Seminars: Monday to Friday, 1:00-2:30; students choose one seminar for the week. Most of the prose readings assigned will be freely available to students for the month of July in The Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot: The Critical Edition, online on Project Muse, courtesy of Johns Hopkins University Press.

Frances Dickey, Early Poems and Criticism: Inventions of the March Hare to Prufrock and Other Observations

            This seminar will examine Eliot’s work from Inventions of the March Hare through Prufrock and Other Observations, focusing on his engagement with the arts and philosophy, and the influence of the places where he lived. What did Eliot see and hear, and how did these experiences shape him as a poet? His early poetry ranges from tin pan alley songs to Chopin, puppet plays to Wagner opera, Michelangelo to Manet; each of these references implies a social context and a set of artistic conventions relevant to Eliot’s own poetic choices. We also seek to understand more generally how Eliot conceived of the relations among the arts, looking at contemporary debates about Wagner (Nietzsche), the mixing of genres (Irving Babbitt), and sensation (Henri Bergson). We will also place his poetry in the context of his early essays, from his first reviews to the emergence of his hallmark critical style and themes.

 

William Marx, Eliot and His French Masters

            “I had the idea of giving up English and trying to settle down and scrape along in Paris and gradually write French.” So said Eliot of the “romantic year” he spent in Paris in 1910-11. The project of this seminar is to explore the French background behind Eliot’s poetry and criticism. We will meet some towering figures of Eliot’s mental landscape (Charles Baudelaire, Remy “the perfect critic” Gourmont, Paul Valéry, and some others); we will compare some French poems (in translation) with Eliot’s, and see how some of the most fascinating features of Eliot’s work have strong parallels or even their origin in his extensive French readings. And we will read Eliot’s French poems, of course.

No knowledge of French is needed at all.

Texts: The Poems of T. S. Eliot; The Penguin Book of French Poetry 1820-1950, translated by William Rees (Penguin Classics). Especially Nerval, Gautier, Baudelaire, Verlaine, Corbière,  Rimbaud, Laforgue, Verhaeren, Valéry, Apollinare, Cendrars, Saint-John Perse.

Recommended Readings: From The Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot: The Critical Edition (available online on Project Muse with free access to all students during the School): “The Perfect Critic” (1920); “The French Intelligence” (1920); “A Brief Introduction to the Method of Paul Valéry” (1924); “Baudelaire in Our Time” (1927); “Baudelaire” (1930); “From Poe to Valéry). Also, Charles Baudelaire, The Flowers of Evil, and Remy de Gourmont, Decadence and Other Essays on the Culture of Ideas (freely available online: http://openlibrary.org).

 

Anthony Cuda, Middle Poems and Criticism: The Waste Land to ‘Marina’

            This seminar will begin with Eliot’s most renowned and groundbreaking poem, The Waste Land. Students will learn about key scenes and repeated patterns that help to make sense of the poem, and they will immerse themselves in Eliot’s influential criticism on myth, ritual, and impersonality from the same period. We will trace his anguished descent into the despair of “The Hollow Men,” and we will interpret the surprising transformations and spiritual metamorphoses that he begins in “Journey of the Magi” and the remarkable “Marina.” Our focus will be on the crucial place that feeling and affect hold in Eliot’s poetics, and on how he regards poetry as a way to navigate “the depths of feeling into which we cannot peer.”

 

John Xiros Cooper, Eliot and Europe

“The history of European civilization is a history of perpetual cross-fertilisation” (T. S.Eliot,                                “Civilisation: The Nature of Cultural Relations,” 1943)

            In the fourth volume of T. S. Eliot’s Letters, the editor, John Haffenden, refers to the poet as an “ardent European, committed to cultural cross-fertilization.” I agree entirely. This seminar will explore what this means. The first thing to note is that Eliot as a “European” is not a singular or static idea. Eliot’s Europhilia developed over time. It began as a concept, a kind of Platonic idea, marked by the phrase “the mind of Europe” in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919). By the time Eliot came to address the German intelligentsia in his broadcast talks in 1946, “Die Einheit der Europäischen Kultur” (published in English as “The Unity of European Culture”), his conception of Europe had come down to earth and taken a more practical and pragmatic form. Eliot’s was one of the voices that argued ardently for the unity of Europe after the catastrophe of the Second World War. Yet he was not an ivory tower universalist; his sense of Europe took into account as well the crucial importance of the particular, the local, and the regional.

            The seminar will focus on a small group of poems and prose that tell the complex story of Eliot’s evolving European vision. The poems include “Gerontion,” The Waste Land, “Coriolan: I. Triumphal March,’ and “Little Gidding.” Most prose pieces, some previously uncollected or unpublished, are available online in volumes of The Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot : “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919); from The Criterion, “A Commentary: The European Idea” (1927) and “Last Words” (1939); from other sources, “Broadcast on the Liberation of Rome by the Allies” (1944); “The Responsibility of the Man of Letters in the Cultural Restoration of Europe” (1944), and “Cultural Diversity and European Unity” (1945). Digital copies of two works that may not be online will be provided in advance: Notes towards the Definition of Culture (1948), with its important Appendix, “The Unity of European Culture,” and, “What Dante Means to Me” (1950), from To Criticize the Critic (1965).

 

Ronald Schuchard, Later Poems and Criticism: Ash-Wednesday to Four Quartets

            This seminar will begin with a study of Ash-Wednesday and the “Landscapes” poems, showing how they grow out of intense personal experience and lead the poet into Four Quartets. We will then devote a seminar to each of the quartets and discuss them in relation to critical essays that bear upon them: “What is Minor Poetry?”, “The Music of Poetry,” “What Dante Means to Me,” “Yeats,” and “To Criticize the Critic.” Recommended reading: Schuchard, Eliot’s Dark Angel, chapters on Ash-Wednesday and “Little Gidding.”

Jahan Ramazani, Global Eliot

            In this seminar, we will explore the transnational range, dynamics, and subsequent influences of T. S. Eliot’s poetry. Although Eliot has often been considered either canonically English or quintessentially American, we will examine his poetry’s overflowing of national borders, its global horizons and reach. We will investigate how, why, and to what extent his poems traverse a variety of literary and cultural traditions, as well as multiple geographies, languages, and religions. We will ask about the meaning and significance of his engagement with Asian cultural materials in The Waste Land, Four Quartets, and elsewhere. We will also reconsider Eliot through the lens of poets he influenced, including South Asian, Caribbean, black British, and other postcolonial poets, including Derek Walcott, Kamau Brathwaite, Lorna Goodison, Agha Shahid Ali, and Daljit Nagra.