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2. Modernist Non-fictional Narratives: Rewriting Modernism

“At the still point of the turning world:” T.S. Eliot and Gilles Deleuze



T.S. Eliot est un critique et poète moderniste dont les théories ont toujours autant d’influence sur la pensée contemporaine que sa poésie. On ne peut pas cantonner Eliot à une seule période telle que le modernisme quand on prend en considération ses affinités avec diverses écoles de pensée qui s’opposent. Il en est de même pour Gilles Deleuze qui, en tant que philosophe singulier, résiste à toute catégorisation. On peut identifier des tendances postmodernes dans le modernisme d’Eliot tout comme on peut identifier une sensibilité moderniste dans le poststructuralisme de Deleuze. Comparer la conception du temps, de la mémoire et de la perception d’Eliot à celle de Deleuze peut permettre de mettre au jour quelques ressemblances. Ce qui sous-tend ces ressemblances, c’est essentiellement le rôle qu’a joué Henri Bergson dans la formation de leur pensée. Certains concepts d’Eliot, comme le « corrélat objectif, » la « dissociation de la sensibilité » et la « voix impersonnelle » font écho au concept deleuzien de l’art comme produisant « affects et percepts. » Si Deleuze est connu pour ses analyses d’œuvres littéraires modernistes, celle d’Eliot n’en fait pas partie. Cet article se propose de revoir les idées d’Eliot sur l’art et le temps à la lumière de celles de Deleuze et de faire ressortir les points communs entre ces deux penseurs.

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1T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) is considered to be one of the greatest figures of modernism. But it might be generally misleading if we simply categorize him as a modernist poet since his poetry and thought offer fruitful grounds for those who wish to study Eliot from classicist, modernist, and postmodernist perspectives. Eliot’s way of approaching time and his consistency in dealing with the past, present and future as coexisting modes of time make him a figure who resists categorizations and reductionisms.

2Eliot’s complex style, his use of fragmented consciousnesses, and disintegrated persona, his depiction of twentieth-century Europe as a waste land, his alienated figures, gloomy atmospheres, interest in inner realities, allusive language and his use of free verse make him one of the eminent poets of modernism. As a critic Eliot was a man of moral and spiritual concerns; and thus, he may be acknowledged as a successor of pre-modernist poet-critics, such as Johnson, Dryden, Coleridge and Arnold with his dogmatic, moralistic and authoritative voice in lecturing about ideal poetry. However, when we study postmodernist texts, Eliot’s footfalls echo in our mind. He was a paradoxical figure who, on one hand, claimed to be a royalist, classicist and Anglo-Catholic, on the other, remained a skeptic with a philosophical mind who produced some of the best examples of literary criticism and modernist poetry. Eliot was simultaneously a traditionalist and an avant-garde writer. Although his personal opinions on religion, morality and politics are contestable, ambivalent and even obsolete in contemporary thinking, we should admit that Eliot had an oxymoronic relation to them by virtue of being a classicist modernist, a royalist American, and an Anglo-Catholic Buddhist.

3T.S. Eliot, as a poet and critic, can be associated with postmodernism when we notice his interest in the past along with his intertextual, allusive, disjunctive structures, and synchronic approach to time. As Sharratt points out, “Eliot’s work initiates a logic which can illuminate current notions of postmodernism” (229). Postmodernism’s tendency to deconstruct binary oppositions, its playful, parodic and self-reflexive attitude, its use of pastiche, collage, palimpsest, allusion, and its way of questioning authenticity and artistic creativity find proper examples in Eliot’s work. Eliot’s interest in the past and his inter and intra-textual works are other ties that bind him to postmodernism. If postmodernism can be summed up as the art’s way of replenishing itself by way of returning to the past in general, and to itself in particular, then this is also true for Eliot as a poet and critic who said about borrowing: “good poets make it into something better, or at least something different” (“Philip Massinger” 153).

