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Eliot's Modernism and Brook's New Criticism: poetic and religious thinking.

Emerging as the dominant critical methodology in America after World War II during a time of enormous expansion in the American university, New Criticism apparently exemplified a democratic pedagogy: any student could learn the skills to become a close reader of literary works. Today, though, it might seem perverse to investigate a movement that repeatedly has been declared passe for at least twenty-five years. William Cain reminds us, however, that no matter what contemporary theoretical perspective from which one works, few would seriously question the usefulness of close reading as a tool of analysis: "So deeply ingrained in English studies are New Critical attitudes, values and emphases that we do not even perceive them as the legacy of a particular movement."(1) In this regard, although Cleanth Brooks is no longer at the center of debates about theory and pedagogy, there are still things to learn from historical reflection on the role he played in popularizing T. S. Eliot's modernist poetics. Such reflection, for me, points to an intriguing intersection between two differing strains of Christianity - Anglo-Catholicism and fundamentalism. This intersection, which has shaped modern literary and cultural criticism, simultaneously clarifies the telos of New Critical close reading and helps us better understand the history of literary studies from the 1940s through the 1960s as a veiled ecclesiastical history. With this understanding, then, we may experience more directly the anti-democratic undertow of New Critical grounds.

A familiar charge against New Criticism, of course, is its lack of historical perspective. Yet Rene Wellek. in his role as apologist for New Criticism, maintains that it is unfair to accuse Cleanth Brooks's literary analyses of being ahistorical.(2) If that is so, then what kind of history does Brooks write?(3) He certainly writes a form of literary history, one that is repeatedly nostalgic for community. This nostalgia cannot be traced to a single source but in part may be teased out of the way the texts of T. S. Eliot pass through Nashville, Tennessee, during the 1920s. In this matrix we discover certain underlying assumptions - some acknowledged and some explicitly denied - regarding not only history but also religion, literature, and community. Taken together, this complex has affected not only what we read but how we read in American Departments of English.

It is hardly surprising to note that Eliot, high priest of modernist poetics, shaped Brooks, high priest of New Criticism. Cleanth Brooks's admiration of Eliot, both as poet and essayist, manifests itself in a myriad of ways. Eliot's "Tradition and the Individual Talent" echoes loudly in the opening sentences of Brooks's Modern Poetry and the Tradition (1939): "Every poet that we read alters to some degree our total conception of poetry. Most poets, of course, modify it in only a minute degree, and we continually talk as if our conception were not modified at all."(4) Speaking in 1975 of the genesis of Modern Poetry and the Tradition, Brooks reflects: "I was particularly stimulated by two paragraphs in one of [Eliot's] essays on the metaphysical poets. In this brief passage, he suggested that the metaphysical poets were not to be regarded as a rather peculiar offshoot of the main course of English poetry, but that they had a deep, hidden connection with its central line of development."(5) Brooks's rewriting of literary history in Modern Poetry and the Tradition by linking modern poetry's use of metaphor to that in metaphysical poetry and his arguments with eighteenth-century and Romantic poetics clearly depend on Eliot. But there are religious implications in Brooks's description of "a deep, hidden connection" that he sees in Eliot's essay on the metaphysical poets. This urge toward the hidden connection, which follows from Brooks's reading of Eliot, continually blurs the boundary between poetry and religion in New Critical practice. Both Eliot and Brooks employ religious language to express their overtly aesthetic and social concerns, and the words "unity" and "community" function particularly as God-terms, signs that authorize all other moves within their language-game.(6)

The relationship between Eliot and Brooks, however, is not one-directional; if Brooks in a sense is produced by Eliot, Eliot is as much produced by Brooks, whose textbooks attempt to give the American undergraduate a consumable Eliot. Growing out of both the Fugitive and Agrarian movements, Brooks's reading of Eliot provides significant clues to the status of Brooks's history. Some historical sense of how Eliot enters Brooks's field of vision, therefore, proves a useful context.

