"Hamlet and his problems"
In 1959, on being asked by a researcher for permission to consult his student records at Harvard, T. S. Eliot wrote to the Dean of Harvard University that he saw "no objection to . . . giving him this information, though it seems to me that inquires of this sort are rather a waste of time"11 This letter is to be found in Eliot's Undergraduate Folder at the Harvard University Archives, Nathan Marsh Pusey Library.. That may be, however, Eliot's university records are an invaluable source of information regarding his intellectual development between1910 and 1915.
Eliot's philosophical background
is an obvious target if one were to work on the legitimate assumption that
Eliot's literary engagement - be it in criticism or poetry - is precluded
by an almost total devotion to the study of philosophy from his visit to
Paris, between 1910 and 1911, till the completion of his Ph.D. thesis two
years after his return to England in 1914. Though there are
important parallels between Eliot's poetry and his philosophical pursuits22 See Piers Gray's T. S. Eliot's Intellectual and Poetic Development, 1909-1922 (Sussex: The Harvester Press, 1982), especially Chapter 6 'The Incoherence Of the Poetry of Coherence' and Chapter 7 the 'Coherence of the Poetry of Incoherence', pp175-248. Also Christopher Rick's Inventions of the March Hare , 1909-1917 (London: Faber & Faber, 1996), whose notes of the poems frequently allude to the philosophical sources Eliot was drawing from., I am particularly interested in the relation of philosophy to Eliot's early literary criticism. Firstly, I want to contextualize Eliot's essay 'Hamlet and His Problems' in the broader picture of Eliot's PhD thesis, which he completed in 1916 - some three years before he published his review of the Problem of Hamlet', by the Right Hon. J. M. Robertson33 It was first published in the Atheneum, 4665 (Sept. 26, 1919) pp940-1, and anthologised the following year in The Sacred Wood.. Secondly, I intend to give an alternative reading of the 'correlative' with reference to Eliot's contribution to the philosophical debate about the classification of
types of objects as he studied the subject while a Harvard post-graduate - between 1912 and 1915.
Eliot's attempt to resurrect the
ghost of Bradley's metaphysics out of the clutches of Russell's logic in
his PhD thesis - published in 1965 as Knowledge and Experience in
the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley - is a theme which can be closely followed
throughout Eliot's early literary criticism, and particularly in The Sacred
Wood. This link is particularly telling when, as in 'Hamlet and His Problems',
his literary criticism appears to reverse Eliot's doctoral allegiance with
Bradley in favour of Russell. In short, in his criticism there is a dramatic
favouring of the scientific approach not to be found in his thesis. This
reversal of allegiances is one which can thematically
be linked to Eliot's general disenchantment with philosophy44 'To Norbert Wiener, 6 January 1915', "In a sense, of course, all philosophising is a perversion of reality: for, in a sense, no philosophic theory makes any difference to practice. It has no working by which we can test it. It is an attempt to organize the confused and contradictory world of common sense, an attempt which invariably meets with partial failure - and with partial success . . . For me , as for Santayana, philosophy is chiefly literary criticism and conversation about life. The only reason why relativism does not do away with philosophy altogether, after all, is that there is no such thing to abolish! "The Letters of T.S. Eliot , vol 1, 1898-1922 (London: Faber & Faber, 1988), p80. . particularly in the form of metaphysical vagaries which try to pass for scientific exactitude55 These are the sort of vagaries that dismayed Eliot in literary criticism. In 'The Perfect Critic' Eliot shows his disgust with the sort of criticism which writes "poetry is the most highly organized from of intellectual activity", to which Eliot replies: "how is it for instance that poetry is more 'highly organized' than astronomy, physics and pure mathematics . . . If a phrase like 'the most highly organized from of intellectual activity' is the highest organization of thought of which contemporary criticism . . . is capable, then, we conclude, modern criticism is degenerate", The Sacred Wood (London: Methuen, 1972), pp1-2.. A disenchantment which had led him to leave what could have been a promising academic career in philosophy in 1916, but which he imports into his literary criticism as a dissatisfaction with the critical discourse in general.
I will conclude this article by offering the reader a re-examination of Eliot's apparent betrayal of Bradley by making a distinction between philosophy and style - or what some refer to as Logic and Rhetoric66 I find the chapter 'Logic and Rhetoric' in Newton Garver and Seung-Chong Lee's Derrida and Wittgenstein (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994) a very good summary of the contemporary debate surrounding the uneasy relationship between logic and rhetoric. . In other words, by suggesting the possibility that Eliot's philosophical appraisal of Russell's logic 'Hamlet and His Problems' is an ingenious rhetorical strategy to rescue Bradley's metaphysics.
In 1910, after finishing his A.B. and A.M., Eliot enrolled in the department of Philosophy and Psychology for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Harvard. Between 1910 and 1911 he visited Paris and attended Bergson's lectures at the Sorbonne. On his return Eliot took up a number of courses as part of his degree. The courses he chose were partly pre-determined by compulsory requirements77 "To obtain the degree of Ph.D. in Philosophy a candidate a candidate is required to fulfil these general conditions: to select a special subject for elaborate investigation and a written thesis . . . ; to devote to this subject an undermined but protracted period of study; and to pass with distinction three sets of examinations, a Preliminary Examination, a Topical Examination, and a Final Examination", Official Register of Harvard University, vol. X, May 20, 1913, No1, Part I . 'Division of Philosophy' - Department of Philosophy and Psychology, 1913-1914 (Published by Harvard university, Cambridge, Mass.), p43-44.: a Preliminary Examination, a Topical Examination and a Final Examination (Viva Voce). The Preliminary Examination aimed at testing the candidates knowledge of French and German and on two general areas of philosophy, namely systematic philosophy and history of philosophy. The Topical Examination was compiled of the candidate's choice from a number of set courses under the headings of 'Systematic Philosophy', 'History of Philosophy' and 'Psychology'. Though logic was at the centre of the topic of Systematic philosophy, Eliot seems to have avoided its study in favour of courses on the 'History of Philosophy', in particular 'Hindoo Philosophy'.
