“This is because for Eliot,” Manju Jain writes, “there is no stage of consciousness at which we do not find feeling and thought together […] whereas Bradley stresses that there is no thought without feeling, Eliot emphasizes that there is no feeling without thought.” (Jain, 1992 207) Therefore, the feeling that goes into writing poetry or the feeling in which writing itself has originated is always already marked by thought and analysis.
And the partition of their respective modes of inscription would be as irrelevant as the attempt to circumscribe their respective fields of action in the consciousness of the poet at the time of composition.
(Eliot, 1951 141) Such provocative debunking of great authors is part of Eliot’s game and should not be taken at face-value; it may not be more than the falsely naïve way and fairly innocuous tool of the zealous grown-up schoolboy Eliot sometimes impersonates in his essays.
This remark leads us to think that the only kind of valid criticism a text can produce is its own manifestation as text; the critic himself is only supposed to reveal such a manifestation.
“Talk” appears as a supplement to poetry, as a provisional outlet when the poet’s ability to “sing” fails him or when the explanation forced upon him by a reader in need of clarification leads him to resort to discourse.
This statement could also imply that, as far as theory is concerned, only “talks” should be taken into account and that “the rest”– poetry – “is silence”, or a pure song whose capacity to affect the senses should be enough to silence the mind.
But Eliot has never ceased underlining the capacity of poetry to deliver its own poetics, on a mode which allows a sensory approach to thought and meaning and prevents closure. Eliot et le manque de nuance de certaines déclarations ont largement contribué à ériger le poète en figure d’autorité et en chantre d’un modernisme traditionnel et conservateur.
Eliot’s essays and lectures and their occasional lack of nuance largely account for the poet’s reputation as a figure of authority and as an advocate of a traditional, conservative brand of modernism.
Yet his poetry, be it openly discursive as in Eliot’s stance on theory is actually very ambivalent.
In the last of the lectures delivered at Harvard he acknowledges, or pretends to acknowledge, his own limits as far as theory is concerned: “The extreme of theorising about the nature of poetry, the essence of poetry if there is any, belongs to the study of aesthetics and is no concern of the poet or of a critic with my limited qualifications.” (Eliot, 1950 149-50) In his essay on […] the critic with a mind which is naturally of the creative order, but which through some weakness in creative power exercises itself in criticism instead.