THE TWO TRADITIONS

Thomas Eliot: He won!

There will always be two traditions. With the greatest philosophical rigor we claim this to be true, and  by the simplest possible mathematical reasoning, it is.

The Tradition will always be: those works that stick to each other as notable over time, comprising what cannot help but exist— due to both formal and imitative significance—as that which is definable as the—Tradition.

In poetry, these works are palpable and visible and real. This is not some abstract, theorizing gambit at work. Plato’s philosophy, Dante’s Commedia, Shakespeare’s plays, Pope’s essays, Shelley’s odes, Poe’s fiction, Dickinson’s poems, Eliot’s criticism are the Tradition— and this is a certainty, and not for argument.

This defining Tradition can only be opposed by one other tradition—the opposing tradition, which, because by definition only one tradition can exist, is not a tradition, but will be called one and will be believed (by some) to be one, as such, and exists, therefore, as a shadow exists next to a body.

There is one Tradition, one Body (made of actual works that comprise a recognized canon) and not two. We can see this logically: there is one universe and we can divide the universe up in any number of ways without violating the idea of one universe, and so, without quibbling about the fluctuating content of the Tradition, we acknowledge with simple logic the Tradition as definitionally one.

Waiting impatiently in the wings, of course, is the “other” tradition, waiting for its moment on stage, the anti-tradition, the new tradition, the different tradition, etc, etc, the inevitable shadow to the body.

Because the Tradition is, by definition, one, it cannot, without destroying its identity, admit another tradition. But just as a body may have a shadow, and just as there may exist both a thing and a desire for a thing, a Shadow or Desire Tradition has a shadowy existence which blooms in rhetoric and thought: and here is where tradition number two “exists.”

No further traditions can exist, even though “multiple counter-traditions” may dance on the tongues of a thousand professors.

Either a new work, or a new group of works, connects to the Tradition, or a new work or a new group of works desires to connect to the Tradition; in terms of what a tradition is, then, “multiple counter-traditions” is a mere shadow of a shadow, without any existence at all.

We hope the reader is following the logic of our theme and noting its iron-clad character.

We now turn to our specific case.

The canonical work has two things going for it: a formalist excellence as well as a content that enlightens or instructs in the way it reflects the world outside of it. The Tradition is not a series of works which comment and talk only to each other; art is not some place where artists speak a similar “art language” to one another; the Tradition is not a club or clique of self-imitators.

Poetry is precisely that which counteracts the ‘in-the-know’ coterie-mind and speaks to the newcomer. The word is like money: it does its job on everyone equally. One can narrow one’s appeal to a specific audience and it may elicit giggles and applause from a certain type, but playing to a type will inevitably keep one out of the canon, because the Tradition reflects the world at large and appeals to it as something immediately pleasurable— not as something one has ‘to get’ by having specialized knowledge. There is nothing wrong with specialized knowledge and universally popular art may contain specialized knowledge as one of its side features—which may be exploited by those who are endeared to that sort of thing— but it is never the source of its ultimate appeal.

The counter-tradition, as we pointed out above, is a desire to be a tradition, but a desire for a thing is not the thing, no matter how strong the desire and its rhetoric; this is why there is really only one Tradition. But the shadow Tradition can be a very convincing thing.

The most convincing and cunning shadow Tradition of all is the one constructed by T.S. Eliot in the beginning of the 20th century, the one outlined in his now iconic essay, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” in which he flattered the Tradition by saying it was self- aware, a living chain of succession that lives anew with each work that is added to it.

T.S. Eliot, however, was a flatterer and a liar. The Tradition is not self-aware. The Tradition is not a clique of self-imitators, a club in which only art-speak is spoken. If we buy Eliot’s premise, it follows that art is only about other art (the key to post-modernism) which is the great lie of the coterie-mind. Coteries and specialized knowledge do have their place, but the Tradition, if it is one, has no place for the temptations of coteries and specialized knowledge.

The Tradition is not a series of works aware of each other; every canonical work stands on its own, reflecting the world beyond art, even as it revels in formalist mastery.

Is there occasionally a self-conscious echo among works? Of course. But this is not the ruling animus of the works which make up the Tradition, as Mr. Eliot would have us believe.

The works themselves don’t know they are in a Tradition.

We are aware of the Tradition.

The Tradition, however, is not self-aware.

Unbelievable as this may sound, the Tradition was not waiting to be blessed by the addition of Modernism.

