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    Prufrock party-goer: tongue tied at tea

    McLoughlin, Kate (2013) Prufrock party-goer: tongue tied at tea. In: McLoughlin, Kate (ed.) The Modernist Party. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 45-63. ISBN 9780748647316.

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    J. Alfred Prufrock would not rank highly on anyone's list of partyguests. Distinctly lacking in conviviality, the protagonist of T. S. Eliot's poem anticipates ‘the taking of a toast and tea’ as an excruciating occasion on which the ‘overwhelming question’ he wishes to pose will be, even if he can bring himself to pose it, painfully misunderstood. The work's critics have attributed the problem to Prufrock (or Eliot) himself, analysing his internal wrestling in terms of fear of female (and male) sexuality, hysteria and other psychological disorders, Matthew Arnold's ‘buried life’, Sigmund Freud's notion of the uncanny and Henri Bergson's ideas of anticipatory retrospection, inhibitory self-awareness and dédoublement. Without gainsaying the interpretative richness of these approaches, this chapter suggests another: a redirection of critical focus from the construction of Prufrock to the anxiogenic situation. Why does Eliot choose – of all things – a tea-party as the occasion of his protagonist's logophobia? Why should an apparently benign prospect, the consumption of ‘tea and cakes and ices’ (l. 79), provoke such consternation? In pursuing these questions, which centre around the opportunities and limitations of the social sphere, Jürgen Habermas's theories of communicative action are illuminating, particularly given their affinities with the thinking of Josiah Royce and F. H. Bradley, philosophers with whose work Eliot was intimately familiar. But Eliot's poem also tests Habermas's theories by introducing complicating factors of soma and psyche to communicative situations.


    Item Type: Book Section
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Creative Arts, Culture and Communication
    Depositing User: Administrator
    Date Deposited: 20 Mar 2014 13:53
    Last Modified: 09 Aug 2023 12:34


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