From Systematic Philosophy he only chose a course on Ethics in 1911-12, and only in 1912-13 did Eliot take a course in 'Advanced Logic' (Philosophy 8) which, however does not appear in the course booklet for the year - this may have been because Josiah Royce, who had taken the course the previous year, was absent. Eliot's own records show a B+ grade for that course, so that we can only surmise that the course went ahead in Royce's absence. Note that Eliot's grade in Logic contrasts with his straight As record for all the other philosophy courses he took between 1911 and 1913. If we are to assume that Eliot shunned logic till 1913, Eliot's last year at Harvard marks an important change, and not just because in 1913-14 Eliot takes up Royce's Seminary in Logic - in terms of his registered courses this follows the trend of keeping the study of logic to a minimum.
Yet the abundant number of notes to be found on courses Eliot was not officially registered for point to an increasing interest in logic. In the catalogue at the Houghton Library we find Eliot's notes for Philosophy 9c: 'Theory of Knowledge'88 Philosophy 9c: 'Theory of Knowledge'. Lectures, and reports. Hon. Bertrand Russell, assisted by Mr Chandler: "Criticism of current theories: idealism, the pragmatist theory of truth, Bergson intuition and 'intellect'. logical apparatus: simples and complexes, relations, particulars and universals, truth and falsehood. psychological apparatus: acquaintance, belief and analysis, self-evidence. the data of knowledge: a)simple, b)logical. the nature of consciousness and the varieties of realism. our knowledge of space and time, and matter. induction. Causality" from Official Register of Harvard University, 'Division of Philosophy', 1913-14, pp16-17., Philosophy 8a: 'Current Logical Theories'99 Philosophy 8a: 'Current logical Theories', Dr Costello: "The course will be a comparative study of the many conflicting tendencies in the present-day discussions of logical questions. from this point of view of comparison there will be considered the traditional formal logic; the empirical logic of will, logistics and the principles of science; scientific methodology, various idealistic logics pragmatic and instrumental theories of logic; genetic logic; etc. The course will endeavour to give a broad basis for further investigation rather than an exhaustive treatment of any one topic", Official Register of Harvard University, 'Division of Philosophy', 1913-14, p16. and Philosophy 21: 'Advanced Logic'. These courses were taught either by Hon. Bertrand Russell or Dr. Harry Todd Costello, or, as in Philosophy 21, Russell assisted by Costello. This latter was a recent doctorate who remained in the department as instructor particularly with reference to logic, and also contributed to Royce's Seminary in Logic110 See Josiah RoyceÔs Seminar, 1913-1914 : as recorded in the books of Harry Todd Costello, ed Grover Smith (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1963).0.
Russell was a prominent Cambridge
logician and visiting lecturer at Harvard with close links with the New
Realists. His personal
contact with Eliot becomes apparent later in England but was already an important academic influence at the time. Not only did Eliot attend Russell's lectures at Harvard but also showed further personal interest by inviting him to speak in the Harvard Philosophic Society which Eliot presided between 1913-14111 On the 10th of April, 1914, Russell delivered a paper entitled 'Mysticism and Logic'. He would later publish a book with the same title, which Eliot reviewed in the Nation, Vol. xxii, No 25 (23rd March, 1918).1 - Costello was also a regular contributor to the meetings. Eliot was to throw a light on his early brush with Russell's brand of logic in a later article for the New English Weekly of 6th June 1935, and also in his preface to Joseph Pieper's Leisure as the Basis of Culture (1952). In these Eliot explained his earlier fascination, but current disassociation, with this line of thought. In 'Views and Reviews' of The New English Weekly Eliot wrote: We were animated by a missionary zeal against the Hegelian idealism which was the orthodox doctrine of the philosophy departments of American universities at the time, and which had begun to turn manifestly mouldy! This idealism was an inheritance from the times in which philosophy was in general taught by retired non-conformist ministers, the better qualified of whom had passed some years in German universities, and who accepted the ethics of Kant and the mysticism of Schleiermacher. It is handled with tender reverence and admirable restraint by George Santayana in his essay on 'The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy'. The Six Realists were unteutonised and on the whole anti-religious which was refreshing; they were ascetically, even gloomily, scientific; and they professed considerable admiration for Russell and his Cambridge friends. All this was to the good; but it must be admitted that New Realism, like most pre-war philosophies, seems now as demoded as ladies' hats of the same period.112'Views and Reviews' in The New English Weekly (6th June 1935, vol. VII), p151. Also in April 1914 Eliot organized a panel for the review and discussion of 'New Realism' in the fortnightly meetings of the Harvard Philosophical Club.2
Eliot's reported disgust with German
idealism must have been only skin deep given that in the following June
he made a point of attending the lectures of the German philosopher Rudolf
Eucken at the University of Marburg. If anything it shows Eliot's ambivalence
between logic and idealism, science and metaphysics, which informs much
of The Sacred Wood. Furthermore, why, if so philosophically anti-German,
was Eliot to choose a retiring British philosopher in the Hegelian tradition
for his thesis subject?
