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MICHAEL BEEHLER Semiotics/Psychoanalysis/ Christianity: Eliot's Logic of Alterity "Let me resign . . . my speech for that unspoken" —"Marina" It has become increasingly fashionable and politically correct to dismiss Eliot as an irrelevant anachronism or, in a stronger rejection, as the embodiment of all of those pernicious mental habits—essentialism , formalistic aestheticism, and so forth—against which much contemporary theory calculates its difference. It has seemed an easy project to banalize Eliot and fix him in a formulated critical phrase, or to pin him to some philosophical wall as a fully known quantity left as sprawling witness to a now-discredited theoretical position. Often, it seems, we believe we have known all of Eliot already, and that there is no remainder or excess to this knowledge. Such is the case with Christopher Norris, for example, for whom Eliot is nothing more than a late example in a long line of "conservative critic-philosophers," a phrase that for Norris gives a complete picture of Eliot's thought (12). Norris aggressively promotes this formulaic picture, placing Eliot securely in the camp of aestheticians who by collapsing, as he puts it, "history itself into a timeless, idealized 'tradition, ' " do all they can to protect themselves and their criticism from the reasoned critique of philosophy and the inevitability of "mediating theory" (14). For Norris, Eliot stands on the other side of a great divide: while those ideologically-mystified Arizona Quarterly Volume 45 Number 4, Winter 1989 Copyright © 1989 by Arizona Board of Regents issn 004-1610 58Michael Beehkr aestheticians are over there, Norris seems to say, we clear-eyed demystifiers of ideological ruses are over here. Thus Norris frames Eliot in such a way that The Contest of Faculties—Norris's title—turns out to be no contest at all, and the defendant is simply dismissed as guilty before the trial ever begins. There is for Norris a big difference between Eliot's aestheticism and conservative pragmatism, and Norris's own philosophically rational critique, and his enlistment of Eliot as the enemy in a contest pictured as taking place between these two competing positions suggests that, for Norris, difference means simple opposition. Of course, Eliot has already been ably defended from such simplistic charges of anti-historical aestheticism. Harriet Davidson's elegant appraisal of the hermeneutics of The Waste Land, William Spanos's destructively Heideggerean readings of several Eliot texts, and Cleo Kearns' enlightening look at Eliot and the Indie traditions are three prime examples of the directions such lines of defense can take. In this essay, however, I would like to open up another line, one that complicates the oppositional logic by which Norris traps Eliot. I will stress a different way of understanding difference in Eliot, a way not captured by the oppositions of Norris's rational critique. Derrida has named this other difference—this other of difference—"alterity," and Rodolphe Gasché characterizes it as an "unconditional heterology" or a "difference that remains unaccounted for by the polar opposition of source and reflection, principle and what is derived from it, the one and the Other" (102). According to Gasché, whose analysis of certain philosophical aspects of Derrida's thought is extremely lucid, this alterity is the condition of general otherness that marks any identity with self-division or self-alienation—an essential relation or reference to some other that nevertheless determines identity "itself—that is, the enabling condition of its coming into presence. Since alterity constitutes a radical logic of general otherness, what Gasché calls "an endless process of reference to Other," it unsettles from within the metaphysical or philosophical logic that strives to manage difference into systematically organized oppositions such as Norris's, oppositions in which two sides, each pictured as simply ¿tsel/and not essentially self-different, can be seen as contesting with one another (102). It is the trace of this other logic of alterity that I want to follow in three key Eliot texts: Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy ?/ E H. Bradley, Murder in the Cathedral, and Four Quartets. My choice of two of Eliot's most overtly Eliot's Logic ofAlterity59 Christian texts may seem surprising, since many theoretical appraisals of Eliot have found his Christianity...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 57-73
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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