January 28, 2007

Creating Tradition

"But we might remind ourselves that criticism is as inevitable as breathing, and that we should be none the worse for articulating what passes in our minds when we read a book and feel an emotion about it, for criticizing our own minds in their work of criticism."

"No poet, no artist, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead."

How do we write? Where do "the Greats" get their idea and how did they become so highly regarded? Are they just such amazing manipulators of the English language that they have created something new, or are they instead drawing on the past, using other's forms, and it is we, through our criticism of the works, that make them grand names in the literary world?

T.S. Elliot would agree with the latter in his "Tradition and the Individual Talent". The great writers are not just great due to their impressive writing, but their ability to draw upon other writers and create something new, yet familiar. We may not have a set-in-stone literary tradition, but this is the closest thing to it.

As per Elliot, the new great writers become that way when the old greats become even greater. Confused? Something that is already good and highly regarded looks amazing when held up to the new. Writers do their best when they are impressioned by the past, but should not conform to the old style of writing completely (or else it wouldn't be new. It would be copying, which no one likes. You want Keats condeming you from his grave for using his style? No, I didn't think so). And when a writer produces something, it is these standards and styles of writing that the reader holds him or her up to, and criticizes accordingly.

What is new is in some respects old, and we like it that way. Elliot explains that to be able to draw upon the Greats is a sign of maturity in writing and a knowledge that to be acclaimed, one must take a cue from the past and, in a sense, give the people what they want. Readers want a bit of familiarity in their writing (as Elliot also explains through the sections on personal writing and emotions), but with a twist.

Posted by VanessaKolberg at January 28, 2007 2:26 PM | TrackBack

Nice, Vanessa. I think you explained it really well.

You already commented on my entry, but I quoted something similar. Like you, I found that it's more likely to build upon the old--forging that tradition Eliot questions--than it is to create something new. I find it interesting that your entry's title is "Creating Tradition" when, in fact, we're summoning and paying homage to it at every bend, as writers. (Now that's deep.)

Do we really search for familiarity in writing, though? I want it in English, but I can't say I ever hoped something would be Hemmingway-ish or Joyce-esque... (and I like those two, really).

Posted by: Karissa at January 28, 2007 6:25 PM

Thanks for ignoring all of my initial blog entries. That's okay, I'll comment on one of yours instead.

Isn't it funny how all of we who enjoy reading and writing feel a responsibility to acknowledge literary greats as having influenced what we read, write and how we interpret the text? At least I think it's funny, but my sense of humor is warped.

Posted by: Dave Moio at January 31, 2007 5:40 PM
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