Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Pres. Obama on T.S. Eliot, Yeats, and Pound - to an ex-girlfriend!


I haven’t read “The Waste Land” for a year, and I never did bother to check all the footnotes. But I will hazard these statements — Eliot contains the same ecstatic vision which runs from Münzer to Yeats. However, he retains a grounding in the social reality/order of his time. Facing what he perceives as a choice between ecstatic chaos and lifeless mechanistic order, he accedes to maintaining a separation of asexual purity and brutal sexual reality. And he wears a stoical face before this. Read his essay on Tradition and the Individual Talent, as well as Four Quartets, when he’s less concerned with depicting moribund Europe, to catch a sense of what I speak. Remember how I said there’s a certain kind of conservatism which I respect more than bourgeois liberalism — Eliot is of this type. Of course, the dichotomy he maintains is reactionary, but it’s due to a deep fatalism, not ignorance. (Counter him with Yeats or Pound, who, arising from the same milieu, opted to support Hitler and Mussolini.) And this fatalism is born out of the relation between fertility and death, which I touched on in my last letter — life feeds on itself. A fatalism I share with the western tradition at times. You seem surprised at Eliot’s irreconcilable ambivalence; don’t you share this ambivalence yourself, Alex?

-- Barack Obama to ex-girlfriend; see full story here, with analysis here.

2 comments:

William A. Sigler said...

It’s not pretty to look at my own misspent youth, and downright embarrassing (to me at least) to see the Prez engaging in much the same glamours of certainty. Clearly he is another confused child of the wasteland, as was I, who went to college very near the same time. We were not so quick perhaps to align Yeats with Hitler, or to sexualize Eliot’s conservatism, but we too scoffed at the footnotes and got lost in the cadence. It seemed important, despite all the deconstructionist snark bearing down on us that feared not doubting Thomas nor his how’s. By putting words on it he seemed to make the alienation between two people seem more real.

I can’t wait for Romney’s defense of Shelley.

Anonymous said...

I guess the paint has dried on this blog already, but I have to say I'm impressed by Obama's analysis here. Unfair to Yeats though - I think it was really he who displayed the kind of conservatism Obama admired and not Eliot. His flirtation with Fascism was minimal - and he was not, like Eliot, an anti-semite.