Private Truths

What interests me from our reading of Ackroyd is Eliot’s studies on epistemology and the philosophy of F. H. Bradley. Bradley’s metaphysical idealism – his view that “lived truths,” albeit “partial and fragmentary,” are “all that can be known to be real” – seems of consequence in regards to both Eliot’s personal life and his work (Ackroyd 69). Ackroyd notes Eliot’s “inability to express himself conversationally, to enter into personal relationships” (70). The difficulty both of self-expression and of truly “knowing” someone is apparent in Eliot’s relationship with his wife, as “from the beginning, they quite misunderstood each other’s characters” (Ackroyd 63). There is a breakdown of communication, an isolation. Tellingly, sex for Eliot is not intimate; rather, it is “impersonal” and rooted in “an awareness of sterility” (Ackroyd 66). Knowing someone is, at best, difficult; at worst, it’s impossible.

It’s easy to see, then, why order is so important for Eliot. Order and dogma point to something that transcends the “miasma of private experience,” something that exists outside of one’s own knowledge. However, as Ackroyd notes, the foundation of Eliot’s philosophy is precarious, based entirely on “an act of faith” (Ackroyd 70). In The Waste Land, we see a breakdown of this faith  We see a world devoid of intimacy and of connection. Man only knows “a heap of broken images,” his “mad and strange” private truths (Eliot 22, Ackroyd 70). What results is anticipation, either for a savior figure who can unite the survivors and restore order or for destruction.

 

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