T.S. Eliot's Tradition and the Individual Talent
In a T.S. Eliot's Tradition and the Individual Talent essay, Eliot takes on some of the most significant and longstanding assumptions about tradition, poetry, and literary criticism that had been prevalent in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. He argues that the most important thing about a poet's body of work is not always his innovation and divergence with that which went before (a common assumption that underlay much of modernist literature and art). To the contrary, Eliot asserts that equal, if not greater, value can be found in the way that a particular poet forges connections with the whole of the preceding literary tradition in ways that are simultaneously inventive and grounded in the canon.
One of the major problems that I have with this essay is my skepticism of Eliot?s objectivity as a literary critic. I can't help but suspect that this essay and its carefully universal language are actually little more than a sly justification for his own poetic program. Anyone who has looked at the text of one of Eliot?s poems, sometimes with more lines of notes than of verse, is familiar with his own preoccupation of blending innovation with obscure allusions to canonical works.