Addendum to earlier blather!
TSE famously wrote that "what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new."
In Aleida Assmann's essay in T.S. Eliot and the Concept of Tradition, she notes that for Eliot, tradition (which he defined as "the sense of everything happening at once") "as a cultural memory that lends itself to creative deformation, differs from a canonical tradtion that enforces veneration." And "the word 'deformation' here has no negative connotations, because [for TSE] there is not standard of a binding norm that transcends history."
This sounds remarkably like what Jane Dark and Christian Bok have been getting at in their recent Harriet comments - not the same as, but much like. And all this dovetails nicely with Mark Scroggins' description of Zukofsky's way of reading the past, too: in LZ's own words, "It is not the sea but hyaline cushions the flower-- Liveforever, everlasting..." More on this as I continue may way into his spellbinding The Poem of a Life: A Biography of Louis Zukofsky, a book so good I'm anxious about what the heck I'm going to read when I finish it!
By the way, Charles Bernstein's weblog has a Water Control Officer Report in which the percentage of New Yorker poems having to do with water is calculated. It's a version of the old gag about how the poems in that magazine were analogues to the cover art. Strangely, the percentage of verse in LZ's work pertaining to water is also quite high. But in Zuk's work the ocean's waves undulate like the ripples of literary tradition. Interesting that this is so in Zukofsky and also in Ashbery (e.g. Flow Chart), whereas there are celestial constellations in the likes of Eliot's criticism and in, say, Ann Lauterbach.