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Introduction from Gender, Desire, and Sexuality in T.S. Eliot

Eliot: Essays on Gender, Sexuality, and Desire

I feel that in the second half of the poem, the problem that Prufrock is struggling with is whether or not to begin the coming out process: “Should I… / have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?” (Eliot 6). Ze has struggled with hir own, internal acceptance of this gender truth, but one of the unfortunate facts about the transgender experience is that you must not only come out to yourself, but to the world, over and over again to every person you have known and will meet. Regrettably, it seems that Prufrock does not begin the process at this time, perhaps for fear of the often fatal persecution that trans individuals meet upon coming out: “I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, / And in short, I was afraid” (Eliot 6).

Gender, Desire, and Sexuality in T. S. Eliot by Nancy …

The Gender Of Desire Essays On Masculinity

We can see this process clearly in "The Love Song of J. Prufrock." The poemcircles around not only an unarticulated question, as all readers agree, but also anunenvisioned center, the "one" whom Prufrock addresses. The poem nevervisualizes the woman with whom Prufrock imagines an encounter except in fragments and inplurals -- eyes, arms, skirts - synecdoches we might well imagine as fetishisticreplacements. But even these synecdochic replacements are not clearly engendered. Thebraceleted arms and the skirts are specifically feminine, but the faces, the hands, thevoices, the eyes are not. As if to displace the central human object it does notvisualize, the poem projects images of the body onto the landscape (the sky, the streets,the fog), but these images, for all their marked intimation of sexuality, also avoid thedesignation of gender (the muttering retreats of restless nights, the fog that rubs,licks, and lingers). The most visually precise images in the poem are those of Prufrockhimself, a Prufrock carefully composed – "My morning coat, my collar mountingfirmly to the chin, / My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin" --only to be decomposed by the watching eyes of another into thin arms and legs, a baldinghead brought in upon a platter. Moreover, the images associated with Prufrock arethemselves, as Pinkney observes, terrifyingly unstable, attributes constituting theidentity of the subject at one moment only to be wielded by the objective the next, likethe pin that centers his necktie and then pinions him to the wall or the arms thatmetamorphose into Prufrock's claws. The poem, in these various ways, decomposes the body,making ambiguous its sexual identification. These scattered body parts at once imply andevade a central encounter the speaker cannot bring himself to confront, but in the patternof their scattering they constitute the voice that Prufrock feels cannot exist in the gazeof the other.

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J. Alfred Prufrock is not just the speaker of one of Eliot's poems. He isthe Representative Man of early Modernism. Shy, cultivated, oversensitive, sexuallyretarded (many have said impotent), ruminative, isolated, self-aware to the point ofsolipsism, as he says, "Am an attendant lord, one that will do /To swell aprogress, start a scene or two." Nothing revealed the Victorian upper classes inWestern society more accurately, unless it was a novel by Henry James, and nothing betterexposed the dreamy, insubstantial center of that consciousness than a half-dozen poems inEliot's first book. The speakers of all these early poems are trapped inside their ownexcessive alertness. They look out on the world from deep inside some private cave offeeling, and though they see the world and themselves with unflattering exactness, theycannot or will not do anything about their dilemma and finally fall back on self-servingexplanation. They quake before the world, and their only revenge is to be alert. After ,poetry started coming from the city and from theintellect. It could no longer stand comfortably on its old post-Romantic ground, ecstaticbefore the natural world.

From "T.S. Eliot, Famous Clairvoyant." In Laity, Cassandra and Nancy Gish (eds.) T.S. Eliot: Essays on Gender, Sexuality, Desire. Cambridge University Press, 2004.

03.09.2004 · Gender, Sexuality, and Desire in T

It is a striking fact that three of the principal modernist poets--Eliot, Pound, andWilliams--each wrote a poem entitled "Portrait of a Lady" within a few years of1910. The title, of course, alludes to James’s novel and, for Eliot and Pound, refersto the Jamesian project of some of their early verse. Pound asserted that was an attempt to condense the James novel, and Eliot told Virginia Woolfthat his early inclination was to develop in the manner of Henry James. Behind the modelof Henry James, however (indeed, behind James's ), is anineteenth-century poetic mode of female portraiture. Tennyson, Browning, Rossetti, andSwinburne wrote portrait poems – "Mariana," "'The Gardener'sDaughter," "Andrea del Sarto," "The Blessed Damozel," "ThePortrait," and "Before the Mirror," to name just a few -- that identifypoetic style with the portrait of a lady. These poems engage not just the subject of womanbut the gender of the poetical.

Gender, desire, and sexuality in T.S

The choice to pair Eliot and Woolf is unusual. Eliot's conservatism and (late) religiosity have seemed to make his corpus incompatible with the work of a feminist, atheist, and avowedly leftist writer like Virginia Woolf. Indeed, Woolf and Eliot have never before been placed side by side, in dyadic conjunction, in a book-length study. Their work and their lives, though, reveal some striking proximities. Woolf and Eliot were almost exact contemporaries (born in 1882 and 1888, respectively), professional supporters of each other's work (Woolf's Hogarth Press, for example, published Eliot's second volume of poetry, , in 1919, when he was still a relatively unknown poet, and Woolf herself set type for the Hogarth Press's 1923 edition of ), and close friends for over twenty years. In 1936, in an astonishing letter to Woolf's sister, the painter Vanessa Bell, Woolf even expresses that she felt an erotic attraction to T. S. Eliot. Turning to the of a visit with Eliot through which to convey her desires, Woolf writes: “I had a visit, long long ago from Tom Eliot, whom I love, or could have loved, had we both been in the prime and not in the sere; how necessary do you think copulation is to friendship? At what point does ‘love’ become sexual?” We have little other evidence of the eros of Woolf and Eliot's relation, but evidently their connection held some form of sexual charge, and I offer this as a delightful biographical fragment that supplements the contiguities in their thinking about the past. They each separately fashion a poetics of memory where translating one's experience of remembrance and historicity to textuality – what I will be calling – occurs by concurrently exploring the erotic and the sensual. Further, just as Sigmund Freud proposes in (1929) that we think of the psyche's mnemonic layering as analogous to palimpsestic, architectural remains and ruins, both writers stress that time and experience leave and traces – not just in the mind and body but also in the physicality and designs of topography that we are then called upon to interpret. Both are far more present to each other's thinking and writing than we have yet imagined, and their texts offer deeply compelling instantiations of a modernist condensation of the bind between memory and desire. This study, then, considers especially what kinds of work memory does in Woolf and Eliot's literary experiments; how memory is constructed vis-à-vis sexual and textual forms of desire; what kinds of ethics Eliot and Woolf were developing around sites of memory and desire; and, where and why memory fails.