NO MIDDLE WAY OUT OF THE WASTE LAND: What is the Potential of T.S. Eliot as a Non-liberal Voice?




Sam Robinson


SWEENEY: I knew a man once did a girl in

Any man might do a girl in

Any man has to, needs to, wants to

Once in a lifetime, do a girl in.

Well he kept her there in a bath

With a gallon of lysol in a bath

SWARTS: These fellows always get pinched in the end.

—T.S. Eliot, Sweeney Agonistes (1932)

The epigraph to this essay is intended to illustrate the ideological push and pull that occurs between T.S. Eliot and his work, as well within the studies that surround it. I intend to show how study of Eliot—and of these critical discourses—might prove useful in re-evaluating what I will characterize as problems rife within contemporary art, those of highly selective inclusivity, one dimensional literalism and unquestioning malaise. Eliot’s conservative traditionalism will be reassessed not only as potentially radical in a transgressive, contrarian sense, but as a valid critical framework in its own right. I will show that even if it is not without fault, it is often less imperious than the strategies employed within the neo-liberal sphere of contemporary art today.

In order to understand the contemporary situation, I will examine the critical re-appraisal of T.S. Eliot’s work in light of his ‘unwelcome’ ideology. This will serve as a means of simultaneously questioning both the issuing of artistic currency and credential today and the narrow breath of current discourse. The absolutist discussion that often surrounds his ideology will be used to represent the liberal imagination’s presumptuous ‘end of history’, which remains prevalent and with which as an artist, specifically a painter working in a contemporary art context, I am quite familiar.

I will begin by addressing the current poverty of art criticism, its illusion of radicality and its apathetic presumption of political consensus. These traits, I will argue, are borne of its complicity with neo- Liberal socio-economic strategies. As prominent prototype examples of this, I will then address the widespread weaponization and commodification of Eliot’s perceived prejudices. Focussing on texts by Craig Raine and Anthony Julius, I will show how liberal critical reception of Eliot illustrates an expansive landscape of both denial and over emphasis; these conditions, I will argue are symptomatic of hypocrisy and suspect motives. Although this essay, in order not to fall into the liberal trap of hyper-objectivity, consciously leans toward the polemic, I will draw on the work of sociologists Karl Mannheim and C. Wright Mills in order to contextualize these habits and tactics.


In light of these understandings, I will also explore critical appraisals by Christopher Ricks and Lyndall Gordon which begin to value Eliot’s supposed flaws. However, I will then show how the stakes were raised and illustrate how Eliot’s specific prejudices were utilized to attack his wider ideology and valuation of tradition. Finally, I will show how Eliot is too routinely and lazily used to represent exclusivity and how contemporary opprobrium towards elitism masks the fact that it persists. Indeed, I will show that this apparent disavowal enables it to exist in even stronger form. Here, I will draw on the work of Italian elite theorists Mosca, Michels and Pareto. Throughout, I will unashamedly hold Eliot up, not simply as a model of desirable personal imperfection, but as an artist whose incredibly sophisticated and shifting academic relationship with ideology and rhetoric might also be the antidote to a situation of blasé presumption and posturing.2

This essay is written with other artists and peers in mind. As such, it will at times assume its reader’s familiarity, however close to intimacy it may have come, with the system it addresses. To begin with though, it seems crucial to draw a picture of some of the maudlin cul-de-sacs that I believe study of Eliot might re-activate.


The Poverty and Collusion of Contemporary Criticism

Recently, a conversation between David Graeber and Michelle Kuo appeared amongst the glossy adverts that comprise Artforum.3 Graeber, for his part represented an ‘engaged anarchist’ standpoint to which, Kuo dotingly said, many artists aspired. In passing, Graeber noted the political potential of indigenous communities. Their basis in unchanging tradition, he posited, might actually now represent radicalism and with it, a viable means of resistance to capitalist hegemony. For Kuo, a perhaps oppositional example of the potential of tradition suggested itself: T.S. Eliot. Her reference to his essay Tradition and the Individual Talent was interesting, both in the context of Graeber’s far left activism and her own high art version of the progressive, but they did not dwell on it4. The conversation moved swiftly on to the edgier idea of “rupture”—some traditions were apparently more suitable than others. As Martha Rosler has asserted, artists still dream of occupying political and artistic vanguards simultaneously; tellingly she felt no need to specify on which side of the political divide these apparently inseparable bedfellows lay.5

In light of this presumed alliance, I would identify a lack of rigorous art criticism today. Writers often note that critical malaise informs, or perhaps just accurately depicts, art production itself. But the problem, they find, doesn’t begin or end with criticism itself; other factors: social, political and economic, are necessarily implied. As Boris Groys has argued, the art ‘critic’ is now almost entirely an officialised insider, akin to the gallerist and the curator.6 Economic exclusivity—and its erstwhile partner intellectual exclusivity—withdrew art from a ‘public’ who, it was assumed, required clear dissemination and definitive judgement; so today ‘critical’ texts accompany rather than interrogate. As such, art criticism, as James Elkins has it, is at once ubiquitous and moribund.7 For Elkins, it also shares no common ground and has no qualitative locus. Of course this is not quite true. Given that adherence to it is a condition of membership, it seems safe to assume that visual artists and critics working today are conscious of the affirmed urban, international and cosmopolitan, but also supposedly borderless and permissive ideological code of the world in which they operate. For all its seeming pluralism and the flexibility of its boundaries, visual art, as Groys implies, has actually been very proscriptive about definitions of role; the ‘art commentator’ exists to cover the ‘nakedness’ of a work of art with ‘protective text-clothes.’8 Today’s critic may just be a shill, but shills need to know their job as well as anyone else; in fact, their specialized and perfidious responsibilities mean they are less likely to inhabit dual roles. Eliot incidentally, was a poet, publisher and critic—the ways in which these roles informed each other cannot be underestimated.


Art criticism, as art, has come to suck in other disciplines; the idea of ‘art-writing’ has muddied its waters. Such pluralism is portrayed as solely positive and as natural progression. As such it is symbolic of the wider social liberalism of art’s populace. By comparison, definitive names and traditions are viewed as deeply violent anachronisms. This contemporary ideology contains its own violence and often exists as a means of social control. Unless I can accept that your cup is actually a novel, or that your hat is actually a dance, how can I possibly accept your equally indefinable lifestyle, ideology or self. A dialectic is strictly enforced: through you I am reactionary or square; and you are set ever more free. This is a social use of art. Of course, it might appear that much of this diversity may actually be the result of necessity and stricture. Community and collaboration, even without tangible ‘movements’, are perhaps emphasized more than ever; systems of barter prevail. Formally, the provisional, the ad-hoc and the ephemeral have come to dominate—far from being risky, they are risk-free. These forms of art can be disassembled and disposed of the night of the show, once the empty beer bottles have been recycled; in this way, much art is a purely social activity; an excuse for an entirely unwarranted party. Collaboration and provisionality are clearly very desirable for some, but is seems far more likely that rather than working class engagement, such circumventions of capital signify middle and upper class hyper-self-consciousness.

Across all strata of visual art, affability, tolerance, conviviality and unruffled permissiveness—long points of quarantine for social elites anyway—have come to be predominant as forms of decoy capital. This is true in sectors of the art world which wish to suggest their imperviousness to capital; of course, these might be flooded with capital or totally devoid of it. Indeed, there is a particularly long history of wealthy artists implying some cosmic disconnect between art, success and money. We came to call this callous, insulting deceit ‘Bohemianism’ and often choose to think of it in historical terms. Jonathan Rose’s The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes paints a picture of a working class poet’s struggle to grasp the wretched, evasive and shifting currencies of 1920’s Bloomsbury.9 Artist’s attitudes towards what they perceive as working-class, suburban, provincial or indeed bourgeois ideologies, ones of disdain and disavowal, don’t really appear to have changed; but as Rose makes clear, Bohemia itself need only appear to be adversarial to, or transgressive of, wider cultural forms.


These mores, and the currency gained by adhering to them, mean that the role of the artist is as fetishized as ever, if not more so. As Rosler wearily tells us, the numbers of people referring to themselves as artists has grown since the 1960’s, not because the field is vastly more inclusive, but because the meaning of the term has loosened.10 It has also become of great value to straddle the realms of the creative Bohemian and the ambitious, successful bourgeois, she adds. The avoidance or substitution of the unglamorous signifier ‘class’ in much contemporary discourse seems less likely to represent revolutionary success than the unspoken homogenization of its protagonists. Simultaneously, strategies of co-option have rendered debates around the social class of artists null and void. The economically driven gallery system and art media are capable of exploiting the ‘ordinariness’ of an artist just as well as his or her ‘otherness’; occasional exceptions prove rules. Its hyper-permissive, progressive, enlightened and achingly plural state is the perfect cover for continued class apartheid. In order to combat this, it suits the neo-liberal (art) world to pretend that opposition to its hegemony could only come from a vituperative, intolerant right.

Writing in essayistic mode, Eliot felt it necessary to declare himself “classicist in literature, royalist in politics and Anglo-Catholic in religion”.11 However he also described how “one wakes up astonished to find that one does not feel the same about something as one did yesterday.”12 In the shadow of contemporary visual art, with its presumptions, certainties and hypocrisies Eliot’s positions prove fascinating. In their independence, and in vicarious or empathetic social senses, they are intriguing and even seductive. It is a measure of the faux-objective status quo that as much as playing devil’s advocates, we might soon find ourselves rooting for Eliot the elitist, the conservative, the anti-Semite; and somehow find ourselves needing it all to be true. Just like Eliot’s ideology, permissiveness in the face of his prejudice has its own background, its own pathology.


Weaponizing and Commodifying Eliot’s Prejudice

In the years after T.S. Eliot’s death in 1965, writers, most of them English, began to address his apparent prejudices more overtly. In the decades that followed, few biographies and critical studies dodged the topic. Even where commentary already existed, guarded appendix and addenda were carefully honed and attached. Entire texts set out to deal with these aspects of his life and work alone. This was particularly true of works which focussed on his alleged anti-Semitism. In the shadows cast by this ‘ultimate’ prejudice, literary careers were born and have flourished. Eliot denied anti- Semitism, which of course tallies with Orwell’s dismissal that those literate enough to grasp the meaning of the term would always deny it.13 14 Much late Eliot criticism has taken the form of a kind of moral pathology, searching for degrees of intolerance with close semantic reading. It is unfortunate that I will not be able to make as much reference as I would like to Eliot’s output itself; although I will aim, via footnotes, to highlight passages of relevance to the topics discussed herein and to current artistic discourse. For the uninitiated it is necessary to note that the evidence cited for Eliot’s anti- Semitism exists in meticulous poetic form as well as within articles, casual letters and other literary ephemera.15 Unlike Philip Larkin’s half-cut provincial sing-alongs,16 it exists as cosmopolitan art. It reads as more measured than Ezra Pound’s scatter gun rabidity.17


In spite of this, Eliot does not represent in any sense whatsoever those whose views have rendered them obscure or marginal, quite the contrary. His agreed significance, at times agreed greatness, is the prism through which his flaws are examined. I will not contest the accuracy of pictures of Eliot as anti-Semite, in social and temporal contexts it seems likely, even inevitable. Rather I will show how critical studies have struggled to reconcile Eliot’s political positions with those of an artist, and why these investigations should form such a well-trodden, if at times divergent, network of paths. I will try to read the various motives of the denials, neuroses, contextual re-iterations and wounded sensibilities that orbit Eliot’s ‘transgressions’. I will aim to show why the illiberal, or even conservative artist should be a creature worthy of particular note at all, because I believe that the character of the fetishized neo-liberal contemporary art situation is to be found in these previous, formative narratives. It is amongst the debates surrounding Eliot’s alleged anti-Semitism that I would like to begin to locate some social restrictions, limitations and hypocrisies.

