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T.S. Eliot Explains The Problem With Modern Day Writing

Keep in mind, he said this in 1921.

eliot

That comes from Eliot’s The Perfect Critic. Photo and credit to K Street Hipster on Twitter. 

I’ve read that quote several times. And, the more I read it, the more I realize how it’s about much more than just writing. It’s about debate and how we gain knowledge.

That last sentence really struck a chord with me: “And when we do not know, or when we do not know enough, we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts.”

How insightful is that? Think of online debates about Michael Brown or Eric Garner. Think of any debate or argument, really, online or not. How often do we let emotion get in the way of rational thought?

Great stuff from T.S. Eliot more than 90 years ago.

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29 Comments Post a comment
  1. It’s true. I am a little perplexed that the two concepts are linked here (ignorance and emotion replacing reason). Perhaps Eliot meant it was getting worse, but this has been the basis for political debate since we invented politics. Rhetoric isn’t an exercise in factual reasoning.

    Like

    December 10, 2014
  2. Alternatively: “Very few facts are able to tell their story without comments to bring out their meaning.” John Stuart Mill, ‘On Liberty’

    Like

    December 10, 2014
  3. The relevance of this quote is striking!

    Liked by 1 person

    December 10, 2014
  4. Indeed, there is knowledge and there is knowledge. Why I am guided by the ancient Vedic texts Sri Krsna Himself manifested.

    Like

    December 10, 2014
  5. Relevant today — unfortunately relevant tomorrow. Our attention span is shortening with each generation. Emotions can be a drive-thru response disguised as knowledge because, really, who has time to dig beneath a surface…

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    December 10, 2014
  6. He talks about Twitter, right, right? …ahem.

    Like

    December 10, 2014
  7. Love that. More than ever it is so true.

    Liked by 1 person

    December 10, 2014
  8. How prescient for our current info overload era. Having felt this way during our recent election with all of the propositions on California’s crazy ballot, it was (and has been) impossible to vote knowledgeably on every issue. And without knowledge, emotion plays its trump card. We become pawns in the PR/advertising/spin game where the most well-funded strategic campaign often wins.

    Liked by 1 person

    December 10, 2014
    • Yep, that’s why marketing today is so brilliant. They play to our emotions, already knowing most of us aren’t too concerned with facts.

      Liked by 1 person

      December 11, 2014
  9. Very true. Feelings have certainly overhwelmed reason on many fronts.

    Like

    December 10, 2014
    • Every time I talk to my girlfriend, I’m reminded if this.

      Like

      December 10, 2014
  10. Also, did anyone watch the last Star Trek movie? Spock is a Vulcan, one of the universe’s most intelligent and rational beings, but he is a failure until he learns to be an impulsive and fiery leader like Captain Kirk.

    Like

    December 10, 2014
  11. And there you have it: we like to think we’ve made so much progress, but the one thing that needs to progress the most and never does is human nature.

    Like

    December 10, 2014
  12. NURIL ANWAR BLOGS #

    Reblogged this on NURIL ANWAR SITE and commented:
    Sorry i rebkog this pos couse I am very interest about it, ok. thanks

    Like

    December 10, 2014
  13. Reblogged this on Tales of the Firewing.

    Like

    December 10, 2014
  14. Ted Fontenot #

    Eliot seems to be slamming the generalist. I suppose he’s more favorable to the specialist when it comes to knowledge. I’ve always like this by P. B. Medawar (in his takedown of Teilhard de Chardin’s “The Phenomenon of Man”: “How have people come to be taken in by The Phenomenon of Man? We must not underestimate the size of the market for works of this kind, for philosophy-fiction. Just as compulsory primary education created a market catered for by cheap dailies and weeklies, so the spread of secondary and latterly tertiary education has created a large population of people, often with well-developed literary and scholarly tastes, who have been educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought.”

    Both Eliot’s and Medawar’s reservations are being born. With all the information available to us at the touch of a button, we think we know something because we can find something somewhere to support our view. Confirmation bias thus runs rampant. But there is little critical thinking.

    Like

    December 10, 2014
  15. Often we are way too quick to jump to a conclusion without enough of the facts to know what the hell we are talking about.

    Like

    December 10, 2014
    • This explains why so many people share articles and content on social media without having read anything more than the title and maybe first paragraph.

      Liked by 1 person

      December 11, 2014
  16. M #

    Reblogged this on t h r e e o ' c l o c k.

    Like

    December 11, 2014
  17. Wow! I feel that sometimes it describes me…. and I didn’t even realized it!! Amazing!

    Like

    December 11, 2014
  18. Reblogged this on …just some random thoughts… and commented:
    Not much to say, just that it is so true!!! I had to re-blog it !!

    Like

    December 11, 2014
  19. Reblogged this on Victoria English.

    Like

    December 13, 2014
  20. Reblogged this on aqsaishaq and commented:
    This is so true in present time

    Like

    December 14, 2014
  21. He is so true. There is so much to absorb that our souls have finally become immune to absorbing knowledge. No other way

    Like

    December 14, 2014
  22. A lot of words to say A little learning is a dangerous thing; / Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: / There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, / And drinking largely sobers us again.

    “And when we do not know, or when we do not know enough, we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts”: Brings to mind the trials, convictions, and hangings by media — and mobs of commenters — that infest online news reporting. The speed and ease with which we can download data leads us to confuse information with learning. And maybe because the flood of information contains surprisingly little learning, we confuse emotion with thought.

    Like

    December 16, 2014
  23. jachelande #

    I see where he’s coming from…but to compare this to Mike Brown’s situation is uncalled for. Specifically coming from people who does not understand what its like to made feel like your skin color is a crime. So yes when it comes to us its more about passion and there is nothing wrong with that. This rationality you guys claim to posses is what lead us to this situation in the first place. 100 years ago it was ‘rational’ to suppress any race that did not look like white. Native Indians (Australia, Alaska, America) still suffer to this day.

    Was the cop rationale when he shot him??? or
    Did he do it because of emotions??

    However, you look at it, he was wrong to shoot an unharmed citizen..

    Moreover, whats rational about cops that are capable of capturing white men that have committed some of the heinous mass murder crimes in America (Colorado theater massacre) yet they can’t take a black men alive because he stole cigarettes from a store or he was selling cigars on the street.

    What part of my argument is not rationale. When you take out the emotion in things and you still get the same results where were justifying murder of the innocent than its hard to believe that you did not come to your conclusion without your emotion.

    Overall, keep TS Eliot words where they belong in the education system but not in politics where you want to ignore things.

    The power of white male privilege= “If an Arab commits a shooting then his a terrorist, If his black than he’s a thug, and if he’s white he must be mentally ill.”

    After all, years and years of suppressing women and other race must be hard on the mind, when his duty is relieved. There’s a place for that quote, its not here!

    Like

    December 17, 2014
    • I wasn’t justifying either view on the Mike Brown incident. All I was saying was people get emotional when they argue online. They don’t listen to each other and don’t try to understand the other’s viewpoint. That’s actually similar to what you’re saying.

      Like

      December 19, 2014
  24. I ALWAYS, ALWAYS, seem to throw rational thought out of the window and let emotions cloud my judgment.

    Like

    February 8, 2015

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