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Can We Conclude That T.S.Eliot's Ideas About Culture Are 'elitist' And Leave It At That?

1783 words - 7 pages

Eliot writes of culture as "the way of life of a particular people living together in one place. That culture is made visible in their arts, in their social system, in their habits and customs, in their religion.(Milner, A (1994) Contemporary Cultural Theory: An Introduction. London: UCC Press.)A culture, then according to Eliot is one which is shared in common by a whole people, although he believed it was not shared equally between the people. Eliot divided the people into two groups, the elite and the masses and considered the elite to "exhibit more marked differenciations of function amongst their members than the lower types." (Eliot, T. S. (1948) "The Class and The Elite:" Notes towards the Definition Of Culture. London: Faber & Faber Ltd.)This seems to demonstrate that Eliot's ideas about culture are basically elitist, however, although Eliot recognised the division in culture, he did not disregard the masses, indeed he said " I ... should like an audience which could neither read nor write.(Eliot T.S. "The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism.) This remark could hardly be farther from a desire for a limited and highly literate audience of adepts. Which seems to go against the widely held view that Eliot is deliberately elitist - his poetry is frequently obscure and its allusions, learnedness and quotations which make some of his poetry -particularly "The Wasteland" - difficult to understand.The general and widely held view of Eliot is that he is a deliberately elitist and difficult poet and essayist and indeed more people have heard of "The Wasteland" than have actually read it. However, his reputation as a 'difficult' poet works for him in this sense adds to the appeal of his poetry as a whole and by the standards of most poets, Eliot is read very widely indeed. However, would this be agreeable to the poet himself? As mentioned above Eliot believed that the poet "naturally prefers to write for as large and miscellaneous an audience as possible," yet his difficult standard of poetry marks him down as seeking to appeal to a small learned and elite audience. This seems to be a contradiction for Eliot as a poet, yet the obscurity and intertextuality of his work may be due to other influential poets Eliot studied, rather than a desire for elitism.Eliot came to know the work of Dante (Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), Italian poet and philosopher.) whilst at Harvard and he later looked back at his own work and believed Dante was the main guide and model for his poetry. Eliot particularly respected the poet's directness and his frugality of his language (shown also in Eliot's poetry: "The river's tent is broken...") (Eliot, T. S (1922) "The Fire Sermon" ( line 1): "The Wasteland.") and the extent of his emotional experience especially in Dante's "The Divine Comedy". This appreciation of Dante is shown in the "Dantean images and themes" (Southam, B. C. (ed.) (1978) " T.S. Eliot: 'Prufrock', 'Gerontion','Ash Wednesday and Other Shorter Poems." (...

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