The texts of Eliot, prior to his conversion to the Anglican Church in 1928, stand in much the same position to the Fugitives as the post-conversion Eliot's texts stand to the Agrarians, that is, as sites of debate and contestation yet confirmation. In the foreword to the first issue of The Fugitive, published in April 1922, John Crowe Ransom announces that "a literary phase known rather euphemistically as Southern Literature has expired ..." and that "THE FUGITIVE flees from nothing faster than the high-caste Brahmins of the Old South."(7) A key moment in Fugitive aesthetics was Allen Tate's championing of The Waste Land against the objections of Ransom and Donald Davidson. By the fourth issue of The Fugitive, Tate would write: "I think for all time - so important is The Waste Land - Mr Eliot has demonstrated the necessity, in special cases, of aberrant versification, for doubtless none assails the authenticity of his impersonal and increasingly abstract art. ..."(8) Eight years after this call to the modern, the introduction to the Southern Agrarian manifesto, I'll Take My Stand, in a voice as hortatory as The Fugitive's preface, takes a reactionary turn, warning that younger Southerners, who are being converted frequently to the industrial gospel, must come back to the support of the Southern tradition" or else the South will lose "its moral, social and economic autonomy."(9) Cleanth Brooks attended Vanderbilt between 1924 and 1928 at a time when those literary rebels, the Fugitives, were moving in their separate artistic ways, yet at the same time were reforming in a more politicized avatar as the Southern Agrarians. Although Tate had left Vanderbilt before Brooks arrived, the Fugitive Tate insured that Eliot formed part of Brooks's course of study, even if Brooks's mentor would be Ransom. During his years at Vanderbilt, Brooks moved in circles that led to Southern Agrarianism, and although he did not participate in I'll Take My Stand, Brooks clearly took his stand with the Agrarian cause. Brooks finally met Tate in 1929 in Paris. The meeting proved fortunate for Brooks, who found in Tate a fellow Agrarian and a fellow traveler in Eliot's pessimistic reading of modernity. Tate, in fact, read drafts of material from Brooks's 1939 study, Modern Poet and the Tradition, a book aptly dedicated to Tate.(10)

In the transition from Fugitive aesthetics to Agrarian politics, Eliot remained a powerful cultural authority. It is not difficult to see why Eliot's essays of the 1930s would be read with care by one with an Agrarian world view. The social and literary criticism of Eliot, especially after his conversion to the Anglo-Catholic faith, richly resonates with the concerns of the Southern Agrarians. Both Eliot and the Agrarians fight a rear-guard action to preserve a community that they see slipping away." For the Agrarians, that community is the Southern community, specially conceived as the last best hope of preserving the European tradition of community life; the evil of modernity is primarily the encroachment of Northern industrial society into the South. Eliot's community is that of Christian believers, and, like the Agrarians, he is staunchly anti-communist. Eliot is also at least as wary of liberalism, which in his view ushered in the secularization of government, subsequently allowing a soulless technology to take the lead in organizing society.

Like his cultural hero Eliot, Brooks finally converts to Anglo-Catholicism, but from a different point of origin.(12) Eliot was the grandson of a Unitarian minister. Brooks, the son of a Methodist minister, attended a small Methodist prep school that emphasized Greek and Latin, McTyeire School, in McKenzie, Tennessee. A question we might ask is "How does the religion of his father impinge on the force of the word |community' for Cleanth Brooks?"(13) It is precisely where religion informs Brooks's perspective that I see a contradiction arising within New Critical praxis. The locus of the contradiction in Brooks's attachment to Eliot occurs on the very topics - community, education, and the education of the community - where the Agrarian world picture seems to dovetail with Eliot's. The Agrarian nostalgia for the Southern community, however, is not the same as Eliot's nostalgia for those times in history when a writer could take for granted a community of Christian believers. But for Brooks, as an Agrarian, the conflation of the two communities - the Agrarian community and Eliot's community of educated believers - is understandable, since both communities are based on exclusion: the Agrarian community's distrust of strangers is not unlike Eliot's disdain for those lacking classical training. However, Brooks's attraction to both Eliot's and the Agrarian exclusive community leads to an even more conflicted position on Brooks's vocation as literary exegete. The contradiction is that, in his New Critical witnessing for a fundamentalist unity of the centered text, Brooks draws on the same exclusionary tradition that Eliot developed to argue the necessity of Anglo-Catholicism to a civilized society.(14) And so a question arises: is Brooks's community finally exclusive or expansionist? As his work on Faulkner makes clear, Brooks's Southern community makes definite exclusions (it is, after all, the white community), but his sense of Christian community seems less closed. Certain cultural and literary criticism of Cleanth Brooks and T. S. Eliot from the 1930s helps us understand a tension in Brooks's vision of community and suggests that Eliot's modernist poetics and Brooks's New Critical practice intersect through their unacknowledged collapsing of the distinction between poetic and religious thinking.(15)