Modernism did not change the Tradition. Modernism is interesting only in that it existed, and exists, as a cunning attempt to join the Tradition.

We mentioned T.S. Eliot, whose brilliant attempt to enter the Tradition on behalf of himself and his Modernist friends is the defining moment of Modernism itself.

“The Waste Land,” with its numerous self-conscious echoes of canonical works in the Tradition, was the embodiment of Eliot’s earlier theory expressed in “Tradition and the Individual Talent:” works talk to each other. But of course they don’t.  Don’t tell T.S. Eliot that—that’s his ticket to the Big Dance.

Of course then there is the added bonus that Eliot is writing of a world ruined by post-world-war modernist calamity ostensibly never seen before, which the Tradition, hyper-aware of itself, in Eliot’s new view, will obviously welcome in order to move forward as a self-consciously historical entity.

History examines the Tradition from outside; the Tradition, however, is not itself self-consciously historical—this is the crucial difference which “Modernists” do not get.

Eliot’s theory pitches us forward into that state where art has no independent existence, but is only art talking to art, or, professors talking to each other, endlessly, in ivory towers.

This state of things—Eliot’s coup, we might call it—fortunately (for the Modernists) occurred with two other events: the take-over of literature by the university and the rise of modern art in partnership with modern poetry.

Pound and Eliot’s lawyer, John Quinn, who negotiated the book deal for “The Waste Land,” and secured Eliot the Dial magazine prize while Pound was still editing the soon-to-be-famous work, was the instrumental figure in making the Armory Show happen, the 1913 tour that made Duchamp famous and brought cubism and modern art to America. Quinn not only made the welcoming remarks at the show, he went to the U.S. Congress and successfully changed import/export laws to facilitate bringing European paintings to the U.S.

Painting witnessed content disappearing into technique as art became more abstract, a precise mirroring of what was happening to poetry in the reverse, poetry chucking its technique (metrical language) for the sake of content (imagery). The experiment simultaneously murdered the healthy fullness of both arts, but because the experiment was new, it appealed to the idea Eliot had advertised: the Tradition was not exemplifying the Best, but self-consciously unfolding the New.

Art, it was discovered, could be validated simply by hiring enough critics and building enough museums, with the added stimulus of huge profits gained in buying unknown Picassos which in a self-prophecizing frenzy, appreciated in value as the century progressed.

The Modernist scheme—academic, intellectual, aesthetic, monetary, institutional, ribald, exciting, fashionable—with the ordinary philistine masses sputtering and howling in ineffective protest—climbed heights after WW I which no one could have predicted.

Modern art successfully infiltrated modern life. Tall buildings and million dollar abstract art did some kind of Bauhaus dance which only the rich can understand.

Meanwhile, modern poetry toiled in university classrooms, gaining converts to Pound and Williams one student and one professor at a time, with help of the New Critic textbook “Understanding Poetry,” which extolled in its pages “The Red Wheel Barrow” and “A Station at the Metro.”

The New York School sealed the deal, as Harvard poets O’Hara and Ashbery, friends of modern art money, Peggy Guggenheim, mingled with abstract artists, writing poems secretly supplying what painting no longer had to offer.

Painting and poetry collapsed into each other. The Tradition wobbled. All fall down.

We read that Williams was an important counter-tradition to Eliot. Who could be more unlike than Williams and Eliot? But then we realize that Williams and Pound and Eliot all belonged to the same experimental, ‘make it new,’ Modern Art/Modern Poetry crash-the-canon clique.

If Eliot had not successfully crashed the Tradition, his friend Pound, and his friend Williams, would have lacked legitimacy—for all counter-traditions need a body in order to be its shadow.  All that we find in Eliot that we do not find in Williams, then, is precisely that which got Eliot into the Tradition.

Eliot made it into the mother ship; Williams throws rocks from below.

The excellent works of the Tradition have originality as one of their features; the new is worthy, but only if it is good.

In the new order established by Eliot, however, the Tradition, we are told, values the new over the good.

Poets cease using meter; this fact, becomes, by dint of time passing, a piece of the Tradition; but this is to confuse history with the Tradition; the latter demands excellence, the former does not.

The early 20th century Imagistes borrowed from haiku, which became the rage in 1905 in the wake of the stunning Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese War.  This key aspect of Modernism was not new; nor was prose poetry new, either.   In this case history helps us to select the truly original as a criterion for the Tradition: which is nothing more than a collection of excellent models of literature—one of those excellent features being originality.

