Oratory, the art of persuasion, was long considered a great literary art. The oratory of the American Indian, for instance, is famous, while in classical Greece, Polymnia was the muse sacred to poetry and oratory. Romes great orator Cicero was to have a decisive influence on the development of English prose style. Abraham Lincolns Gettysburg Address is known to every American schoolchild. Today, however, oratory is more usually thought of as a craft than as an art. Most critics would not admit advertising copywriting, purely commercial fiction, or cinema and television scripts as accepted forms of literary expression, although others would hotly dispute their exclusion. The test in individual cases would seem to be one of enduring satisfaction and, of course, truth. Indeed, it becomes more and more difficult to categorize literature, for in modern civilization words are everywhere. Man is subject to a continuous flood of communication. Most of it is fugitive, but here and there in high-level journalism, in television, in the cinema, in commercial fiction, in westerns and detective stories, and in plain, expository prose some writing, almost by accident, achieves an aesthetic satisfaction, a depth and relevance that entitle it to stand with other examples of the art of literature.
For a struggling young American, Eliot had acquired extraordinary access to the Britishintellectual set. With Russell's help he was invited to country-house weekends wherevisitors ranged from political figures like Herbert Henry Asquith to a constellation ofBloomsbury writers, artists, and philosophers. At the same time Pound facilitated hisentry into the international avant-garde, where Eliot mixed with a group including theaging Irish poet William Butler Yeats, the English painter and novelist Wyndham Lewis, andthe Italian Futurist writer Tamaso Marinetti. More accomplished than Pound in the mannersof the drawing room, Eliot gained a reputation in the world of belles-lettres as anobserver who could shrewdly judge both accepted and experimental art from a platform ofapparently enormous learning. It did not hurt that he calculated his interventionscarefully, publishing only what was of first quality and creating around himself an auraof mystery. In 1920 he collected a second slim volume of verse, ,and avolume of criticism, Both displayed a winning combination oferudition and jazzy bravura, and both built upon the understated discipline of a decade ofphilosophical seriousness. Eliot was meanwhile proofreading the serialpublication of Joyce's and, with Pound's urging, starting to think ofhimself as part of an experimental movement in modern art and literature.
Ironically, after 1925 Eliot's marriage steadily deteriorated, turning his publicsuccess hollow. During the tenure of his Norton year at Harvard he separated from Vivien,but would not consider divorce because of his Anglican beliefs. For most of the 1930s hesecluded himself from Vivien's often histrionic attempts to embarrass him into areconciliation, and made an anguished attempt to order his life around his editorialduties at Faber's and the and around work at his Kensington church. Healso reestablished communication with Emily Hale, especially after 1934, when she begansummering with relatives in the Cotswolds. Out of his thinking of "what might havebeen," associated with their visit to an abandoned great house, Eliot composed"Burnt Norton," published as the last poem in his (1936).With its combination of symbolist indirection and meditative gravity, "BurntNorton" gave Eliot the model for another decade of major verse.
In 1938 Vivien was committed to Northumberland House, a mental hospital north ofLondon. In 1939, with the war impending, the which had occupied itselfwith the deepening political crisis of Europe, ceased publication. During the Blitz, Eliotserved as an air-raid warden, but spent long weekends as a guest with friends nearGuildford in the country. In these circumstances, he wrote three more poems, each moresomber than the last, patterned on the voice and five-part structure of "BurntNorton." "East Coker" was published at Easter 1940 and took its title fromthe village that Eliot's ancestor Andrew Eliot had departed from for America in theseventeenth century. (Eliot had visited East Coker in 1937.) "The Dry Salvages,"published in 1941, reverted to Eliot's experience as a boy on the Mississippi and sailingon the Massachussetts coast. Its title refers to a set of dangerously hidden rocks nearCape Ann. "Little Gidding" was published in 1942 and had a less private subject,suitable to its larger ambitions. Little Gidding, near Cambridge, had been the site of anAnglican religious community that maintained a perilous existence for the first part ofthe English civil war. Paired with Eliot's experience walking the blazing streets ofLondon during World War II, the community of Little Gidding inspired an extendedmeditation on the subject of the individual's duties in a world of human suffering. Itscenterpiece was a sustained homage to Dante written in a form of terza rima, dramatizingEliot's meeting with a "familiar compound ghost" he associates with Yeats andSwift.
