Monday, January 05, 2015

from Atlantic Monthly: T. S. Eliot as the first hipster, self-consciously looking for an unattainable authenticity

Rather than quote extensively, it may be better to quote in cryptic and allusive ways an article by Karen Swallow Prior on T. S. Eliot as the first hipster and on J. Alfred Prufrock.

Modernists are generally held responsible for having dug the deep chasm between high culture and low, and Eliot is often regarded as highbrow fare fit for college classrooms and academic journals.  But the erudite, Harvard-educated Eliot saw high culture not as opposed to popular culture, but as its fulfillment, ...

In a culture too detached and disconnected to give birth to anything new, people turn to curation, pastiche, allusiveness, and hyper-referentiality—the hallmarks of the hipster aesthetic.
But these were Eliot’s hallmarks, too. Eliot did not create the world depicted in his poems; he merely gave it expression in the form of fragments we might shore against our ruins. Hipsters—a movement many say has passed—have perhaps done no less.

1 comment:

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

RE: T. S. Eliot as the first hipster

Not sure what defines a hipster. I heard the word used for the first time by my cousin's daughter who had moved to Seattle from Spokane and told me that GeorgeTown was a place for hipsters. I had done some shooting (photos) in GeorgeTown and had noticed a high concentration of bikers which I can spot without an urban field guide in hand.

Half a lifetime ago my supervisor at work asked us writers to do an analysis of The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot. The super’s name was John Browne and his father taught university level english lit in the land that Faulkner wrote about. I went to the Seattle Lib just uphill from the Hermy Moore sculpture and walked up to the reference desk in literature and asked for a critical book on The Waste Land. The reference librarian levitated out of his chair and guided me to the norton critical anthology of modern poetry.

In that last year or so I came into possession of From Ritual to Romance is a 1920 book written by Jessie L. Weston which is the book T. S. Eliot recommends in his notes on the poem. I haven’t finished the book yet. It is read at odd moments when there is nothing else at hand. I also found a book on the editing of The Waste Land which demonstrates Ezra Pound’s contribution to the final form of the poem.

Ezra Pound as described in A Movable Feast by Hemingway, reminds me of an artist I worked with in 1971 named Dave Hastings. His widow is also an artist who is still active you can find her as Kathy Hastings photography.

T. S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men (Col. Kurtz reading in Apocalypse Now) lead me to discover “Heart of Darkness” by Conrad. That’s one thing about reading poets, the lead you to other things worth reading. For half a century I have been discovering literary connections from a single poem published in 1958 in Jam Session edited by Rarph Gleason (SF Jazz Critic), the poem is recension of Autobiography by Lawrence Ferlinghetti which was as yet unpublished when Jam Session went to press. The Jam Session recension of Autobiography is like the Ezra Pound cut of The Waste Land, a better poem than original. Only in the last few years did I discover the source for the textual variant “ignorant armies” which is an allusion to a famous poem previously unknown to me “Dover Beach” Mathew Arnold.