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January 29, 2007

Art Never Improves

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

"He [the poet] must be quite aware of the obvious fact that art never improves, but that the material of art is never quite the same" (Eliot).

At first I thought that any artist, literary or otherwise, might take offense to such a statement. Personally, I view my purpose in life in term of self-improvement. I think of life having meaning if we strive to better ourselves as people, that we might someday, in some small way, better the world. So by telling me that something cannot be improved at first discouraged me. But, then upon further reflection, I decided this could mean that one work of art cannot really be any better or worse than any other work of art. Instead, it is merely different than any other work of art. This makes some sense, since "better" is really such a meaningless word anyway. Yet, why talk about what makes something worth reading if nothing is really "better" than anything else? Perhaps Eliot is just trying to point out that no matter what we decide should be read now, is subject to change, and that it is not because their is other stuff that is an improvement of the old, but because we change and we improve? Does that even make sense?

Posted by LorinSchumacher at January 29, 2007 9:08 PM


I think the readings are subject to change because the state of the human mind is subject to change. As we read stories from different time periods with a 21st century attitude, we must be aware that the work itself hasn't changed but merely the world around it has. On that note, Eliot is simply pointing out that WE are changed while we critique a literary work.

Posted by: Kevin "Kelo The Great" Hinton at January 30, 2007 1:12 AM

Lorin, don't doubt yourself so much. That made sense. I'm glad you are not so disappointed anymore. I think your last line helps define Eliot's main idea you were looking into. Everything in the world changes. For example, technology. Just because there is the new nano doesn't mean the last edition is bad, it is just the world is becoming more knowledgable of how to improve even the slightest idea or object. I don't know if that works, but I tried.

Posted by: Denamarie at January 31, 2007 9:44 PM

Thanks guys! Technology is certainly a great example Dena. Especially since their is often a debate about the effect it has on our "human-ness" if you will. Many say that the technological advances we make make us reverse in terms of social/moral aspects of life. I would say that this might apply to that - the technology isn't really an improvement, but it isn't worse either...just different.

Kev, I also like how you say that the lit hasn't changed, but the world has...I think that is true...and yet...it seems that the world changing would in a way also changes the literature. See, I knew this should be a philosophy class!

Posted by: Lorin at February 1, 2007 12:35 AM

Determining what is "good" in fact, a branch of philosophy... so you're right on target, Lorin.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 1, 2007 12:43 AM

'There isn't a word that hasn't been written'-or something like that, I think it was Lennon who said that in respect about song writting, so I guess he was thinking as Eliot would have thought. The game never changes, just the players and how they play it.

Posted by: Mitchell Steele at February 1, 2007 4:08 PM

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