T.S. Eliot Objective Co-Relative

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T.S. Eliot Objective Co-Relative

Post by Archer on Sun Jan 16, 2011 2:31 am

Clive Bell rightly praised Eliot for his gift of phrasing, and this gift is displayed as much in his prose as in his poetry. He has coined a number of memorable phrases, which bite in and strike deep and hence have gained wide currency. Whatever may be the ultimate value of his criticism – and it is too early as yet to make any final assessment – there can be no denying the fact that he is a great irritant to thought. In order to understand Eliot's criticism, it is essential to examine some of his critical concepts in some detail.

The phrase ‘Objective Co-relative’ was first used by Eliot in his essay on ‘Hamlet’. The phrase has gained such wide popularity that Wimsatt and Brooks write:

“The phrase objective co-relative has gained a currency probably for beyond anything that the author could have expected or intended”.

In the opinion of T. S. Eliot, emotion can best be expressed in poetry through the use of some suitable objective co-relative. He himself defines ‘objective co-relative’ as “a set of objects, situation, a chain of events, which shall be the formula” for the poet’s emotion so that “when the external facts are given the emotion is at once evoked”. For example, in Macbeth the dramatist has to convey the mental agony of Lady Macbeth and he does so in, ‘the sleep-walking scene’ not through direct description, but through an unconscious repetition of her past actions. Her mental agony has been made objective so that it can as well be seen by the eyes as felt by the heart. The external situation is adequate to convey the emotions, the agony of Lady Macbeth. Instead of communicating the emotions directly to the reader, the dramatist has embodied them in a situation or chain of events, which suitably communicate the emotion s to the reader. Similarly, the dramatist could devise in ‘Othello’ a situation which is a suitable, ‘objective co-relative’, for the emotion of the hero. Hamlet is an artistic failure for here the external situation does not suitably embody the effect of a mother’s guilt on her son. The disgust of Hamlet is in excess of the facts as presented in the drama.

The phrase “objective co-relative” has been discussed threadbare by a number of critics, and most divergent views have been expressed. Thus for Cleanth Brooks the phrase means, “organic Metaphor”, for Elises Vevas it is a “vehicle of expression for the poet’s emotion”, and for Austin, “it is the poetic content to be conveyed by verbal expressions”. What Eliot exactly meant by the phrase is hard to determine. We can only say that it is a way of conveying emotion, without direct verbal expression by presenting certain situation and events which arouse a similar emotion in the readers. It is the way through which a poet, like Eliot, de-personalizes his emotions
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