Alfred North Whitehead once said, The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato. After reading Micahs post yesterday I wonder if the safest general characterization of the modern American poetic tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to T.S. Eliot.
Micah mentions a new movement called Flarf which appears to share a common theme with Eliot in that there is an element of tacit acknowledgment in some Flarf poems that modern life is paltry, superficial and painful. The Flarf poets even seem to imitate (or mock), in an oblique manner, Eliots style. But can they do what he does, what most good and all great poets can do?
As theologian Fred Sanders notes in his post on teaching Eliot :
[O]ne of the things we want poetry to do for us is to name an experience which hasnt yet been named, or which has been laboring under a false name. We learn names easily enough for a certain range of experienceschiefly the useful experiences that we want to be able to repeat on commandbut for the rest of our lives we wander around encountering all sorts of phenomena which we cant describe. When its time to name something so subtle its escaped our powers of description, we call in the poets. Eliot talked about a struggle which alone constitutes life for a poet to transmute his personal and private agonies into something rich and strange, something universal and impersonal. (Selected Essays p. 117)
Most of us have things we want to get done and people we want to communicate with, so we narrow our range of concerns, and agree to name and describe things within the acceptable range. Cant quite put a word to that sense of nostalgia for a place youve never been? Not sure how to describe whats wrong the world when your eyes are a bit unfocused after too much reading? A bit overwhelmed with the surge of emotion brought on by a song you dont even like? Call in the poets: theyre especially skilled at naming the just barely nameable.
Read the rest . . .