What Eliot was or wasn’t is so contested because critics have, I would argue often mistakenly, come to stress many elements of his work as proto-typically modernist. Despite his insistence to the contrary, his own wasteland has been portrayed as common ground and the way out of it as a shared problem. Even, or perhaps especially, in the cursory study by the casual scholar, who looks no further than The Waste Land itself, he represents the birth of something we might recognize as modern: divided, alienated, numb. It seems logical that such complicated, layered modes of social thought might necessarily include elements of prejudice, but tiresome vestigial ideas of the artist as gentle, libertine or progressive have sought to remove these from a complicated, shifting set of dialectic possibilities. Using a simplified moral compass, liberal critics measure Eliot’s cultural value against criteria that they believe negate prejudice: sensitivity, empathy, tolerance. His sincerity has also been questioned by those unable to process the dialectally bound complexities of his agency.


Craig Raine’s systematic denials are borne of these misunderstandings; they are optimistic and thus fundamentally confused in nature.18 If denial of prejudice sounds symptomatic of the right, it can also be attributed to disorientated liberal creatures. Such is the neo-liberal need for art as cosmetic façade or decoy, that it is often impossible for it to be reconciled with intolerance. Raine addresses what he sees as a contagious obsession with the moral and ethical faults of Eliot’s personality. He identifies a sadistic biographical predilection for ‘criminography’: the emphasis of wrongdoing. A concurrent taste for ‘vulgar and scurrilous’ suggestions involving Eliot’s sexual and personal lives allows him to paint all of Eliot’s detractors as general muckrakers.19 Where an accusation is made, a shred of evidence unearthed, he is there to refute it. His approach is lawyerly; he calls Eliot to the dock and in reality finds him wanting, but the insistence and ferocity of his refutation is itself already damning. Unquestionably something is at stake: for Raine, it really matters that Eliot wasn’t a ‘conscious’ anti- Semite, as though lack of self-awareness—unlikely in Eliot’s case—were the key to innocence.20 There are two main problems with Raine’s defence of Eliot: first, it accepts the suggestion that anti- Semitism is a peculiarly personal failing, like rudeness; second, it gives credence to a court whose authority and rhetoric it needn’t recognize.

In its denial of Eliot’s anti-Semitism, Raine’s argument necessarily indicates a perceived conspiracy on the parts of other writers. However, he is unfortunately and inappropriately silent on the motivations of the many ‘agents’ who have devoted so much energy to this end. For the reader, Raine’s implied cast of belligerent Marxists, wounded feminists and prickly Jews skulk in the wings, but they never fully materialize; he doesn’t quite have the courage or conviction to join any dots. He never asks the looming, obvious—and in fact interesting—question that his text implies: “why might somebody want Eliot to be an anti-Semite?” Neither does he ask himself the perhaps more interesting question: “why don’t I want Eliot to be an anti-Semite?” Without a social landscape within which to contextualize either his own rampant defence or his accusations of falsified evidence, Raine falls into the same trap as those who vilify Eliot: he isolates ideology from the conditions which create it. The mistake he makes, just as obviously as Eliot’s accusers, lies in thinking that ideology is inherently individual or personal at all. He is unnecessarily and personally protective of Eliot. When he finds himself in too much of a corner he concedes that Eliot may just have been “very occasionally guilty of sporadic, unconsidered, anti-Semitism.”21 On the weekend perhaps, or after a few. This is the sound of an argument, one that never grew wide enough in scope, collapsing.

Raine’s defence ought not to have been a defence at all. Rather than challenge the veracity of the case for the prosecution, he would have found wider value in challenging the reductive, tautological legislature that bought the whole case to trial. The various and inevitable intolerances of artists are formed of the endless dialectics to which s/he is prey. Individuals are subject to, not simply set against, changing social conditions. This is why historicist defences in cases like Eliot’s often sound glib or arrogant; they do not recognize their own rhetoric as equally temporally specific, equally normative. Their perspective is that of a resolved world, they speak from Fukuyama’s End of History.22


It needn’t only be distant temporal contexts that rationalize ‘uncomfortable’ ideologies. To pretend any given social phenomenon occurs without cause, however irrational it may seem, is to misrepresent it—and also to render the fascinating fairly tedious. As Karl Mannheim, an acquaintance of Eliot insisted, ideologies, whatever they might be, are always valid as readings of situations. In Mannheim, ideology is swept along by the social processes, for him all ‘knowledge’ is relative and positionally determined. An ‘ideology’ represents just a single point in a constantly moving historical stream. This social stream, our position within it and that of the object we examine are all in constant motion and transition.23 Individuals, in the sense that they exist at all, are defined and orientated by just such flailing cultural components, yet a glance across the visual art world is a glance across a very limited fixed political spectrum; here Mannheim’s stream has been dammed.24 Eliot’s work provides us with the valuable example of an incredibly conflicted and sceptical, yet ultimately symbiotic, relationship with all rhetoric. It contains ambiguities of position and agency as well as assertions and retractions. In working so hard to crudely remove one such element from a live dialectic of shifting possibilities, Raine restricts Eliot’s meaning and use. In fact, these complexities seem so core to the value of Eliot’s project, that to limit them is to reduce the potential of it as a whole. Besides, as Raine concludes, whatever ideological conviction or emotional intensity a poet has, whatever their stripes, the real work is in the writing, in making something useful of all that rhetoric.25

Although it is a work of admirable thoroughness and scrutiny, Anthony Julius’s project represents the intentional proliferation of ‘The Eliot Problem’, rather than any attempt to resolve it.26 Julius is a source of restated admonition, fresh evidence and formal admiration.27 His thinking is endlessly cyclical and is as much an elaborate display of liberalism’s problematic tail feathers as it is a study of Eliot’s transgressions. Swinging what Will Self sneeringly calls a ‘double headed axe of dialectic’, Julius simultaneously criticises both the flawed ideology of Eliot’s anti-Semitic poetry and the flawed ideology of those who suggest that a poetry of anti-Semitism is, by definition, not poetry at all.28 This could seem like the beginning of a more versatile paradigm in which we might appreciate, by way of aesthetics, positions opposed to our own ‘day job’ ideologies. But if Julius implies—by way of total democracy—that he is able to admire even what he sees as Eliot’s most ‘sinister’ moments, this is not fully borne out. In the cold light of day for Julius, Eliot’s skill just makes him a more dangerous, more vicious anti-Semite. Much like Raine, Julius cannot allow himself to see Eliot’s prejudice as anything more than a personal failing or oversight.29

Julius characterizes the strongly anti-Liberal voice that runs throughout Eliot’s prose and criticism in similar terms. “A spirit of excessive tolerance”, Eliot declared, “is to be deprecated.”30 For devotees of liberalism like Julius, statements like this can only be formulated as errors, they cannot conceivably be active positions. But Julius himself, somewhat inadvertently, makes clear the wider implications of Eliot’s position in citing Raymond William’s admiration of it.31 Even from a position utterly at odds with Eliot’s, Williams acknowledges the limitations of a liberalism whose morality is complacently and unquestioningly accepted. Julius makes no real reference to Williams’s and Eliot’s total political polarity; in his hands Williams is just a liberal rigorous and honest enough to question the viability of liberal tolerance.32 The tactic is an old one, but one that the left too often allows to continue. Julius creates a conveniently edited paradigm: the left is assimilated by liberalism’s gracious and endlessly presumptuous hand. Without the baggage of socio-political nuance, Julius conveniently conflates illiberalism with anti-liberalism. To liberal writers, infringements against their version of total tolerance represent the opportunity to dismiss wholesale, all critiques of liberal operations.


As we have seen in Julius, and as C. Wright Mills warns us: “normative order may be fetishized.”33 Julius falls headlong into a classic delusion identified by Mills: he imagines his own institution as inherently harmonious. For Julius, illiberalism is introduced into his institution, rather than inherent to, employed or created by it. Mills dismisses typically Freudian ideas which suggest that dark forces within us are our greatest enemy and danger and contends that the greater, more dominant threat is always external, only ever societal.34 This might seem to be a tired battle won by Mills’s side of the argument, but in Julius, as in most histrionic tolerance, we still see the reductive personalisation of what are decidedly Eliot’s flaws. This fails to understand their real significance or to set them into full structural context. Raine’s attempt to utterly divest Eliot of politics and rhetoric formed of discourse and dialectic does exactly the same job. Even if there is widespread condemnation of anti-Semitism today, we still need to know, or can take real interest in where it came from and why in fact, it continues to exist. This kind of sociology is missing, at least sincerely, from Julius’s approach, by definition from Raine’s and from much art and literary criticism today; it would divest us of the apparent need to agree with artists, to see ourselves in them, or even to pretend that we like them at all—which would be a relief.