One of Eliot’s gambits was to write poems, like “Sweeney Among the Nightingales,” with references to “Agamemnon” and “The Convent of the Sacred Heart.”  This alone will not get you into the Tradition.

We now copy the work of four Modernist poets:

Two, by Hulme (a founder of Imagism who was killed in WW I) and Williams, are in the imagist tradition; Pound references, as Eliot did, old literature (the myth of Daphne and Apollo) and finally, we copy Eliot’s excerpt from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

Note the dismal flatness of the first three poems; the Eliot is the only one that moves, the only one that has real interest.

“Autumn” by T.E. Hulme

A touch of cold in the Autumn night —

I walked abroad,
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
Like a red-faced farmer.
I did not stop to speak, but nodded,
And round about were the wistful stars
With white faces like town children.

“Approach of Winter” by W.C. Williams

The half-stripped trees
struck by a wind together,
bending all,
the leaves flutter drily
and refuse to let go
or driven like hail
stream bitterly out to one side
and fall
where the salvias, hard carmine–
like no leaf that ever was–
edge the bare garden.

“A Girl” by Ezra Pound

The tree has entered my hands,
The sap has ascended my arms,
The tree has grown in my breast –
Downward,
The branches grow out of me, like arms.

Tree you are,
Moss you are,
You are violets with wind above them.
A child – so high – you are,
And all this is folly to the world.

From “Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot

The yellow fog that rubs it back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

By the road to the contagious hospital under the surge of the blue mottled clouds driven from the northeast-a cold wind. Beyond, the waste of broad, muddy fields brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen patches of standing water the scattering of tall trees All along the road the reddish purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy stuff of bushes and small trees with dead, brown leaves under them leafless vines- Lifeless in appearance, sluggish dazed spring approaches- They enter the new world naked, cold, uncertain of all save that they enter. All about them the cold, familiar wind- Now the grass, tomorrow the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf One by one objects are defined- It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf But now the stark dignity of entrance-Still, the profound change has come upon them: rooted, they grip down and begin to awaken – See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15536#sthash.lLrMAEX9.dpuf
By the road to the contagious hospital under the surge of the blue mottled clouds driven from the northeast-a cold wind. Beyond, the waste of broad, muddy fields brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen patches of standing water the scattering of tall trees All along the road the reddish purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy stuff of bushes and small trees with dead, brown leaves under them leafless vines- Lifeless in appearance, sluggish dazed spring approaches- They enter the new world naked, cold, uncertain of all save that they enter. All about them the cold, familiar wind- Now the grass, tomorrow the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf One by one objects are defined- It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf But now the stark dignity of entrance-Still, the profound change has come upon them: rooted, they grip down and begin to awaken – See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15536#sthash.lLrMAEX9.dpuf

Eliot was clever enough, with his fake Criticism, to knock down a few entrance-doors to the Tradition; but a few of his poems will keep him there.

The Tradition will finally welcome Eliot, but, as Eliot probably knew all along, it will not admit his friends.

Fragmenting counter-traditions finally become a crowd of shadows, with the dogs fighting it out in the dark, below those beacons of the influential and the blessed.

17 Comments

  1. Don Fox said,

    January 24, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    Is. Pound better known for his fascist leanings than his poetry?

    • thomasbrady said,

      January 24, 2014 at 9:48 pm

      Don, he’s known a little bit more for his poetry, mostly for his work as Modernist editor/impresario, helping T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, and of course, Mussolini…

  2. January 24, 2014 at 9:25 pm

    Cathedral Of Science
    Surazeus
    2014 01 24

    I see ten thousand poets on hands and knees
    crawling among ruins of the shattered shell
    of a bombed-out cathedral of tradition,
    picking up fragments of broken rose windows
    and gasping with delight at how sunlight
    glitters through fractured images of thought.
    I think to myself about my new goal.
    “Time to clear away the rubble of our past
    and build a new cathedral on principles
    of philosophy and reason and science.”
    I will leave them to pick among the ruins
    while I build my own cathedral of science.

    • drew said,

      January 25, 2014 at 4:17 pm

      The worst will be found toward the end of the book
      When you’re scanning the lines of a weighty anthology.
      Centuries have shaken what works can be shook,
      and what’s old is refined – and I make no apology.

      Angst-ridden ramblings, so fashionably bleak
      Start appearing somewhere past the middle, I fear
      With those modernist psyches, whose raggedly weak
      and depressing confessions sling mud in the ear.

