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Eliot and the Manichean myth as poetry.

WRITING on "T. S. Eliot and Philosophical Poetry" [in T. S. Eliot. A Symposium, 1948], Signor Luciano Aneschi explains Eliot's position as close to his own: "his doctrine of sensibility is a kind of Eros in a spiritual sense--a metaphysical impulse towards a pure local order. It was by such a path that he came quite early to a method of founding his own thought on the universal guarantees of Averroism" [p 156]. Presumably Signor Aneschi has in mind Eliot's devotion to the dualism of Leibnitz, E H. Bradley, Bergson, Russell and Whitehead, for he continues: "I am referring to a revivified form of Averroism, whose historical curve can be traced, via our own Renaissance and via the Cambridge school till at last, the most refined and precious flower of empiricism, it finishes as a new and extremely subtle version of recent American realism" [ibid].

An alternative entrance into this question is offered by the recent New York Times review of a novel by H. Nearing Jr., entitled The Sinister Researches of C. P. Ransom [1954]. Under the headline "Spaceman's Realm Infernal Machines":
   These boisterous chronicles present an over-all picture of the
   struggles of that maddest of all sane scientists, Professor Cleanth
   Penn Ransom, to bend time, space and matter to his somewhat lunatic
   will ... Professor Ransom is a distinguished member ... of an
   unnamed Eastern University ... attempting to produce a "product of
   science that will advance the liberal arts", and all such attempts
   involve his hapless friend and colleague, Professor Archibald
   MacTate of Philosophy.

It is impossible to stop laughing long enough to give any coherent account of Ransom's mad forays through time when he and MacTate manage an arena that features fifth-rate gladiators; or through space, where the pair wind up as marital relations counselors on Mars.
   Ransom also dabbles in dimensions ... But his machines are truly
   infernal; inevitably they blow up in his face. Yet the tubby
   professor and his long-suffering Watson forge steadily onward if
   not upward.

That is, they push on through space, not time.

The crime of Professor Cleanth Penn Ransom is to attempt to invent a machine for reducing the time-world of the arts to the space-world of the sciences. Time and space thus appear as two gods, one light, the other dark. Time is heavenly, space is infernal. Since this is not and never has been a Catholic quarrel, the shifting terms in which the quarrel has been conducted through the centuries seem both familiar and unreal to Catholic ears. Socrates abandoned the outer world of Ionian science and Sophistic rhetoric for the inner world of the dialectical quest. The division between inner and outer, between astrology and alchemy, between Philosophy and magic is a familiar one. In the same way as F. C. Burkitt says, (p. 40 of Church and Gnosis [1932]) "There is a Gnosticism which is mainly a philosophy, and there is a Gnosticism which is mainly a mythology" and whose bias is towards magic. Naturally the roots of these divisions are Light and Dark, Spirit and Matter. And they are expressed in the age-old idea of the body as the tomb or prison, which usually involves the notion of pre-existence, of metempsychosis and re-incarnation. Greek pagan religion relies heavily on this notion of pre-existence as does Buddhism and other Eastern religions. The idea of human existence itself as damnation for previous sins tends to be the universal rationalist explanation for the problem of evil.

If we grant that human existence is the state of damnation, two possibilites follow. Either we can learn to retrace the stages of our fall into matter, and so escape, or we can devise some means of extinction of personality. The pagan art and culture of the world, past and present, is divided in the pursuit of these alternatives. On one hand art is followed as a continuous labyrinth in which by blind, dogged persistence we may struggle upward by means of will power and ethical struggle. On the other hand there is the intellectual course presented by Mr. Eliot, in which we move from one intensity to another, towards a final flash of awareness and extinction. In the one art--that linked with Plato's cave man--Time, continuity, dialectic, are of the essence. In the other, time is lost in simultaneities and juxtapositions.
   If all time is eternally present
   All time is unredeemable.
   [Eliot, Four Quartets, Burnt Norton I]

   The future is a faded rose of regret.
   [cf, Eliot, Four Quartets, The Dry Salvages, III:
   ... the future is a laded song, a Royal Rose or a lavender spray
   Of wistful regret ...]

