The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

T. S. Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent"
(reprinted in the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 2001)

What view of literary merit does Eliot seem to be arguing against? What does he propose as an alternative? (1093)

What does he mean by "tradition"? How can we tell what is traditional? What relationship should the writer have to the writings of the past?

Does he believe that art is progressive? If not, how does it change? (1094) What limitations should the writer avoid in his use of the past?

What kind of art does Eliot seem to admire? What may be inferred from the fact that all the examples chosen are poetry?

Do you think Eliot believes in a "canon" of great books? Would he have agreed with Arnold that critics should seek to promulgate "the best that has been thought and known in the world"?

Does he give help in defining what great art should be?

What does it mean to say that the author should not be personal, and that "the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates"? What should take the place of these personal or autobiographical emotions?

Would Aristotle have agreed with this view? Do you?

What does he find to disagree with in Kantian and other notions of "sublimity"? (1096)

Why might poets wish to escape from personality? What does it mean to say, "only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things"? (1097)

What kinds of literature does Eliot seem to admire? If you have read any of his poems or plays, do these seem to exemplify his criteria? Would his pronouncements seem to fit some of the well-known writers of his period, such as Yeats and Woolf?

What are qualities of Eliot's style? What may be some reasons for the longstanding influence of his essays?

What context may be suggested for Eliot's views by the fact that he was an American expatriate in England who published this essay in 1919?

Are there any implications to Eliot's repeated use of "he" to describe the poet, or is this just common practice? What effect might gender bias have on a critic dealing with topics of tradition and impersonality?

Which aspects of Eliot's views may have influenced the generations of critics which followed him?

Cleanth Brooks, "The Well-Wrought Urn" (1947)

To what does the title allude? Is it suitable for conveying Brooks' intentions?

Under what circumstances was this essay written? How does the fact that it was the introduction to a college anthology affect the way the author frames his argument?

Why does he chose poetry as his subject? Is poetry a genre especially suited to his arguments? Would he have been able to make the same points about prose fiction, drama or autobiography?

Does Brooks share some assumptions with Eliot about the nature of literary tradition? (1353-54) For example, how does he determine which poems are "close to the central stream of the tradition"? (1353)

What were his criteria for the selection of poems for The Well-Wrought Urn? By what standards are the poems to be read? (1354, in terms in which we would read metaphysical and modern poets)

According to Brooks, what do good works of literature have in common? (1354, all have pattern)

Do you agree with his arguments that these do not share common features of subject matter and diction? Do the poems he selects share common themes?

What does Brooks mean by the "structure" of a work of literature? (1355, unity of heterogenous elements)

What are the pitfalls he sees in "the heresy of paraphrase"? (1356-59, encourages a duallism of response) What essential features of a poem does paraphrase omit? Are you convinced by the examples he gives? (1358, "The Rape of the Lock," "Corinna's Going a-Maying")

If a poem cannot be properly paraphrased, what does it do? What does it mean to say that a poem or other work of literature is "a pattern of resolved stresses"? (1359) Would some types of literature fit this definition better than others?

In this context, what does he seem to mean by resolution?

To what other literary genre does Brooks liken a poem? (1360, drama) What is necessary for statements such as "Beauty is truth, truth beauty" (from Keats' "Ode to a Grecian Urn") to attain their poetic significance? (need to be placed in their full context)

How does a poem achieve its unity? (a hierarchy of attitudes is formed) Why is the achievement of unity desirable? (1361)

What is the purpose of "digressions" within the literary work? (1362 modify, qualify and develop the total attitude wich we are to take in coming to terms with the total situation)

Does poetry have a "use"? (1362, not relevant to his purpose)

How does Brooks define irony, especially poetic irony? (1363 the term for the kind of qualification which the various elements in a context receive from the context; recognition of incongruities)

What is the role of a word within the poem? (a potential of meaning, a nexus or cluster of meanings, 1363)

What is the role of logic within a poem? (1364, to present itself in warped, ironic or illogical modes)

Why does Brooks choose the example of the poetry of John Donne to refute the notion that poetic metaphors operate through logic? (uses an ironic logic, 1364)

What role is served by paradox, irony and ambiguity in forming works of literature? What is the relationship of literature to experience? (1364-65, true poem is a simulacrum of reality)

What is the goal of a poem? The poet is "giving us an insight which preserves the unity of experience and which, at its higher and more serious levels, triumphs over the apparently contradictory and conficting elements of experience by unifying them into a new pattern" (1365)

What does it mean to say that good poems are parables about poetry? (1365) What are some examples? ("Ode on Intimations of Immortality," "Ode on a Grecian Urn")

Would Brooks' reading of the "Rape of the Lock" have been accepted by most current-day critics? Does he made gender assumptions with which later critics would have disagreed?

Would this view of poetry eliminate some good examples, or may all poems be interpreted as parables about their own qualities?

Which features of Brooks' views have been criticized by later readers, and on what grounds? What are the strong points of his criticism? (good specific readings)

"The Formalist Critics"

What are some of Brooks' stated "articles of faith"? (1366, exceeds logic, concerned with problem of writing)

What does it mean to say that literature is not a surrogate for religion? Against what views or forms of reading does he seem to be arguing?

What groups of readers and critics does he define as misguided? (graduate teachers, literary gossip-columnists, 1366)

What is the chief function of criticism? What are two assumptions shared by the formalist critic, in Brooks' opinion? (1367)

What does Brooks believe about the usefulness of biographical or psychological criticism, or the study of the history of publication practices and audiences (reception theory)? (1367, distracting, wanders into history of taste)

What kind of audience does the critic seek? (1367, ideal reader) Is this "ideal reader" the critic him/herself?

What value does he place on the reader's emotional responses? (1368)

What, according to him, is the relationship between criticism and literary creation? (1368-70)

What in Brooks' view is wrong with the notion that literature is "effective rhetoric applied to true ideas"? (1370)

What is the relationship between literary creation and ideas? (1371, thrives on and ponders ideas)

What kinds of "ideas" are represented in literature? (1370)

What prompts his argument/reproachment with Lionel Trilling? (1370, latter believes that literature poses ideas, but does not necessarily produce them; rather authors represent "the nature and the difficulty of the matter they work on")

Does Brooks accept notions of plurality of interpretation? Does he propose methods for telling whether a critical reading is "wrong-headed, and demonstrably so"? (1371)

Can you guess what later forms of criticism Brooks' work may anticipate? From what points of view might he be criticized?

What do you think of Brooks' style?

What are some ways in which Brooks disagrees/agrees with earlier critics such as Pater, Arnold, Eliot, Eichenbaum or Kant?

In what ways do Brooks' ideas resemble or parallel those of the Russian formalists, and in which ways do they differ?

To what extent does literary instruction at Iowa follow Brooks' precepts?


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