Part of the answer is that the frontier between science and metaphysics was not a clear one113 This is a fact which problematizes Eliot's proposal "to halt at the frontier of metaphysics or mysticism" in 'Tradition and the Individual Talent', The Sacred Wood, p59.3. Logic was not content with remaining in the realm of mathematics, but was increasingly concerned with epistemological questions. Russell's Harvard course on 'The Theory of Knowledge' centred on this concern114See Our Knowledge of the external World, Ibid., p38. Also in Russell's 'Mysticism and Logic' in The Hibbert Journal(London: Williams and Norgate, 1914) Russell struggles as he attempts to untangle the mystical from the logic. It mainly amounts to an attack on Bergsonian intuitionism and Idealism and a defence of the scientific method. It is an ambiguous attack because it involves, not so much a disproof of metaphysics, as its scientific appropriation. As Russell discredits the mystical vision he adds "But direct acquaintance of this kind is given fully in sensation, and does not require, so far as I can see, any special faculty of intuition for its apprehension [. . . ] Scientific philosophy thus represents, though as yet only in a nascent condition, a higher form of thought than any pre-scientific belief or imagination, and, like every approach to self-transcendence it brings with it a rich reward in increase of scope and breath and comprehension", pp 791 & 803. 4. Equally, Idealism had felt its own need to counteract this onslaught by appealing to its own logical tradition and re-address its implied subjectivism in an increasingly scientific world. Much of Eliot's thesis is concerned with epistemology as the battle ground between logic and metaphysics. There are two main areas in the debate which I will concentrate on: the classification of objects and F. H. Bradley's concept of immediate experience.
Russell attempted to undermine the
authority of metaphysics as an epistemological pursuit. In 'On denoting'
Russell condemns Aristotelian predicative logic and supplants it with his
own brand of logic. A logic which claims a descriptive correlation with
the world of sense-experience rather than the prescriptive ontology of
predicative metaphysics. In short, Russell proposes that the ontological
status of objects in the world is subordinated to the logical coherence
of the sense data in their make-up; so that epistemology subsumes ontology.
Thus 'On denoting' - first published in Mind, 1905 - Russell observes that
objects which break the logical law of
contradiction may properly be said not to exist. This theory - ultimately a referential theory of knowledge - determines that no denoting phrase may both affirm and deny its meaning. Essentially Russell's concern is with logical absurdity implied by the denotation of unreal objects: "How can a non-entity be the subject of a proposition?"115 B. Russell's ÔOn DenotingÔ in Mind, Vol. XIV, ed. G. F. Stout (Edinburgh: Williams and Northgate, 1905), p485.5, he asks. Thus:Mr MacColl (Mind, N.S., No54, and again No55, p401) regards individuals as of two sorts, real and unreal; hence he defines the null-class as the class consisting of all unreal individuals. This assumes that such phrases as "the present King of France", which do not denote a real individual, do, nevertheless, denote an individual, but an unreal one. This is essentially Meinong's theory, which we have seen reason to reject because it conflicts with the law of contradiction.
With our theory of denoting, we are
able to hold that there are no unreal individuals; so that the null-class
is the class containing no
members, not the class containing as members all unreal individuals.116 'On Denoting', p 491.6
Alexus von Meinong belongs to the
continental phenomenological school of Bentrano. This philosophical school
was also heavily involved in logical pursuits yet defied Russell's heavy
materialism epitomized in logical atomism. Meinong was attracted instead
to opposite process: the objectifying inertia of denoting phrases. Eliot
exploits this contrast in his thesis to the point of suggesting that
No symbol, I maintain, is ever a mere symbol, but is continuous with that which it symbolises. Without words, no objects.117 Knowledge and Experience, p132.7 On the 5th of May 1914, Eliot delivered a paper at weekly seminars of the pragmatist philosopher Josiah Royce at Harvard. The paper was about the classification of Gegenstande hoherer Ordnung , of different types of objects. This paper, which became the backbone of chapter 5 of Eliot's thesis: 'The Epistemologist's Theory of Knowledge', dealt with the philosophy of Meinong and Bradley's logic on the subject of unreal objects.
It is an attack of Russel's essay 'On denoting'. In this chapter Eliot is mainly concerned with Russell's complaint about the denotation of unreal objects. Eliot notes that Russell's refutation involves the further absurdity that a denoting phrase may denote nothing. He points out that "in logic, perhaps, but not in metaphysics, a denoting phrase may denote nothing"118 Knowledge and Experience, p128.8. This statement is symptomatic of Eliot's concern with the survival of metaphysics before the onslaught of logic. As part of this defense he extends the logical problem of unreal objects to the field of cognition: I wish to touch on the facts of visual hallucination first, because, while the problem is essentially the same as that dealt with by Russell and Meinong, it appears in a more readily apprehensible form, and because it has by some been reduced to a different explanation from that of unreal objects in judgment, whereas I believe the hallucination to be in virtually the same position as the round-square; both are non-existent and both are intended objects119 Knowledge and Experience, p113.9.
In fact, Eliot's classification of
objects covers three main areas other than ordinary objects: unreal objects,
hallucinations and imaginary objects. The move from logic to cognition
is perhaps more obvious than it may at first appear. This is in line with
Russell's materialism, that logically real objects are rooted in sense-experience.
The difference, however, stems from Bradley's critique of Russell's materialism.
Bradley differs with Russell in his account of the genealogy of objects
present to our consciousness; in other
words, what is the origin of the relationship between words and objects, or -as Bradley prefers to talk about it - between feelings and thoughts? Hence, in Essays on Truth and Reality, Bradley is not happy with Russell's account of objects, particularly with Russell's logical link between sensory data and objects. Bradley is not prepared to accept Russell's account of cognition as the undistorted transition from sense data to objects through analysis. For Bradley, analytic description of objects already implies with it a distortion of the object220 For an illustration of Bradley's attack on Russell see Bradley's Chapter X 'A Discussion of Some Problems in Connection with Mr Russell's Doctrine' in Essays on Truth and Reality (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1904).0. So that, in practice the object is never immediately present to consciousness.