To ask whether a ‘bad’ person might be a ‘good’ artist is to assume an unhealthy degree of power. What is enacted within the question is not qualitative critique, but existential judgement. This form of discourse does not seek to question political positions and their relationship with form, but to maintain control of the very criteria upon which artistic credentials are allocated. It is unequivocally territorial, and damning and despotic by extension and implication. As epigraph to his essay The Merchant of Venom? Walter A. Strauss quotes Hannah Arendt questioning the hypocritical acceptance of various moral transgressions on the basis that they were made by artists, as opposed to ‘lay-people’. Title aside, Strauss’s essay is considered, but when positions such as Eliot’s are characterized as ‘chronic misbehaviour’, we see very clearly the patriarchal imperialism of liberalism toward what it sees as ‘its’ art.35



Embracing Prejudice


Several writers have expressed, if not quite the sociological inevitability of prejudice, then at least the value of its by-products. Lyndall Gordon’s relationship with Eliot is not, like Raine’s, one based on optimism. Neither do his transgressions represent the opportunity to set out her own stall, like Anthony Julius. 36 Through Gordon, Eliot is quintessentially imperfect, but not inherently malign. In fact, he is the model of a flawed, divided, early 20th-century artist. Her Eliot is at turns, weak, vain, misogynistic, presumptuous and arrogant. He is conscious of, and is not uninterested in, all of the above (so he is also self-absorbed). For Gordon, the precise articulation of certain ideas in Eliot: neuroses; imprecision; indecision; disillusion; disappointment and doubt, is inseparable from the authentic genesis of these ideas. There is an appealing logic at work here, but it might render Eliot somewhat simplistically, placing him back into a romantic tradition. It may equate his anti- Semitism—or even his ambivalence—with Wordsworth’s Lakes, Hardy’s Wessex, or Larkin’s Hull. This reinstates a paradigm which may not apply to Eliot so literally; her definition of him might fall dangerously close to definitions of the artist as inherently troubled, torn, or pained. It accepts art making as an unquestionably sincere and direct act; it requires an element of trust, one which not all have been able to place in him.37

These biographical iterations effectively paint Eliot as a victim of ideology, but I would argue that prejudice served as an academic tool for Eliot. For Christopher Ricks, prejudice is not only to be accepted as a social condition, but is essential to the successful and complete art making process; after all, one inevitably ‘exercises’ prejudice.38 For Ricks, Eliot’s prejudice is sacrosanct and his assertions are always frail things subject to change. Quite correctly, he locates a certain amount of social prejudice in Eliot’s early painting of the humdrum prude Prufrock—which itself provokes more praise than admonishment of Eliot.3940 The satirical drive of the poem depends on the identification of certain form of stultifying dignity; it is one Eliot knew because it was his own. As Robert Crawford has suggested, we also see the same sexual humiliation in which Carole Seymour-Jones delights employed in the cause of Eliot’s poetry.41 Ricks correctly identifies Eliot’s prejudice as absolute, his scepticism and mistrust are such that they are invariably directed back in his own direction, to as Eliot said: “suspect the origins of his own belief” and then: “to suspect other people’s motives because he has learnt the deceitfulness of his own.”42

Such rigorous suspicion is the difference between cynicism and scepticism; it is also the difference between art and rhetoric. It should be the basis for any art worth its salt, but it cannot exist where the subjective rhetoric in question has already undergone the careful control, expurgation and sanction necessary to become ‘flawless’, ‘universal’ and therefore inert. In such prescribed circumstances, and I would suggest that they are ubiquitous in contemporary practice, art ceases to be useful as the pathology of rhetoric and becomes the display of normative dogma. Ricks notes that great poetry might be exacting to reader and writer alike. He also introduces a simple fact that often goes conveniently overlooked: that the voices and perspectives which carry us through works of poetry and fiction are not always reliable or indeed representative of the ideologies of their authors. The voice, ego and perspective of Gerontion, for example, whose rationality unravels as we read it, is not wholly Eliot’s; it would seem to go without saying that his reputation cannot be tied to its eventual disintegration. Recognizing this fact is not an attempt to exonerate Eliot, but simple acceptance of subjective/objective possibilities of literature. The fact that old pros like Julius are prepared to overlook an idea familiar to a wide public since the publication of Robinson Crusoe is more than a little suspicious.43


Ambiguous authorial voices have been less common in visual art, where ‘multiple-perspective’ was always fundamentally a visual condition. As Fry notes, although cubism was indicative of reflexive understandings, these were primarily related to painting as a visual and planar construct rather than as social account, ideological statement or political activity.44 This might seem to be the necessary condition of a visual medium as opposed to one based on the word, but as described above, visual art undoubtedly has political ambitions.45 In attempting to realize these it seems to be to visual art’s detriment that its relationships with authorship and agency have been more circumscribed. Definitive authorship has been a signifier of authenticity and thus value; visual art has been forced to remain literal in order to remain saleable. Visual artists working today would no doubt identify with the level of reference and quotation in Eliot. However, their relationships with appropriation differ greatly. Significantly, Eliot’s notion of the ‘objective correlative’ only finds occasional parallels in visual art. The term, one he made applicable to literature after unearthing it in anthropology, suggests a means of making personal motivations, ideologies and implications explicit and genuine within work whilst not implying that they are directly related to the ideological rationale of its maker. They are intended to be communal, and the work in which they function stands or falls by this measure.

Post-modern visual has instead regularly resorted to irony, which does not stand up as a description of complicated, dialectically bound perspectives because it necessarily contains a needy admission of the deceit/conceit that is occurring. It requires a definite position to subvert—it is borne of certainty rather than uncertainty. In a paradigm where the relationship between artist and subject matter is direct and personal, that subject matter becomes problematically limited. This constraint is often policed on moral terms which question the ‘rights’ of artists to particular subject matter. They require artists to embody the social situations and conditions they discuss. It was predominantly social stigma, as well what he saw as their contrived absurdity, which led Eliot to angrily reject readings of The Waste Land as a description of specifically ‘homosexual passion.’46 In his response to John Peter, whose interpretation had so balked him, Eliot made clear that “some readers may infer that the author of a poem on an homosexual theme must himself be a person of homosexual temperament, if not actually of homosexual practices”. Although today Eliot’s response sounds a little overwrought, his invocation of ‘some’ rather than all readers is significant. He implies that although in his own case the model does not apply, it may be entirely possible for a writer to invoke social situations which are not his/her ‘own’.t-s-eliot


Tradition and Disillusion

As we have seen, writers have strategically misrepresented, dismissed and emphasized Eliot’s prejudices in order to suppress or extinguish his radical potential. For similar purposes Julius goes on to emphasize Eliot’s valuation of tradition. He leaps seamlessly from employing the very specific ammunition of anti-Semitism to weaponize Eliot’s wider ideology. For Julius, ‘Eliot’s traditions’ are contrived and pious; his ideology blinkered, unilateral and negating of others. Political, like religious hypocrisies, occur where the vulnerabilities and dichotomies of faith are replaced by naïve ardency. As C. Wright Mills contended, the presence of a prevailing common denominator or ‘normative structure’ does not imply the absence of other ‘styles of thought or modes of sensibility.’47

The assumed, de facto correlation between art and the ‘progressive’ is not borne out historically or contemporaneously. Aldous Huxley confidently stated that art differed from science in that its narrative is not cumulative, that each artist starts from scratch.48 It is an understanding Eliot echoes in East Coker49. If from Huxley it sounds irredeemably old-fashioned and Platonic it is in part because his voice, much like Orwell’s, can now sound mediocre. But perhaps more so it is because visual art works hard to imply its cumulative narrative and its place as a specialist field; they are key to its economic value and self-esteem. Progression fallacies also prevail amongst those who wish to portray art as an emancipatory or democratizing power. Writers and theorists of the left are similarly very adept at suggesting things are about to come to a head; this is wishful thinking; it is borne of keeping homogenized company. The current pretence of consensus and common political cause, one proliferated by curators and critics—and willingly accepted by post-modern artists (for that is what they remain) as handy subject matter or ready medium—is a means of suggesting forward movement, or movement away from ‘mainstream’ narratives. In reality, uniform contemporaneity renders the field politically inert and static. In keeping with this, Mills has it that dominant normative institutions, like western neo-liberal tolerance, represent a set of roles ‘played out by individuals guided by standards and sanctions.’50 This might sound self-evident, but it is valuable to recognize what Julius is doing: meeting these standards, applying these sanctions, playing a role.

Such normative positions are of course subject to questioning and transgression. For Mills, as for Durkheim before him, anomie occurs when a given set of standards, sanctions and roles “no longer grip men.”51 A glance at any newspaper will tell you they don’t always. But Julius’s own ‘sociological imagination’ is too programmatic to recognize the anomie of Eliot’s critical work and later poetry for what it is.52 He can picture only anomie’s ‘progressive’ brands: protest, social reform, revolution. Even the latter, in theoretical, Guevara T-shirt terms, is comfortable and familiar to the liberal imagination. Eliot’s response to the situation he found himself in, to both the personal disillusion of The Waste Land and to what he saw as societal instability, is best spelled out in The Four Quartets.53 It was a deliberate retracing of steps.54 He spelt out his belief, in both prose and poetry, in the reforming potential of Christian tradition. John Xiros Cooper characterizes this later period, both in poetical and critical terms, as that of ‘the late candour.’55 As Stephen Spender recalled, the path Eliot took, seemingly away from enlightenment and permissiveness, horrified Bloomsbury.56 This might seem like reason enough to take it, but contrarianism before ideology forces one’s hand is just as slavish as obedience. Deviation for deviations sake is not exactly ‘meaningless’ as Gaylen Gerber has suggested, it may if nothing else highlight the weak points of a given system, but it is certainly not the most meaningful use of a platform.57


Where responses to anomie and alienation are preordained, we see the limp re-inaction of rebellious tropes. These quasi-peripheral roles are as useful to normative institutions as the official ones enacted within them. Permitted (for which read vital) modes of transgression and discord continue to support neo-liberal hegemony today. Faced with modes of resistance on the basis of gender and sexuality, like those of Paul Preciado, neo-Liberalism is quick to absorb what it needs to; as such they feel dated as they appear.58 Even work like that of Park McArthur, whilst often successful in and of itself, addresses social situations to which for most, money—not greater liberal education—is the solution.59 It seems inevitable that within art schools, some Marxist discourses have been reified as ‘feminist’ because they are thus available, without fear of too much hypocrisy, to the wealthy. The value of separate discourses and interests is not in question, but their problematic conflation, combined with the pat adoption of relevant aesthetics which ‘signify’ the political, facilitates the ‘politicization’ of art that has no genuine political instinct or impetus. Much art has no business being ‘socially engaged’, and needn’t be; there is plenty of demand for the decadent. As Michael Corris puts it, art is cultural phenomenon that assumes many differing shapes and implies wildly different meanings. Many of these, he argues, have no relationship whatsoever to agendas of ‘social engagement’, quite the contrary.60 Consciousness of these confluent streams should be a prerequisite for all artists, ‘socially engaged’ or not.

