Category Archive 'T. S. Eliot'

14 Sep 2019

T.S. Eliot Declined to Publish “Animal Farm”

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Lit Hub excerpted from a history of the renowned publishing house Faber some very interesting rejection letters, mostly by none other than T.S. Eliot.

The most indefensible one has to be:

T. S. Eliot to George Orwell Esq., 13 July 1944:

I know that you wanted a quick decision about Animal Farm; but the minimum is two directors’ opinions, and that can’t be done under a week. But for the importance of speed, I should have asked the Chairman to look at it as well. But the other director is in agreement with me on the main points. We agree that it is a distinguished piece of writing; that the fable is very skilfully handled, and that the narrative keeps one’s interest on its own plane – and that is something very few authors have achieved since Gulliver.

On the other hand, we have no conviction (and I am sure none of the other directors would have) that this is the right point of view from which to criticise the political situation at the present time.[. . .]

I am very sorry, because whoever publishes this, will naturally have the opportunity of publishing your future work: and I have a regard for your work, because it is good writing of fundamental integrity.

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It is that last paragraph that particularly strikes me: in turning down Animal Farm—essentially because it was being rude about our Soviet allies—Eliot was also turning down the unwritten 1984.

RTWT

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Roz Kaveney detected a pattern in Eliot’s thinking.

When we look at Eliot’s writings on culture, we see a fine critical intelligence allied to a fear of possible consequences that is deeply terrifying in the way that in it elitist arrogance masquerades as humility and passionate concern to keep things as they are as a broadly accepting humanism.

17 Aug 2015

“Notes on the Death of Culture”

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Eric Fischl, The Old Man’s Boat and the Old Man’s Dog, 1982. –Our time’s version of The Raft of the Medusa.

John D. Davidson reviews Mario Vargas Llosa’s just-released
Notes on the Death of Culture, a must-read pessimistic essay discussing the West’s rate of decline since 1948 (the year of my birth) and our civilization’s gloomy prospects for the future.

In his 1948 essay, Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, T.S. Eliot argued that the highest levels of culture are only attainable by relatively small groups of people, and that in order for a civilization to sustain high culture a class system of some kind is necessary. Because culture is transmitted primarily through the family and religion—not schools—and because it relies to a large extent on these particular loyalties for its perpetuation, when these institutions fail, “we must expect our culture to deteriorate.”

At the risk of over-simplifying Eliot’s argument, one of his basic contentions sounds rather old-fashioned, perhaps even bigoted by today’s standards, that “we can distinguish between higher and lower cultures; we can distinguish between advance and retrogression.” This notion flies in the face of multiculturalism, not to say the notion of equality. Yet it’s a necessary premise for his assessment of the state of contemporary culture:

    “We can assert with some confidence that our own period is one of decline; that the standards of culture are lower than they were fifty years ago; and that the evidences of this decline are visible in every department of human activity. I see no reason why the decay of culture should not proceed much further, and why we may not even anticipate a period, of some duration, of which it is possible to say that it will have no culture.”

According to Peruvian writer and Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, the culture-less period foreseen 67 years ago by Eliot is the one in which we are all now living.


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