How T. S. Eliot Looked at Lives

T-s-eliot_cropLyndall Gordon at The Hudson Review:

During Eliot’s lifetime he was hailed for the Modernist fragmentation he introduced into poetry, but fifty years on, his concurrent revolution of what we understand as biography has yet to be recognised. For in the course of his search for perfection, Eliot points to unseen events and to a narrative that can’t be seamless if it claims to be true. The shadows of different narratives haunt the gaps in lives, the apparently vacant spaces where purpose, in the routine sense, may be withdrawn, and past and future, in the purposeful sense, don’t exist.

Since Eliot was an expatriate, like his ancestor, it’s not surprising to find images of travel and migration: the pilgrimage (in “Journey of the Magi”), the train journey and the ocean crossing. As the furrow narrows behind the ship, a traveller is neither the person he was nor the person he will be on the farther shore. In the biographic structures of Eliot’s verse, this hiatus in a life span, this non-being, is his central focus. It’s potentially fertile, yet, because it lies inchoate in shadow—mostly unrecorded—it’s not the focus for traditional biography. Yet Eliot would have it that this is the fulcrum for a life in the making—a model that could transform the future of life writing.

more here.