4Eliot’s love of ambivalence, witty essays and puzzle-like poetry secure him a solid position in contemporary literary studies. Those who elaborate on temporality, depersonalization, memory and imagination find in Eliot relevant reference points. Some of his statements such as “immature poets imitate, mature poets steal” (“Philip Massinger” 153) provide good soil to those who study intertextuality, the death of the author and the impossibility of authenticity as postmodernist topics. His philosophical mind creates a shadow that falls between the concepts that would otherwise be treated as opposites. Hence, Eliot’s lines in Four Quartets such as: “In my beginning is my end” (“East Coker” 123), or “What might have been and what has been/Point to one end which is always present” (“Burnt Norton” 117) become interesting from a contemporary perspective as they resemble anti-dialectical and anti-teleological attitudes of poststructuralism. Eliot, the poet of “The Hollow Men,” knew that between opposites falls the shadow which creates a “shape without form, shade without colour / Paralysed force, gesture without motion.” (The Hollow Men” 56) This shadow which marks an essential aspect of Eliot’s thinking and poetry is the link that connects Eliot to our times.

5Reading T.S. Eliot with Gilles Deleuze in mind is a challenging task in itself. Deleuze’s resistance to categorizations as a philosopher is no less than Eliot’s as a poet-critic. Drawing a comparison between the two might, on the surface, seem to be, at times, quite difficult insofar as their sensibilities, preoccupations, and periods are concerned. However, a closer reading might give us clues in finding out how they resemble each other in their completely different legacies. Eliot’s postmodernist tendencies and Deleuze’s modernist sensibilities can be traced to find the resemblances.

6Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) is considered to be one of the most influential and unique figures of the twentieth century philosophy. Like other poststructuralists, Deleuze was never a pure philosopher because he believed that the acts of thought, such as philosophy and literature, are also active responses to life. For this reason, “Deleuze’s philosophy crossed over into reflections on mathematics, art, literature, history, politics and evolutionary theory.” (Colebrook 4) He created, mostly in collaboration with Guattari, “a whole new vocabulary and mode of composition.” (Colebrook 5) His books on philosophers such as Spinoza, Bergson, Nietzsche, and Foucault have brought new scope to our ways of understanding philosophy. Deleuze’s work on the meaning and function of art and literature provide for literary studies new ways of thinking. His books on Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka (co-authored with Guattari), Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Francis Bacon as well as a final collection of essays on literature and cinema broaden our perspective on the meaning of art. The books, Anti Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia I, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia II, What is Philosophy?, which he wrote in collaboration with his long-time colleague Felix Guattari, gave philosophy a new force and vocabulary by the methodology and language they applied in creating new terms and concepts such as “assemblage”, “line of flight,” “deterritorialization,” “rhizome,” and “body without organs.” Deleuze has been the philosopher of becoming, immanence, difference and repetition. In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze presents his notion of the rhizomatic nature of being which entails his philosophy of immanence. In the book on Kafka: Toward A Minor Literature, he discusses “minor literature” as the ideal kind as opposed to the literatures of majorities. And in What is Philosophy? Deleuze defines art by comparing it with science and philosophy. Another of Deleuze’s contributions to the field of literary theory was his treatment of the artist as a Nietzschean physician, art as an enterprise of health, which he proposed in his collection of essays titled Essays: Critical and Clinical.

7Deleuze keenly analysed selected modernist texts in his attempts to describe great literature, which he described as “minor literature.” Although Eliot is not among the names Deleuze analysed explicitly, a close reading of Deleuze and Eliot uncovers the fact that they pursued answers to similar questions, namely: What is sensation? What is perception? How do we know things, perceive time? What is experience? What is art? If we read Eliot with Deleuze in mind, we see that T.S. Eliot’s concepts of the objective correlative, his impersonal theory of poetry, his understanding of tradition, and his opinions on the dissociation of sensibility find a philosophical equivalent in the thought of Deleuze. The bridge that links them is their indebtedness to Henri Bergson.

