T.S. Eliot, Dante, and the European Tradition: An International Symposium
January 19th - 25th , 2008
  Promoted by:
Romualdo Del Bianco Foundation
Palazzo Coppini Via del Giglio, 10
50123 – Florence (Italy)


Author : Dr. Jennifer Carol Cook

Sign and Sacrament: Anamnesis from Dante to Eliot to Jones

Like T.S. Eliot, modernist artist and writer David Jones mourned the effects of what he called “The Break,” the loss of a “culture-phase when the maker and the society in which he lived shared an enclosed and common background.” Jones discusses this phenomenon in Dantesque terms, asserting that “Western man [has] moved across a rubicon which…seems to have been as definitive as the Styx.” It is a recognition to which Eliot also directly refers in his Note on (Jones’) In Parenthesis and the Anathemata, confessing, “we…have all been desperate to communicate, and maddened by the difficulty of finding a common language.” But in Jones’ work we find, in fact, a Dantesque attempt to tap into a common culture, to speak in a language enriched by “efficacious signs” and to claim for them a sacred space in the community. While Jones admits that our modern “technocracy” has alienated us from the notion of sacred or even meaningful signs, he nonetheless attempts through his conception of anamnesis, a recalling of something that is loved, to revitalize them in a sort of modern day take on the allegorical method Eliot praises in Dante. In so doing he creates mythical paintings and writes epic journey poems, insisting on the religiosity of all art and plumbing words for their etymological richness – all reminiscent of the themes Eliot explicitly discusses in his adulatory essays on Dante. This paper therefore examines the ways in which Jones wrestles with core poetic principles achieved by Dante and celebrated by Eliot in a modern world inhospitable to the “sacral” in art.

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