If, as Knut Åsdam has suggested, Europe has seen the return of popular nationalism because it “fills a narrative vacuum previously filled by class based ideologies,” then we can think of the politics of gender, sexuality, environment and food as often serving similar purposes for a very different crowd.61 Whether they are addressed or not, socio-economic divisions continue to subsume others; “with money in the pocket”, Moll Flanders tell us, “one is at home anywhere.”62 Art school diversity is not limited along lines of ethnicity, gender or sexuality, far from it. Rather it is limited along lines of class and economy. The forms of dissent or inquiry which these institutions produce are therefore often similarly restricted. This would seem to be an unavoidable truth, but in the nearly 300 years since Defoe was writing, Corris has it that: “artists continue to confuse cultural form with political form;” in fact, this is no mistake, it is often their only chance to bathe in the glow of a radical heroism.63


For Eliot, cultural tradition was important not merely as a set of diverse unconnected actions but as a complete “way of life.”64 This kind of terminology is identifiable as what sociologists would call a ‘symbol of justification.’ We see similar legitimations in art’s public sector which imply its democratization: ‘accessibility’ and ‘diversity’ are murmured incantations.65 If less attractive to many, Eliot’s picture of culture remains more accurate. Dominant social classes have been—and continue to be—the nucleus around which cultural elites are formed. It has been ‘a way of life’, and it is a way in which we continue to live. Amongst all art forms, contemporary visual art is particularly exemplary of this. In some senses there is no hypocrisy here; we can, if nothing else, say that the inauthentic and disingenuous critiques that much contemporary art provides at least faithfully represent, as George Walden has suggested, “the collusive myths of advanced democracies.”66 I believe we can make a strong case for Eliot as the remedy to some of these. I would suggest his ongoing usefulness as an anti-Bohemian, conservative and traditionalist figure whose example counters these slippery narratives. It may not sit squarely with many required versions of the artist, but anomie (or art making for that matter) cannot be assigned ideological character previous to, or independent of, its occurrence. Old Greshamian communist Spender noted that the views of the more reactionary modernists: Eliot, Yeats, Pound and Wyndham Lewis always “puzzled rather than alienated” his own crowd.67 This seems reasonable, if a little patronizing. Indeed, for his part, Eliot did not share Mannheim’s belief in any consistent relationship between ideologies and generations. Though they are prioritized more than ever, community and consensus among peers are surely not a necessary pre-requisite for artistic production; they may not even be healthy for it. A “self-styled disillusioned age” Eliot stated, “seems to me merely one whose illusion is that it has no illusions”. “Disillusion”, he clarified, “is balls.”68


Obscurantism, Elites and ‘Meritocracies’

Eliot’s elitism has long been emphasized, not to say taken for granted, by his critics. In their hands it is crucial not only to his sense of self and to his purview, but to his literary output. The circles and worlds through which he moved were certainly exclusive, but the extents to which they affected his output can and have been overstated. For arch-populist man-of-the-people John Carey, the avant garde/modernist moment was one of outright hostility toward the ‘common reader’.69 But as David E. Chinitz has pointed out, as much as he is employed to represent the conscious division of high art and popular culture, Eliot’s project always included material from across social strata.70 He sent fan mail

to Groucho Marx, we are reassuringly told.71 Whatever this narrative tells us, his sales and public position do not suggest an artist of quite such wilfully obscure and anti-populist ilk as some critics have enjoyed suggesting.


In any case, as Jonathan Rose equitably points out, seemingly wilful obscurity has occurred not only in the guise of ‘modernism’, but in the nebulous post-modern, in stubbornly untranslated Latin bibles and impenetrable Marxist jargon.72 We can certainly add some contemporary art discourse to this list. In defence of its occurrence in such seemingly applied and analytical fields, it should be noted that strategic obscurantism has historically existed for a number of reasons. As Marina Gerner has observed, it has disguised dangerously heterodox ideas; it has negated co-option and commodification and it has sought to complicate and thus re-activate that which we take for granted.73 But it has also implied progress where there is none, disguised intellectual bankruptcy, sought to exclude, and to aggrandize its writers and subjects. I would contend that in literary terms, if not in others, Eliot’s was an open and democratic stance. As a publisher, his motivations were not specifically exclusive. In a private letter of rejection to the poet George Barker he dismissed the idea of a poetry that served up the perverse and the obscure to refined elitist cliques. If poetry was for the few, he told Barker, it was because there were only a few who were intellectually competent to judge it at all. Eliot went on to remind Barker that the job of the poet was to aim to please these most accomplished readers, wherever they might exist or emerge.74 It is dangerous to accuse artists of wilful obscurantism and perversity, more dangerous still to imply that ‘difficulty’ presupposes class exclusion. Eliot was clear that his poems existed in the only form in which they ever could; to suggest otherwise, he said, was to imply that they were just simpler ideas dressed up.75 Their position as poetry is a condition of their existence; they need to be understandable as poems, not merely understandable. If they straddle explicit meaning it is to their benefit. The ambivalence of Eliot’s project is both too prominent to make it readily digestible and too complete for it to be read as definitively imperious.

His ties to the world which produced him, a world “foreign” to the contemporary egalitarian or libertarian critic, might also be overstated. His was one of the families Mills would later classify as ‘The Metropolitan 400’, although his branch of it existed not in genteel Boston, but industrial, developing, almost frontier St Louis.76 Its view of itself was of formative significance to him, but on leaving Harvard he did not take the opportunity to return to its fold in either city; he came to work in the ‘sub-sub-basement’ of a bank in London.77 His senses of failure and isolation, however deluded or hyper-relative we might think them, cannot be overlooked. Eliot’s was a complex colonial position: he was simultaneously insider and outsider. Unquestionably this entrenched certain social positions, but were his attachment to the pervading Bohemian literary elite he found in London so precious, he would certainly not have rejected its mores so completely. His was a fortunate position, but it was often one with which he bought his way out of rather than into social cliques. As Robert Crawford notes, he had satirized since childhood the elite he had the ‘fortune’ to know so intimately.78 The pompous establishment parade that forms much of Triumphal March, and the empty “men and bits of paper” that drift about a torpid London on the wind of Burnt Norton do not speak of complacency.7980 Less still the deathward procession of “eminent” men in East Coker.81 In Eliot, ‘rationalisation’ in the forms of officialdom, bureaucracy and capital, is consistently and actively interrogated.


Certainly it was the patrician ‘duty’ acquired through his upbringing that led him to join The Moot, a conservative discussion group whose chief concern was post-war societal reconstruction.82 However, the imperiousness of this presumed responsibility was always tempered by a strongly ascetic streak, also inherited. If the group sounds disconcertingly Machiavellian and thus power-hungry, we should note that it was at least conceived to serve as mediator between the communist and fascist elements it saw as inevitable inheritors of, and opponents for power. Its ‘new order’ was in theory, one of dialogue.83 The Moot was formed out of The Christian Newsletter and its members were undoubtedly singing from the same hymn sheet to some extent, but they were also, as Matthew Grimley recognizes, intentionally diverse in background and outlook.84 As such, the topic of elites divided Eliot and the group’s other most active member, Karl Mannheim. For Eliot, Mannheim’s notion of elites formed of educated mandarin ‘experts’ fell down because as Eliot put it, inherited “contacts and mutual influences at a less conscious level […] are perhaps more important than ideas.”85 As Cooper neatly frames it: “it is not enough merely to be the cleverest boy in the school.”86 This model has remained in place, and it is worth remembering that although it quickly fell into sincere usage, the very term, ‘meritocracy’ was coined not in the ferment of some genuine ideological movement with a hunger for equality, but rather in an essay of sociological satire.87

In On the Ruling Class, Gaetano Mosca, makes clear that even in avowedly ‘meritocratic’ settings, the necessary examinations inevitably favour those able to buy the time and training required to pass them and obtain accreditation. For Mosca, much like Eliot, it is familial connections and learned behaviours that set individuals off with stability on the path toward these checkpoints. At the very least for Mosca, it is only with continual guidance and support that we avoid the inevitable pitfalls that await us in unfamiliar spheres.88 Theodor Adorno’s dismissal of much of the sociological theory I have discussed here represents the victory of a Marxist art theory which has become, however diluted, affected and gerrymandered, quite prevalent within art schools. It provides its own means of support for contemporary artists. For Adorno of course, the “hands-off” theory of thinkers like Mannheim was easy to dismiss as uncritical. Adorno characterizes the sociological method as the mere identification of various social phenomena, but for Adorno, the real problem was that a non-committal theory was, by default, a theory of the right.89 Often this theory did fall into fascist use, but even overtly fascist tendencies and flirtations in sociologists like Pareto, Mosca and Michel cannot make their discussion less apposite, less worthy of study; their value is not decided by our assigning them moral rectitude.90 “The rule of the elite”, Michels wrote, “will be frank, clear, concrete, direct”; Adorno couldn’t call this non-committal.91 However, given that Michels work centred on the ideology of intellectual elites, Adorno may have found its focus a little too close to home. Adorno generally requires something of sociology that it is outside of its remit: full engagement. It cannot provide this and remain successful, but it can provide suggestions as to the motivations behind engagement or complacency; what, for example, the son of an opera singer and a wealthy wine exporter might find so appealing in Marxism. Similarly, it might tell us what his contemporary equivalents find so appealing in Adorno, who often confuses art and ideology. It can also tell us, in the case of Pareto, how a nascent, incumbent elite might dispose of those currently occupying the territory it craves: that is to say, by rebranding or disguising itself, or making use of the dissatisfaction of the governed masses.’92


Likewise, the ‘Boston Brahmin’ elite from which Eliot came utilized social altruism and benevolence in ways that most neo-liberals would recognize and—could you find one to ask—presumably admire. Contemporary visual art utilizes politics of tolerance, diversity and equality in similar ways. Even where this engagement is heartfelt it is not without danger. Robert Michels was among the first to recognize that all organizations and groups have an inbuilt tendency towards oligarchy.93 The representation of oligarchy as a particularly non-democratic phenomenon is liberal doggerel. As we have seen, current liberal cultural elites are well served by a venomous or imperious Eliot. A socially superior traditionalist Eliot mobilizes the left; an intellectually superior avant garde Eliot mobilizes the right; both on the liberal behalf. Adorno’s requirement of clear engagement, however sincerely intentioned, often only results in the empty display of left wing tropes. What he saw as sociological apathy may well be of more use to art; and it does not negate separate political commitments. In fact, as Eliot makes clear, the artist is better placed to offer political insight who is in full possession of the all the “facts”; that is to say the facts as they appear to others as well as him/herself.


Applying Eliot

So, how can we sum up and apply the value of Eliot’s example? As we have seen Eliot provides an example of critical rigour, whose relationship to systems of capital, in spite, or perhaps because of a privileged background, was of less crippling significance than to the impotent contemporary critic. His work itself describes relationships to ideology of oscillation and complexity which in a world where consensus is too often taken for granted, would revitalize formal and critical practice and make it of greater relevance to audiences beyond its own self-regarding mandarinate. This might allow it to become genuinely ‘socially engaged’. The absence of the skilled qualitative judgements that Eliot and his peers applied in their criticism leaves contemporary visual art prey to even greater monopoly by class-based elites.