8Eliot began his career by training as a professional philosopher rather than as poet or critic. In his doctoral thesis, Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F.H. Bradley (1916), he asserts that immediate experience is always accompanied by thought experiences, because feeling is never separate from thought. This assertion leads Eliot to question the relationship of sensual experiences with knowledge. When he began to write “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in 1911, he was only 23, and as Whiteside states, “in his poetry he had already started to objectify his feelings by assigning them to personae and then scrutinizing them detachedly, and this doctrine, holding as it does that all feelings are objects for scrutiny, justified that practice” (405).

9Eliot believed that the past exists only in one’s current sense of it. The same is true of the future. Therefore all things, whether tangible, imagined, remembered, or anticipated, are one. This combination of the past, present and future, this intermingling of memory and imagination, feeling and thought, remembrance and anticipation is Eliot’s lifelong notion of tradition, which culminates in an awareness of poetry as a living whole of all the poetry that has ever been written. Moreover, in Knowledge and Experience, he asserts that “the past lived over is not memory and the past remembered is never lived” (51). For Eliot, the remembered thing is never the same thing as the thing that was actually experienced by our subjective past-self, since we interpret it with a consciousness that surrounds us in a collective mode in the present. This view of the past as a belonging of not the subjective self but of the collective consciousness enables him to submit both himself and his poetry to time and history. Eliot dedicates his writing to the resurrection of the mythical dimension, which is a means of reaching beyond the level of temporal time. He does this in a way similar to Joyce whose “mythical method” he praised in his reading of Ulysses. He wants to evoke our conscious individual experiences to recall the ancient and the timeless in the archives of our collective unconscious. Through the techniques he employed in poetry, Eliot objectified his ideas on time, perception, experience and knowledge so as to create an embodiment of his philosophy, by using anonymous voices, or personae which function as echoes of collectivities, as voices beyond the subjects who experience them. The voices in his poetry do not share their subjective affections or perceptions; rather, they unify with the whole body of the poem giving voice to impersonal affects and percepts.

10Eliot was drawn to Bradley and Bergson on the basis of an initial similarity in their thought. Like the two philosophers, Eliot questioned the distinction between what we perceive and reality itself. He always wanted to find a unity behind or beyond the fragmented appearances. In his doctoral thesis, he disagreed with Bradley’s way of treating experience and feeling as identical. Eliot, believing that epistemology should contribute to the theory of perception/experience, added the angle of intuition and consciousness to feeling. Truth, for Bradley, is feeling or experience. Our sensuous thoughts create intuition and we have a notion of truth. Eliot defends an external standard of truth on the grounds that truth should transcend what we perceive as individuals, intellectually and intuitively. By intuition, Eliot understands pure perception, and the external aspect of truth is the force which unites and associates sensibility. Therefore, Bergson, as a philosopher of intuition, becomes a rich source for Eliot.

11Gilles Deleuze, in his book Bergsonism (1966), states that “Duration, Memory, Élan Vital mark the major stages of Bergson’s philosophy and intuition is the method of Bergsonism. Intuition is neither a feeling, an inspiration, nor a disorderly sympathy, but a fully developed method” (Bergsonism 13). Duration, in this context, is a case of transition, of a change, a becoming, but a becoming that endures, a change that is substance itself. Two fundamental characteristics of duration are continuity and heterogeneity. Duration is not only the lived experience, but also the condition of experience. If space implies homogeneity and discontinuity, time implies heterogeneity and continuity (Bergsonism 37). Intuition (the immediate knowledge), which involves plurality of meanings and irreducible multiple aspects, is the soul of duration. In Bergson’s universe, intuition enables us to state and create problems; discover genuine differences in kind; and, evoke the apprehension of real time.

