I’ve been engaged in an ongoing wrangle with Gregory Wolfe about the status of Christian intellectuals in the public sphere. We got a bit stuck on the question of T.S. Eliot and the worthiness of New Criticism. Mr. Wolfe has helped to un-stick the conversation with a rather devastating reply to my last post.
Pointing out that Eliot wrote his earlier critical works before he’d become a practicing Christian, Wolfe noted that by the time of Four Quartets “Eliot’s perspective had changed a great deal.”
His own childhood, family history, and other personal experiences become central to the poem’s meaning—indeed, become the names of the four sections. Eliot is incarnate in this poem but more importantly, his shift in 4Q, perhaps influenced by Maritain or in tandem with Maritain, signaled a growing awareness by mid-century Christian intellectuals that the modern “self” could not simply be ditched.
I acknowledge defeat. I was trying to fit Eliot into a tight box of anti-incarnational thinking in order to make my greater point, which was that Eliot is responsible for the intellectual and theological failures of New Criticism. In fact, Eliot—both as thinker and as poet—is too complex and rich a figure to be diminished and stuffed into such a restrictive box. [Read more…]