      Like the scribblers of Suicide, brimming with bile
      or the autodestructive self-pitying boozer,
      whose quaint observations enshrining the vile
      are a crime against life – and an art for the loser.

      You ideologues, with your axes to grind,
      propagandizing causes in militant styles
      ought to stay in the hills, where the struggle is defined,
      and spare us the old dialectical wiles.

      The Feminist scribe, with her sex for a mouth,
      Ever pressing her case, for fallopian reasons
      Grows saggingly sterile. Her muses fly south
      with the passing of harvests and goddessless seasons.

      Absurdists, surrealists, and nihilist mystics
      whose hymns to destruction make glory of chaos
      should leave the black humor to God and ballistics.
      Your poems, like Judas, are bound to betray us.

      The Freudian flirt (whose neuroses abound),
      And the Jungian shamans (their animas, too),
      ought to rest on their couches. Why should they be found
      By the wellsprings of Spirit, whose guidance is true.

      The art-lover’s lines gild a frame around Knowledge.
      Their poems are like an art history course.
      As they flit past the idols they studied in college
      their name-dropping odes are a grand tour-de–force.

      Sixties drug-revelers, love beads a-jingle
      And brothers dashiki-clad, howling at Nixon
      no longer strike chords in my soul. Not a single sitar lick
      nor visions of hippie-chick vixen.

      You rhymers and rappers of rhythms in sample
      Whose words like a kick-drum send shock through old Whitey
      Now cease from your chanting. The genre is ample.
      Your gangstering paeans are too fly-by-nighty.

      Revived Roman legions, who relish things Latin;
      Your martial convictions inspire the hero.
      But while you are looking for cities to flatten,
      remember – old Julius was nobler than Nero.

      The theme of World Peace – this crops up near the ending:
      a desperate hope for New-Agers and liberals,
      who cherish a dream of reality-bending
      Through networking, magic, and energized crystals…

      But what can be shaken shall perish, forgotten.
      Anthologies show us that truth is enduring.
      All praises and laurels shall prove misbegotten.
      The Word become flesh is the most reassuring.

      So I leave the anthology, closing its cover.
      Three-quarters at least seemed like nonsense to me.
      Yet still, I admit, I’m a poetry lover.
      Let time do its work and in future – we’ll see…

      • thomasbrady said,

        January 25, 2014 at 9:00 pm

        Drew,

        You do the verse jingle really well.

        • drew said,

          January 25, 2014 at 9:32 pm

          Thanks.
          I wish I could get Hallmark to pay me for some of it.
          Scarriet is the only place where I feel like it’s OK to drop a few lyrics in the commentary and have some fun once in a while.

          I truly enjoyed the thoughts on Eliot/Williams/Pound that you posted here today. I linked to it from my blog, relating it to Gnosticism.
          Keep up the unsettling perspectives!

          • Anonymous said,

            February 2, 2014 at 10:21 pm

            I’m more a lurker than poster here, but I felt obliged to reply to this. With Scarriet’s post, and this poem enshrining the sentiment, you two’ve done nothing short of rekindle a love for traditionalism that I left trampled over and bedraggled as a young ram leaving high school 3 years ago.

            A sincere thanks to you both for sharing this.

            • drew said,

              February 2, 2014 at 10:35 pm

              Glad to know you enjoyed it.
              I’m more used to people getting offended or making smugly superior denigrating commentary so it’s refreshing to hear this!

              I love Scarriet.
              Best poetry blog I have found so far…

              Come over and check my blog sometime:

              connecthook.wordpress

  3. Laura Runyan said,

    January 24, 2014 at 9:33 pm

    I just passed this along to a friend of mine who has a PhD in philosophy (and he was considered exceptionally good):

    “There is one Tradition, one Body (made of actual works that comprise a recognized canon) and not two. We can see this logically: there is one universe and we can divide the universe up in any number of ways without violating the idea of one universe, and so, without quibbling about the fluctuating content of the Tradition, we acknowledge with simple logic the Tradition as definitionally one.”

    He, too, saw it as fuzzy and unsupported and the anlogy (between the universe and tradition) as a category mistake (or at the very least, I’ll add, a very questionable comparison).

    I also dispute the claim that there is but one tradition. Further, physicists have seriously entertained the notion that more than one universe exists (and it would be helpful if you would define the term “universe” here)–and the more we know about it, the less harmonious the universe appears to be:

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/new-physics-complications-lend-support-to-multiverse-hypothesis/

    Yet you make such statements with so much CERTAINTY, Tom! Maybe you find that comforting. (I, on the other hand, don’t.)