12Durée or duration as the dynamic movement of passing yet continuing time remains a constant preoccupation of Bergson’s throughout his work (Bogue 12). It is impossible to penetrate Deleuze’s work, especially on cinema, without knowing Bergson’s concept of duration. Ronald Bogue briefly introduces Bergson’s notion of durée as follows:

For Bergson, movement (in other words, time) is reality itself. Movement is an absolute. The apparently opposing notions of duration and succession are combined in durée, for the passage from moment to moment also entails a cumulative continuation of interpenetrating moments in an indivisible process. Indeed, without this combination of duration and succession there would be no movement of time, no passage from one movement to the next –in short, no real time, in any meaningful sense. Bergson approaches durée as a psychological phenomenon identifying, durée and consciousness, and that continuation of a past moment into its succeeding moment with memory. In the absence of a consciousness to perceive it, there is no movement from one moment to the next, no durée, for there is no memory to retain and prolong a past-present into a succeeding present. Memory is the coexistence of all degrees of difference in this multiplicity (i.e. durée), in this virtuality. Put simply, memory is the coexisting virtual past, durée the flow of time whereby the virtual past presses forward into the actual present toward an open future and élan vital is durée as it unfolds itself into the future in the various forms of the created and ever-creating universe. (Deleuze on Cinema 14-16)

13Furthermore, Deleuze explains what Bergson means by the coexistence of the past and present as follows:

There must be a difference in kind between matter and memory, between pure perception and pure collection, between the present and the past. The past is no longer, it has ceased to be. We have thus confused Being with being-present. Nevertheless, the present is not; rather, it is pure becoming, always outside itself. It is not; but it acts. The past, on the other hand, has ceased to act or to be useful. But it has not ceased to be. Useless and inactive, impassive, it IS, in the full sense of the word: it is identical with being in itself […] The past is contemporaneous with the present that it has been; and it would never be constituted if it did not coexist with the present whose past it is. (Bergsonism 55, 59)

14In Bergson’s philosophy, there are no dichotomies or binary oppositions, only differences and multiplicities in kind and in degree. And intuition is the force which enables us to be conscious of these differences. As Bergson states in Duration and Simultaneity,

[w]e perceive the physical world and this perception appears, rightly or wrongly, to be inside and outside us at one and the same time; in one way, it is a state of consciousness; in another, a surface film of matter in which perceiver and perceived coincide. To each moment of our inner life there thus corresponds a moment of our body and of all environing matter that is “simultaneous” with it; this matter then seems to participate in our conscious duration. (45)

15Bergson’s anti-dialectical and intuitive method finds in Eliot’s and Deleuze’s works their verbal equivalents. In other words, Bergson’s work has provided both Deleuze and Eliot with materials for the manufacture of their concepts. Their works have been preoccupied with the problems of time and movement like Bergson. Eliot took from Bergson the seeds of his notion of time as he illustrated in his poetry, and was inspired by Bergson’s ideas of organic and objective sense of memory and image, time and consciousness, recollection and perception in the formation of his notions such as objective correlative, impersonal voice, dissociation of sensibility, and tradition. Deleuze, on the other hand, generates from Bergson his ideas on rhizome, becoming, multiplicities, assemblages, lines of flight and his theory on difference and repetition. His cinematographic concepts of the movement-image and the time-image grow out of commentaries on Bergson’s notions of movement, image, recognition and time. It would not be wrong to say that Eliot and Deleuze represent two different sides of the same coin, the coin being Bergson himself.

