Intimacy, says the phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard, is the highest value. I resist this statement at first. What about artistic achievement, or moral courage, or heroism, or altruistic acts, or work in the cause of social change? What about wealth or accomplishment? And yet something about it rings true, finally""that what we want is to be brought into relationship, to be inside, within. Perhaps it's true that nothing matters more to us than that.
Here the phenomenologist has nothing in common with the literary critic who, as has frequently been noted, judges a work that he could not create and, if we are to believe certain facile condemnations, would not want to create. A literary critic is a reader who is necessarily severe. By turning inside out like a glove an overworked complex that has become debased to the point of being part of the vocabulary of statesmen, we might say that the literary critic and the professor of rhetoric, who know-all and judge-all, readily go in for a simplex of superiority. As for me, being an addict of felicitous reading, I only read and re-read what I like, with a bit of reader's pride mixed in with much enthusiasm.
The period of general neglect of Eliot's poetry was one in which a revolution was occurring in the theory of interpretation. Existentialist, phenomenologist, structuralist, psychoanalytic, feminist, and poststructuralist theories appeared and stimulated dazzling conversations about how texts mean. Bloom, Miller, Poulet, Gadamer, Foucault, Lacan, Kristeva, and Derrida are just a few of the critics who have contributed to these conversations. These studies have enormous value for critics interested in Eliot. In the first place, they have popularized insights about language which are central in Eliot poetry from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" to Four Quartets. Anyone who doubts this should read Derrida "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences" and follow up with a reading of part 5 of each of Four Quartets. In the second place, the studies in theory have created an audience that will be able to appreciate Eliot's dissertation and early philosophical work, an audience unthinkable a generation ago.
Jewel Spears Brooker