MARS HILL AUDIO Reprint 25

James Matthew Wilson, "T. S. Eliot: Culture and Anarchy"

“Eliot’s argument was never merely that religion ought to be granted a more prominent place in our public life—though he came to argue strongly for that, he saw its limitations as the classic manifestation of civil religion. Rather, his argument was that a theology always and already underpins all of our thought and, in failing to define those foundations properly, we had made an already confusing modern world unintelligible; we had made the real difficulties of religious faith impossible precisely because we no longer understood in what those difficulties consisted.”

James Matthew Wilson

In this essay, James Matthew Wilson examines T. S. Eliot’s cultural conservatism and religious conversion in light of his intellectual and familial influences. Wilson shows that throughout his life, Eliot grappled with the weaknesses of cultural theories that substituted art for religion, such as those proposed by Matthew Arnold and Eliot’s Harvard professors Irving Babbitt and George Santayana. Rather than filling the vacuum left by religious disbelief, the substitution of “civil religion” or “culture” for true religious faith merely confused and distracted modern man from what was at heart a theological and religious depletion. Contrary to appearances, Wilson argues that Eliot as the young modernist poet remained consistent with Eliot the cultural critic and Eliot the Christian. Despite Eliot’s radical reputation, through his poetry, one sees a working-out of Eliot’s thinking on the role of poetry and culture in light of modern man’s condition and a definite metaphysical account of reality. Read by Ken Myers. 80 minutes. $2.

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