In 'Hamlet and His Problems' Eliot asserts that: The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an 'objective correlative'; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.221 'Hamlet and His Problems' in The Sacred Wood, p100.1
Now, the 'objective correlative' appears as an uneasy via media between Bradley and Russell222 In Skepticism and Modern Enmity -before and after Eliot, (The John Hopkins University Press, London, 1989) Jeffrey M. Perl notes that "Eliot surprised, confused, or alienated both sides in the disputes he entered by defending the conclusions of the one in terms appropriate to the other", p39.2. On the one hand the correlative appears to be a projection of Eliot's account of Bradley's philosophy about the relation between experience (or feeling) and its objects. An account which in Eliot's thesis becomes an inconclusive investigation of the relation between meanings and words: "ButI do not see any priority of image over emotion, or vice versa".223 Knowledge and Experience, p116.3 Eliot struggles to untangle the nature of the dichotomy and is only able to tenuously suggest that "there is, if you like, a tendency for emotion to objectify itself".224 Knowledge and Experience, p116.4 In the objective correlative Eliot hangs on to just this tendency; a tendency which becomes of crucial importance in Hamlet (according to Eliot, this is what Hamlet - both the play and the character - does not manage to do). It could be said that the correlative attempts to resolve this relation once and for all. While in his thesis Eliot affirms that The implication is surely mutual, for feeling and image react upon one another inextricably, and the two aspects are so closely related, that you cannot say that the relation is causal.225 Knowledge and Experience, p116.5
The objective correlative of 'Hamlet
and his Problems' appears to make that causal connection which seems to
escape him in his thesis: assumes that the writer always starts with an
emotion which it has to express so that "when the external facts, which
must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately
evoked" in the reader. In a sense, there is more of
Russell's Referential Theory of Language in this, than Bradley. There is, in fact, an impetuosity about this essay which expresses, what I think, is a fundamental philosophical uneasiness in Eliot's early literary criticism, and in particular with Bradley's theory of objects. That ultimately one cannot account for the exact relation of words to images, objects to feelings. It is as if, the very style of this essay falls victim of this linguistic insecurity. Eliot combats this insecurity, in 'Hamlet and His Problems', by attempting to
concretise the problem in a neat equation. Or, more to the point, by producing his own critical objective correlative to alleviate his philosophical insecurity of Bradley.
It is the inconclusiveness of immediate experience which, like a ghost, haunts Eliot's classification of objects in his thesis. Immediate experience is that idealist limbo which cannot commit itself to the causal account of an origin in the genealogy of cognition. This problem is at the heart of Eliot's debate on Bradley's concept of immediate experience at the beginning of his thesis - Chapter 1: 'On Our Knowledge of Immediate Experience'. 'Immediate experience' appears in the philosophy of F. H. Bradley as the inferred origin of the perceived world of objects226 Unlike Russell, Bradley does not see object as reducible to sense-data, which they really have, but intrinsically linked to the feelings involved in our experience of the object.6. But the catch is that this origin is unknowable: Although there is no stage of life which is more nearly immediate experience than another . . . ; although we cannot know immediate experience directly as an object, we can yet arrive at it by inference, and even conclude that it is the starting point of our knowing, since it is only in immediate experience that knowledge and its objects are one.227 Knowledge and Experience, pp18-19.7
Yet Eliot has to add that the fact
that we use the concept 'immediate experience' inevitably objectifies something
which, by definition, is beyond or prior to conceptualization. The concept
'immediate experience' already assumes an objective correlative which itself
denies. So that, Eliot is forced to admit, "this throws our explanation
into the greatest embarrassment"228 Knowledge and Experience, p19. In Bradley's
own words: "How immediate experience itself can become an object. For,
if it becomes an object, it, so far, we may say, is transcended, and there
is a doubt as how such transcendence is possible. On the one hand as to
the fact of immediate experience being transcended we seem really certain.
For we speak about it, and, if, so, it has become for us an object. But
we are thus led to the dilemma that, so far as I know of immediate experience,
it does not exist, and that hence, whether it exists or not, I could in
neither case know of it", F. H. Bradley's Essays on Truth and Reality,
Chapter 1: 'On our knowledge of Immediate Experience' (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1904), p160.8. It is an absolute - an idealist residue - whose persistence
is proportional to the danger of the subjective idealism it implies. Because
what it implies is that there is no such thing as ordinary objects which
are not somehow implicated in what is referred to as hallucinations, imaginary
and unreal objects. In short, that there may not be an absolute method
of telling the difference between the experience of an object and
the object itself. For the
original experience of the autonomous object is irretrievable.
