Via a complicated chain of events, I happened to be reading TS Eliot today, and I recalled the letter included below. It’s not so much a letter about Eliot as about the relationship of the corporeal artist to his or her ephemeral, fugitive, art. And obviously there’s an irony in that even in stressing the separation between art and artist, the letter itself reveals as much as it conceals about the “real” Paddy and his opinions.
But it’s a deeply satisfying piece, succinct and cogent, and quite beautifully framed.
And it forces you to confront the sad fact that Paddy’s autobiography would be the most wonderfully written one could ever imagine; yet it can never exist.
From the Guardian letters page of February 3rd, 2007.
Zadie Smith takes a cheap shot at TS Eliot (“Read better”, January 20) when she writes: “Eliot may have been ruthlessly impersonal in his writing … (if by that we mean he did not reveal personal details, such as the tricky fact that he had committed his wife to an asylum).” In The Sacred Wood Eliot wrote: “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotion know what it means to want to escape from them.” Eliot’s evasion of “tricky facts” only highlights the paradox of art: in time, all personal details will fall away, leaving only the words on the page. Which is surely all the truth a reader can learn from a writer.
Leadgate, County Durham