• Absolutism, Relativism, Atomism: The “small theories” of T.S. Eliot

    Jeffrey Blevins (see profile)
    English Literature, Poetics and Poetry
    Poetry, Poetics, Philosophy, Modernism (Literature), Logic
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    logic, modernism, philosophy, poetics, poetry
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    Philosophy began the 1890s rooted firmly in the monistic absolutism of F.H. Bradley and J.M.E. McTaggart; it ended the decade deracinated into the pluralistic atomism espoused by Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore. If this intellectual sea change can be conceived as analytic and logical philosophies inventing their wheel, then T.S. Eliot re-invented it as a student of Russell's in the 1910s, when he, too, turned to atomism after growing dissatisfied with Bradley's absolute. But by 1915, Eliot had grown as disenchanted with atomism as he had with absolutism and ultimately charted a course between the two, which he called " relativism. " Relativism shines through in Eliot's rejuvenated dedication after 1915 to principles of " organization " that attempt to put an atomized world back together without returning to the unsystematic mysticism of Bradley's original absolute. This attempt — its successes and failures — manifests in the Sweeney poems as a play between formal chaos and order, with poetry itself suspended between these two tendencies. Keywords: T.S. Eliot / Bertrand Russell / F.H. Bradley / logic / analytic philosophy W hen T.S. Eliot wrote in 1916 that, contrary to Conrad Aiken's " blessed materialism, " he supposed himself " still a relativist, a cracker of small theories like nuts, " it is likely that he meant by " small " something more like trivial than diminutive (Letters I 160). Several months prior, he had finished his dissertation on perhaps the largest and least materialist theory that Western metaphysics has ever concocted: F.H. Bradley's absolutism, which had emerged at Oxford in the 1880s and 90s under the umbrella of British Idealism.
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    10 months ago
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