16In their perception of time both Deleuze and Eliot refer to “Bergson who believed that time is not a sequence of one thing following another within some actual common ground. There is not a world that contains time; there is a flow of time, which produces worlds or durations. Time is a virtual whole of divergent durations. The everyday illusion is that life flows from one moment to the next and that we exist in some general line of time” (Colebrook 42). Eliot, in Four Quartets which translates Bergson’s philosophy of perception and time into poetry, illustrates this view as follows:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say,
there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time. (“Bur
nt Norton” 119)

17In Four Quartets Bergson’s notion of duration is represented by the metaphor of “dance.” The Eliot of Four Quartets with his non-linear treatment of time is in that respect in full harmony with Deleuze’s view of time as the source of becoming, difference and repetition. As Le Brun states, “to be in and out of time at the same time, to feel the temporary and permanent simultaneously is of great matter to Eliot. We must ourselves know how to be not only ‘still moving’, but also ‘still’” (153). For Bergson, time is a living and still moving eternity. It is an organic phenomenon and everything repeated in time is repeated in a new sense. Past contains the seeds of the present which, in turn, contain the seeds of the future. In Time and Free Will, Bergson uses the analogy of a “musical phrase which is constantly altered in its totality by the addition of some new note” (106) since “each new development alters the nature, the appearance and, as it were, the rhythm of the whole” (123). Le Brun, in his essay on Eliot and Bergson, shows the similarity between Bergson’s idea of organic whole and Eliot’s statement: “what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it” (Le Brun 155; “Tradition and Individual Talent” 38).

18For Bergson, “matter is repetition and consciousness is change, therefore not only does the new alter the existing order into which it is assimilated, but without the addition of the new that order will itself run down” (Le Brun 157). Hence, Eliot follows Bergson in his criticism of the dissociation of sensibility which he perceives as the sickness of all revolutionary movements which tend to break connection with the past to form a radically altered sensibility in the present. This tendency, for him, is a threat to historical consciousness and is the malady of all revolutionary movements including French Revolution in history, and Romanticism in literature. To form a healthy consciousness in the present, and to ameliorate the present conditions of life we should not break our relation with the past, nor should we deny or ignore the past. On the contrary, we should have a strong sense of tradition to outrun the past. Therefore, disparate sense of experience should be amalgamated, re-associated to form organic wholes and harmony in life. Eliot’s use of dramatis personae in “The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock” or The Waste Land, his use of impersonal voice in “The Hollow Men” and Four Quartets, his attempts at using a distanced and objective voice, find an important source in Bergson’s following statements:

The associationist reduces the self to an aggregate of conscious states: sensations, feelings, and ideas. But if he sees in these various states no more than is expressed in their name, if he retains only their impersonal aspect, he may set them side by side for ever without getting anything but a phantom self, the Shadow of the ego projecting itself in to space. If, on the contrary, he takes these psychic states with the particular coloring which they assume in the case of a definite person, and which comes to each of them by reflection from all the others, then there is no need to associate a number of conscious states in order to rebuild the person, for the whole personality is in a single one of them, provided that we know how to choose it. (Time and Free Will 165)

19The aggregates of conscious states form a concept of self that finds its illustration as “the hollow men”, “the stuffed men” in the poetry of Eliot. This self is “the Shadow of the ego” which suffers disintegration and deformed perception. If we take “the hollow men” as the distant relatives of Bergson’s “associationist,” then it becomes clear why they lose their spirit and get, in Bergson’s terms, a “phantom self.”

20To achieve an association of sensibility, and create “the whole of personality in a single one of them,” Eliot applies the technique of objective correlative. Bergson believes that “ready-made” ideas, patterned knowledge blunt our ability to perceive and sense. He sees these as a threat to the wholeness of consciousness, which is the source of creativity in our actions and thoughts. Received ideas of parasitic selves should be replaced by conceived ideas. Otherwise, as he states in “Philip Massinger,” the world would be filled with “immature poets imitating” the ready-made, “defacing what they take, throwing it into something which has no cohesion” (153).