In "Modern Education and the Classics" (1932), Eliot justifies hierarchical social organization by emphasizing unequal natural abilities among human beings, much as John Gould Fletcher does in his contribution to I'll Take My Stand, "Education Past and Present." Fletcher makes it clear from the outset that "all education can do in any case is to teach us to make good use of what we are; if we are nothing to begin with, no amount of education can do us any good" (p. 93). Eliot expresses a similar opinion, though with a more elitist agenda: a "task of anyone who might be imagined as occupying a dictatorial position in the education of a country should obviously be to see that ... no one received too much education, limiting the numbers treated to |higher education' to a third (let us say) of those receiving the treatment today" (Selected Essays, p. 454). There is, of course, a note of irony in Eliot's use of the word "dictator," yet given the worldwide rise of fascism in the years following the essay's publication, it is difficult not to be alert to the antidemocratic force of his playful suggestion. Eliot's essay, nominally a defense of teaching Greek and Latin, is highly critical of the American university's scale:

America grew very rich - that is to say, it produced a considerable number of millionaires,

and the next generation set itself to an equally mad programme of building,

erecting within a short time a great variety of imposing, though in some places

rather hastily-built, halls and dormitories and even chapels. And when you have

sunk so much money in plant and equipment, when you have a very large (though

not always well-paid) staff of men who are mostly married and have a few children,

when you are turning out from your graduate schools more and more men who

have been trained to become teachers in other universities, and who will probably

want to marry and have children too; when your whole national system of higher

education is designed for an age of expansion, for a country which is going to indefinitely

increase its population, grow rich, and build more universities - then you

will find it very difficult to retract. (pp. 454-455)

Eliot's comments seem at odds with the economic reality of the depression, a time of retrenchment for most American universities; however, during Huey Long's term as governor, Louisiana State, which had recently hired Brooks, fits well the type of institution Eliot criticizes.(16) How could Brooks, as one of these young men of whom Eliot speaks, forgive his cultural hero this attitude? Because quite apart from this strain in the essay there is another argument that resonates with Brooks's New Critical agenda. Eliot argues that if education is not to become technological (and hence without values), "we must derive our theory of education from our philosophy of life. The problem turns out to be a religious problem" (p. 452). The solution Eliot proposes is that "all education must be ultimately religious education" (p. 459); that is, all education must be informed by transcendent values. Eliot is decidedly pessimistic about the chances of a Christian civilization grounded on the classics prevailing in the modern world and desires to "see a revival of the monastic life in its variety," since "the first educational task of the communities should be the preservation of education within the cloister, uncontaminated by the deluge of barbarism outside" (p. 460).

If we link Eliot's belief that education must be always religious education with his call in "Religion and Literature" (1935) for a "literature which should be unconsciously, rather than deliberately and defiantly, Christian" (Selected Essays, p. 346), then we arrive, I think, at a better sense of the theological impulse in New Critical close reading as practiced by Cleanth Brooks. Eliot desires an unconscious Christian literature because he believes that an openly Christian one cannot succeed "in a world in which it is assumed that Religion and Literature are not related" (p. 346). Just as Eliot had earlier called for education to be religious education, here he calls for literary criticism to "be completed by criticism from a definite ethical and theological standpoint" (p. 343). Eliot's assertion of the inseparability of literary and religious judgment finds its fullest expression in the New Criticism of Cleanth Brooks, perhaps nowhere more clearly than in Brooks's reading of The Waste Land in Modern Poetry and the Tradition, a reading illuminated by Brooks's own Eliotic foray into social criticism.

