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July 30, 2020

T.S. Eliot, Poetic Impersonality, & the Via Negativa

A lecture by Emily King ’19 (University of Chicago)
T.S. Eliot, Poetic Impersonality, & the Via Negativa

Time & Location

July 30, 2020


Why was T.S. Eliot so hostile towards individualism, Romanticism, and imagination despite being one of the most innovative poets of the 20th-century? In this lecture that will span Eliot’s The Waste Land to Four Quartets, Emily King ’19 (University of Chicago) will show how Eliot’s artistic disposition is illuminated by the concept of negative theology, the theological method that describes God through what God is not. In his canonical essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” Eliot outlines a poetic theory that King will argue prefigures his later turn to religious poetry. Though Eliot claims to “halt at the frontiers of metaphysics or mysticism,” King will show that his theory of poetic impersonality reveals an unconscious connection to the tradition of negative theology, or the via negativa. In developing a poetics of self-annihilation, Eliot’s work recalls the writings of the negative mystics—St. John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, and Pseudo-Dionysius.

This is the third event in Zephyr’s summer series on poetry & theology.

Suggested Reading

T.S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” Selected Essays, Faber and Faber, 1932, pages 13-22.


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Member · Chicago, IL

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