September 24, 2007

Eliot faced a similar dilemma as Emerson

Infinity Foundation Releases Book on Emerson and Hinduism NEW JERSEY, September 18, 2007: Infinity Foundation announced the release of "Emerson and the Light of India, An Intellectual History" by Robert Gordon. The Foundation provided the following overview of this and a related book on TS Eliot.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was the first American to pioneer the serious exploration of Indian philosophy, and as his own thinking grew over time, Indian philosophy profoundly influenced the course of that growth. This book thoroughly investigates the ways in which the scriptures of India shaped the maturing Transcendentalism of this great Amerian thinker. In addition, by analyzing in concrete detail the crucial ways in which the scriptures of India influenced Emerson's metaphysical development, the book repudiates the arguments of those who maintain that Emerson abandoned the optimistic faith of his youth. it makes plain that those who ascribe to Emerson a "Fall" from his early beliefs are demonstrably in error, prim arily because of their serious misunderstanding of the influence, on Emerson, of Hindu and Buddhist teachings."
Given the central importance of Emerson's Transcendentalist movement in America's intellectual history, and its influence upon a few generations of American luminaries, this book is a important corrective to American history and the role of Indic traditions in shaping it.
A prior book republished in India by Infinity Foundation was, "TS Eliot and Indic Traditions," by Cleao Kearns. This book showed how Eliot's major works, including the poems, "The Wasteland" and "The Four Quartets" were profoundly influenced by Upanishadic thoughts, Gita, etc. In fact, large passages are almost direct translations from Indic sources.
Both Emerson and Eliot were towering figures in American literature, separated by a century. Both went to Harvard where their careers were shaped by immersions in Indian texts and thought. But their relationships with Hinduism evolved in very different ways.
Emerson went back to Harvard years later to make a major address to the Harvard community, in which he publicly resigned as a Christian minister and preacher, explaining how his new philosophy (based on Hinduism) made it impossible for him to continue to preach Christianity. For making this speech, Emerson was denounced by Harvard. A decision was made to block him from ever being allowed to come to Harvard. This ex-communication from a supposedly liberal champion of intellectual freedom lasted till he died.
In Eliot's case, after he wrote some of America's most famous poems under Indian influence, he faced a similar dilemma as Emerson: whether to go all the way and leave behind his Christian identity, or whether to U-Turn back to Christianity. Eliot was under heavy Christian peer influence at Harvard. He eventually made a formal public "conversion" back to Christianity. This, explains Cleo Kearns' book, enabled him to continue studying Hindu texts from the safety of an arms-length relationship. Henceforth, he was secure as a Christian and said he was merely studying Hinduism from a distance as the "other." The post-U-turn Eliot continued to appropriate from Indic traditions and his works have left a permanent shift in Western literature and thought.

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