On his way to rewriting English literary history and revising the way literature was taught in American universities, Brooks participated in the second Agrarian forum, Who Owns America?, co-edited by Allen Tate and Herbert Agar, published in 1936. Brooks's contribution, "A Plea to the Protestant Churches," posits an identity between poetic and religious thinking that is central to what I would call Brooks's textual fundamentalism. In this essay, Brooks reluctantly admits that fundamentalism has fallen into disrepute, yet he calls upon the Protestant establishment to renounce its infatuation with worldly schemes and to return - if it is not too late - to its proper mission, a mission that resurrects a key tenet of fundamentalism - a belief in the absolute. The somewhat coy rhetorical structure nearly obscures Brooks's point, for if the beginning of the essay suggests the death of fundamentalism, the end calls for its reexamination. One reason fundamentalism is dying, Brooks claims early on, is that the Liberal Protestant (an abstraction Brooks critiques with irony) "has naturally found the cruder aspects of Fundamentalism repugnant."(17) What precisely these aspects are Brooks does not say, but inasmuch as they might block "coveted intercourse with other intellectuals" (p. 323) it seems clear that biblical inerrancy is chief among them. Brooks's final plea for Protestants to reject Marxism echoes the ironic rhetoric of his opening: such a rejection "would not necessitate a return to the crudities of Fundamentalism, unless one believes, in an age of relativities, that belief in an absolute is crude" (p. 332). It is tempting to see an autobiographical element in his eliding the specific crudities of fundamentalism. Eventually moving from the content of his father's Methodist religion, Brooks apparently was no longer able to invest belief in the inerrancy of the biblical word; he nevertheless retained the form of his father's religion, now cathecting to and substituting the poetic word. This shift preserved for Brooks a sophisticated realm of the absolute - the infallible work of literature - in an age he sees as otherwise interested in a fundamentalist Christianity.

Liberal Protestantism, Brooks asserts in the body of his essay, is rapidly selling out to scientism on the one hand and secularism (particularly communism) on the other; these dilutions of Protestantism, he feels, lead to the end "of a Christian civilization" (p. 331). For Brooks, as for Eliot, to be a liberal is to be without values, and though Brooks is disdainful of communism, he sees in it a system of values that make it a religion, albeit "one of the materialistic religions and one of the religions of man, burdened with his infirmities" (p. 332). Also like Eliot, Brooks is wary of science, which he sees as an instrumentalism incapable of inculcating values:

Science is quite properly the technician-in-chief to civilization: it defines the means

to be employed for the attainment of various objectives. But it cannot be the pilot.

It cannot - as science - name the objectives. That is the function of religion, if religion

is to have any function at all. (p. 325)

At this moment in the essay, the structure appears clear. Science has been identified as the progressive, man-centered, value-free discipline of means, while Christianity, anchored in God's eternal values, is the discipline of ends. Brooks, one assumes, will now oppose religious and scientific knowledge. But instead, Brooks turns to art to exemplify what he means by religious thinking: "I am using art in the sense of a description of an experience which is concrete where that of science is abstract, many-sided where that of science is necessarily one-sided, and which involves the whole personality where science only involves one part, the intellect. These are qualities which are essential to worship, and a religion without worship is an anomaly" (p. 326). Brooks does claim that "religion is obviously more than art," but the only distinction seems to be that religion is based on supreme values while art is based on provisional values. He concludes his distinction between art and religion in a way that draws them back together: "But a religion which lacks the element of art is hardly a religion at all." Significantly, Brooks describes religious thinking entirely in terms of poetic thinking: "If there is to be a search [for God] ..., it will have to be a search in something of the sense in which the poet explores himself in relation to the truth, pondering it over, relating it to various sets of conditions, but returning to it and working back to it as to a center rather than regarding it as a point on a line along which he continually advances" (p. 327). Just as the Christian is centered in Christ, the poet is centered in the poem. The true Christian, it seems, always will be something of a poet.

Years later in The Hidden God, Brooks's image of the poetic Christian slides into a sense of the Christian poet through a description that has an almost prescriptive force in "T. S. Eliot: Discourse to the Gentiles": "The poet's task is not only to find new symbols for the central experiences but to reconstitute the old symbols, reclaiming them, redeeming them, setting them in contexts which will force us once again to confront their Christian meanings."(18) This assertion leads us back in two directions simultaneously: first, to Eliot's call for an unconscious religious literature; and second, to Brooks's reading of The Waste Land. Brooks's close reading of The Waste Land in Modern Poetry and the Tradition is masterful; all paradox and tensions resolve themselves into pure orthodoxy: "Eliot's theme is the rehabilitation of a system of beliefs, known but now discredited" (p. 171). Because Eliot could not depend on a community of believers as Spenser and Dante could, "the only method is to work by indirection. The Christian material is at the center, but the poet never deals with it directly" (p. 171).(19) "In this way," Brooks claims, Eliot's "statement of beliefs emerges through confusion and cynicism - not in spite of them" (p. 172). This is an interpretive tour de force. The student, Brooks, has mastered his cultural hero and in so doing has given back to Eliot precisely what he asked for - an unconscious Christian literature.