    In any case, the above claims aren’t seen “logically” or as products of “simple logic” in HIS and MY universe. We apparently studied radically different rules of logic from yours.

    (I assume that the reference to “rigor” at the start was meant as a crack. Nonetheless, I can’t find in your comments any of that rigor to which you refer. But I must say, your “harmony of the universe”–though I don’t know that most contemporary physicists would describe it that way–was a nice New-Agey touch. The supernatural Poe would, I’m sure, approve.)

    The inevitable role of chaos, as described by physicist Adam Frank:

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2013/09/10/220988227/life-gives-sight-to-a-chaotic-universe

    • thomasbrady said,

      January 24, 2014 at 9:51 pm

      Laura,

      Any scientist worth his salt has to begin, at least, with one universe…

      Tom

    • thomasbrady said,

      January 25, 2014 at 9:23 pm

      Laura,

      Your 2 links. Thanks. Poe’s “Eureka” wrestles with issues of the cosmos still very much relevant. Poe always will be, because Poe had one of the best ‘big picture’ minds you’ll ever find. You can’t argue for multi-universes without begging the question: how are these multi-universes not simply parts of one very clever universe. As for entropy, I can see the theory working locally: Modernism as entropic, but order and disorder are not terms recognized by the universe as a whole. Is vast empty space order or disorder? It’s neither. So the terms are irrelevant.

    • powersjq said,

      January 30, 2014 at 6:51 pm

      Laura,

      I ran your comment past my mother, whom many people consider a really sharp person. And why shouldn’t they? She has a degree from a university in Boston. And my mom, well, she’s assured me on many occasions that I am a really smart cookie. (I can provide phone transcripts if you doubt me.) And not because I’m the son of Boston-school graduate. She likes to point out that I myself have degrees from schools that are pretty close to Boston, and since Boston is essentially the Vatican of academia, that makes my opinions pretty close to infallibly smart. While I confess that I lack the credential of being your friend, I nevertheless feel comfortable assuring you that what I’m about to write is pretty likely to be worth your valuable time.

      Tom’s analogy between capital-T Tradition and the universe, given our recent discussion of universals, seems almost preposterously heavy-handed to me. I love it how you and your friend are pretending to be caught up deciding how fuzzy the logic is while missing how cutting the satire is. Tom is really going to get suckered on that one. He totally won’t be expecting your riposte.

      And then you guys totally crushed Tom’s analogy as a “category mistake,” We all know that just as a metaphor might be called a deliberate category error, so an analogy draws its meaning from the categorical difference between the two things compared. So although an analogy, as a comparison rather than predication, can’t really be called a category error, you cleverly made sure that we all got your point that Tom was using one of _those_ forms of thinking–the non-logical kind that makes Boston-based philosophy professors shake their heads sadly.

      And then you dispute Tom’s claim that there is only one tradition by–surprise!–extending and complicating his analogy, which you just rejected as fuzzy and unsupported. We were all expecting some step-step-step arguments, but I’ve visited Boston a few times, so I think I’m catching on to your strategy of making Tom dizzy with your intellectual footwork, setting him for your knock-out punch. We’re all on the edge of our seats, waiting for that devastating right hook. When will it fall?

  4. drew said,

    January 25, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    I really like what you express here.
    You have confirmed my loyalty to the Traditionalist school of not only poetry but by extension Art and Theology as well.

    “Either a new work, or a new group of works, connects to the Tradition, or a new work or a new group of works desires to connect to the Tradition; in terms of what a tradition is, then, “multiple counter-traditions” is a mere shadow of a shadow, without any existence at all.”

    OK. But what about those works who define themselves only in opposition to the establishment? There is much art (truly reactionary art in that it defines itself in reacting against “The Establishment”) that exists only to oppose and subvert existing standards.
    (I think of dialectical and iconoclastic schools of art and poetry such as Nicanor Parra’s “Poemas y Antipoemas” :

    http://www.nicanorparra.uchile.cl/english/index.html

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicanor_Parra

    – or the Dadaists and Surrealists along with other left-wing schools of art which seek to radicalize opposing tendencies.

    “Modernism did not change the Tradition. Modernism is interesting only in that it existed, and exists, as a cunning attempt to join the Tradition.”

