Selected Essays, 1917-1932

by T. S. Eliot

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Provide an analysis of Eliot's essay “The Function of Criticism.”

An analysis of Eliot's essay “The Function of Criticism” would involve recognizing that the author seeks to place criticism on the basis of facts and objectivity. Criticism should also be impersonal, just like poetry itself.

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In “The Function of Criticism,” one of T. S. Eliot's most important essays, the poet, dramatist, and critic argues that literary criticism should have a factual, objective basis.

Such an approach is entirely in keeping with Eliot's hostility towards Romanticism, with its extreme subjectivity and cultivation of emotions, and what he sees as its baleful effect on criticism. As a consequence of Romanticism, the business of criticism is all too often seen as an expression of personal opinion rather than a judgment on the basis of fact as it should be.

The critic, like the poet, should be impersonal; they need to be completely self-effacing and let the text do the talking. What is needed in analyzing a text is an objective, almost scientific attitude unhampered by any prejudices or preconceptions. Only in this way will it be possible to do justice to the text in question.

Eliot sees critics, like scientists, as being involved in a collaborative venture that joins them and their predecessors in a common search for truth. To be sure, any such truths that are uncovered are purely provisional, always subject to change in the light of new evidence. But when they are modified, as they inevitably will be in the future, they must be done so on the basis of objective fact.

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