21Eliot’s formulation of objective correlative resembles the very Bergsonian concept of consciousness:

If the poet is seeking the verbal equivalent for states of mind and feeling and if the states of mind and feeling are not dissociable and form a whole which is unique, they cannot be expressed in a language which dissociates them and destroys their uniqueness. (Le Brun 160)

22This kind of language that dissociates is used by those who speak received ideas rather than conceived ones. Therefore, a mature poet must not write about his personal feelings and experiences, his personal perceptions and affections, but rather, he must use an impersonal voice which employs objective correlatives to create immediate and direct effects. As Henri Bergson puts it,

The poet is he with whom feelings develop into images, and the images themselves into words which translate them while obeying the laws of rhythm. In seeing these images pass before our eyes we, in our turn, experience the feeling which was, so to speak, their emotional equivalent. (Time and Free Will 15)

23Eliot, as he introduces his notion of “dissociation of sensibility,” talks about the poet’s function of amalgamating disparate experience which is otherwise chaotic, irregular, and fragmentary: “In the mind of the poet these experiences are always forming new wholes” (“Metaphysical Poets” 64). So, movement in its stillness and action, and time in its permanence and temporality are key concepts that show Bergson’s influence on Eliot. In this way Eliot melds the past and present, old and new, traditional and modern.

24Eliot’s interest in objectifying feelings and thoughts and use of objective correlatives can be associated with Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy of immanence where “becoming” (i.e. the force of life) is treated as impersonal, where the subject or subjective action is impossible. For Deleuze “The aim of writing is to carry life to the state of a non-personal power” (Dialogues 50). Deleuze perceives life as impersonal and best artistic works, for him, are the ones which reflect this impersonality. There cannot be an individual or independent knowing self to perceive and understand, or have knowledge about life in this rhizomatic system where everything is connected endlessly. Deleuze’s view of active creation instead of reactive representation is, in that respect, similar to Eliot’s comparison between immature and mature poets. The concept of “minor literature” in Deleuze, shares a similar sensibility with Eliot – and therefore with Bergson – in which, in the context of Deleuze, immature poets become the counterpart of the writers of popular or major literature as opposed to great or minor literature. For Deleuze, all great literature is minor literature which does not repeat the surface forms of literature; it does not reproduce already established rhythms and forms. What is repeated in minor literature is literary becoming. As Colebrook notes, for Deleuze:

To truly repeat a Shakespeare sonnet would demand reactivating all the forces of creation that produced the original, and this may mean abandoning sonnet forms altogether. Maximum repetition is maximum difference. Repeating the past does not mean parroting its effects, but repeating the force and difference of time, producing art today that is as disruptive of the present as the art of the past. (119)

25Only by virtue of philosophy, which is the act of creating concepts, science, the act of creating functions, and art, the act of creating affects and percepts, we can have “lines of flight” which in turn give the rhizome a new energy, a chance of renewing itself on its own merits. According to Deleuze, as Daniel W. Smith points out:

The writer, like each of us, begins with the multiplicities that have invented him or her as a formed subject, in an actualized world, with an organic body, in a given political order, having learned a certain language. But at its highest point, writing, as an activity, follows the abstract movement of a line of flight that extracts or produces differential elements from these multiplicities of lived experience and makes them function as variables on an immanent plane of composition. (52)

26In “Tradition and Individual Talent,” Eliot’s description of the historical sense and tradition is similar to Deleuze’s views:

The historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal, and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. (38)