The one proceeds by linked statement in time, the other by discontinuous arrangement in space. In the broader cultural terms, the one view tends to locate human value in the will, the other in the intellect. Belloc never tired of satirizing the Platonic ethical bias in English Public School education:
   I knew a man who used to say ...
   [Excerpt from "The Statesman":
   "I knew a man who used to say,
   Not once, but twenty times a day,
   That in the turmoil and the strife
   (His very words) of Public Life
   The thing of ultimate effect
   Was Character--not Intellect.
   He therefore was at strenuous pains
   To atrophy his puny brains...."]

Generally speaking, both of these positions are Manichean so far as they postulate not just a Fallen Man, but a Fallen World. Man has fallen, true. But he has fallen into a fallen world. Man is a devil in hell. No Exit. There are many Manichean and Gnostic variants on this theme, some of which are familiar to English readers in the poetry of Milton and William Blake.

Basic, however, for the understanding of vertical and horizontal, time and space, as these terms structure and agitate philosophy, aesthetics, anthropology and sociology, is the peculiar Manichean theory of communication. Father Puech, in the Carmelite volume on Satan [ed, Bruno de Jesus-Marie, O.C.D, 1952], quotes Severus:
   "These members of the Tree of Death do not know each other, have no
   notion of each other. For none of them recognized anything more
   than the sound of his own voice, and they see (only) what is before
   their [own] eyes" ... And similarly when dealing with the King of
   Darkness, the Kephalaion (VI and XXVII) declares with remarkable
   insistence that "he receives and knows nothing but what is
   immediately before his eyes" ... In other words, his intelligence
   is as narrow as his field of vision is restricted. It lacks all
   penetration ... Awake to appearances and signs, it remains closed
   to realities and to inner depths. Impotent to follow and interpret
   the organic sequence of successive events of the continuity of a
   process of thought, whether in itself or another, it reaches and
   reacts to nothing but the instantaneous. (p. 159)

In short, ordinary men, or the children of darkness, would in this Manichean view tend to express their diabolical nature by extroverted habits and a passion for visual sensation and visual arts. Poetry as it tends away from statement and discourse to landscape (whether external and descriptive or symbolic and interior) would naturally appeal to the children of darkness.

The Prince of the Air would seem to be a master of space but an imbecile in time--a chronological idiot. It is easy to outwit him.

Professor Mansell Jones in his Modern French Poetry ([1951] pp. 30-31) takes up this theme with reference to two kinds of symbolism which he refers to as vertical and horizontal. Vertical symbolism is of the dualistic variety, setting the sign or the work of art as a link between two worlds, between Heaven and Hell. It is concerned with the world as Time process, as becoming, and with the means of escape from Time into eternity by means of art and beauty. Vertical symbolism asserts the individual will against the hoi polloi. It is aristocratic. Yeats is the perfect exemplar.

Horizontal symbolism, on the other hand, sets the work of art and the symbol a collective task of communication, rather than the vertical task of elevating the choice human spirit above the infernal depths of material existence. In idealist terms, the vertical school claims cognitive status for its symbols, because the conceptual meanings attached to art are in this view a means of raising the mind of man to union with the higher world from which we have been exiled. Whereas, on the other hand, the horizontal, or space school, appeals to intuition, emotion and collective participation in states of mind as a basis for communication and of transformation of the self. The vertical school seeks to elevate the self above mere existence. The horizontal symbolists seek to transform the self, and ultimately to merge or annihilate it.

Mr. Eliot's position is by no means simple or consistent within itself, hut as between the vertical and horizontal camps, his poetic allegiance is markedly horizontal or spatial.

