Saturday, 30 November 2013

eliot's "Tradition and Individual Talent"

"No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone."

Eliot's Tradition and Individual Talent showcases the meanings of the terms tradition and individual talent, and how it is perceived by those who create art (poetry). According to Eliot, tradition is not separate from individual talent as tradition speaks and carries with it the immortal voices of the past and the individual absorbs this only to create something new; yet something that fits into the line of tradition.

Eliot talks about how criticism is indispensable as it helps us to understand the texts and lead us to an intellectual engagement with these texts. A constructive criticism is one where a poet's work is judged by the intensity of artistic process present in it rather than by considering the biography of the poet. When this type of a criticism is done, we tend to see that no poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. This is to say that tradition is not an imitation of something which already exists, but it is a key to create novelty keeping in mind the historic sense.

The historic sense constitutes to the assertion of the mind of Europe - meaning the great minds of the past, on the individual. Thus, the new works carry in them, somewhere, the voices of the great minds of the past. Tradition is inseparable from individual talent for literature lives in continuity. Eliot tells that the tradition cannot be inherited but must be obtained by great labour.

Eliot calls the poetic mind to be a catalyst that helps in accelerating the rate of a reaction and yet it remains unchanged towards the end. Such should be the poetic mind as well for it should hold the past in its bones and create something new; and yet does not work to show the poet anywhere in the poetry that is produced. By saying this, Eliot emphasizes on the concept of the pastness of the present. Just as how the past directs the present, similarly, the present must conform to the past. Only then, will the new work be anything different from the old, yet fitting in to the whole stream of tradition.

In order to obtain this high standard, one must go through a continual surrender of himself. Eliot terms this as the poetic depersonalization. New ideas and aspects must be learnt only to add to the already existing information in the mind; and this sort of an attitude can be cultivated when one has an unprejudiced mind while assessing the poetic works (art works). It is not a single work of art of an artist that gives an actual estimation of the artist and his work; it is to consider several of works in comparison and to set him (the artist) in comparison and contrast with his predecessors. This judgment is a constructive one and it ameliorates the artist, and certainly not degrade him or amputate him (only metaphorically).

The meaning that an art work gives is something that is new yet it shows the conformity to the old. Eliot emphasizes on the concept of the artistic process where the artist must be capable of creating something new, with keeping in mind the essence of not the dead artists of the past but of the living essence of the past.


Arun said...

As usual you are good. I will more comments of mine after reading the article that you have mentioned in the write up

Suhasini Srihari said...

Sure, take your time Sir! :)

Arun said...

Let me thank you first for the good work link that you have posted. The article mentions the tradition, criticism, art work, creativity etc. To me though tradition in one sense is not transferable in the sense each mind has its creative side, I am sure that depends upon the time frame as well to certain extent need not be compulsory for example H.W. Wells, Jules Verne their imagination despite with limited knowledge of science wrote fiction the works are classics in science fiction at a time we know the limits of science extended to new heights. But there are certain universal characters, traditions and ways of looking into certain aspects for example “love, emotions, heart, pain” which are universal and no limits in terms of geographical, time limits. I do understand there are certain traits which may be time, geographical specific depending upon the cultural, social or other aspects but there are certain universal traits as I mentioned earlier which may not fit into the category. I do agree to certain extent for ex. Globalization, commercialization, industrialization may have changed the value patterns in looking into these aspects. So do we need to agree on this aspect?
Next - the creative mind. I feel creativity is individual aspect and judging is difficult in one sense all of us need not see with such precision may be we agree on several aspects then how do one see the aspect of appreciation – when we listen to music we appreciate or when one reads a nice verse or read nice piece or look at art work. I feel one looks into the artists work per se rather than any other aspect. All art works are the expressions of one self and are to be treated the way they are rather than comparison, judgment or criticism which may not point out the artists mind at the time of creation exactly may be one can reach to a certain level but not to the pint of artist’s level.

Suhasini Srihari said...