    Yes! And that cunning attempt is the ritual rebellion (“Radical Innovators vs. “Establishment Sell-outs”) that Tom Wolfe named “The Apache Dance” in regards to Modern Art and collector-culture.

    [scroll down to p. 9: http://www.scribd.com/doc/201994832/Tom-Wolfe-The-Painted-Word-1975 ]

    Scarriet you are so right on !

    Now tell that novel lady not to bring fiction into all of this…

  5. drew said,

    January 25, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    “The Modernist scheme—academic, intellectual, aesthetic, monetary, institutional, ribald, exciting, fashionable—with the ordinary philistine masses sputtering and howling in ineffective protest—climbed heights after WW I which no one could have predicted.”

    And it would appear our society is still stranded here.

    This is such freaking great writing! (SOMEONE has to say it…)

  6. January 25, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    […] words from Scarriet refer to the antagonistic relationship  between the accepted poetic canon opposed by subversive, […]

  7. mlavers said,

    February 4, 2014 at 1:47 am

    I’ve always felt that the tradition is that group of works which contemporary writers are most compelled by. NOT an anxiety of influence, but rather a process where new writers “choose” to “converse” with certain dead authors and not others. Thus your claim that Modernism is only interesting as an attempt to enter the tradition makes me a bit nervous. I think it is clear that “The Waste Land” is the work to which a majority of poets of the following generation wanted to respond. These many responses–by poets, not critics–is the only thing which initiates “The Waste Land” into the tradition. Enough poets were interested in”replying” in poems to Williams and Pound that they too lie IN the tradition, not outside it throwing rocks at its window. A key point to remember here is that the tradition is not constant. It changes. Or, more precisely, living poets change it. Eliot himself resurrected Donne, who, according to Johnson, deserved to be hanged because he didn’t follow metrical rules in vogue at the time. These fluctuations may be minor and/or rare, but they remind us that the tradition is not set in stone, nor is it imposed externally. It is simply those works which we, the living, find ourselves unable to ignore. Thoughts?

    • thomasbrady said,

      February 4, 2014 at 2:13 pm

      Lavers,

      The poets’ church is the university. This is the sacred moment for any poet—entering the hush of the classroom holding the professor who is the keeper of the Tradition. And that Tradition is old, not new. The new is what’s on TV. To put it very simply.

      I think we can agree on this. The Tradition won’t be quite the same for every professor. But the idea—the Tradition—is the sacred awe-inspiring thing. The Tradition is not going to be wildly different for every professor. It will be similar enough—and wide enough—to make the student secretly thrill in this sacred church

      But you are arguing in your response, in a sort of backdoor manner, for that which I was attempting to dismiss.

      Did Eliot “resurrect Donne” as a poet, or a critic? As a critic. As a rather wrong-headed critic, I might add. If Donne is good, he is good because he is Donne, and it has nothing to do with Modernist fluctuations. Those “fluctuations” will more likely be inane and stupid as intelligent, given the general idiocy of Modernists like Pound, Williams, and Eliot.

      So that’s my point: the Tradition is not some random collision of atoms and trends; it is precisely that which resists T.S. Eliot-ism and Ezra Pound-ism.

      Eliot hated Milton and the Romantics and Poe. Eliot was a mean guy and full of bad judgement. His ‘dissociation of sensibility’ argument, in which he elevated the Metaphysicals and depressed Pope and the Romantics is groundless. That Eliot gets “credit” for “resurrecting Donne” is just one of those commonplaces that the Tradition causes to happen all the time, whether T.S. Eliot happens to be there, or not.

      What Eliot tried to do was make Modernism something that had the Tradition tacked onto it. Modernism was a new animal and the Tradition was its tail. Unfortunately many bought into this, and it was convenient for the Creative Writing Industry—taught by living poets anxious to be canonized—to buy into this.

      But the Tradition is not a soup. It’s a rock.

      Contemporary poets are not remaking the Tradition on a daily basis. The poets do not make the Tradition.

      Neither is the Tradition making the poets.

      The poets who respond to life, not “The Waste Land,” and who respond to life in a glorious manner, may become part of the Tradition.

      The Tradition is not flexible or changeable. The Tradition remains the Tradition, in as much as it is…The Tradition.

      The Tradition is not poets responding to poets and poems responding to poems.

      The Tradition is outside of, and above, all that intra-poetic, anxiety of influence, Poundian, Eliotic, nonsense.

      That’s why it is… the Tradition.

      Tom


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