Monday, March 23, 2009

The Schlock of the New

"It's no more use trying to be traditional than it is trying to be original. Nobody invents very much, but there is one thing to be said for contemporary poetry that can't be said in favour of any other, and that is that it is written by our contemporaries." -- T.S. Eliot

Spoken by Eliot on the only known film of him, which lasts about 8 seconds. Thanks to Jim McCue, who is working on the re-editing of Eliot's works.


Chris said...

Hi Don,
Boris Groys has written an essay which I find helpful in thinking about comments like Eliot's:

If one says that "it's all been done before" in poetry, that might open up an exciting sense of possibility (there is no progress in art, everything is possible, all styles are equally valid in their own way, etc.). But might it not also close off our ability to discern differences between the projects of contemporary poets, particularly as we read these projects using terms we posit according to our understand of an established tradition. In what way might poets be writing for the archive if the very possibility of poetic innovation is called into question, or even indicted.

-Chris Hosea

Ms Baroque said...

He sounds like my friend Roddy!

There's a wonderful thing from, I think, Marie Corelli or someone like that - asked why she wasn't more ambitious, didn't worry about being forgotten once she wasn;t here to write her populist novels or whatever, replied that she could think of no finer epitaph than 'She gave pleasure to her contemporaries.'

I think that's how it goes. It's beautiful. Our contemporaries are with us every day, they are our sea. But then, I've always had difficulty defining just that. What it means. What is contemporary passes on, someone is contemporary and then they die - Elizabeth Bowen has a wonderful quote about how they are then relegated to their own time - whcih WAS also ours but is then dead -

Are we saying that we somehow disown our epxeriences of, say, twenty years before? At what point does something cease to be contemporary and thus become less important or (dread word) 'relevant' to us?

Then you open something or you listen to something and it speaks to you in a way no mere contemporanerous babble ever could. Mozart, Donne, Charles Lamb, for example. These people created art that reflects things that are still true now. And you feel, THIS is my world, this is my contemporary.

I'm sure Eliot saw that too.

And anyway, time is just an accident, like space. If I'm 5,000 miles from you, Don, it also means we don't exist at the same time, because it will take me a day to get to you. In the end you feel that neither time nor space really exists at all. They're just facts about parts of physical reality.

Jonas said...

That isn't the only known film of Eliot. If you watch the Voices & Visions piece about him, there's a clip of him reading from the Four Quartets. I have no idea where it comes from, but would sure love a copy.