Firstly, my sincere apologies for not replying to you comment as early as possible. Secondly, I do acquaint my opinions on Coleridge's perception of 'imagination' - the two types of imagination, 'primary' and the 'secondary'. The primary imagination is something which we all possess while the secondary imagination is the one which only the lucky few possess. To some, the secondary imagination is instinctive while to few others, they acquire it as and when they grow (not old but wise). As far as Eliot's stand on criticism is concerned, he is not against the 'negative-criticism' but his point is that this sort of a criticism must enable us to learn from and enjoy the artist's artwork and not amputate the artist by mere cavil comments. We should have an unprejudiced mind while reading or rather assessing an artist's work (here, the poet's work) and this would certainly enable us to broaden our minds and take the best from the artworks (literature). Speaking about the 'individual talent', yes, each and every individual is creative and he or she does create artworks that are original and new but not all can create a creative piece of artwork worthy to be praised on a grand scale. According to me, any artwork must not only delight us but also educate us; and in terms of poetry, there is the poetic truth and justice present to console us and sustain us through the changing times. Therefore, it is axiomatic that the truth and justice that an artwork possesses is irrespective of time constraints and geographical boundaries.

Arun said...

Thank you for your reply, what you said is right, Eliot's point of view stands good in theory to a large extent, as people due to various reasons do see the work in the perspective that is linked with prejudices due to societal norms or other norms for ex. most of the art works in Paris of new age initially were not even considered as art

Suhasini Srihari said...

Thank you for mentioning about how the art works were considered in the new age Paris, shall run a search on that, curious to know more. There, the thirst for learning never quenches, does it? Merry Christmas Sir! :)
And, I did receive your mail about the short story; please give me some time Sir, I shall read it at my leisure and let you know my thoughts on it. Also, thank you for the wonderful New Year gift, I must say, it was very thoughtful of you to send the draft of your story as a gift! Thank you once again Sir! Thank you for being there! :)

Arun said...

I am referring to art works of Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Auguste Renoir and Georges Seurat who struggled to show their art work. My professor earlier this month during my visit posed a challenge to me saying now Arun this time I am not letting you go without writing and gave me a theme to write, in return I promised him my new year gift to all my well wishers (handful of them) whose words really helped me to realize my potential and come out with my writings, so the result is story draft, take your time it’s time to unwind and relax and enjoy, have a nice time and all my wishes to you on Christmas and New year

Suhasini Srihari said...

Thank you very much for all the kind words Sir! :)
Indeed, it's my time to relax and rejuvenate!

yoganand said...

Dear Suhasini

Good work...the blog write up does give the high points of the Eliot a very crudely simplistic way, what Eliot is trying to articulate is this: What comes to you is tradition ( you are born into it and it is inescapable: No artist has meaning in says Eliot in the essay) and what you make out of it is individual talent ... in other words, an artist if he is to be taken seriously must show evidences of having a good understanding of his tradition. so an artist becomes a link in the chain, while adding his own individuality to it - remember his views on Donne, Milton and the Romantics? in this context, it is worth noting his chemical analogy in the esaay.
However, i would like to think the write-up would have become more effective if you could have placed Eliot himself in a critical tradition that runs through Dryden-Pope- Johnson- Coleridge -Arnold-Eliot etc...(pls note that i'm not including Leavis etc since the tradition i'm suggesting is that of poet-critics and not professional critics - Leavis was one such, immensely influential though.
i'm only offering suggestions that could help you become sharper in your any case, today literary studies goes more or less this's there in Eliot's essay.

Suhasini Srihari said...

Thank you Sir for taking time out to read my write-up! I did like your comment saying that this write-up has points written in a "very crudely simplistic way"; perhaps my aim was more focused on breaking the essay into simpler pieces for my own understanding. And about Eliot's concept of 'tradition' and 'individual talent', well, yes, he is indeed trying to say that tradition is inescapable while what we make out the acquired tradition is individual talent. I will definitely consider your point on understanding Eliot's views in line of comparison with the other 'poet-critics'.

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