To Catholics, (for all of whom pre-existence is nonsense), the anguish generated over the problems of Time and Space and the self may well be baffling. However, if you are frantically concerned with seeking an exit from a trap, it is of the utmost urgency to understand the mechanism of the trap that holds you. Are you a prisoner of time? ("History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake," says the young esthete Stephen Dedalus.) If so, there are specific dialectical resources which can conduct an elite few to the escape hatch. Are you a prisoner of space? Are you a mechanical puppet manipulated by a thread held in remote, invisible hands? If so, you can learn the techniques of Yoga or Zen Buddhism or some related mode of illumination which will show you the way. To learn how to make perfect your will, you need to negate your own personality and to learn that detachment from self and from things and from persons which reveals the totally illusory character of self, things, and persons. Existence is not so much an historical trap in time as a wilderness of horrors multiplied by mirrors. Existence creates itself by an endless chain of suggestions richocheting off each other, just as a symbolist poem of the Eliot kind generates its meanings by spatial juxtaposition. A Catholic poet like Paul Claudel, of course, is not bound by these dichotomies of space and time, the vertical and horizontal. But all he has written is strongly marked with his keen awareness of the space-time controversies in art, politics and religion. (To the European, the comparative American ignorance of these doctrines, as elaborated in art, is precisely what constitutes American innocence.) Thus in his section "On Time" in Poetic Knowledge [sic, Poetic Art, Philosophical Library, 1948], Claudel takes up the space position, then appropriates the time ammunition as well:
   Since the essence of causes is studied, why close my eyes to the
   consideration of things on a horizontal plane, to the appreciation
   of the motifs which adorn and make up the moment ... It is not
   enough to understand the whole, the completed figure in its
   features, we must consider the developments it implies, as the bud
   implies the rose, catch the intention and the purpose, the
   direction and the sense. Time is the sense of life. (Direction and
   sense as in the direction of a stream, the sense of a sentence, the
   sense of smell) ... The task of the world is to go on, to manage
   its own continuity. To be is to create. All things living in time
   listen, concert, and compose. The meeting of physical forces and
   the play of human will cooperate in the construction of the mosaic
   of the Instant ... The past is an incantation of things to come.
   [HMM addition: Mr. Eliot prefers the Buddhist insistence that the
   future is a faded rose] the generating difference they need, the
   forever growing sum of future conditions. It determines the sense,
   and in this light, it does not cease existing any more than the
   first words of a sentence when the eye reaches the last ones ...
   The present minute is different from all other minutes, in that it
   does not border on the same quantity of past. It does not explain
   the same past, it does not imply the same future. [p. 19, 20, 27]

Claudel's thought and poetry obviously move freely in both time and space. As a symbolist he avails himself to the utmost degree of the spatial techniques of inner and outer landscape for fixing particular states of mind. This procedure makes available to him all the magical resources invoked by the Romantics for using particular emotions as immediate windows onto Being, as techniques of connatural union with reality. But he values equally the resources of dialectic and continuous discourse. He can therefore be both Senecan or symbolist--and temporal. That would seem to be an inevitable program for any Catholic for whom Time and Space are not sectarian problems. Today many thoughtful people are torn between the claims of time and space, and speak even of The Crucifixion of Intellectual Man [Eric Havelock, 1951] as he is mentally torn in these opposite directions. As the dispute quickens, the Catholic is more and more reminded of the inexhaustible wisdom and mercy of the Cross at every intersecting instant of space and time. These moments of intersection became for Father Hopkins (and also for James Joyce) epiphanies.

However, Father de Lubac in his recent [1954] Aspects of Buddhism, suggests grounds for a Christian bias in favor of time. He says:
      In Buddhism the cosmic Buddha who is identical with the Dharma is
   the impersonal void of Being, the essential Buddhahood [omitted by
   HMM: into which Sakyamuni is absorbed by identifying himself with
   all the other Buddhas who have disappeared]. In Christianity the
   cosmic--or rather hyper-cosmic--Christ is still the person, Jesus
   of Nazareth, Man and God to all eternity, the one author of

      Finally, in Buddhism the centre of the world, the place where the
   support of the universe rests, is Buddha Gaya, i.e., the place of
   enlightenment. [inserted by HMM: This is the still point of the
   turning world of Mr. Eliot on which he has lavished this powers.]
   In Christianity this centre, which is not so much a point in space,
   a topographical height at the centre of the material universe, as
   an event in time, the culminating point of human history--is
   Calvary, where all things were obediently resigned into the hands
   of the Father; a place of sacrifice and great "cosmic combat" over
   which rises the Cross. (p. 74)

It is not the purpose of this paper to explain the complex falsehoods of the time and space schools of aesthetics, religion and politics. For a Catholic it is easy to admire and use much from each position. But by and large the vertical camp is rationalist and the horizontal camp magical in its theory of art and communication.