If debates such as those around Eliot’s anti-Semitism seem relatively unlikely in literature today, they seem inconceivable in the quintessentially neo-liberal world of contemporary visual art. The comparatively pantomime incitements of Tyson Fury’s less than tacit homophobia, Paolo di Canio’s fascist tattoos and Nicolas Anelka’s ‘quenelle’ were so distant that, for all of art’s pluralism, one suspects that their names would not ring too many bells with its citizens.94 Paradoxically, Valery Gergiev’s more tacit homophobia may have registered more loudly. His lack of criticism for Putin’s homophobic legislation was useful to those wishing to define a system of ethical currency far superior to that of ‘Cro-Magnon’ football. We should bear in mind that Gergiev’s transgression occurred in the slightly stuffy context of classical music and was played out in the mainstream media.95 Even in these climes, tolerance for intolerance, like exhaust emissions, is set extremely low; puritanical and hypocritical contemporary art makes sure to frown on the merest whiff of it. No website is more telling than that of Artforum. Only two forms of story reoccur in alternating perpetuity on its news feed: those that glorify capital and those that bemoan repression. They dovetail seamlessly, cleansing and massaging each other in ever more brazen ways.96

If the middle-class denizens of the occupy movement fail to note that some of the loudest complaints against socio-economic injustice have come from the Church of England, it is perhaps because they have their heads buried in the comfortable rhetoric of The God Delusion.97 Eliot’s critiques of capitalism are overlooked in light of his anti-Semitism and his Christianity, but in their reading today, they feel utterly relevant. Eliot suggested that progression needs to be stabilized by tradition. If in visual art’s terms, we think about ‘manners’ and ‘traditions’ as formal conventions they undoubtedly remain useful. They exist as means of liberation from unquestioning narratives of progression; they resist market driven thirsts; they also provide artists with stabilizing, orientating armatures in otherwise nebulous spaces. These ideas are thus not without their proponents in contemporary visual art, but I am certain that the non-meritocratic, elitist, social system Eliot valued would meet with very vocal derision. I believe the volume of this disdain speaks of denial; Eliot describes visual art’s current social situation precisely and without artifice.

This dynamic of division persists in the much maligned, but also utterly prevalent, internship culture that exists in the arts today. The result of this problem is not, as Hito Steyerl has blithely suggested, ‘starving interns.’98 It would seem far more likely that interns are interns because they can afford to be. The problem is rather that it reinforces class divisions. These are also kept alive through situations of social rigmarole and in gallery settings, where important behavioural and linguistic signifiers are worth their weight in gold. Success as an artist is of course not predicated on formal academic tests, but on social examination and inspection. Of course, for the reasons Mosca identifies, Eliot’s notional high level poetry readers were always more likely to occur within social elites, and there is no reason to believe that contemporary visual art’s ‘meritocracy’ is any less conditional. The apparent divestment of agency often cited as commonplace in contemporary visual art practice does not represent democratization. It frequently manifests itself as delegation by the unseen (and thus even more significant) artist. Alternatively, it coercively implicates an unwitting or unwilling ‘public’ on the artist’s behalf. For all this shared agency, the names of individual artists appear as prominently as ever. I would argue that the delirious presumption of many ‘relational’ and ‘engaged’, modes of practice knocks Eliot’s supposed imperiousness into a cocked hat99.

Whilst they often claim democratic credential, art’s systems simultaneously claim to ‘challenge’— they are ‘open’ but hyper-specialized. The unreasonably imperious position assigned to Eliot: that of grand wizard, is useful as a flattering comparison. “Eliot represented and continues to represent”, Chinitz has said, “an idea whose fortunes have turned.”100 This may be true in literature, I cannot say. In visual art I do not recognize any shift away from Eliot’s supposed exclusivity. In fact, modernism, at least as a perceived utopic colony, has become of tiresome obsession to visual artists today. The definitively and chicly modernist represents a means of negating and distancing oneself from the irksome post-modern; it is also very saleable. Aesthetics and tropes of the art elite are fetishized and aped by those flailing in systems far below it. In schools, galleries, fairs, even residencies and artist run spaces, the value of certain manners and traits, ones inherited or filtered through class systems, still outweighs ideas. We are unquestionably not producing artists like Eliot, true, but an egalitarian Eden is nowhere to be found either. The elite we have been granted is a particularly shoddy and disingenuous one. The supposedly unapologetic and exclusive ‘high art’ moment that T.S. Eliot is often used to represent differs from our own not so much in terms of its humanity, but in the quality of its product.



1 The title of this essay is taken from the March 6th, 1950 edition of TIME Magazine and was originally followed with a question mark which I have omitted for purposes of clarity. Like TIME, whose discussion was not limited to the poem itself, I do not italicize ‘the waste land’, neither do I go as far as to make it one word.

2 Throughout, I consciously refer to Eliot as an ‘artist’ rather than as a ‘writer’ or a ‘poet’. No doubt this would not have sat well with Eliot. Although it represents a qualitative value judgement on my part, implying perhaps that his work transcends its medium, it is also representative of a loosening of terminology and of a tendency towards pluralism within visual art. As such, I use the term advisedly to suggest both the significance of Eliot and the relevance and efficacy of discussing him within a visual art context now.

I. The Poverty and Collusion of Contemporary Criticism
3 D. Graeber and M. Kuo, ‘Another World’ Artforum, Summer 2012, p. 266-272. Anarchist and anthropologist,Graeber has been an active part of the Occupy movement and is a professor at The London School of Economics. This position of active engagement rather than mere academic self-identification as an ‘anarchist’ is laudable, at least in terms of putting one’s money where one’s mouth is. His work, Debt: The First 5000 Years (Melville House, 2011) is a worthwhile and valuable account of the purposes of the phenomenon within social situations, but his deployment in this exclusive context, and his lack of reference to this irony, seems odd, if not naïve. Michelle Kuo is editor-in-chief of Artforum.


4T.S. Eliot, ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, in F. Kermode (ed.), The Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot, San Diego, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1975.

5 M. Rosler, ‘Culture Class: Art, Creativity, Urbanism Part 1’, e-flux, issue 21, December, 2010, http://www.e- (accessed 23 January 2016).

6 B. Groys, ‘Critical Reflections’, in J. Elkins and M. Newman (eds.) The State of Art Criticism, London Routledge, 2008, pp. 61.

7 J. Elkins, ‘On the Absence of Judgement in Art Criticism’, in J. Elkins and M. Newman pp. 77. 8 Groys, pp. 61-62.

9 J. Rose, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes, New Haven, Yale, 2001, p. 440-41. Rose cites the Jude-the-Obscuresque testimony of Clare Cameron (born Winifred Wells, 1896). A poet from a working class background in East London, the eventual disillusion she felt towards an initially entrancing Bohemia in West London is saddening. But more significantly she also felt a gnawing sense of guilty shame when comparing her own parent’s ‘dismally respectable’ home with its ‘aspidistra and kippers, pink-rose wallpapers and antimacassars’ to the louche confident, eclectic homes of those in Bohemia whose parties she did her utmost to be a part of. Here, points of reference rendered conversation difficult and her clothes were exposed as the wrong kind of shabby. For Rose, whose sympathies clearly and understandably lie with her, Cameron can at least provide ‘a remarkably perceptive—and disillusioning—sociology of Bohemia’. Working class artists, Rose concludes, have often had to settle for alienating and conditional roles—those of reportage.

10 Rosler, e-flux, # 21.

11 T.S. Eliot, For Lancelot Andrews: Essays on Style and Order, London, Faber and Gwyer, 1928.

II. Weaponizing and Commodifying Eliot’s Prejudice
12 C. Ricks & J. McCue (eds.), The Poems of T.S. Eliot, London, Faber and Faber, 2015, p. 890.

13 I. Angus and S. Orwell (eds.), In Front of Your Nose: Volume 4 of George Orwell: The Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters, Boston, Godine, 2000.

14 ‘Neo-liberal’ may hold a similar position today; to grasp it is to refute it, however disingenuously.

15 It seems useful to provide the reader with those poems which have been most regularly cited in studies concerning anti-Semitism. The four poems below appeared for the first time together in an early collection, Poems, 1920:

Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar

Tra-la-la-la-la-la-laire—nil nisi divinum stabile est; caetera fumus—the gondola stopped, the old palace was there, how charming its grey and pink—goats and monkeys, with such hair too!—so the countess passed on until she came through the little park, where Niobe presented her with a cabinet, and so departed.


Burbank crossed a little bridge
Descending at a small hotel;
Princess Volupine arrived,
They were together, and he fell.

Defunctive music under sea
Passed seaward with the passing bell
Slowly: the God Hercules
Had left him, that had loved him well.

The horses, under the axletree
Beat up the dawn from Istria
With even feet. Her shuttered barge
Burned on the water all the day.

But this or such was Bleistein’s way:
A saggy bending of the knees
And elbows, with the palms turned out,
Chicago Semite Viennese.

A lustreless protrusive eye
Stares from the protozoic slime
At a perspective of Canaletto.
The smoky candle end of time

Declines. On the Rialto once.
The rats are underneath the piles.
The jew is underneath the lot.
Money in furs. The boatman smiles,

Princess Volupine extends
A meagre, blue-nailed, phthisic hand
To climb the waterstair. Lights, lights,
She entertains Sir Ferdinand

Klein. Who clipped the lion’s wings
And flea’d his rump and pared his claws?
Thought Burbank, meditating on
Time’s ruins, and the seven laws.


Thou hast nor youth nor age
But as it were an after dinner sleep
Dreaming of both

HERE I am, an old man in a dry month,
Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain. I was neither at the hot gates
Nor fought in the warm rain
Nor knee deep in the salt marsh, heaving a cutlass,
Bitten by flies, fought.
My house is a decayed house,
And the Jew squats on the window sill, the owner,
Spawned in some estaminet of Antwerp,
Blistered in Brussels, patched and peeled in London.
The goat coughs at night in the field overhead;
Rocks, moss, stonecrop, iron, merds.
The woman keeps the kitchen, makes tea,
Sneezes at evening, poking the peevish gutter.

I an old man,
A dull head among windy spaces.

Signs are taken for wonders. “We would see a sign”:
The word within a word, unable to speak a word, Swaddled with darkness. In the juvescence of the year
Came Christ the tiger

In depraved May, dogwood and chestnut, flowering judas,
To be eaten, to be divided, to be drunk
Among whispers; by Mr. Silvero
With caressing hands, at Limoges
Who walked all night in the next room;
By Hakagawa, bowing among the Titians;
By Madame de Tornquist, in the dark room
Shifting the candles; Fraulein von Kulp
Who turned in the hall, one hand on the door. Vacant shuttles
Weave the wind. I have no ghosts,
An old man in a draughty house
Under a windy knob.

