of analysis, whether intended or not, is palpably evident.

The critic should avoid excessive attention to the poet, Eliot explains, because “no poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone . . . you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead. . . as a principle of aesthetic, not merely historical, criticism.” According to Eliot, facts about the poet’s public or personal life will lead nowhere, since the mind of the tradition is “much more important than his own private mind.” The poet’s task, then, is to become a “finely perfected medium in which special, or very varied, feelings are at liberty to enter into new combinations,” rather than to become the discoverer and expressor of new emotions. The artist’s proper goal, Eliot declares, should be the “continual extinction of personality,” not its development and expression.

If the artist's objective is the dissolution of personality, what then is left to create the art? Addressing this problem, Eliot goes on to clarify what he sees as the distinction between “the man” and “the poet.” Casting doubt on the “theory of the substantial unity of the soul,” he argues that men―- or at least men of artistic inclination―- are divided into two separate and conflicting entities, “man” and “poet.” Since the personality, emotional life, feelings, and so forth of “the man” disappear in the works of the great poets, biographical consideration has no place in assessing the work of art. Though “the man” himself may have a personality, in his art he must either subdue or transform it, in order that he may function only as a medium “in which impressions and experiences combine in peculiar and unexpected ways.”

Thus, the task of the poet, Eliot concludes, is ultimately the escape from the self. “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality.” In typical Eliot fashion, he ends the section with a concession, perhaps a subtle admission that his argument is a tad polemic and overstated. He concedes that these subjective aspects of “the man,” whose destruction he has here been advocating, are indeed the starting point of art. “But, of course,” he writes, “only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.”

For Eliot's full essay, see: Van Nostrand, Albert D., ed. Title Literary criticism in America. Imprint New York, Liberal Arts Press [1957].>

No comments: