AuthorMacDiarmid, Laurie J., 1964-
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractCurrent studies of T. S. Eliot explore his social poetic, his religion, his sexuality, and his place in the history of modernism and contemporary poetics. "T. S. Eliot's Civilized Savage" links these interests, beginning with Eliot's controversial masculinity. Eliot constructs an impotent poet who engages in celibate heterosexual relationships; he uses comparative religious studies (such as Frazer's Golden Bough and Harrison's Themis) to transform these relationships into a social imperative. "The Death of Saint Narcissus," "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and "Hysteria" compare Eliot's poet to Frazer's self-sacrificing god, pitting him against a voracious mother goddess who demands the poet's self-sacrifice. Eliot's lady poses as an alibi for his own hysteria and as a spiritual catalyst; the poet is reborn in the Father. By Ash Wednesday, Eliot rewrites heterosexuality using Christian iconography. "Tradition and the Individual Talent" exposes Eliot's ambivalent relationship to masculinity and maternity: though Eliot describes a purely scientific poetic reproduction, the essay bears traces of his maternal fascinations, though these images are sterilized by the rhetoric of Immaculate Conception. By 1927, Eliot converts to the Church of England, abandons Vivienne, rekindles a chaste romance with Emily Hale, develops his poetry of confession, and refashions the Lady. Now she acts as the perfect vessel for God's Word, and her "torn and most whole" body eliminates the threat of sexual intercourse. Subsumed in her, Eliot's poet becomes God's womb. Eliot's contemporary fall from grace seems to stem from repeated exposures of his erotic and religious masquerades. Christopher Ricks's publication of Eliot's notebooks foregrounds Eliot's racist, sexist and classicist ideology and Michael Hastings's Tom and Viv suggests that Eliot blamed his hysteria on Vivienne while profiting from the marriage. Eliot's mysticism appears to be an impotent attempt to escape domestic horrors, but a re-examination of this diagnosis may reveal our own construction of sexuality, poetics, politics and spirituality. As we recoil from Eliot's corrosive "conservatism" perhaps we safeguard our own.
Degree ProgramGraduate College