After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now
History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors
And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,
Guides us by vanities. Think now
She gives when our attention is distracted
And what she gives, gives with such supple confusions
That the giving famishes the craving. Gives too late
What’s not believed in, or if still believed,
In memory only, reconsidered passion. Gives too soon
Into weak hands, what’s thought can be dispensed with
Till the refusal propagates a fear. Think
Neither fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices
Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues
Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.
These tears are shaken from the wrath-bearing tree.

The tiger springs in the new year. Us he devours. Think at last
We have not reached conclusion, when I
Stiffen in a rented house. Think at last
I have not made this show purposelessly
And it is not by any concitation
Of the backward devils
I would meet you upon this honestly.
I that was near your heart was removed therefrom
To lose beauty in terror, terror in inquisition.
I have lost my passion: why should I need to keep it
Since what is kept must be adulterated?
I have lost my sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch:
How should I use it for your closer contact?

These with a thousand small deliberations
Protract the profit of their chilled delirium,
Excite the membrane, when the sense has cooled,
With pungent sauces, multiply variety
In a wilderness of mirrors. What will the spider do,
Suspend its operations, will the weevil
Delay? De Bailhache, Fresca, Mrs. Cammel, whirled
Beyond the circuit of the shuddering Bear
In fractured atoms. Gull against the wind, in the windy straits
Of Belle Isle, or running on the Horn,
White feathers in the snow, the Gulf claims,
And an old man driven by the Trades
To a sleepy corner.

Tenants of the house,
Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season.



Sweeney Among the Nightingales 

APENECK SWEENEY spreads his knees
Letting his arms hang down to laugh,
The zebra stripes along his jaw
Swelling to maculate giraffe.

The circles of the stormy moon
Slide westward toward the River Plate,
Death and the Raven drift above
And Sweeney guards the horned gate.

Gloomy Orion and the Dog
Are veiled; and hushed the shrunken seas;
The person in the Spanish cape
Tries to sit on Sweeney’s knees

Slips and pulls the table cloth
Overturns a coffee-cup,
Reorganized upon the floor
She yawns and draws a stocking up;

The silent man in mocha brown
Sprawls at the window-sill and gapes;
The waiter brings in oranges
Bananas figs and hothouse grapes;

The silent vertebrate in brown
Contracts and concentrates, withdraws;
Rachel née Rabinovitch
Tears at the grapes with murderous paws;

She and the lady in the cape
Are suspect, thought to be in league;
Therefore the man with heavy eyes
Declines the gambit, shows fatigue,

Leaves the room and reappears
Outside the window, leaning in,
Branches of wisteria
Circumscribe a golden grin;

The host with someone indistinct
Converses at the door apart,
The nightingales are singing near
The Convent of the Sacred Heart,

And sang within the bloody wood
When Agamemnon cried aloud,
And let their liquid droppings fall
To stain the stiff dishonoured shroud.


A Cooking Egg

En l’an trentiesme de mon aage
Que toutes meas hontes j’ay beues…

PIPIT sate upright in her chair
Some distance from where I was sitting;
Views of the Oxford Colleges
Lay on the table, with the knitting.

Daguerreotypes and silhouettes,
Her grandfather and great great aunts,
Supported on the mantelpiece
An Invitation to the Dance.

I shall not want Honour in Heaven
For I shall meet Sir Philip Sidney
And have talk with Coriolanus
And other heroes of that kidney.

I shall not want Capital in Heaven
For I shall meet Sir Alfred Mond:
We two shall lie together, lapt
In a five per cent Exchequer Bond.

I shall not want Society in Heaven,
Lucretia Borgia shall be my Bride;
Her anecdotes will be more amusing
Than Pipit’s experience could provide.

I shall not want Pipit in Heaven:
Madame Blavatsky will instruct me
In the Seven Sacred Trances;
Piccarda de Donati will conduct me…

But where is the penny world I bought
To eat with Pipit behind the screen?
The red-eyed scavengers are creeping
From Kentish Town and Golder’s Green;

Where are the eagles and the trumpets?

Buried beneath some snow-deep Alps.
Over buttered scones and crumpets
Weeping, weeping multitudes
Droop in a hundred A.B.C.’s.



A deleted poem, Dirge, which originally existed as part of The Waste Land also contains the lines:

Full fathom five your Bleistein lies
Under the flatfish and the squids.
Graves’ disease in a dead Jew’s eyes!
Where the crabs have eat the lids

Ezra Pound cut these lines along with many others, although presumably not in this case because of their specific content (see Raine, p. 172).

16 See Life and Death in Hull, dir. James Kent, U.K., Oxford Film and Television, 2003, which uses a recording Larkin and companion Monica Jones made of themselves singing a song which includes among others the lines: “Niggers, niggers, kick out the niggers, lock up the Commies, God save the Queen”. See A. Motion, Philip Larkin, A Writer’s Life, London, Faber and Faber, 1993, p.12. Larkin’s father had been an admirer of Hitler and had only taken down the Nazi ephemera that decorated his office in 1939, at the request of his employers. Given this background, Larkin’s poetical output is remarkably free from racist invective. See A. Thwaite (ed.)., Philip Larkin, Letters to Monica, London, Faber and Faber, 2010, p. 104: Larkin wrote to Monica: ‘most of the writers I grew up to admire were either non-political or left-wing […] I couldn’t find any right wing writer worthy of respect.’ Of course, this doesn’t tally with his early idolisation and imitation of Yeats, but perhaps what he was really seeking was something of greater clarity and directness than Yeats. However much his elitism may have been overemphasized, Eliot certainly did not share Larkin’s desire for a poetry of consciously mass-appeal. Similarly, Larkin’s overt and ‘jocular’ jingoism stands in contrast to Eliot’s cold, reserved, classicist prejudices. Fundamentally, Larkin’s rhetoric often seems dictated by a veneration of his own imagined mediocre provincial and took the form of its accompanying flippant and demotic lingua franca. Even in private correspondence (and contradictions aside), it is hard to imagine Eliot, having penned a frank list of hates that ran: ‘Yanks, Yids, wives, kids, Coca-Cola, protest, & the theatre’. (Thwaite, p. 387) However silly, the list serves as a useful reminder that when Larkin wrote it in 1968, not all writers and artists were desperately searching for a transformative ‘beach under the pavement’.

17 See among many others A. Houen, ‘Anti-Semitism’, in I.B. Nadel (ed.), Ezra Pound in Context, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2010, pp. 391: ‘Speaking on Radio Roma on April 27th 1943, Ezra Pound declared: “I think it might be a good idea to hang Roosevelt and a few hundred Yidds IF you can do it by due legal process.”’ Pound’s anti-Semitism is a subject too large to be tackled successfully here. But as Houen describes, it was enacted, unlike Eliot’s, as a part of specific political activity within Italian fascism and also within narrative contexts of exile, treachery, tragedy and mental instability. Eliot was outwardly dismissive of Pound’s politics and his own quite active war efforts were based firmly on the side of the allies. Despite this he maintained a loyalty to Pound, it was one forged in literary admiration and based on a debt to Pound’s editorial help and the networking he had facilitated for Eliot. Concerned over the fate of Pound and his wife Dorothy towards the end of the war Eliot wrote: ‘Her husband (Pound) is an honest though a very silly man; I owe him much gratitude for kindness in the past: I remain as much admiring [of] his poetry and literary criticism, as exasperated by his political opinions’ (Ricks and McCue, p.580). It is notable how much Julius shares this tone of irreconcilable admiration and disillusion concerning Eliot.


18 C. Raine, T.S. Eliot (Lives and Legacies), Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006. Raine asserts that much of the language Eliot uses about Jews cannot be definitively characterized as anti-Semitic. In addressing criticism of Gerontion, he argues that: ‘the neutral verb ‘squats’ does not seem intrinsically anti-Semitic’ (p.166), in context this seems wishful thinking; which of us would particularly like to be imagined, in any sense ‘squatting’? Whilst other critics extrapolate all feasible potential from Eliot’s moments of seeming anti- Semitism, Raine is too quick to shut them down.

In A. Julius, T.S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism and Literary Form, London, Thames and Hudson, 1995, p. 45, ‘spawned’ implies emergence from a foetid swamp. But Raine resists this narrative: ‘’Spawn’ does not necessarily imply the idea of swamps, it can be the milt of fish- freshwater fish’; as if this were infinitely preferable imagery with which to be associated. For Raine ‘blistered’, ‘patched’ and ‘peeled’ are similarly ‘neutral’ adjectives (Raine, p. 67). In reality it is hard to read this stanza as free from scorn, Eliot’s or otherwise. Even the choice to describe ‘some estaminet’ (an estaminet is a small bar) feels dismissive in its casual non-specificity. Similarly, in Eliot’s Portrait of a Lady, (1917) the pianist, whose performance of Chopin the narrator attends and enjoys, is only the ‘latest Pole’ (my italics).

19 See in particular: C. Seymour-Jones, Painted Shadow: The Life of Vivienne Eliot, First Wife of T.S. Eliot, New York, Knopf Doubleday, 2009 and Tom and Viv, dir. Brian Gilbert, USA and UK, Miramax, 1994.

20 Raine, p. 151: ‘I suggest the following alternative for his refusal to answer the charges. He was genuinely convinced of his own innocence. For him there was no case to answer.’

21 ‘There remains the possibility that Eliot was neither a covert, nor an overt anti-Semite, but a man occasionally guilty of sporadic, unconsidered anti-Semitism, which he would strenuously deny if asked to consider his position’ (Raine, p. 152). This may come close identifying the moral/ethical character of Eliot’s, and all but the most extreme of prejudices, but in literary terms it does not support Raine’s other more strenuous responses to the specific instances Julius and others cite; these were penned, as one would imagine all of Eliot’s output was, highly consciously.

22 See F. Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, New York, Free Press, 1992.

23 D. Kettler (ed.), Structures of Thinking: The Collected Works of Karl Mannheim, Vol. X, London, Routledge, 2013, p.174.

24 J. Edmunds & B. Turner, Generational Consciousness, Narrative and Politics, Boulder, Rowman & Littlefield, 2002, p.76.

25 ‘Strong feelings cannot make you a poet. Otherwise, every sentimental drunk, very football fan, every religious bigot would qualify’ (Raine, p. 17).

26 A. Julius, T.S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism and Literary Form, London, Thames & Hudson, 1995.

27 Julius makes repeated reference to his quandary of formal, literary admiration for Eliot and the hurt he feels as Jewish reader. This battle between the objective and the subjective is of course utterly irresolvable. Julius’s book contains repeated incantations which describe his dichotomy: ‘one reads them (the poems) appalled and impressed’ (Julius, p. 40). ‘They have a place in Modernist literature; they also have a place in the literature of modern anti-Semitism’ (Julius, p. 183) ‘Eliot deploys anti-Semitic topics with unnerving skill’ (Julius, p. 175).

