Here’s an excerpt from a new biography of the President, which includes a note he wrote on Eliot’s The Wasteland (followed by a critique of Pound and Yeats).
It’s a fascinating look at his youthful mind. What intrigues me most is how this type of learned discussion could never be part of his political life. While I find that he comes across as an intelligent public servant (one who is actually critiqued for seeming too scholarly), his political self seems a run of the mill lout compared to statements like this:
Eliot contains the same ecstatic vision which runs from Münzer to Yeats. However, he retains a grounding in the social reality/order of his time. Facing what he perceives as a choice between ecstatic chaos and lifeless mechanistic order, he accedes to maintaining a separation of asexual purity and brutal sexual reality. And he wears a stoical face before this.
Keep in mind this is a personal letter, not a English Lit Paper. Not that language like this should be part of a stump speech, but I find it frustrating that our public discourse essentially will not allow us to have an ‘adult conversation’ about anything of substance. A man capable of thinking on this level has to be reduced to responding to the idiotic conversations that dominate the headlines of our wonderful news media.
For instance, right now Matt Drudge is still running headlines attacking Obama for lying in his memoir by creating ‘compressed characters’ (“Obama admits fabricating girlfriend in memoir”); Drudge believes this to be a damning revelation from the recent biography–except that Obama acknowledged the compressed characters in the forward to the first edition of his memoir. I’d much rather hear if his thoughts on Eliot’s brand of conservatism as expressed through his poetry have changed since writing the above letter; instead, he must educate the media about compressed characters in another non-controversy.