And now, having discovered the hidden Christian center in Eliot's great poem, Brooks never relinquishes it, for to do so would be to lose, as it were, a higher truth. The interpretation positing a hidden Christian center recurs whenever Brooks speaks of Eliot. The material I quoted above from Modern Poetry and the Tradition appears again in the commentary on The Waste Land in the 1950 revision of Understanding Poetry. And in The Hidden God the same spin is imparted to the later texts of Eliot when Brooks speaks of "Eliot's avoiding Christian terms and Christian symbols. One notices also that even in the avowedly Christian works, Eliot shows himself to be consistently aware of this problem of modern incomprehension" (p. 76). Although few readers today would agree with Brooks (Christian terms and symbols, after all, appear regularly in Eliot's "avowedly Christian works"), what is interesting about, this assertion is its adherence to Eliot's own sense of modern incomprehension and its consistency within Brooks's larger reading of Eliot. Brooks argues that because modern readers do not belong to a community of believers, Eliot accommodates their lack of faith by presenting his Christian message in a way that does not privilege Christian discourse, a discourse that would doom his readers to refusing his message about human sin. Although Brooks first articulates this argument in his reading of The Waste Land, we should remember that by 1939 he had available to him a great deal of poetry and criticism written by the post-conversion Eliot (texts that, I have suggested, urged Brooks toward the kind of reading he performs on The Waste Land). We can reconstruct, then, the faulty syllogism that apparently leads Brooks to his conclusion about The Waste Land: Eliot's openly Christian poet avoids Christian terms and symbols (again a surprising position); Eliot's pre-conversion poetry also avoids Christian terms and symbols; therefore, Eliot's pre-conversion poetry is an unconscious Christian poetry. One local history, then, that Cleanth Brooks gives us about Eliot is a Christian teleology in which Eliot's conversion is the inevitable end.

Brooks's own position as a Christian critic may best be summarized by the now-familiar point he makes about Eliot in A Shaping Joy. Brooks's words become a kind of unacknowledged autobiography, if one substitutes the word criticism for poetry both times it occurs: "His community is the remnant of the Christian community in a post-Christian world. His [criticism] - including his specifically religious [criticism] - consistently addresses itself to the |gentiles' - takes into account the reader's agnosticism."(20) In light of this self-reflexive rhetoric, Brooks's quest for the organic unity in texts marked as poetic can be read as the displaced expression of his nostalgia for community and, at the same time, as a manifestation of the hidden God. Again we see how Brooks's social and literary criticism employs a matrix of terms - unity, community, tradition - that each serve, at various moments, as tropes for God, or God-terms.

Brooks, professing his faith in the unitary meaning of texts in the context of the American university, deploys Eliot's words in a way that constantly pulls in directions antithetical to Eliot's. Eliot's tradition caters to an elitist, High-Church community. Because Eliot assumes that only a limited number of individuals can be educated, his Christian community, not surprisingly, is based on an exclusion - a fit few for the kingdom of God. His view implies pessimism and retreat (into a monastic community, if necessary). Brooks's community, however, oscillates in the space between his belief in exclusive community - whether Eliot's or the Agrarians' - and his sense that all students are potentially worthy of poetical mysteries and thus, by extension, of God's grace. What Brooks's involvement in the various editions of Understanding Poetry, Understanding Fiction, Understanding Drama, and An Approach to Literature makes clear is that he is not afraid of an evangelical mission, even though that evangelism contradicts the very exclusivity of the tradition for which he proselytizes. So that although Brooks's discourse appears to duplicate the pessimism in Eliot's reading of modernity, Brooks's theological convictions cause him to speak, in a clear and commonsense voice, what he sees as the difficult truths of poetry and belief.