Eliot's reputation as a poet and man of letters, increasing incrementally from themid-1920s, advanced and far outstripped his theatrical success. As early as 1926 hedelivered the prestigious Clark Lectures at Cambridge University, followed in 1932-1933 bythe Norton Lectures at Harvard, and just about every other honor the academy or theliterary world had to offer. In 1948 Eliot received the Nobel Prize for literature duringa fellowship stay at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study. By 1950 his authority hadreached a level that seemed comparable in English writing to that of figures like SamuelJohnson or Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
connects the personal and creative development of the Beat generation's famous icon with cultural changes in postwar America. Michael Hrebeniak asserts that Jack Kerouac's "wild form"—self-organizing narratives free of literary, grammatical, and syntactical conventions—moves within an experimental continuum across the arts to generate a Dionysian sense of writing as raw process. highlights how Kerouac made concrete his 1952 intimation of "something beyond the novel" by assembling ideas from Beat America, modernist poetics, action painting, bebop, and subterranean oral traditions.
Other writers have sought to use language for its most subtle and complex effects and have deliberately cultivated the ambiguity inherent in the multiple or shaded meanings of words. Between the two world wars, ambiguity became very fashionable in English and American poetry and the ferreting out of ambiguities from even the simplest poem was a favorite critical sport. T.S. Eliot in his literary essays is usually considered the founder of this movement. Actually, the platform of his critical attitudes is largely moral, but his two disciples, I.A. Richards in and William Empson in carried his method to extreme lengths. The basic document of the movement is Charles Kay Ogden and I.A. Richardss a work of enormous importance in its time. Only a generation later, however, their ideas were somewhat at a discount.
In some literatures (notably classical Chinese, Old Norse, Old Irish), the language employed is quite different from that spoken or used in ordinary writing. This marks off the reading of literature as a special experience. In the Western tradition, it is only in comparatively modern times that literature has been written in the common speech of cultivated men. The Elizabethans did not talk like Shakespeare nor eighteenth-century people in the stately prose of Samuel Johnson or Edward Gibbon (the so-called Augustan plain style in literature became popular in the late seventeenth century and flourished throughout the eighteenth, but it was really a special form of rhetoric with antecedent models in Greek and Latin). The first person to write major works of literature in the ordinary English language of the educated man was Daniel Defoe (1660?-1731), and it is remarkable how little the language has changed since. (1719) is much more contemporary in tone than the elaborate prose of nineteenth-century writers like Thomas De Quincey or Walter Pater. (Defoes language is not, in fact, so very simple; simplicity is itself one form of artifice.)
Geared to scholars and students of American literature, Beat studies, and creative writing, places Kerouac's writing within the context of the American art scene at midcentury. Reframing the work of Kerouac and the Beat generation within the experimental modernist and postmodernist literary tradition, this probing inquiry offers a direct engagement with the social and cultural history at the foreground of Kerouac's career from the 1940s to the late 1960s.
This development is relevant to the West because it spotlights the ever-increasing emphasis which has been laid on intensity of communication, a characteristic of Western poetry (and of literature generally) as it has evolved since the late nineteenth century. In the Far East all cultivated people were supposed to be able to write suitable occasional poetry, and so those qualities that distinguished a poem from the mass consequently came to be valued above all others. Similarly, as modern readers in the West struggle with a communication avalanche of words, they seek in literature those forms, ideas, values, vicarious experiences, and styles that transcend the verbiage to be had on every hand.
Yet the values of great literature are more fundamental than complexity and subtleties of meaning arising from language alone. Works far removed from contemporary man in time and in cultural background, composed in a variety of languages utterly different from one another in structure, have nevertheless been translated successfully enough to be deeply moving. The twentieth century has seen an immense mass of the oral literature of preliterate peoples and of the writings of all the great civilizations translated into modern languages. Understanding the growth of literature and its forms in other civilizations has greatly enriched the understanding of our own.