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'I Caught the Sudden Look of Some Dead Master': Eliot's Tradition and Modern Materialism

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This essay explores the relations between T. S. Eliot's concept of tradition and the 'modern materialism' of Walter Benjamin, Jacques Lacan and Louis Althusser, and considers the implications of this resonance for both Eliot's critical legacy and the Marxist tradition. Initially surveying the critical controversy surrounding the canonical figure of Eliot and recent attempts to reconcile his avant-garde poetics with his reactionary social thought, the essay traces the roots of Eliot's tradition in a Nietzschean critique of historicism and its development into a theory of culture. Eliot's persistent drive towards impersonality echoes (and problematises) the efforts of Benjamin, Lacan and Althusser to construct a model of the social process that incorporates the unconscious. Rather than ultimately determining a set of political positions, the 'missed encounter' between Eliot's tradition and 'modern materialism' draws to light the Hegelian historicisms that haunt materialist theories of culture.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2002-01-01

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