Return of the Repressed
A CURSORY EXAMINATION OF THE CRITICAL SCENE SURROUNDING ELIOT THESE days might give the reader the impression that Eliot is indeed a latter day pariah, an example of what not to do if you want to be remembered by the academy fondly. As a case in point: Christopher Ricks just published Eliot’s juvenile notebooks under the title Inventions of the March Hare, another slim volume of Eliot’s (thankfully) unpublished ruminations blown out of proportion with 300-plus pages of Ricks’ notes. The release of Eliot’s unsurprisingly racist, sexist and classist poetic “unconscious” (or the dusty attic for his standard works), coming on the heels of Michael Hastings’ Tom and Viv, has launched quite a few angry ships, condemnations of Eliot’s politics and subject positions, rejections of his religious conversion, apologies for his “humanity,” economiums for his poetry. The upshot of it all is that Eliot lives again, both in the critical and the popular imagination. Just as he threatens to retire permanently from the scene, embalmed as required reading in English core courses or hung in effigy at the center of heated debates about a dead, white, patriarchal Canon, we roll back the rock from his tomb. His reanimated corpse and corpus dance across the critical horizon, the razor sharp edge of the abyss. Could it be that Eliot is once again fashionable, or fascinating, as we approach the turn-of-the-century and find ourselves wrestling with the same old questions about moral and aesthetic responsibility, public and private, eternal and commer cial? Perhaps we exhume and crucify Eliot in an attempt to express the inexpressible: the (absent or questionable) “soul” of a current academic, social and/or political “class” or climate. Certainly, we are guilty of singling out particular aspects of Eliot’s poetics and personality as representative of the “whole” we wish to celebrate or condemn. Our ghoulish return to the garden/ graveyard of modernism reveals more about our Frankensteinian projects to
cobble together a “postmodern” critical consciousness than it does about Eliot’s misbegotten politics and personality.