Yet 'immediate experience' may be
said to offer the solution the problem itself encourages. Its subjectivist
implications are attenuated by providing an inferred origin in experience,
which, by not being immediately available to the subject cannot be merely
projecting his own subjectivism. It ensures that the world is, somehow,
already there. Though irretrievable, immediate experience offers an absolute
point of contact between the object and the gaze229 So that we may satisfy
our demand for a complete object with which, we infer, have, at some point,
had direct contact.9. However, the correlative contradicts the unknowability
of 'immediate experience'. The correlative admits the conscious objective
equivalence between the object and its felt experience which 'immediate
experience' makes impossible. This is because the unknowable nature of immediate experience implies that the consciousness of objects automatically dissociates its equivalence with our feelings, due to the simple fact that being aware of those feelings already reifies the object: The painting is in the room, and my 'feelings' about the picture are in my 'mind'. If this whole of feeling were complete and satisfactory it would not expand into object and subject with feeling about the object; there would, in fact, be no consciousness. But in order that it should be feeling at all, it must be conscious, but so far as it is conscious it ceases to be merely feeling.330 Knowledge and Experience, p20.0
Furthermore, consciousness is, in
fact, the result of this post-lapsarian dissociation between feelings and
objects. For without this dissociation from the object world the subject
would be unconscious of selfhood.331"We go on to find that no actual experience
could be merely immediate, for if it were, we should certainly know nothing
about it", Knowledge and Experience, p18.1 Thus
conscious feelings cease to be mere feelings once contaminated by subjective awareness, yet without which there would not be feelings to be aware of in the first place. In the end dissociation is the price we pay for self-hood. So according to Bradley's immediate experience, in the beginning there was not a word, but a feeling which, in turn, refers to an original moment of contact with the world of objects. Yet, as the wo(l)rd is fallen, this feeling may not have immediate reference to a recoverable object332 The complex relations between ideas, concepts and words are investigated in detail in Eliot's thesis Chapter II 'On the Distinction of Real and Ideal ', Knowledge and Experience. p44ff.2 which it can claim to have at its origin with complete certainty. This is a recovery partially achieved through words whose relation to objects is that of conceptualization. In fact, in his thesis, Eliot quotes Christoph Sigwart's Logic whose definition of concept - as opposed to the idea 333" I define concept as that which a word denotes, and idea as that which a word refers in reality, the reference being contingent", Knowledge and Experience, p46.3- parallels the presumed autonomy of a work of art: '"it is the work of logic to help us to attain to the ideal state in which words represent such Concepts" (Logic, vol. I, p. 42)'334 Knowledge and Experience, p46.4. Yet Eliot is reluctant to admit of the concept's achievable correlation between words and objects, hence rejects the paralleling of its mechanism with that of the autonomous work of art. Simply because he sees the conceptual project of logic as impossible: The goal of language is in this sense unattainable, for it is simply that of a complete vocabulary of concepts, each independent of the rest; and all of which, by their various combinations, would give complete and final knowledge - which would be, of course, knowledge without a knower.335 Knowledge and Experience, p46.5
Yet the 'correlative' is an attempt to resurrect this conceptual correlation of language with the world. Furthermore, a correlation which, to make matters worse, Eliot now wants to make the measure of art - the point of co- habitation of object and feeling in perfect synthesis.
In his article 'T. S. Eliot's Objective Correlative and the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley', Armin Paul Frank summarises this cognitive process between feeling and object as two-way. The feeling is provoked by an object to which it must return in order for the feeling to be objectified. Thus cognition is a process of half perception and half creation of the object, but in which no causal relation can definitely be stated: The projection takes the form of tagging something onto an object that already exists. But insofar as this projection actually and objectively modifies the object perceived, it may be said to be incipiently creative.336 Armin Paul Frank, 'T. S. Eliot's Objective Correlative and the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley' in The Journal Of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol XXX, No3, Spring 1972 (Baltimore: Wayne State University Press, 1972), p316.6
Armin argues that Eliot's objective correlative is the attempt to see in art the possibility of a unified sensibility337 In terms of T. S. Eliot 'The Metaphysical Poets', a sensibility prior to its dissociation.7 between that feeling and its objects, and which Bradley cannot ultimately reconcile. It is a philosophical way of judging art, so that, if this reconciliation is not possible in Hamlet, then, one must conclude, the play is an artistic failure: The artistic inevitability lies in this complete adequacy of the external to the emotion; and this is precisely what is deficient in Hamlet. Hamlet (the man) is dominated by an emotion which is inexpressible because it is in excess of the facts as they appear.338 T. S. Eliot's 'Hamlet and His Problems' in The Sacred Wood (1920)(London: Methuen, 1986) p101.8
Thus, according to Eliot, Hamlet is unable to objectify his disgust and jealousy for his mother's hasty marriage with the killer of his father - his uncle -, and thus unable to act, let alone react. Or as Armin puts it: A person (Hamlet) observes another (Gertrude) whose actions call up certain feelings in the observer which, he however, cannot understand. In order to understand them, he would have to objectify them into "objects of his knowledge".339 'T. S. Eliot's Objective Correlative and the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley', p313.9
Eliot's correlative is his own -
and not just Hamlet's - baffled search for an object of knowledge idealized
as a work of art440 "Hamlet's bafflement at the absence of objective equivalence
to his feelings is a prolongation of the bafflement of his creator in the
face of his artistic problem", 'Hamlet and His Problems', p101.0. A search
which has the impossible goal of complete certainty. Impossible because
in Bradley's terms, the immediate experience that legitimises the objectification
of our feelings is irretrievable.
If Hamlet, the Prince, shows an emotion that exceeds the facts as they appear, Eliot, the philosopher, should admit the unknowability of the facts that do not appear: that the immediate experience of the absent facts is "something which is by hypothesis irretrievable"; though it must also have, by the same logic, taken place: We need a great many facts in [Shakespeare's] biography . . . We should, finally, to know something which is by hypothesis unknowable, for we assume it to be an experience which, in the manner indicated exceed the facts. We should have to understand things which Shakespeare did not understand himself.441 'Hamlet and His Problems', p102-3. My italics.1
This is in essence the paradox of
immediate experience, and one which puts in evidence the deficiencies of
the correlative as a critical tool. How can one consider an emotion to
exceed the facts that appear if we are unable, by definition, to access
the ones that do not in fact appear? Facts which the author himself cannot
be expected, in the end, to know himself. The saving grace of Eliot's article
is its own admission that "we should have to understand things which
Shakespeare did not understand himself". Shakespeare, like any other knowing
subject in a Bradleian universe, is permanently severed from the immediate
experience of knowing : "the I who saw the ghost is not the same
as the I who had the attack of indigestion"442 Knowledge and Experience,
p121.2. And Eliot's correlative is an expression of his own horror at this
knowledge443 "The intense feeling, ecstatic or terrible, without an object
or exceeding its object, is something that every person of sensibility
has known", 'Hamlet and his Problems', p102.3. That there are areas of
experience which cannot be subjected to the empirical scrutiny of last
night's menu, though, by the same logic - if 'logic' is the word-, one
may find relief in thinking that it was the indigestion that caused the
bad dream. Eliot's search for critical objectification may mirror that
of the outraged Prince. Consider Eliot's inability to take revenge on Russell
- the usurper analytic philosopher - for killing his philosophic father,
Bradley, and sleeping with his mother-wife, Vivian. The Correlative is
in a sense a submission to Russell's logical referentiality between words
and objects, facts and their felt experience. This is a concession Eliot
cannot avoid simply because immediate experience - like Hamlet's ghost
- offers Eliot no stable ground on which to defend himself logically. It
simply cannot survive empirical scrutiny. In a perverse way, Russell fulfils
for Eliot a hidden desire
to resolve the problem which immediate experience - the ghost - presents.