27This understanding of tradition is in parallel with what Deleuze calls rhizome/branching/connectedness. Life is not just the progression of ordered sequences from some already given set of possibilities. Each branching out of difference creates the expansion of possibility, so the “end” of life is not given; there is no goal towards which life is striving. There is an internal striving in life, which he names as “becoming.” A plane of immanence includes life, death and all being. Universe for Deleuze is a blend of chaos and cosmos, which is in an endless form of becoming. Being in this sense is a becoming in the form of rhizome, a discordant harmony which is formed of “multiplicities,” “bodies without organs” endlessly connected with each other and by virtue of each connection’s functioning as machines for different purposes. Becoming is a neutral concept which excludes dialectics and forms a rhizomatic plane of immanence where everything is interrelated, time is cyclical, and being is non-hierarchical. On a textual level, rhizome can be taken as the equivalent of intertextuality, and becoming as textuality where there is no beginning and ending point but only becoming, an entity renewing itself by endless repetitions, and from endless repetitions giving birth to endless differences. A rhizome is a multiplicity: a unity that is multiple in itself, a combination of chaos and cosmos. Therefore, in Deleuze’s view, “the task of the writer is to establish non-preexistent relations between these variables in order to make them function together in a singular and non-homogeneous whole, and thus to participate in the construction of new possibilities of life” (Smith, 52). This rhizomatic perspective can be found in Eliot’s lines: “Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning/Every poem an epitaph” (“Little Gidding” 144). “East Coker” begins with the line “In my beginning is my end” (123) and presents the patterns as

new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been. (125)

28Eliot brings the dead and the living, the past and present, old and new together so as to explain his idea of tradition in a way that resembles the rhizomatic concept where “no poet, no artist of any art, has its complete meaning alone” (“Tradition” 38). In this respect, his poetry is designed as unified multiplicities, as combinations of myth, history, and other literature which creates emotional equivalents of his thought in the form of chaosmos. For him, tradition is what is impersonal in personality. The terms “simultaneous existence” and “simultaneous order” are also affirmative of Deleuze’s synchronic approach to time and being as becoming. This view explains Eliot’s lines in “Little Gidding:”

The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A People without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments.

29For Bergson, perception’s relation to time should be understood with the same logic. Time is perceived as a fusion of the past, present and future. The same law holds for Eliot when he says: “That the future is a faded song, a Royal Rose or a lavender spray/Of wistful regret for those who are not yet here to regret” (“The Dry Salvages” 133).

30For Eliot, not only all knowledge, but also all feeling is in perception. In his treatise on Bradley, Eliot, according to Kirsten Smidt, argues that “immediately” we “experience” not just “objects, but relations” and this requires the fusion of thought, feeling and sensation (qtd in Le Brun 274) as well as the fusion of the past, present and future. Perception is never the subjective way of perceiving something that is outside the self; rather, to put it in Deleuze’s terms, it is the effect of the rhizomatic interrelationship of multiplicities. The immediate experience should, therefore, be translated into poetry by the use of objective correlatives because real poetry is never about a subject’s personal sensations or perceptions. In order for poetry to affect the reader as directly as a physical sensation, it has to express emotion impersonally.

31Eliot’s theory of the “objective correlative” which he defines as “a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked” (“Hamlet” 48) resembles Deleuze’s views of art as defined in What is Philosophy? Eliot offers the use of objective correlatives as a method for the artist to distance himself from the thing he creates. He compares the poet’s mind to platinum which is the catalyst of a chemical reaction. Platinum is the agent of change but nevertheless remains inert, neutral and unchanged. The emotion of art should be in the poem rather than the poet. This was the very point he attacked romantic poetry for being the opposite of what he offers as ideal. For him “poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality but an escape from personality” (“Tradition” 43). Thus, in “Tradition and Individual Talent” we find “his advocacy of the depersonalization of the poet into a finely perfected medium of inert, neutral perception which has not a personality to express” (Shusterman 39). For Eliot, “the greater the artist, the more completely separate in him would be the man who suffers and the mind which creates” (“Tradition” 41).

