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T. S. Eliot's Dialectical Imagination

Jewel Spears Brooker

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What principles connect—and what distinctions separate—"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," The Waste Land, and Four Quartets?

The thought-tormented characters in T. S. Eliot’s early poetry are paralyzed by the gap between mind and body, thought and action. The need to address this impasse is part of what drew Eliot to philosophy, and the failure of philosophy to appease his disquiet is the reason he gave for abandoning it. In T. S. Eliot’s Dialectical Imagination, Jewel Spears Brooker argues that two of the principles that Eliot absorbed as a PhD student at Harvard and Oxford were to become…

What principles connect—and what distinctions separate—"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," The Waste Land, and Four Quartets?

The thought-tormented characters in T. S. Eliot’s early poetry are paralyzed by the gap between mind and body, thought and action. The need to address this impasse is part of what drew Eliot to philosophy, and the failure of philosophy to appease his disquiet is the reason he gave for abandoning it. In T. S. Eliot’s Dialectical Imagination, Jewel Spears Brooker argues that two of the principles that Eliot absorbed as a PhD student at Harvard and Oxford were to become permanent features of his mind, grounding his lifelong quest for wholeness and underpinning most of his subsequent poetry.

The first principle is that contradictions are best understood dialectically, by moving to perspectives that both include and transcend them. The second is that all truths exist in relation to other truths. Together or in tandem, these two principles—dialectic and relativism—constitute the basis of a continual reshaping of Eliot’s imagination. The dialectic serves as a kinetic principle, undergirding his impulse to move forward by looping back, and the relativism supports his ingrained ambivalence.

Brooker considers Eliot’s poetry in three blocks, each represented by a signature masterpiece: "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," The Waste Land, and Four Quartets. She correlates these works with stages in the poet’s intellectual and spiritual life: disjunction, ambivalence, and transcendence. Using a methodology that is both inductive—moving from texts to theories—and comparative—juxtaposing the evolution of Eliot’s mind as reflected in his philosophical prose and the evolution of style as seen in his poetry—Brooker integrates cultural and biographical contexts. The first book to read Eliot’s poems alongside all of his prose and letters, T. S. Eliot’s Dialectical Imagination will revise received readings of his mind and art, as well as of literary modernism.

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T. S. Eliot's Dialectical Imagination

Jewel Spears Brooker

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Reviews

Reviews

Brooker's familiarity with the detailed chronology of Eliot's intellectual development makes her an exceptionally helpful and authoritative guide... this is a lucid, intricate but informative book, and the more you already know about Eliot, the more you will learn from it.

Brooker integrates complex philosophical and theological analyses into a deeply sympathetic, emotionally intelligent study. She excels in guiding us along Eliot's intellectual and creative trajectory, using dialectics to draw a portrait of the conflicted mind of a poet who 'abandons nothing en route'... T. S. Eliot's Dialectical Imagination will no doubt become a standard point of reference in the Eliotic critical canon.

Brooker's work makes skillful use of hitherto unpublished materials.

Jewel Spears Brooker has written a book fully deserving of those accolades on its dust jacket. Its originality, intellectual heft, and clear, graceful style make it appealing to Eliot's general readership and essential for Eliot scholars. "We are in the dawn of a renaissance in Eliot studies," she writes in her Introduction. T. S. Eliot's Dialectical Imagination is a distinguished contribution to that renaissance, taking it beyond its dawn to full sunrise.

In eleven compact and cogent chapters, Jewel Spears Brooker provides a persuasive account of T. S. Eliot's development as man, thinker, and poet. Brooker's book... is likely to be permanently useful.

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About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
240
ISBN
9781421426525
Illustration Description
1 b&w illus
Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Abbreviations

Introduction: Disjunction and Dialectic in T. S. Eliot
1. The Debate between Body and Soul in Eliot's Early Poetry
2. Eliot's First Conversion: "Rhapsody on a Windy

Acknowledgments
Abbreviations

Introduction: Disjunction and Dialectic in T. S. Eliot
1. The Debate between Body and Soul in Eliot's Early Poetry
2. Eliot's First Conversion: "Rhapsody on a Windy Night" and the 1913 Critique of Bergson
3. Eliot's Debt to F. H. Bradley: Reality and Appearance in 1914
4. The Poet and the Cave-Man: Making History in "Sweeney among the Nightingales" and The
Waste Land
5. Individual Works and Organic Wholes: The Idealist Foundation of Eliot's Criticism
6. Poetry and Despair: The Hollow Men and the End of Philosophy
7. Love and Ecstasy in Donne, Dante, and Andrewes
8. Eliot's Second Conversion: Dogma without Dogmatism
9. An Exilic Triptych: The Waste Land, Ash-Wednesday, "Marina"
10. "Into our first world": Return and Recognition in Burnt Norton and Little Gidding
11. War and the Problem of Evil in the Wartime Quartets: Reason, Love, Poetry

Notes
Bibliography
Index

Author Bio
Jewel Spears Brooker
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Jewel Spears Brooker

Jewel Spears Brooker, Professor Emerita of Literature at Eckerd College, is the author or editor of ten books, including T. S. Eliot's Dialectical Imagination (2018), T. S. Eliot: The Contemporary Reviews (2004), Mastery and Escape: T. S. Eliot and the Dialectic of Modernism (1994), Reading 'The Waste Land': Modernism and the Limits of Interpretation (1990, coauthored with Joseph Bentley), T. S...