John Lindberg's recent Foundations of Social Survival [1953] is devoted to an elucidation of the political and social consequences of these two positions. And for the purposes of explaining Mr. Eliot's use of the Manichean myth, Mr. Lindberg is helpful, because he attaches the term "myth" to the Manichean or dualist position from Plato to Bergson. Myth, he considers to be that necessary or salutary lie which any governing class must tell the governed in order to arrest and control the daemonic movement of the passions in ordinary men. Opposed to myth is the area of norms and value, says Mr. Lindberg, speaking out of the Platonic tradition. Human values are all demonic, because they are mere expressions of irrational appetite and temperamental preference. The realm of norms and values is the realm of the brutish. But casting a twentieth-century eye over the untamed jungle of norms and values, Mr. Lindberg sees reason for preferring it to the dust on bowl of rose-leaves which is about all that remains of myth in an age of rapid inter-communication and change. If the governing elites have previously been rationalist, Platonic and Averroist in their strategy for power and culture, they now see the possibility of a more thorough-going control. Instead of imposing a brittle myth on the ordinary levels of human consciousness, why not occupy its creative centre? Why not install oneself at the point where the norms and values are born and control this process? Instead of governing men's appetites, why not govern men through their appetites? The shift is basic. It is the shift from the dualism of the time school to the monism of the space men. It is a magical shift to the centre of the poetic process, which Mr. Eliot, among others, has revealed in our time.

In his Idea of a Christian Society [1939], Mr. Eliot remarks:
   A national clergy must of course include individual priests of
   different intellectual types and levels; and, as I suggested
   before, belief has a vertical as well as a horizontal measurement:
   to answer fully the question "What does A believe?", one must know
   enough about A to have some notion of the level on which he is
   capable of believing anything. [p. 37]

Grace in Mr. Eliot's work (his private life, of course, is quite another matter) is self-generated. It is earned by the self-righteous. Let us put this passage beside another in his introduction to Pascal where he is discussing "the daemon of doubt which is inseparable from the spirit of belief' [Selected Essays, 1960, p 363]. He says: "the majority of mankind is lazy-minded, incurious, absorbed in vanities, and tepid in emotion, and is therefore incapable of either much doubt or much faith" [364]. By contrast, Pascal's "despair, his disillusion, are however, no illustration of personal weakness; they are perfectly objective because they are essential moments in the progress of the intellectual soul... A similar despair, when it is arrived at by a diseased character or an impure soul, may issue in the most disastrous consequences though with the most superb manifestations; and thus we get Gulliver's Travels; but in Pascal we find no such distortion; his despair is in itself more terrible than Swift's because our heart tells us it corresponds exactly to the facts and cannot be dismissed as mental disease ..." [ibid].

Mr. Eliot here implies a concept of the self which is indispensable to an understanding of his poetry and his plays. It assumes, of course, preexistence and the state of human bondage in a demonic material world. What he means by the daemon of doubt and the spirit of belief has indeed direct reference to Gulliver's Travels. In his treatise on the Cave of the Nymphs, Porphyry explains the relation between Ulysses and the cyclops as follows: "For it will not be simply and in a concise way, possible for anyone to be liberated from this sensible life who blinds this daemon (his natal daemon) and renders his energies inefficacious; but he who dares to do this, will be pursued by the anger of the marine and material Gods, whom it is first requisite to appease by sacrifices, labours, and patient endurance. (The anger of the Gods, says Proclus, is not an indication of any passion in them, but demonstrates our inaptitude to participate of their illuminations.)"

Elect spirits like Pascal, in this theory, do not have to blind the cyclops who is their natal daemon in order to free themselves from the demonic order of existence. For in superior souls the natal daemon and the essential daemon are one. But ordinary mankind who "cannot bear very much reality" have two separate daemons attached to them. L'homme moven sensuel, like Ulysses, Gulliver, or the Ancient Mariner, who venture on a return to the paradise from which they have been cast out, before their level of incarnation permits--such are they to whom Mr. Eliot refers as diseased characters or impure souls whose course "may issue in the most disastrous consequences though with the most superb manifestations; ..." [Selected Essays, p 364]. Such are the "lost violent souls" [The Hollow Men] like Sweeney Agonistes and Mr. Kurtz. It becomes easy in this type of context to place such spirits as Tiresias, Becket, Harry and Celia Coplestone.