Thus Eliot goes momentarily mad and falls into critical passivity. Eliot cannot bring himself to react to Bradley's (the ghost's) metaphysical warning, not because he does not believe it, but because Russell's materialism questions its very existence - so far as there is no room in the Russell's epistemology for unreal objects. Ghosts are not worth bothering about because they simply do not exist. Madness is indeed the only explanatory route open if you have indeed seen something which is logically inexplicable. The question now is whether Eliot's article on Hamlet falls victim of his own philosophical uncertainties, or whether Eliot submission to Russell is a clever tactic to expose the latter's own deficiencies. In other words, is Eliot's philosophical madness - like Hamlet's - just a point of critical strategy? In order to attempt an answer I will offer a critique of Hamlet more consistent with Eliot's position on the classification of objects suggested at the beginning of this article. I would like to consider the ghost's questionable shape, rather than Gertrude's sexuality444 As we shall see, I am not rejecting psychoanalytic interpretations of the play. In fact, I feel there is a strong parallel between Kristeva's distinction between the Semiotic, Thetic and Symbolic and Bradley's Feeling, Immediate experience and Object. See Bradley's 'On the Knowledge of Immediate Experience' pp171-173, where he deals with the psychological nature of immediate experience in terms of the unconscious, and the role of feeling after their concretization as objects. My point is that the semiotic is problematised principally in the Ghost, and not so much in Gertrude. Even if by doing so we lose the gendered symbolism so important in psychoanalytical interpretetations, namely femininity.4, as the immediate experience the objective correlative can not encompass.
The absent facts take two forms:
the ghost's report of the assassination, and its re-enactment as a play
within a play. This facts are
indirect, and are aggravated by the nature of the teller: a ghost. Consequently we are dealing with two kinds of objects: the ghost, as an unreal object and the play within the play, as an imaginary object. Thus we are back in the territory of Eliot's thesis, and particularly in Chapter V: 'The Epistemologist's Theory of Knowledge' (continued): If the character in fiction is an imaginary object, it must be by virtue of something more than its being imaginary, i.e. merely intending a reality which is not . . . The fiction is thus more that a fiction : it is a real fiction.445 Knowledge and Experience, pp123-4.5
Now, if the 'correlative' may be interpreted in terms of Eliot's classification of objects: unreal and imaginary, then Hamlet's problem may be said to be his inability to make sense, that is, of the degree of reality of the ghost's fiction. Fictional in the sense that it is a questionable source of material evidence. Hamlet is unable to take the unreality of his father's ghost for real . He falls into the passive activity of testing that the ghost is really real, doubting what he, in a way, already knows446 One may say that Bradley's immediate experience involves a the pre-cognitive encounter with an object with which we are re-acquainted through conscious experience; that, as it were, cognition is the objectification of something we already know - not of Platonic Forms but of the World. Thus the fulfilment of the object world - the compromise between feeling and object - is not so much our confirmed knowledge of its reality, as its self-evidence.6. In fact, to start with Hamlet does not completely doubt the ghost's message as such: "Touching this vision here,/ It is an honest ghost, that let me tell you."447 The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Vol. XXX, Hamlet, Intro. George Santayana (New York : George D. Sproul, 1908), I, v, ll 137-38, p46.7
Hamlet becomes trapped in a cognitive
decline, from the hyper-sensitive consciousness of unreal objects to downright
distraction. This decline can be tested against the qualitative difference
between the first ghost on the battlements and the second ghost in Gertrude's
bedroom : the first is unreal communally experienced, the second is an
illusion engaging Hamlet's subjectivity alone. Hamlet spirits away the
world through his reluctance to face the metaphysics in the world.
The emotion is in excess of the facts as
they appear, insofar as Hamlet, in a state of emotional indulgence, eventually requires no referent for his emotional state, and when they do appear he rejects their suitability. He rejects them because they fail to be final - it's unreal, it's a ghost. The ghost aggravates the reliability of the message not because the message is difficult to believe, but because the ghostly form it takes
accentuates the natural arbitrariness between the spectral signifier and the signified message. This can be contextulized in Chapter II 'On the Distinction of Real and Ideal' of Eliot's thesis. In it Eliot notes that ideas, unlike concepts, do not have stable referents in the world. I define concept as that which a word denotes, and idea as that which a word refers in reality, the reference being contingent. 448 Knowledge and Experience, p46. My italics.8
So that the conceptualising process through which ideas can be said to refer to reality may be impeded by its natural discontinuity with it, by its contingency: The idea certainly has a sort of existence apart from the reality to which it refers, but the apartness is of a special sort and may easily be misunderstood.449 Knowledge and Experience, p48.9
Eliot's point is that this separateness
should not entail the impossibility of contiguity between ideas and the
world - note that this contiguity is undermined by the irretrievability
of the immediate experience. So that the ghost, as unreal object, does
conceptualization no favours. It is the concept which encompasses the correlating
inertia without which the idea could not
attenuate the contingency of its referents in the world. Not only is the ghost problematic in this sense, but also involves the interpretation of past events - absent facts - which for Eliot exemplifies the separateness between meaning (idea) and reality (object): The contrast between meaning and reality is not so apparent when the reality intended is a present sense perception as in some other cases. In memory, for example, or anticipation, there may be the consciousness of an intended reality and of a present meaning which are not co-existent in time [. . .] To recall feeling we are often told, is merely to live it over; it cannot be known or remembered, but only felt. And to this objection we can retort that hallucination is not the satisfaction and consummation of memory, but its disease.550 Knowledge and Experience, pp49 & 50.0
Re-living the past is as alien as
re-capturing immediate experience. Memory only gives the impression of
correlation, but can only be invoked through re-examination. Hamlet's obsession
with the ghost credibility leads him into forcing a continuity between
it and its message so much so that he no longer engages as an interpretant.
