19 October, 2009
Anthony Cuda on Eliot: "T.S. Eliot's Etherized Patient"
From its first appearance in "Prufrock" to its reemergence in "East Coker" IV, the trope of the "patient etherized upon a table" is central to Eliot's poetry, Cuda argues; its development occurs in the undercurrent of conflict between passivity as a danger to the individual's spiritual progress and its necessity as a precursor to surrender to the divine. Passivity in "Prufrock" is to be feared: the image of the patient intensifies the sense of the vulnerability of the person left open to the action of random influence. Later theological development augments Eliot's awareness of the dangers associated with passivity- when allowed free reign in the conscience, pernicious influences have a disastrous effect. Yet Eliot's simultaneously growing recognition of the necessity of humble self-surrender to God, as particularly shown in "East Coker," creates a drastic conflict within his understanding of what it means to be passive. Eliot's eventual conclusion is that the terror of surrender can be accompanied by great spiritual joy if the passivity is a freely chosen acceptance of purgation; passivity is thus "transfigured in the light of the divine" (413). Cuda's argument hangs together, but is not improved by several significant departures into the realm of psychological/ biographical speculation which do no more than give a less-than-compelling recapitulation of the points which Cuda accurately proves from the poetry itself. Such digressions serve to make excessively long an otherwise creditable essay.