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Eliot - Tradition and the Individual Talent

  • Date Submitted: 01/11/2013 09:38 AM
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A Brief Summary of “ Tradition and the Individual Talent”
In T.S. Eliot’s essay, “Tradition and the Individual Talent”, he shares his perspective on the function of poetry in the literary canon. He is able to sum up his thesis in this short sentence: “The emotion of art is impersonal”. Like Wimsatt and Beardsley, Eliot does not believe in the use of poetry as an interpretation of the poet’s thought and feelings. In addition, he believes that the poet’s role in writing poetry is not to express his own emotions through the medium of his poems, but to create literature that reflects in some way what came before it and can seamlessly attach itself to history.
He begins the first section of his essay by stating that the word “tradition” is almost never used in criticism of literature as a positive term. It is always used as an adjective rather than a noun, and it is a bad thing if a writer’s work is “too traditional”. Eliot laments at the lack of the existence of “a tradition, and seeks to establish one. He states that critics often search for something in a poet’s work that sets him apart from others, asserts his individuality, and makes him unique. However, the best part of a writer’s work in Eliot’s eyes is the part that pays tribute to those who came before him, immortalizing their literary footprints. He says that “the parts in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously”, are the parts of the poet’s work which are the most individual.
While supporting the emphasizing of tradition and history in writing, Eliot is not advocating a robot-like repetition of writers that have been established as “good”. He acknowledges that something original is better than something that has already been done. Thus, literary tradition means something more than just passing something on, or doing something the same exact way for generation after generation. In fact, unlike most traditions it does not come easily or feel inherent. It must be...


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