Brooks's appropriation of Eliot, always filtered through a lens that is both Fugitive and Agrarian, most nearly unravels when he attempts to save Eliot from the charge of elitism. Speaking of instances of shifting and double meaning in the fourth section of the Quartets, Brooks writes: "They make the poetry more difficult to read, to be sure; but that difficulty has not been sought by Eliot. The truth of the matter is that it could not be avoided - it could not be avoided, that is if the poet were to be true to his vision and true to the circumstances under which that vision was vouchsafed" (Hidden God, p. 81, emphasis added). This vision, of course, is Eliot's Christian vision. Brooks asserts that the mysteries of the Christian vision cannot be articulated in plain language, which seems to validate Eliot's High Church view. Brooks's reading, however, articulates his own more liberal Christian vision, thus affirming - through his own writing practice - what the content of his discourse denies, namely, that Christian faith can be spoken of without indirection and paradox. Clearly, Four Quartets embodies, through its complexity, Eliot's sense of truth. The Christian apparatus is, of course, only one of the approaches (another being the artist and the word). Given the high level of generality in Four Quartets' Christianity, the differences between Eliot's and Brooks's specific varieties of Christianity perhaps are not identifiable in the poem. What is significant, however, is that Brooks's reading of the Quartets professes his faith through the New Critical God-term, unity. This theological impulse goes a long way toward explaining why critical judgment is so important to the New Critical project. Canon formation is crucial because one must judge what the good word is. Bad poetry isn't just bad; it's a form of heresy.

What, then, can we make of history in the Brooks-Eliot connection? The progressive narrowing of the canon of modernist poetry through the 1960s, based on a "disciplinary inclination to view the fragmented modernist text as a purely aesthetic object, its linguistic fragmentation purified of social influence and critique" (p. 241), has created large gaps in our cultural memory, as Cary Nelson's recent Repression and Recovery has so forcefully pointed out.(21) In creating for Eliot the unconscious Christian literature that he called for, Brooks at that same time developed an unconscious Christian criticism (even though certainly for Brooks himself it is quite conscious) that spawned a pedagogy with unmistakable theological undercurrents. To assume the organic unity of great poetry, drama, and fiction that one teaches and interprets is to practice a form of textual fundamentalism. This textual fundamentalism, as I argued earlier, already is implicit in Brooks's understated call for a return to a fundamentalism without crudity in "A Plea to the Protestant Churches." The critic who could not construct a reading that discovered the unity of an acknowledged masterpiece (no matter how conflicted and ambivalent that text might be) was at fault, never the text. If "all education is religious education," as Eliot claimed, we need always to ask what form of belief we may be promulgating when we turn to close reading in the classroom, even if today our historical and political awareness causes us to display to our students urns that are less well-wrought.(22)

In another sense of the history of our discipline, New Criticism, in its theological urge, unconsciously writes itself as its own anti-history, emerging as its anathema, ideological criticism.(23) (Complaints from New Critics that Marxist criticism has a political agenda assumed that New Criticism did not.) In his effort to discover the hidden unity of works and the tradition, Brooks's literary history omitted texts that were tainted with the secularization of politics. Thus Joyce and Faulkner are prized but not Dos Passos; Eliot and Yeats, but not Zukofsky (to say nothing of the proletarian poets from the 1930s). New Criticism was too ready to excuse the excesses either in a text's rhetoric or in the social system that a text represented, if one could read that text in a way that discovered unity or that celebrated community. This devaluation of the secular leads to a quietism that we hear at the end of Eliot's "Literature and the Modern World" (1935), an essay included, we might note, in the 1939 edition of An Approach to Literature, edited by Brooks, Warren, and Purser. With the world poised on the brink of the second major war of our century, this essay, which argues that authors should not propagate social ideas in their writing, locates the threat in the present not with the rise of fascism but with the "secular revolution" of communism and urges a return to a Christian community:

I think ... that the passion for social righteousness will prove in the end not enough

in itself. ... An age of change, and a period of incessant apprehension of war do

not form a favorable environment. There is a temptation to welcome change for

its own sake, to sink our minds in some desperate philosophy of action. ... We

cannot effect intelligent change, unless we hold fast to the permanent essentials;

and a clear understanding of what we should bold fast to, and what abandon, should

make us all the better prepared to carry out the changes that are needed. Thus we

can look back upon the past without regret, and to the future without fear.