28 W. Self, ‘The Hollow Man’, The Observer Review, 26 May 1996, p. 14. 24


29 ‘Anti-Semitism precedes the facts from which it is supposed to derive: no external factor can induce anti- Semitism in the anti-Semite’ (Julius, p. 175). This seems wilfully naïve. Anti-Semitism may precede facts, but it does not precede the social situations, the fashions, or the strategies of political and media organizations which appear as facts to others. These are all decidedly external factors which might induce anti-Semitism in the individual. Julius attempts to dismiss the notion, unconvincingly, that anti-Semitism was “in the air” around Eliot (Julius, p.32). For Julius this ‘narrative’ only exists to apologize for and even proliferate anti-Semitism today: ‘Widespread wickedness does not make individual evil less reprehensible’ (Julius, p. 33). This emotive language of simplistic morality exists below much of Julius’s other writing; it feels somewhat beneath him. As Mannheim tells us, the social currents that carry ideology simply cannot be overlooked, otherwise it is always utterly inexplicable. Morality aside, there is simply no denying that anti-Semitism pervaded literary London in the 1920’s to a greater extent and sat more comfortably there than it does today. ‘Excusing anti-Semitism because it was typical of the times’ (Julius, p. 35) is not the same as understanding that it simply was to some extent typical of the times.

30 T.S. Eliot, cited in Julius, p. 69.

31 R. Williams, cited in Julius, p. 156.

32 See R. Williams, Resources of Hope, London, Verso, 1989, even a cursory reading of which would render Julius’s portrait a mischaracterization.

33 C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination; With a New Afterword by Todd Gitlin, New York, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 40.

34 ‘[…] it is not true, as Ernest Jones has asserted, that ‘man’s chief enemy and danger is his own unruly nature and the dark forces pent up within him.’ On the contrary: ‘Man’s chief danger’ today lies in the unruly forces of contemporary society itself, with its alienating methods of production, its enveloping techniques of political domination, its international anarchy- in a word, its pervasive transformations of the very ‘nature’ of man and the conditions and aims of his life’. (Wright Mills, 2000, p. 13)

35 H. Arendt, Men in Dark Times, New York, Harvest 1968, cited in W.A Strauss ‘The Merchant of Venom? T.S Eliot and Anti-Semitism’, South Central Review, Vol.14, 1997, pp. 31.

III. Embracing Prejudice

36 L. Gordon, The Imperfect Life of T.S. Eliot, London, Virago, 2012, p. 528-9: ‘He was simply too clever to be a saint. In his duality as warped saint, Eliot was the epitome of twentieth-century extremism. Yet his struggle to subdue intellectual pride, fury and hatred proved fertile matter for poetry. […] Denied perfection, he lived to perpetuate its possibility for other lives.’

37 ‘I remember once when I invited him (Eliot) to read a paper to our Literary Society at Worcester College in Oxford […] he would read us The Waste Land. […] A discussion dragged along for some time until a round faced youth bounced up and said, “Mr. Eliot, may I ask a question?”

“Er-did you mean that seriously?”
Eliot looked non-plussed for a moment, and then said quietly, “Well, if you think I did not mean it seriously,
I have failed utterly.” (William Force Stead, quoted in Ricks and McCue, p. 568)

38 C. Ricks, T.S. Eliot and Prejudice, London, Faber & Faber, 1994.

39 ‘To narrow one’s eyes is to see more, but of less. […] Prejudice is a shrewd suspicion, and while half of its shrewdness consists in its being likely to be right, the other half consists in its not going out on the limb of insisting that it will be proved right.’ (Ricks, p. 11).

40 Eliot’s Prufrock and indeed the chattering women who talk of Michelangelo are caricatures drawn along social lines. Prejudices and caricatures along class lines are still subject to differing sanctions than those along lines of ethnicity, gender, religion or sexuality.


41 R. Crawford, Young Eliot, From St. Louis to the Waste Land, London, Jonathan Cape, 2015. ‘T.S. Eliot did not want his biography written. […] Having managed to make lasting poetry out his most stinging humiliations, he wished those humiliations to be afforded the grace of oblivion.’ (Crawford, p. 3).

42 Ricks & McCue, p. 891.

43 See D. Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, Oxford, Oxford World’s Classics, 1998.

44 E.F. Fry, ‘Picasso, Cubism and Reflexivity’, Art Journal, Vol. 47, No.4, 1988, pp. 296-310. ‘I claim that the special achievement of Cubism, especially of Picasso was to reinvent classical, mediated representation, and in that reinvention also to transform it so as to reveal its central conventions and mental processes […] This as an event may be called reflexive […] (it) is comparable to the sudden discovery that one has been speaking in prose all one’s life; or to a play within a play and thus being reminded of the fictional nature of drama’.

45 We are used to lies requiring verbal form: if a child draws a picture of a house that is consciously not their own, it is not deemed a moral transgression until the child tells someone: “this is a picture of my house”.

46 Ricks & McCue, p. 579.


IV. Tradition and Disillusion

47 Wright Mills, p. 14.

48 A. Huxley, ‘The Lesson of the Adams’, in J. Meckier and B. Nugel (eds.), The Aldous Huxley Annual, Vol. 6, 2008, p. 47.


So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

(From East Coker, 1940)

50 Wright Mills, p. 27.

51 Wright Mills, 2000, p. 29

52 Another interesting example can be found in V.S. Naipaul, whose post-colonial narrative ended not in alienation, but rural English conservative orthodoxy; see amongst others V.S. Naipaul, The Enigma of Arrival, London, Penguin, 1987.

53 These are Burnt Norton (1936), East Coker (1940), The Dry Salvages (1941) and Little Gidding (1942). 26


54 See Crawford, p. 149: during time in Paris in the early 1920’s, Eliot had briefly embraced fashionable Bergsonian ideas which prioritized intuition and empiricism as means to understand the world. Quickly though, their relationship to new-fangled spirituality and to the murky world of Theosophy rendered them unappealing to his underlying pragmatic and Unitarian mind set. See S. Spender, The Thirties and After, London, Fontana, 1978, p.204: Eliot’s apparent ‘retreat’ into ‘classicism, royalism and Anglo-Catholicism’ was unfairly painted by many as resignation from any form of genuine commitment. Incidentally theosophy has received renewed interest of late, chiefly in light of the fact that it represented a rare prototype forum for engagement and discourse of female thinkers. It was not this feature, but rather its charlatan spiritualism that Eliot had in his sights when he created Madame Sosostris, a thinly veiled picture of Theosophist guru Madame Blavatsky. It was her appeal to a listless, spiritually bankrupt aristocracy, rather than to women, that he satirized in The Waste Land.

55 See J. Xiros Cooper, The Ideology of the Four Quartets, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, p.2: according to Xiros Cooper this period could be said to begin following the publication of Ash Wednesday, in 1930.

56 As Spender makes clear, this was the case in spite and because of the fact that Bloomsbury’s identification with the left was only surface deep (Spender, p. 188). Pound had warned Eliot off Virginia Woolf and the wider Bloomsbury Group years before, writing from Paris that they were ‘an arse blasted lot.’ It may be true that Eliot’s political outlook, and indeed personality, did not mesh neatly with their ‘skipping irreverence’, but it seems they found him entertainingly uptight, to begin with at least (Gordon, p. 140).

57 Gerber was responding to Dave Hickey’s argument that ‘taking the conditions of the present as a donnée is crazy. You must deviate. There is simply no option. If you make art that looks perfectly like art, it will disappear like a song on a.m. radio.’ (Elkins & Newman, p. 203-4).

58 See B. Preciado, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era, New York, The Feminist Press, 2014.

59 See A. Russeth, ‘‘Park McArthur: Ramps’ at Essex Street’, Observer Culture, 22 January 2014,, (accessed 15 March 2016).

60 M. Corris, ‘The Poverty of Poetry’, Art Journal, Vol. 70, No.1, 2011, pp. 114.

61 K. Åsdam, ‘Nationalism: Persistence and Political Upkeep’, e-flux, issue 57, September 2014,, (accessed 20 January 2016).

62 D. Defoe, Moll Flanders, London, Penguin, 1978, p. 178.

63 Corris, p. 114.

64 Cooper, p. 38.

65 The Art’s Councils pamphlet, Equality, Diversity and the Creative Case, The Arts Council, Manchester, 2015, is a typical example of the avoidance of class issues when discussing diversity. It offers detailed statistics on involvement and employment in the arts on the basis of gender, ethnicity, disability and age, but squarely fails to note the socio-economic backgrounds of any of these participants.

66 G. Walden, ‘Contemporary Art, Democracy and the State’ in M. Wallinger and M. Warnock, Art for All? Their Policies and our Culture, London, PEER, 2000, P. 26: ‘Personally I do not believe’ Walden stated, ‘that British contemporary art is either exciting or innovatory; indeed, I do not find it of much value or interest at all. Some of it is capable of affording entertainment or distraction, but if those are the criteria, in terms of wit, intelligence, originality, social commentary or philosophical undertones it rarely rises to the level of the most accomplished American TV shows such as The Simpsons’. Of course speaking in 2000 and given its line of attack, it is clear that Walden is addressing the British art of the preceding ten years. It is interesting to note how much has changed. British art now is less populist, which is only to say it does not seem to be in the public consciousness to the same extent it was during the 1990’s. Certainly it does not seek to entertain or titillate in the same way. This rebranding has been merciless to all but those at the very peak of the YBA project, through whose fall galleries stood to lose too much face. For the most part they themselves have been forced into ‘independence’. The current situation, with its provisionalism, documentary forms and social projects may seem instinctively preferable in personality to the insider, but they are perhaps less representative of the art world’s true colours. Whether retreat from the popular imagination necessarily represents a raising of standards is uncertain; the trade-off may not have been worth it. For a while at least, the public had a grasp of the art milieu, however glib or vacuous it may have felt. Unfortunately, we can also say with greater certainty that The Simpsons, no longer reaches the heights—or holds the influence—Walden claims for it.


67 Spender, p. 16.

68 Ricks & McCue, p. 576.


V. Obscurantism, Elites and ‘Meritocracy’

69 See J. Carey, The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880- 1939, London, Faber & Faber, 1992. For Carey, the ‘questions’ Prufrock seems to pose to, those of voice, of narrator, of time and place, marked the beginning of this hostility, for Carey ‘the questions are unanswerable because the poem designedly withholds the information needed to answer them. It withdraws itself into indefiniteness, eluding the fact hungry masses’. The assertion that a poem is formed of questions to answer, and indeed that there is/was a simplistic public thirsty for their total resolution, is perhaps rather presumptuous. Carey’s ‘common reader’ is always problematic.