Hamlet's certainty about the ghost's message increasingly insists on the
identity between ghost and message. This insistence increases proportionally
to his awareness that their correlation is
far from perfect. In contrast, Horatio, does not appear to doubt the ghost. Yet he is the first one to describe it as the product of Marcellus and Bernardo's "fantasy" (I, i, l. 23) and an "illusion" (I, i, l.127) even in the act of perceiving it himself. When Hamlet returns from the meeting with the ghost, Horatio asks for the details of the encounter. After requesting secrecy Hamlet reveals
that: Hamlet : There's ne'er a villain dwelling in Denmark But he's an arrant knave. Horatio : There needs no ghost, my lord, come from the grave To tell us this.551 Hamlet, I, v, ll. 124-27, p45.1
Horatio has no problem in relating to the ghost as an event, even if is to say that the ghost is superfluous because its message is self-evident. To admit that much is already to engage with the degree of reality the ghost offers : the ghost as a real fiction - even if Horation does not strictly believe in ghosts. Self-evidence bridges over the gap between the ghost and the message. On the other hand, Hamlet's disposition to believe in this ghost entangles him in an obsessive search for scientific proof, of testing the ghost's message in order to gain absolute certainty. Certainty, which in a metaphysical world inhabited by ghosts - that is, unreal objects - is impossible. This process of turning the immediate experience, the absent facts hinted at by the ghost, into an objective correlative is bound to fail. Particularly given, as noted above, the radical dislocation between the medium and the message which the ghost entails. This testing is ultimately directed to the ghost's existence, in the way that the truth or error of the message is linked with the existential status of the ghost. Hamlet's questioning of the message reverses Horatio's response. Horatio may doubt the existence of ghosts, but he has no problem believing the message, as the spectral medium legitimises itself as it verifies Horatio's suspicions that there is something rotten in the state of Denmark. Hamlet denies the ghost its meaningfulness by attempting to pin it down, and treating it like a real object.; by attempting to equate the ghost with its message; by attempting, in other words, to treat it as an objective correlative. Hamlet's error is his resistance to the degree of reality the ghost's fiction offers, so that the more he tries to make it real the more it recedes into illusion. The more he insists on the correlation the abyss gapes wider. Hamlet's problem is a self-imposed scepticism to what he naturally knows. And it is a feature of radical skepticism to secretly yearn for the relief of absolutes and metaphysics. It is worth mentioning that the last chapter of Eliot's thesis on Bradley is entitled 'Solipsism'. This is symptomatic of Eliot's own existential insecurity as a result of engaging with Bradley's metaphysical philosophy. The insecurity that philosophy and analysis - like the objective correlative - cannot give all the answers : Hamlet: : There are more things in heaven an earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
The ghost is the metaphysical immediate experience which Eliot, like Hamlet, attempts to exorcise through the correlative. It is the attempt to arrive at an absolute correlation between meaning and reality, feeling and object. If Eliot parallels Hamlet's behaviour, we may also add that Eliot knows better than chasing empirical certainty - as seems clear in his thesis. Why he attempted it at all is an insoluble puzzle; under compulsion of what experience he attempted to express the inexpressibly horrible, we cannot ever know. We may need a great many facts: Bradley's philosophical decline, Russell's affair with Vivian and his philosophical assassination of Bradley may help but only up to a point. Shakespeare is presenting us with a classic cognitive problem. This is, in Bradley's terms, the struggle to achieve scientific certainty in a metaphysical world of appearances. Eliot's presentation of Hamlet's problem does not entail that the problem is Shakespeare's, but, more likely, Eliot's own. All in all it is worth saying that the correlative is not so much the solution of Hamlet, but its inherent problem.
