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This article is taken from PN Review 178, Volume 34 Number 2, November - December 2007.

The Voice of the Impersonal Michael Heller

Before I began this essay* I went back, as one must, to reading Eliot, to see again how the themes of personality and impersonality are worked and reworked in his essay 'Tradition and the Individual Talent', that foundation of modernist poetics, in which he writes - we all know this by heart - that 'the emotion of art is impersonal'. That 'the artist who suffers is not the artist who writes', etc. I went back, not only to refresh myself but also to remind myself that the poets who deeply interested me and who I felt I learned from had, in one way or another, been affected by those words. Affected too by Eliot's formulation of the 'objective correlative', a conception of the poem or literary artefact that can only be the product of an artist working in an 'impersonal' manner. And also I wanted to remind myself that Eliot's prominence and insistences strongly affected critical attention. Indeed, Eliot's thought can be said to contribute, even if indirectly, to these words of Gilles Deleuze: 'Writing,' Delueze says, 'does not have an end in itself precisely because life is not something personal. Rather, the goal of writing is to raise life to the state of non-personal power.' These words entrain Eliot's doctrine of impersonality, and this essay, then, is about an approach to Deleuze's formulation of the poetic act as having 'non-personal power', a wished-for power that appears implicit in both the critical approaches and poetic practices of the modernist ...


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