32Deleuze’s understanding of art in What is Philosophy? agrees with Eliot’s in that, for Deleuze also, real art is never about opinions and emotions or about perceptions and affections. For him, “Art thinks no less than philosophy, but it thinks through affects and percepts” (66). Affects and percepts are irreducible to the affections and perceptions of a subject. What opinion proposes is a particular relationship between an external perception as a state of a subject and an internal affection as passage from one state to another. Art, like philosophy, is not about opinions:

What is preserved in art is a bloc of sensations, that is to say, a compound of percepts and affects. Percepts are no longer perceptions; they are independent of a state of those who experience them. Affects are no longer feelings or affections; they go beyond the strength of those who undergo them. Sensations, percepts and affects are beings whose validity lies in themselves and exceeds any lived. They could be said to exist in the absence of man because man, as he is caught in the stone, on the canvas, or by words, is himself a compound of percepts and affects. The work of art is a being of sensation and nothing else: it exists in itself. (What is Philosophy? 164)

33In other words, affections are what happens to us; perceptions are what we sense. Affects and percepts, in art, free these forces from the particular observers or bodies who experience them (Colebrook 22). This is how Deleuze proposes that art should be impersonal.

34Deleuze’s description of art as “a bloc of sensations” is what Eliot means by “emotion of art residing in the poem, as the poem itself and not in the person of the poet” (“Tradition” 44). For Eliot, in poetry, there must be a shift from the plural emotions of life to the singular emotion in the writing. This implies the transformation of multiple, disordered emotions into the ordered and significant emotion of the poem. The same is true for Deleuze who shows that:

[T]he truth of artistic signs […] is not that of an objective reality nor one of subjective associations, but the truth of a self-differentiating difference that unfolds itself and thereby creates a universe. The artist, the surrounding world and the work of art are all part of an apersonal unfolding of signs, and the finished work of art is a Joycean chaosmos, a chaos-become-cosmos. (Deleuze on Literature 4)

35When Eliot sees “the progress of an artist [as] a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality” (“Tradition” 40) and “emotion [as having] its life in the poem and not in the history of the poet” (44), his voice is in full accordance with Deleuze who attributes to “minor literature” a collective value. This collective value can only be attained when literature deterritorializes language in order to create lines of flight, new percepts and affects, visions and auditions. Literature, then, finds itself positively charged with the role and function of collective, even revolutionary enunciation (Kafka 17). Collective assemblage or non-personal individuation as stated by Deleuze for minor literature echoes the Eliotic notion of depersonalization, the poet’s being the voice of collectivities by surrendering to something more valuable than his personality. Deleuze states:

In minor literature there isn’t a subject, there are only collective assemblages of enunciation. The letter K [in Kafka’s Trial] no longer designates a narrator or character but an assemblage that becomes all the more machine-like, an agent that becomes all the more collective because an individual is locked into it in his or her solitude. (Kafka 18)

36Hence, in Eliot’s verse, Prufrock becomes the voice of an old man, Tiresias, the figure where not only the two sexes meet but also all other personages in the poem unite, and the impersonal voice who contemplates on time, memory and love in the Four Quartets functions as collective assemblage in the same sense as described by Deleuze.

37To conclude, revisiting Eliot with Deleuze, we find ourselves heading “Down the passage we did not take/Towards the door we never opened/Into the rose garden” (“Burnt Norton” 117) where their echoes form an unexpected harmony. Eliot’s “Art never improves, but the material of it is never quite the same” (“Tradition” 39) is nothing but a distant echo of Deleuze’s ideas on difference and repetition. Deleuze and Eliot, belonging to different times, had different sensibilities and used completely different terminologies but in that rose garden, at the still point of the turning world, their ideas on literature, existence and time dance in full harmony.

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Zekiye ANTAKYALIOGLU, « “At the still point of the turning world:” T.S. Eliot and Gilles Deleuze », E-rea [En ligne], 15.2 | 2018, mis en ligne le 15 juin 2018, consulté le 06 juin 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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Gaziantep University, Turkey
Zekiye Antakyalioglu has been working as an associate professor at Gaziantep University, Turkey, since 2009. She has published her dissertation (Ankara University), A Study of Stoppardian Drama from the Standpoint of Postmodernist and Counter-postmodernist Attitudes (Verlag 2008) and Roman Kuramına Giriş (Introduction to the Theory of the Novel) (Ayrıntı 2013).

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