Is the Author Dead? Juxtaposing the Poet and the Person to Understand T. S. Eliot, a Notable Modernist

Sumi Bora

LOKD College, Dhekiajuli, Assam

    Volume III, Number 1, 2017 I Full Text PDF


At the outset of my paper I will put forth how the nature of the modern world can be best interpreted if one’s reading admits the conditional mode of such approximation. Such an exercise will enable me to explore Eliot’s early poems which refuse to get pigeonhole in any watertight critical compartment. In this paper I use the phrase “death of the author” in a more general sense than the one assumed in Roland Barthes celebrated essay The Death of the Author (1967). Probably inspired by the postmodernists’ extensive practice of authors rewriting previous texts, Roland Barthes declared the Author dead to all times and cultures. However, I am set out to bring arguments against Barthes’ contention, that “a writer no longer contains within himself passions, humors, sentiments, impressions, but that enormous dictionary, from which he derives a writing which can know no end or halt[…]”  (1967) by reading the select poems of T.S. Eliot in tandem with his life to present how such an activity can generate newer ways of engaging with them, as the ‘text’ of the poet’s life can also be a constituent of what we term as ‘context.’ While scrutinising these poems, I will highlight how the poet’s detachment from his subject and his deep involvement simultaneously go together. The proof in my argument is provided by T.S. Eliot’s statement, “But of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to escape from these things” from his celebrated essay Tradition and Individual Talent (1919). Furthermore, I use the term “impersonality” in a general vein, though I am well aware that the modernists’ professed poetics of “impersonality” (in a line descending from Baudelaire through Mallarme to T.S. Eliot) is, however, somehow at loggerheads with their prioritizing of the self over the other, or what Virginia Woolf understood by “moths” and “middlebrows” getting in the way of the elect.

 Key words: modernism, author, impersonality, biography, revaluation.