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January 26, 2007

EL312: Cutting out the author

T. S. Eliot's essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent" gave me a number of meaningful points to ponder, but I'll quote only one here:

One of the facts that might come to light in this process [criticism] is our tendency to insist, when we praise a poet, upon those aspects of his work in which he least resembles anyone else. In these aspects or parts of his work we pretend to find what is individual, what is the peculiar essence of the man. We dwell with satisfaction upon the poet's difference from his predecessors, especially his immediate predecessors; we endeavour to find something that can be isolated in order to be enjoyed. Whereas if we approach a poet without this prejudice we shall often find that not only the best, but the most individual parts of his work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously. And I do not mean the impressionable period of adolescence, but the period of full maturity.

An image comes to mind when I read this passage.
Think of all of literature as a piece of paper. One body of literature, one piece of paper.

What Eliot first describes as separating the author from his predecessors is much like making a pencil sketch of the author on the paper. We point to it and say, "Ah, ha! This is different. Look how this author stands out from the rest. He has made his mark."

What Eliot describes as necessary and more worthwhile, however, is to see the author for how his work is shaped by the predecessors. Instead of drawing the author, we draw in the influences and the predecessors, leaving the outline of the author. (I made a drawing just incase I'm not being clear enough explaining this... just because the picture was in my head.)


I love thinking about authors this way! Since we're all influenced by what we experience anyway, I think of it as history and tradition's way of cutting us out--shaping us.

Elliot, ''Tradition and the Individual Talent'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

Posted by KarissaKilgore at January 26, 2007 5:33 PM


First off, let me say how impressed I am that you actually drew a picture for this entry. It was a nice touch.

In my entry on this piece, I also found the idea of all authors being influenced by others to be important. What do they say, "there are only 4 stories in the world, and each is a variation of them"? (I'm not sure of the exact number...but you get what I mean.) Everything new is also old; we just take what we like, or as you said, are influenced by and make it our own.

Posted by: Nessa at January 28, 2007 2:56 PM

Thanks, Vanessa. I just wanted to make sure I was being clear. How dare I represent all of literature as a piece of paper, huh?

I am glad that I'm not the only one who sees the influences as important. To me it seems like a giant web that budding authors cling to at first but then begin to weave on their own. I'm probably being too generous with my analogies. Paper, webs...

I was also able to think of this piece when reading the Eagleton "Introduction to Literature" piece--when defining literature, how can be include but exclude the author? Is it rational to dissociate the author from its work?

Posted by: Karissa at January 28, 2007 4:52 PM

Nice drawing show off.

I entirely agree with your thoughts which is a very odd admission for me to make.

is "which" a pronoun in my previous sentence?

Posted by: Dave Moio at January 31, 2007 5:36 PM

Show off? :( That wasn't my intent! I was worried I wasn't making sense...

Why's it strange that you agree with me? Just curious.

And yes, "which" is a pronoun. You asked the right person. :)
(I've got specifics if you want 'em... it's a non-defining, non-restricting pronoun and is sometimes set off by commas. "Which" usually adds something to the thing in question (the pronoun's antecedent). "That" is a defining, restricting pronoun and usually tells "which one" (of the antecedent) is being talked about.)

Posted by: Karissa at January 31, 2007 10:32 PM

I really enjoyed how you interpreted the Eliot piece. I took a similar approach, but looked at it in a different way. I believe that when people break away from one tradition, they are actually starting another tradition. What I enjoyed about your interpretation is that you mentioned how one later author actually takes something from the predecessor, which leaves it mixed to some extent. I personally believe (and help me EL264 and EL265) that the Romantic Literature and the Restoration Literature, although completely different, did create some similarities between them.

Posted by: Jason Pugh at February 1, 2007 11:48 AM

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