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Eliot’s Objective Correlative

Tradition or Individual Talent?
Contributions to the History of a Topos

Flemming Olsen was for many years Reader in English Literature and The Teaching of Literature at the University of Copenhagen. His courses included Shakespeare, Fielding, Wordsworth, Arnold, and Eliot. He has written several books and articles, including: Elements of Textual Analysis, Active Grammar, and Thomas Arnold the Teacher. In 2008 the University Press of Denmark published his Between Positivism and T. S. Eliot: Imagism and T. E. Hulme; and in 2010 Sussex Academic published his Leigh Hunt and What is Poetry?


Eliot’s dictum about the objective correlative has often been quoted but rarely analysed. This book traces the maxim to some of its sources and places it in a contemporary context. Eliot agreed with Locke about the necessity of sensory input, but for a poet to be able to create poetry, the input has to be processed by the poet’s intellect. Respect for control of feelings and order of presentation were central to Eliot’s conception of literary criticism. The result – the objective correlative – is not one word, but “a scene” or “a chain of events”. Eliot’s thinking was also inspired by late 19th century French critics like Gautier and Gourmont, whose terminology he not infrequently borrowed. But he chose the term “objective” out of respect for the prestige that still surrounded the Positivist paradigm.

In its break-away from Positivist dogmas, criticism of art in the early 20th century was very much preoccupied with form. In poetry, that meant focus on the use and function of the word. That focus is perceptible everywhere in Eliot’s criticism. Even though the idea of the objective correlative was not an original one, Eliot’s treatment of it is interesting because he sees a seeming truism (“the right word in the right place”) in a new light. He never developed the theory, but the thought is traceable in several of his critical essays. On account of its categorical and rudimentary form, the theory is not unproblematic: whose fault is it if the reader’s response does not square with the poet’s intention? And indeed, Eliot’s own practice belies his theory – witness the multifarious legitimate interpretations of his poems.


Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-554-0
Paperback Price: £16.95 / $24.95
Release Date: August 2012
   
Page Extent / Format: 88 pp. / 216 x 138 mm
Illustrated: No
   

e-Book


 

INTRODUCTION

CHAPTER ONE:
SOME CLASSICAL PREDECESSORS
Aristotle
Demetrius
Horace

CHAPTER TWO:
SPRAT, LOCKE, HARTMANN
Sprat
Locke
Hartmann

CHAPTER THREE:
GAUTIER, BAUDELAIRE, GOURMONT
Gautier
Baudelaire
Gourmont

CHAPTER FOUR:
POSITIVISM AND SOME REACTIONS AGAINST IT

CHAPTER FIVE:
THE OBJECTIVE CORRELATIVE
The Theory
Language
The Poet’s Role
The Dissociation of Sensibility
Feeling and Emotion
The Implications
The Unconscious
The Example
Reality
Le mot juste
The Recipient
Rhythm
Questions

CONCLUSION

Notes
Bibliography
Index


Review Quotes to Follow


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