T. S. Eliot Modernism

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One of the main criticisms of modernist writers is that they were purposefully exclusionary, elitist, and enforced a separation of popular culture from highbrow literature. While I believe that this idea is useful in thinking about certain modernist writers and their works, I would argue that there are instances where this view is too simplistic, and reduces particular modernist works to elitism and intellectualism when this is not necessarily the case. This viewpoint therefore can ignore elements of modernist texts which are much more nuanced and complex, and in some cases, actually elevate aspects of popular culture.
One of the main examples of this is T.S Eliot’s modernist epic poem The Waste Land, which was completed in 1922 and deals
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We can see this in the second section of the poem, entitled “A Game of Chess”: “O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag - / It’s so elegant / So intelligent” (lines 128-130). Through misspelling “Shakesperian” and inserting the “H” sound, Eliot adds another syllable, therefore creating poetry which imitates a syncopated off-beat rhythm typically found in jazz music. By using scat and syncopated rhythm in his poetry, Eliot therefore elevates it and celebrates an art form which has emerged and become popular through mass culture. In his article entitled “T.S. Eliot and the Cultural Divide” (1995), David Chinitz paints a picture of Eliot not as an elitist as many believed him to be, but instead as a more complex figure who enjoyed various forms of lowbrow culture such as “comic strips, boxing, street slang, melodrama, vaudeville and sensational news stories” (237). We might therefore conclude that Eliot does not wish to isolate literature from other art forms to retain the “authority that it seemed to be losing in the face of industrialization” as Pericles Lewis suggests, but instead wishes to elevate popular culture through the use of his …show more content…
In his essay, “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919), Eliot discusses the “process of depersonalization” and its relation to tradition and the writers who have come before. One of the main contradictions of writers like Eliot, and indeed of modernism in general, is the practice of looking to the past in order to understand the present and develop new literary techniques. This essay also highlights Eliot’s anti-Romanticism, a sentiment commonly expressed by many other prominent modernist writers. Eliot’s essay goes on to champion impersonality over personality. He argues that personality of a poet is not important, but the poetry he or she produces is. Famously, he observes: “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” (156). This is directly opposed to William Wordsworth’s viewpoint expressed in the ‘Preface’ to his Lyrical Ballads (1800) and the Romantic notion that “poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”. Chinitz notes in his article that “the rift between popular culture and high culture is indeed, for Eliot, nothing less than a further development in the general dissociation of

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