Can we conclude that T.S.Eliot's ideas about culture are 'elitist' and leave it at that?

Essay by mia79gbrUniversity, Master's November 2005

download word file, 7 pages 5.0

Downloaded 83 times

Eliot writes of culture as "the way of life of a particular people living together in one place. That culture is made visible in their arts, in their social system, in their habits and customs, in their religion.(Milner, A (1994) Contemporary Cultural Theory: An Introduction. London: UCC Press.)

A culture, then according to Eliot is one which is shared in common by a whole people, although he believed it was not shared equally between the people. Eliot divided the people into two groups, the elite and the masses and considered the elite to "exhibit more marked differenciations of function amongst their members than the lower types." (Eliot, T. S. (1948) "The Class and The Elite:" Notes towards the Definition Of Culture. London: Faber & Faber Ltd.)

This seems to demonstrate that Eliot's ideas about culture are basically elitist, however, although Eliot recognised the division in culture, he did not disregard the masses, indeed he said " I ...

should like an audience which could neither read nor write.(Eliot T.S. "The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism.) This remark could hardly be farther from a desire for a limited and highly literate audience of adepts. Which seems to go against the widely held view that Eliot is deliberately elitist - his poetry is frequently obscure and its allusions, learnedness and quotations which make some of his poetry -particularly "The Wasteland" - difficult to understand.

The general and widely held view of Eliot is that he is a deliberately elitist and difficult poet and essayist and indeed more people have heard of "The Wasteland" than have actually read it. However, his reputation as a 'difficult' poet works for him in this sense adds to the appeal of his poetry as a whole and by the standards of most poets,