But if we look back only at the great tradition and ahead to the life to come, then the "action" primarily available in the present is a religio-poetical contemplation. At best, we can hope to become perfect critics reading perfects texts as solace in an all too imperfect world. Brooks's New Critical practice, as the ideological double of Eliot's modernism, only repeats a demand for politically disengaged reading. Brooks's history, thus, is problematic qua history because, as Christian telos of salvation, it operates in a timeless space, not unlike Eliot's tradition. A larger irony, the history lesson of the Brooks-Eliot matrix remains: the democratic method of reading that served us through much of the Cold War was founded on assumptions that were only marginally hospitable to democracy.

(1) William Cain. The Crisis in Criticism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984). Cain's larger discussion of the institutionalization of New Criticism usefully corrects those who would dismiss New Criticism out of hand (pp. 104-121). (2) Rene Wellek, A History Modern Criticism: 1750-1950, Vol. 6 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), p. 148. (3) The contemporary critique of New Criticism by Lentricchia, Graff, and Webster challenges Weliek's position. Lentricchia finds in Brooks "a fairly well-specified idealistic theory of history" (Frank Lentricchia, After the New Criticism [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980], p. 109) and concludes that the effect of Brooks's emphasis "on repetition and continuity is to project historical time as an unproblematic eternal now" in which cultural and historical variations, though undeniable, are differences that make no difference" (p. 110). Graff alternately sees Brooks exemplifying the tendency to "reduce history to atomized |background' information and [to see] only an |extrinsic' connection between history and literature" (Gerald Graff, Professing Literature: An Institutional History [Chicago: University of Cchicago Press, 1987], p. 183). My essay continues ill the line of the contemporary critique to pursue particular contradictions that arise in Brooks's appropriation of Eliot. (4) (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1939), p. vii. (5) Robert Penn Warren, "A Conversation with Cleanth Brooks," in The Possibilities of Order: Cleanth Brooks and His Work, ed. Lewis P. Simpson (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1976), p. 19. (6) R. S. Crane's assertion of Brooks's critical monism rests on Brooks's sense of irony: "It is the One in which the Many - and there are but few of them - are included in the parts, the single source of all his predicates, the unique cause from which he generates all effects" (R. S. Crane, "The Critical Monism of Cleanth Brooks," in Critics and Criticism: Ancient and Modern, ed. R. S. Crane [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952], p. 84). One of Crane's "Many," then, is Brooks's unity. For Crane, however, this unity is secondary because it is not "any special principle of unity derived from the nature of |experience' or object represented in a given kind of poem that determines poetical structure; rather it is a presence in poems of poetical structure - i.e., ironical opposition and resolution - that determines, and is the sign of, the unification of experience" (p. 95). In short, Brooks's irony is the cause; unity, the effect. But Brooks's theological urge, I would suggest, is the authorizing moment, an originating assumption that makes unity the effect that causes the cause. John Guillory pursues the Eliot-Brooks connection to understand its implications for canon formation; however, he avoids the texts of "Eliot's Christian authoritarianism or Brooks' association with the neoagrarian movement" on the grounds that "such texts have not been nearly so effective as those canon-making essays whose serene judgements upon poetic careers or complex close readings seem far removed from the realm of interest ..." ("The Ideology of Canon-Formatiori: T. S. Eliot and Cleanth Brooks," Critical Inquiry, 10 [1983], p. 174). I see my work here as complementary to Guillory's, but would argue, however, that those texts that more polemically articulate Eliot's and Brooks's world pictures illuminate the ideology of their supposedly disinterested work in poetics. (7) "Foreword," The Fugitive, 1 (1922), 2. (8) "Whose Ox," The Fugitive, 1 (1922), 99. (9) "Preface," I'll Take My Stand (New York: Harper, 1930), p. x. (10) Ailen Tate, "What I Owe Cleanth Brooks," in The Possibilities of Order: Cleanth Brooks and His Work, ed. Lewis P. Simpson (Batoii Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1976), pp. 125-126. (11) Eliot's pre-conversion use of "community" in "The Function of Criticism" recalls his idea of a timeless space of great poetry in "Tradition and the Individual Talent": "Between the true artists of any time there is, I believe, an unconscious community" ("The Function of Criticism," Selected Essays, New Edition [New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1950], p. 13). Eliot's sense of an unconscious community of true artists returns after his conversion in his desire for an unconscious Christian literature, a point that Guillory's discussion of