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Home » , » Elaborate and comment on Eliot's notion concerning historical sense?

T.S Eliot is a man of keen intellect capable of developing a philosophical position as well as a new rhythm and intonation, trained in classics, fluent in French and German- expresses his own notion of the historical sense in his celebrated essay Tradition and the Individual Talent. Eliot has often been considered as the most influential figure in contemporary literature who posits the view that tradition is dependent on the full realisation of the historical sense. To Eliot tradition is not a rigid phenomenon, rather, a dynamic force, it involves a historical sense; a sense that enables a poet to perceive that the past is not something isolated from the present, it is also not unrelated to the present. The historical sense is a perception of not only the pastness of the past but also of its presentness. The historical sense implies the presence of a collective mind, which is the consciousness of whole Europe of the past. In order to enhance the essentiality of tradition Eliot  integrates it with historical sense. Historical sense is a perception of time continuity having the sense that the past and present are mere facets of the same organism and by no means two disparate segments.

T.S. Eliot, going to emphasise the historical sense, considers the whole literature as a harmonious whole. Eliot does not administer the work of any artist for any particular  milieu or for a particular generation but for the whole time and whole generation. Similarly any literature should not be identified as a separate identity but its identity is the convention that in general the whole literature of Europe from the classical age of the Greeks onwards and in particular the literature of his own country is to be taken as a symmetrical whole. The historical sense animates literature like a living whole, it inherits its vigour from the past for functioning the formation of the present. The writer or the artist therefore has to belong both to the past and present and creates a work of art that becomes immortal in the future. In fact, the present is inseparable related with the living past and a poet has to remain over conscious not of what is dead but of what is already living. The past and the present act and react each other and the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past. According to Eliot "No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artist. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead".

Eliot also says that past is irremediable, because the future can only be built upon the real past. We may call the historical sense is that understanding as nearly indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year.

Eliot holds the opinion that the historical sense is the sense of timeless as well as of the temporal together. There is simultaneous existence and simultaneous order between the timeless whole and temporal whole and thus the historical sense makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaries. Eliot, goes on to say that the effort of any creative artist is not for certain generation or certain age but for all the people of the world or for all the ages. The awareness of the past and the present in literature is an important element in Eliot's conception of tradition. No evaluation of an artist or the work of art is viewed as an isolated, self-sufficient, unrelated to the whole current of literature. The evaluation of the poet and artist is possible only by the process of constant comparison and contrast between other poets and artists and their predecessors. The poet has to keep in mind that literature is a continuous flow and he should continuously develop the consciousness of the past. Eliot enumerates the view in this respect as "But the difference between the present and the past is that the conscious present is an awareness of the past in a way and to an extent which the past's awareness of itself, cannot show".

Thus Eliot feels historical sense with a wider vision and by acquiring this historical sense a poet or an artist can overcome his egoism, his regional attraction and above all he can make a new thing. Through the historical sense the personal feeling and impression are to be depersonalised and a new work of art is produced acquiring wider significance and universal appeal. So, Eliot points out that the arrival of a really new work of an individual artist makes us see tradition though its eyes and hence in a new way. The original and the traditional are in a relation of mutual modification that makes the distinction hazy if not meaningless. Eliot asserts that the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past. This unity of time is expressed by Eliot in Burnt Norton also.


             " Time present and time past Are both perhaps present in time future And time future contained in time past".

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