January 19, 2010

(The lengthened shadow of a man is history, said Emerson, who had not seen the silhouette of Sweeney straddled in the sun.)

I'm posting some quotes for the primary benefit of Mr Quill. An amazing story, actually, is that after conquering the (long-in-the-butt) novel War & Peace--, (by Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy--, not to be confused with Crime & Peace by that rapscallion Tolstoyevsky), in which the author (Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy) repeated drums into the reader repeatedly his theme (that one man doesn't make history, many men make history), Mr Quill then sat down to take the GREs, and the essay question he received was basically exactly about that question.

Anyway, I'm in the cool-looking U.C. San Diego library, sheltering the crazy weather (trees are falling down). I was reading about Carroll & Eliot's nonsense, and got sidetracked by some essays on T. S. Eliot's "Sweeney" period - (Sweeney is a recurring character in his poetry, a brutish "Apeneck" fornicator.) So, in "Sweeney Erect", Eliot makes an interesting & ambiguous parenthetical point in re the one-man-makes-history theory:
(The lengthened shadow of a man
Is history, said Emerson
Who had not seen the silohouette
Of Sweeney straddled in the sun.)
What to make of that stanza? I don't know. First of all, "Emerson" doesn't really rhyme with "sun", which Eliot should have realized! But, Robert G. Cook, in his 1970 essay "Emerson's 'Self Reliance,' Sweeney, and Prufrock', makes quite a lot of that stanza. He quotes "Self-Reliance", where Eliot drew his reference from:
Every true man is a cause, a country, and an age; requires infinite spaces and numbers and time fully to accomplish his design; --and posterity seem to follow his steps as a train of clients. A man Caesar is born, and for ages after we have a Roman Empire. Christ is born, and millions of minds so grow and cleave to his genius that he is confounded with virtue and the possible of man. An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man; as Monachism, of the Hermit Anthony; the Reformation, of Luther [...with more examples...]; and all history resolves itself very easily into the biography of a few stout and ernest persons.
Now, here's Professor Cook on Eliot's usage:
Eliot's change of the word "institution" to "history" is justifiable, for Emerson is here supporting the so-called great men theory of history, a theory which must have seemed as preposterous to Eliot as it did to Tolstoy. Tolstoy attacked the theory by deliberately assigning "great men," most notably Napoleon, a small significance in determining historical events. "The life of the nations is not contained in the lives of a few men, for the connexion between those men and the nations has not been found." For Tolstoy the independence of the individual personality was severely limited; historical events are the doing of all the participants. Perhaps Eliot's attack on the great men theory in "Sweeney Erect" is in line with these ideas: Emerson spoke of his Luthers and Caesars, not realizing that the Sweeneys too cast their shadows.
There you go, Mr Quill, if you ever want to revise your great men essay, don't forget Apeneck Sweeney. I'll conclude with the text from Mr Quill's blog post "Based on the Classics Illustrated Version, I Suppose":
I started watching the American version of War & Peace. I've yet to make my way through it, but I was impressed with how quickly it became clear that the director of the film had not, in fact, read the book. It takes about 10 seconds, actually. Lo and behold the first SENTENCE in the film:

"As the 19th century began, a darkening shadow moved across the face of Europe. This shadow was propelled by one man: Napoleon Bonaparte."

One man? One man?!!? If anyone could make it through War & Peace and miss Tolstoy's refutation of that very premise, his skull would have to be thicker than the novel itself.

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