If we now return to 'Hamlet and his Problems' as a whole one can detect Eliot's self-consciousness about the correlative and its problems. Mainly that We need a great many facts . . . to know something which is by hypothesis unknowable, for we assume it to be an experience which, in the manner indicated exceed the facts. We should have to understand things which Shakespeare did not understand himself.552 'Hamlet and His Problems', p102-3. My italics.2
The correlative's pretensions of
conceptualising meaning by correlating with objects prove unverifiable;
because the object is inevitably an absent fact. Thus Eliot's essay may
be seen as an antidote for the correlative's scientific pretensions within
it. Or better still, that the strategy of Eliot's essay is to follow the
logic of the correlative to the point to where its deficiencies reveal
themselves, where the inevitability of metaphysics becomes apparent. This
manoeuvre may be said to exploit the dislocation between the essay's logical
pretensions and its overall message. Their dislocated relationship is made
simultaneously contiguous by revealing the metaphysical pretensions inherent
in the conceptual project of logic as illustrated in the correlative. This
is because any logical correlation between feelings and objects must ultimately
appeal for its verification to empirical grounds which are, as we have
Eliot's philosophical manoeuvres
between science and metaphysics are not limited to 'Hamlet and his Problems',
but it is an implicit theme in his early critical writings. 'Tradition
and the Individual Talent' also claims the status of scientific description,
against metaphysical interpretation553 In a paper entitled 'Description
and Explanation' (at the Hayward Bequest, King's College) delivered at
the Royce's Seminary in Logic at Harvard, Eliot gives an account of the
two modes of philosophical analysis. Description being
essentially scientific and explanation metaphysical. This modes of philosophical discourse are presented as inevitably engaged in a conflicting symbiosis. This symbiosis is summed up as the inevitable fall of description into explanation, but the necessary assumption that in the truth value we allocate to our explanation we are really hoping to describe. This debate parallels Russell's emphasis of the value of analysis for its imperative in being able to describe the world as it is, and Bradley's resistance that - as consequence of the irretrievability of immediate experience - the world is never immediately available, that all description is really explanation.3. In 'Hamlet and His Problems' Eliot asserts that "Qua work of art, the work of art cannot be interpreted; there is nothing to interpret"554 'Hamlet and His Problems', p96.4 and in 'Tradition and the Individual Talent' Eliot adds that "it is in this depersonalisation of art may be said to approach the condition of science"555 'Tradition and the Individual Talent', The Sacred Wood, p53.5 Also, like 'Hamlet and His Problems', 'Tradition and the Individual Talent' has another ghost to deal with. This ghost is literally 'metaphysics'. This essay proposes to halt at the frontier of metaphysics and mysticism.556 Tradition and the Individual Talent', The Sacred Wood, p59.6
Here Eliot invokes the apparition
of metaphysics though only negatively - by denying it. But on doing so
it appears more clearly, perhaps, than it would otherwise. Eliot makes
the negative ontology of metaphysics a stylistic feature of his writing.
It is as if the acknowledged unreality of metaphysics roots it firmly on
the ground where no scientific argument can exorcise it away. No error
of contradiction can overthrow a self-confessed metaphysical apparition.
It cannot be condemned into nothingness557 I am referring here to Eliot's
rejection of Russell's law of contradiction in his dissertation.7; just
like the ghost may be questioned, but cannot be ignored in Hamlet. We read
the text of 'Tradition' and we must contend that metaphysics - the word
- is there regardless of what Eliot tells us. He presents an object which
he asks us not to see; describes an object which he cannot explain..
This is a style, in short, which bases itself in the presentations of objects;
a style which defies the dissatisfaction with a philosophical discourse
which tries but never reaches finality despite its logical pretensions.
Ultimately one can only see and make others see what you saw558 "Dante's
attempt is to make us see what he saw. He therefore uses very simple language
and very few metaphors, for allegory and metaphor do not get on well together",
T. S. Eliot's Dante (London: Faber & Faber, 1929), pp24-5.8 because
consciousness of objects. Objects, however, which are not always ordinary. This stylistic presentation of objects is for Eliot the aim of poetry: The end of the enjoyment of poetry is pure contemplation from which all the accidents of personal emotion are removed; thus we aim to see the object as it really is.559 T. S. Eliot's 'The Perfect Critic' in The Sacred Wood, Ibid., pp14-15.9
More importantly, poetry seems at times to be nothing else than the culmination of critical style for Eliot. The seeds of the correlative are clear in Eliot's 'The Perfect Critic', where the formula is not applied to the assessment of art, but to criticism: Some writers are essentially of the type that react in excess of the stimulus, making something new out of the impressions, but suffer from a defect of vitality or an obscure obstruction which prevents nature from taking its course.660 'The Perfect Critic', p6.0
This conclusion puts into question the very essence of critical discourse: its attempt to purely describe. Moreover it underpins Eliot's assertion to be scientific. However this style, if at all possible, is one which Eliot cannot access successfully in 'Hamlet and His Problems'. The correlative is a desperate effort to re-affirm the power of description (i.e.. philosophical discourse) and avert the solipsistic horror of unverifiable personality and the absolute uncertainty caused by immediate experience661 Solipsism proves to be enough of a worry for Eliot to devote the whole last chapter of his thesis to it.1. Eliot's correlative parallels the pathetic, if heroic, exclamation: "It is I, /Hamlet the Dane"662 Hamlet, V, i, ll 251-2, p185.2. A last resort to infuse conviction artificially into a discourse which he cannot believe in anymore. It is the death knell of the philosophical discourse as a purely scientific exercise. As if the attempt to resurrect it only finalises its death. One may allow Eliot a stylistic manipulation in 'Hamlet and His Problems'. The tactic of submitting to the philosophical style663 Eliot deliberately aesthetizises the philosophical discourse3 - Russell's - which it cannot avoid but which must inevitably parody. As Hamlet's fooling may be seen as the means of infiltrating a court he cannot escape, yet, by the same token, makes him dangerously inoffensive. Thus one could say that Eliot aestheticises the discourse of philosophy by conceiving it as a style: Certain works of philosophy can be called works of art: much of Aristotle and Plato, Spinoza, parts of Hume. Mr Bradley's Principles of Logic, Mr Russell's essay on 'Denoting' : clear and beautifully formed thought.664 'The Possibility of a Poetic Drama' in The Sacred Wood, p66.4
Is this a way of neutralizing the
philosophy transforming it into a stylistic exercise or a means of measuring
the art via philosophy's stylistic example? Does this parallel Eliot's
correlative as a measure of art, or is this is a sophisticated insult disguised
as a complement against philosophy? As Eliot submits to logic, the correlative
proves its own worst enemy, as it reveals its metaphysical impossibility.
However, Eliot may have gone too far, and whether he is really mad or there
is method in the madness we might never