chapter
8T.S. Eliot: the process of refinement
Pages 17

If we accept Adomo's dictum that "the law of the innermost form of the essay is heresy" (Adomo 171), we must see the position taken up in the essays of T. 5. Eliot as paradoxical. It offers a rhetoric of order and orthodoxy to a reading public which, initially at least, found it extremely unorthodox. Eliot's rhetoric assumes that the established majority opinion in the early twentieth century is a continuation of nineteenth-century secular liberal individualism, just as established literary taste is govemed by the Romanticism and Realism of the previous century. Among other things, this situation represents the triumph of the values which brought the essay into existence: free thought, concrete observation, and belief in the reality and worth of the individual personality. What might be called "essayistic culture," and its expression in a vast literature of personal opinion, had been growing throughout the nineteenth century, and in many ways was at its peak in 1920 at the time of Eliot's first prominence. Originality, personality, individuality had become a kind of orthodoxy. 50 that when Eliot enters proclaiming tradition, impersonality, and orthodoxy, the effect is, in the strict sense, paradoxical: orthodoxy and unorthodoxy have changed places. Eliot is showing his independence by reasserting in essayistic form many of the medieval values in opposition to which the essay arose in the first place, as we saw in Chapter 1. The structure and rhetoric of Eliot's essays are conditioned by the paradox.