See also Rose p.393: ‘Carey argues that the fundamental motive behind the modernist movement was a corrosive hostility toward the common reader. Nietzsche, Ortega Y Gasset, George Gissing, H.G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Sigmund Freud, Aldous Huxley, Wyndham Lewis, D.H. Lawrence, Ezra Pound and Graham Green all strove to preserve a sense of class superiority by reviling the mean suburban man. They convinced themselves that he typical clerk was subhuman, machinelike, dead inside, a consumer of rubbishy newspapers and canned food.’ Rose’s characterization of Carey’s argument is accurate in its picture of a very wide-ranging, not to say paranoiac, suspicion. Eliot was certainly quick to identify what he saw as cultural decline and he was keenly satirical of cultural mores, but I would not accept that his critiques were drawn along class lines in the way that Carey suggests.

70 D.E. Chinitz, T.S. Eliot and the Cultural Divide, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2005, p. 5: ‘Eliot […] is a richer more engaging figure than either the poster boy for an aesthetically minded “beleaguered minority” or the straw man for modernist “contamination anxiety.” He is a multi-dimensional thinker and artist, whose approach to the modern popular, both as theorized in his critical essays and as practised in his art is supple, frequently insightful, and always deeply ambivalent’.

71 D.E. Chinitz, ‘T.S. Eliot and the Cultural Divide’, PMLA, Vol. 10, March 1995, pp. 237.

72 Rose, p. 395.

73 M. Gerner, ‘Does Philosophy Have to be Obscure’, The TLS Blog, [web blog], 11 November 2015,, (Accessed 12 March 2016): Gerner attributes the thesis of heterodoxy to Leo Strauss; locates resistance in Theodore Adorno and re-activation in Socrates.

74 Ricks and McCue, p. 890.

75 ‘(The) distinction between “poetic thought” and “the thought of the poet ought to deter thoughtful readers from enquiring of a poet (if living) what he meant by any particular poem. Those who ask the question assume that a poem is a poetical dressing up, or disguise, of something which can be put equivalently in other terms […] that it is of the nature of poetry to be ‘meaningless’, or else that meaning can be found by probing into the unconscious mind, or the concealed biography of the author’. (Eliot quoted in Ricks and McCue, p. 575).

76 ‘In Boston and in New York, in Philadelphia and in Baltimore and in San Francisco, there exists a solid core of older wealthy families […] Today, in so far as it tries to base itself on pride of family descent, its chances to be truly national are subject to great risks. There is little doubt however, that among the metropolitan 400’s as well as among their small town counterparts, there is an accumulation of advantages in which objective

opportunity and psychological readiness interact to create and to maintain for each generation the world of the upper social classes. These classes, in each of the big cities, look first of all to one another’. (Wright Mills, 1956, p. 47-48).


77 Spender, p. 258.

78 Even at the age of eleven, Eliot had regularly produced an incredibly precocious satirical review entitled The Fireside. In it he reviewed fictional literature and included society pages which lampooned the pomposity he saw around him. As Crawford attests, through characters like ‘‘Miss Stockenbonds’, ‘Mrs Incessant Snob’ and ‘the Bondholder Fortunnes (Eliot) was able to make fun of social pretension in a milieu where ‘Miss Kamchatty de Havens gave a small tea of twenty covers. From a very young age he was able both to participate in polite elite culture and to mock it. That mixture of impulses would be crucial to the poems of his first collection; it never left him’ (Crawford, p. 52).



Stone, bronze, stone, steel, stone, oakleaves, horses’ heels
Over the paving.
And the flags. And the trumpets. And so many eagles.
How many? Count them. And such a press of people.
We hardly knew ourselves that day, or knew the city.
That is the way to the temple, and we so many crowding the way.
So many waiting, how many waiting? what did it matter, on such a day?
Are they coming? No, not yet. You can see some eagles.
And hear the trumpets
Here they come. Is he coming?
The natural life of our Ego is a perceiving.
We can wait with our stools and our sausages.
What comes first? Can you see? Tell us. It is

5,800,000 rifles and carbines,
102,000 machine guns,
28,000 trench mortars,
53,000 field and heavy guns,
I can’t tell how many projectiles, mines and fuses,
13,000 aeroplanes,
24,000 aeroplanes engines,
50,000 ammunition wagons,
now 55,000 army wagons,
11,000 field kitchens,
1,150 field bakeries.

What a time it took.
Will it be he now? No,
Those are the golf club captains, these the Scouts,
And now the Société gymnastique de Poissy
And now comes the Mayor and the Liverymen.

(From Coriolan I – Triumphal March, 1931)


Here is a place of disaffection
Time before and time after
In a dim light: neither daylight
Investing form with lucid stillness
Turning shadow into transient beauty
With slow rotation suggesting permanence
Nor darkness to purify the soul
Emptying the sensual with deprivation
Cleansing affection from the temporal.
Neither plenitude nor vacancy. Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before and time after.
Eructation of unhealthy souls
Into the faded air, the torpid
Driven on the wind that sweeps the gloomy hills of London,
Hampstead and Clerkenwell, Campden and Putney,
Highgate, Primrose and Ludgate. Not here
Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.

(From Burnt Norton, 1936)


O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant,
The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters,
The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers,
Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees,
Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark,
And dark the Sun and Moon, and the Almanach de Gotha
And the Stock Exchange Gazette, the Directory of Directors,
And cold the sense and lost the motive of action.
And we all go with them, into the silent funeral,
Nobody’s funeral, for there is no one to bury.
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away-
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing-
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy

Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.

(From East Coker, 1940)

82 Note conservative with lower case ‘c’.

83 D. Kettler and V. Meja, Karl Mannheim and the Crisis of Liberalism: The Secret of These New Times, Piscataway, Transaction, 1995, p. 265.

84 See M. Grimley, ‘Civil Society and the Clerisy: Christian Élites and National Culture, c.1930-1950’, in J. Harris (ed.), Civil Society in British History: Ideas, Identities, Institutions, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 234: ‘As with the ideas of any group we have to be careful about ascribing too much of a common outlook to members of the Moot. It was after all deliberately eclectic. Though its standpoint was avowedly Christian, it did not restrict itself to any denomination, and one of its most assiduous attendees, Karl Mannheim, was a Jew. [..] Nor despite its preoccupation with elites was the Moot even loosely Conservative. One prominent member, John Middleton Murry, was a pacifist and former Communist who had been experimenting with an agrarian community in East Anglia. […] Even T.S. Eliot was not a straightforward Tory; […] those who have rifled carelessly through his essays to find evidence of tweedy obscurantism (or worse, anti-Semitism) have missed the revolutionary nature of his proposals for social reordering’.

85 Cooper, p. 37.

86 Cooper, p. 37.


87 See M. Young, The Rise of the Meritocracy, 1870-2033: An Essay on Education and Inequality, London, Thames and Hudson, 1958.

88 G. Mosca, ‘On the Ruling Class’, in T. Parsons (ed.), Theories of Society: Foundations of Modern Social Theory, New York, Free Press, 1961: ‘Even when academic degrees, scientific training, special aptitudes as tested by examinations and competitions, open the way to public office, there is no eliminating that special advantage in favor of certain individuals which the French call the advantage of positions deja prises. In actual fact, though examinations and competitions may theoretically be open to all, the majority never have the resources for meeting the expense of long preparation, and many others are without the connections and kinships that set an individual promptly on the right road, enabling him to avoid the groupings and blunders that are inevitable when one enters an unfamiliar environment without any guidance or support’ (Mosca, pp. 599). For Mosca, even if an individual does successfully transcend his/her class, their problems do not disappear, but are merely transformed: ‘whether a man change for the better or for the worse, he has to be exceptionally level- headed if he is to change his social status very appreciably and still keep his character unaltered. Mirabeau remarked that, for any man, any great climb on the social ladder produces a crisis that cures the ills he has and creates new ones that he never had before’. (Mosca, pp.600)

These new problems, Mosca states, create new instabilities: ‘The example of individuals who have started from nowhere and reached prominent positions fires new ambitions, new greeds, new energies, and this molecular rejuvenation of the ruling class continues vigorously until a long period of social stability slows it down again’. (Mosca, pp. 602).

89 T.W Adorno, The Sociology of Knowledge and Its Consciousness, [PDF],, (accessed 11 January 2016).

90 See D. Kasler and S. Turner (eds.), Sociology Responds to Fascism, London, Routledge, 2003.

91 R. Michels, First Lectures in Political Sociology, trans. Alfred De Grazia, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1949, p121.

92 G. Busino, ‘The Signification of Vilfredo Pareto’s Sociology’, European Journal of Social Sciences, XXXVIII- 117, 2000, pp. 217-228: Busino characterizes Pareto’s point thus: ‘It may happen that those opposed to the élite, in order to eliminate their adversaries in power, make use of the discontent of the governed classes or use foreign intervention. The class in power then has to defend itself. Guile and force are necessary but it is also necessary to obtain the passive consensus of the governed class.’

93 R. Michels, ‘Democracy and The Iron Law of Oligarchy’ in Political Parties, London, Simon and Schuster, 1968, p. 342-356. VI. Applying Eliot

94 The first is a boxer; the latter two footballers.

95 See Brown, M. (2014) Russian Conductor Valery Gergiev Denies Supporting Homophobic Legislation, [Online], Available:, 2014.

96 The magazine’s news stories reveal a voice reminiscent of many tabloid media outlets. In Artforumland generic ‘artists’ are angry about breaches of civil liberty, whilst simultaneously fetishizing capital. In the same way the tabloid’s generic ‘public’ are angry about immigration or politician’s expenses but rejoice in royalty. Though their political positions may be poles apart, their tones are similar: those of oscillating celebration, ardency and faux-horror. Choice headlines from just the last few weeks (as of 03/05/16) include:

‘David Geffen Gives $100 Million to Museum of Modern Art in New York’.
‘Cabaret Voltaire Needs $13 Million’.
‘Attacks on Artistic Freedoms Nearly Doubled Worldwide in 2015, Says Report.’
‘Asian Art Museum of San Francisco to Launch $25 Million Expansion Project’.
‘China to Ban TV Shows Depicting Gay Relationships, Underage Romance, and Smoking’.

‘Artists and Writers Rally Around Apple in Fight Against FBI’.

‘Artists Urge Guggenheim to Reverse Decision to End Negotiations with Gulf Labor’.

97 See R. Dawkins, The God Delusion, London, Random House, 2006.

98 M. Jordan and H. Steyerl, Hito Steyerl- Politics of Post-Representation, [website],, (accessed 12 March 2016).

99 See N. Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, Dijon, Les Presses du reel, 2002. See also C. Bishop, Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, London, Verso, 2012 and C. Bishop, Participation, London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, 2006.

100 Chinitz, 2005, p. 2.


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