Eliot's After Strange Gods makes clear: After Strange Gods rewrites "Tradition and the Individual Talent" by "substituting |orthodoxy' for |tradition'"; Eliot's conversion to the Anglican Church, then, "was the recognition that he already belonged to a marginal elite, whose membership had been polemically foreshadowed by the construction of an alternative canon" (Guillory, p. 184). (12) Brooks's religious affiliation may be traced through his various entries in Who's Who in America. Brooks lists himself as a Methodist until the 31st edition (1960-1961), when the entry changes to Episcopalian. Brooks maintains this designation until the 41st edition (1980-1981), when his entry registers a shift to the Anglican Church. The major change in religious affiliation is clearly the movement from the Methodist to the Episcopalian Church. (13) Brooks's Vanderbilt mentor, John Crowe Ransom, himself the son ofa Methodist minister, suggests a connection between Brooks's religious background and his interpretive practice. Brooks as a boy "heard many a sermon preached where the preacher unpacked the whole burden of his theology from a single phrase of Scripture taken out of context" (Thomas W. Cutrer, Parnassus on the Mississippi: The SOUTHERN REVIEW and the Baton Rouge Literary Community, 1935-1942 [Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984), p. 27). (14) Guillory is certainly correct in asserting that Eliot's revision of English literary history "makes no difference at all to the marginal community of conservative Anglo-Catholics but quite a lot of difference to the marginal elite to which Eliot belonged as a poet and critic, to literary culture" (Guillory, p. 184). In calling Brooks's explication a textual fundamentalism, I am following Grant Webster's position: "Brooks's method is a specifically Fundamentalist one in that he assumes the essential unity of the Ideal Poem as the Fundamentalist assumes the unified and divine origin of the Bible" (Grant Webster, The Republic of Letters [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976], p. 101). Graff's thinking moves in a similar line when he asserts that "it was not quasi-scientific empiricism that influenced most New Critics to seek impersonality and objectivity so much as the Christian doctrine of Original Sin" (Gerald Graff, Literature Against Itself/Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979], p. 135). (15) Brooks on a number of occasions, particularly in the 1950s, attempts to articulate a distinction between poetry and religion. (For a convenient catalogue of these moments, see Wellek, p. 196.) The metaphoricity of Brooks's language, however, leads us in directions other than those indicated by his stated intention. (16) Cutrer notes that an extensive student-aid program fueled the growth of LSU's enrollment from 2000 in 1931 to 6000 in 1937 (p. 10). (17) Cleanth Brooks, "A Plea to the Protestant Churches," in Who Owns America?, ed. Herbert Agar and Allen Tate (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1936), p. 323. (18) Cleanth Brooks: The Hidden God: Studies in Hemingway, Faulkner, Yeats, Eliot, and Warren (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963), pp. 72-73. (19) Brooks's reliance on the hidden center is evident also in his commentary on Faulkner's cohesive Southern community. Brooks sees a nurturing community as central to Yoknapatawpha County, even though there are almost no positive examples of the ethos Faulkner is said to be celebrating. (20) Cleanth Brooks, A Shaping Joy: Studies in the Writ's Craft (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971), p. 26). (21) Cary Nelson, Repression and Recovery: Modern American Poetry and the Politics of Cultural Memory, 1910-1945 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989). (22) I do not mean to be an indiscriminate urn-basher. In fact, one might well use my essay as evidence for Cain's assertion that "the New Criticism is not so much in decline or dead as it has won eternal life as the core or essence of criticism" (p. 106). I am aware, for example that my close attention to texts, even though not "literary" ones, and my attempt to draw out a hidden connection between Brooks and Eliot totalizes and unifies in ways that illustrate the legacy of New Critical reading. I hope, however, that my attention to historical context serves as my critical difference. (23) Gerald Graff notes in a similar vein that the "New Critical attempt to escape the process of history through the eternal static forms of art was itself evidence of an almost obsessive sense of history as a |panorama of futility and anarchy' in which the modern consciousness is loss ... Unwittingly, New Criticism conformed to current existential and hermeneutical injunctions to bring the past work to life by reading it in terms of the historical consciousness of the present" (Literature, p. 140). (24) T. S. Eliot, "Literature and the Modern World," in An Approach to Literature, rev. ed., ed. Cleanth Brooks, John Thibaut Purser, and Robert Penn Warren (New York: F. S. Crofts & Co., 1939), pp. 170-171.
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Author:Duvall, John N.
Publication:The Mississippi Quarterly
Date:Dec 22, 1992
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