So far as I can determine, the human personality is for Mr. Eliot as much an illusion (but a demonic illusion like existence itself) as the fictions and beliefs by which the poet manipulates his shadows and puppets. (Wyndbam Lewis, who shares many of these Buddhist or neo-Platonic notions with Mr. Eliot, has discussed the psuedo-believer aspect of Mr. Eliot in his chapter on him in Men Without Art [1934].) At any rate, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy's discussion in "The Bugbear of Literacy" [in Am I my Brother's Keeper?, 1949] of "'Spiritual Paternity' and the 'Puppet Complex'" [78 if] provides an excellent summary of the aesthetic postulates which have motivated Mr. Eliot's doctrines of poetic impersonality, the doctrine of the objective correlative, and the multi-layered presentation of his characters from the Prufrock to the Confidential Clerk. The notion that men are automatic mechanisms, that "it is as regards the best in human beings that they are really God's playthings" [89], is typically both Indian and Platonic, says Coomarasway. The vertical or spiritual man obeys only the control of that one cord by which the puppet is suspended from above, and not the contrary and unregulated (horizontal) pulls by which external things drag each one to and fro in accordance with his own likes and dislikes. For as Philo also says, "our five senses" [83], together with the powers of speech and generation, "all these as in puppet-shows are drawn by the cords ..." [83]. The way of negation, the role of the dancer, the escape from personality into the pure impersonality of perfect art and expression, these are familiar to the reader of Mr. Eliot as to the neo-Platonist and the Buddhist. Mr. Eliot's "unreal city" of The Waste Land, with its strained time-ridden faces and its automata that flow over London bridge, appear in the Indian myth of the City of Wooden Automata, in which the whole citizenry consists of machines behaving as if they were alive. The hero, Naravahanadatta, enters the palace and encounters Rajyadhara, a man who is the only consciousness there, and who is the cause of motion in the insensible folk. Need we recall Tiresias of The Waste Land, who is all the characters of the poem? Coomaraswamy observes [86-87]:
   No one at all familiar with the traditional Indian or Greek
   psychology will doubt that the City of Wooden Automata is
   macrocosmically the world and microcosmically man--the man whose
   "person", puru-sa, is so called because of his being the cit-izen
   in every pol-itical "body" ... That his food of all kinds is thus
   served by invisible hands, and that he repeoples a Waste Land
   (sunyam puram), is a reminder that this is effectively the "Rich
   King" [or Fisher King] of a "Grail Castle". As the "sole
   consciousness" in the City of Wooden Automata, Rajyadhara
   corresponds to the "Only Thinker, your Self, the Inner Controller,
   Immortal" of the Upanisads ...

The Indian rape of Soma and Greek Promethean theft of fire is that of the sources of life, which "necessarily involves the separation or exile of the immanent principles from their transcendent source" [87] (i.e., illusions of existence).

It follows, in the words of Dr. Harry Stack Sullivan, that in the emphasized individuality or self of each one of us, "we have the very mother of illusions ... The psychiatrist may, in his more objective moments, hold the correct view of personality, that it is the hypothetical entity that one postulates to account for the doings of people.., in his less specialized moments the same psychiatrist joins the throng in exploiting his delusions of unique individuality" [qtd. in Coomaraswamy 100]. "To believe in one's own or another's 'personality' or 'individuality'", continues Coomaraswamy, "is animism. In the traditional philosophy it is emphasized that 'personalities' are inconstants, ever changing and never stopping to 'be': 'we' are not entities, but processes" [ibid]. And "the first step on the way to liberation from 'the mother of all illusions' ... is to have realized ... that 'this (body and mind) is not my Self', that there is no such thing as a 'personality' anywhere to be found in the world" [ibid].

Mr. Eliot's last four plays are spiritual exercises in the annihilation of the illusion of personality. There the puppets must first learn how to get back in the groove or role from which the horizontal pressures of social life have dislocated them. They must learn that detachment from self and from things and from persons which leads to that reawakening which is to have done with all becoming. Then one is no longer a personality in time, no longer anyone. Time is no healer because the patient is no longer here. Writing on Eliot in the Birthday Volume [T. S. Eliot: A Symposium, 1948], Miss Marianne Moore alludes to his passion for thrillers, his regarding magic as a natural human preoccupation. She concludes with a query:
   Since we have in the author of the Practical Cats a virtuoso
   of make-believe, perhaps we have as well--my persistent
   suspicion--a master of the anonymous. May we not already
   have been carried past our destination on the railway, absorbed
   in a roman a clef by Mr. Mistoffelees, the cat who could never
   be caught? [180]


1) MS, Address to Spring symposium of the Catholic Renascence Society, 19 April 1954. The McLuhan Papers, Vol. 130, File 29, Manuscript Division, National Archives of Canada, Ottawa.
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Title Annotation:T.S. Eliot
Author:McLuhan, H. Marshall
Publication:Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 22, 2011
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