Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Blog Twelve: The Four Quartets

Blog Twelve: The Four Quartets

Brooks: I liked the straightforward style of the Brooks article. I think that he did the best he could to clarify a piece that is quite difficult, particularly if it is the reader’s first exposure. He comes right out at the beginning and identifies the poem as “a religious poem” that speaks to both Orthodox Christians and non-believers. (132) His main goals are dealing with big symbols, major themes, and the nature of time within the poem. He identifies sunlight and laughter of unseen children as two major symbols. (134) I noticed, as you did as well based on your notes in the margin, the repetition of the wild thyme image. I’m not sure what this was about, except that it seems to fit into a larger theme of “wild” nature which I will address later. Brooks also sees a cycle in the poem, which reminded of the 12 step program in AAA. Basically he is saying that people have to go through these “steps” (negation, acceptance, etc.) to get to the final point or goal of “integration, forming a new whole” (the equivalent of sobriety in AAA). (136-7) He sees this further in the sections, in that each section corresponds to a step or steps. This is a fairly complex argument, but it makes sense. I found the most helpful and interesting part of this article to be his discussion of time. Brooks proposes that each Quartet illustrates a different kind of time or movement of time: “Burnt Norton” is the passing moment, “East Coker” is “personal and social time,” “The Dry Salvages” shows “universal history and objective nature” as well as “the astronomical history of the cosmos,” and “Little Gidding” is about “a timeless dimension.” (140-1, 143)

Me: In my first reading of the poem, I noticed a couple of consistent themes that seemed to run through most of the sections. First, as I mentioned above, nature, especially “wild” nature, is almost always present. Flowers, birds, trees, the sea, the sun, the moon…these are all present in most of the sections. “Burnt Norton” is especially filled with these images. Nature is both older than people and seemingly wiser than people. The bird at the end of the first section of “Burnt Norton,” for example, seems to recognize both the mortality of human beings and their (human) inability of dealing with it. The contrast to “wild” nature is with modernization. The first section of “East Coker,” for example, seemed quite reminiscent of Howards End. The concern for what England and the world are becoming is clear. In the first section of “The Dry Salvages,” Eliot refers to “dwellers in cities” and “worshipers of the machine.” He seems to be creating an opposition.

Children are also a common symbol, though I’m not quite sure what to do with them. The only thing I can think of is that they are an illustration of the constant turnover of humans generally.

History seems to be an important theme, particularly toward the end of the poem. I’m not sure what he is trying to do with the idea of history, unless he is just pointing out again the constant cycle of human life. Humans are mortal and will die. Perhaps they need to prepare for that?

The idea of the happy moment comes through in parts of the poem, though they are always followed by a reminder of mortality. For example, in section three of “East Coker,” the description of “Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning. The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry, The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy” is followed by the stark reminder that it is all “pointing to the agony Of death and birth.” In other words, life can be nice, but the idea of the mortal “cycle” is always in the background. Related to that are the themes of sickness and death, which are especially prominent in section four of “East Coker.” The good news is that Eliot does offer the hope of an afterlife: “In my end is my beginning.” (“East Coker,” section five) This seems pretty hopeful, though there isn’t much elaboration.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Blog Eleven: Modernist Politics

Blog Eleven: Modernist Politics

Strachey: After reading the four selections from Strachey, I found it hard to believe that he wrote all four. In the diary entry, he appeared high-strung and flighty. His main concern was hooking up with the mailman, and his memories and Bunny interlude suggested a general pattern of male intrigues. This seemed to be one of his top concerns. He seemed ambivalent toward women, at best, though the final page of the pdf states that he went on to have an affair with Dora Carrington that lasted several years. The only part of this selection that seemed to indicate any real depth was his contemplation of death. With all that being said, I found this reading very interesting. The short “Conscientious Objector” was to-the-point and well-written. He isn’t against all wars necessarily, but he is against WWI and any other wars that come from the modern political systems, which he calls “profoundly evil.” He goes on to say that he is critical of “the whole structure of society.” Again, it seems impossible that the same person wrote these two documents. The Matthew Arnold essay and the Preface seem somewhere in between the first two. Basically, he is saying that Arnold’s criticism, and in fact Victorian criticism as a whole, was worthless. In the Preface, he writes that the book is one of “haphazard visions” and that he has “no desire to construct a system or prove a theory.” That sounds a little more like the diary entry.

VW: “Thought on Peace in an Air Raid” has similarities to A Room of One’s Own. VW is concerned overall about the War, but her underlying concern seems to be about women. She notes that women can neither fight nor participate in politics. How then can women improve the situation? She notes that part of the post-War plan to maintain peace is disarmament, and she recognizes that this will be difficult for men. The role of women, then, will be to “compensate the man for the loss of his gun.” “We must help the young Englishman to root out from themselves the love of medals and decorations. We must create more honourable activities for those who try to conquer in themselves their fighting instinct, their subconscious Hitlerism.”

EMF: “What I Believe” is beautifully written. The intro states that it was written in 1939, so EMF had already lived through WWI and knew that WWII was just upon the horizon. He is understandably skeptical of democracy but says that “it is less hateful than other contemporary forms of government, and to that extent deserves our support.” It gets “two cheers” as opposed to three based on its admittance of variety and its allowance for criticism. EMF sees many things wrong with the world, but he is not without hope. The passage about the “aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky” was so lovely and hopeful. It seemed to me that this passage was about the Bloomsburies themselves.

LW: This essay was thought-provoking and hilarious. I found it brilliant. The basic concept is that animals at the zoo get together in a kind of discussion or debate group after all the people have left. In the current instance, they are talking about politics. (They briefly discussed women in an earlier episode.) The main group under discussion is the Bolsheviks in Russia. Some are for Bolshevism, some against it. LW uses the animals to sort of show both sides of the debate. Finally, the Owl states that the Russian Revolution is just the French Revolution happening all over again. The Bolsheviks are not, in short, a “new species.” His basic point is that mankind never changes in the essentials, nor do humans ever really learn political lessons. They keep repeating the same patterns and mistakes over and over again: “A study of human history reveals the fact that politically Man is an animal which never learns anything from experience.”