“Tradition and Individual Talent,” written by T.S. Eliot(1888-1965), is one of the most influential essays of all time. It has placed an essential concept of understanding the core meaning of Literature as a whole. In this critical essay, Eliot has given an epoch-making idea of tradition and individual talent. He has also shown the marvelous mixture of these two ideas.
According to Eliot, “tradition” is a sense of continuity with the past. It is a continuum in which a writer or poet should write in the tradition and is easily unacceptable to white people because it amounts to “blasphemy.” The Western world seems to have a more excellent hold on creative energy. Eliot emphasizes the elements of critical thinking while having a “tradition.” According to Eliot, a poet has to write in “tradition,” and aspects of the past exist in the poet’s artwork when it is examined or explored for critical elements rather than creative forces. He states that,
“most distinctive parts of his work may be those in which dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality.”
More Notes: Tradition and Individual Talent
Eliot further says that “tradition” is a “dynamic one.” He suggests that the past directs the present and the present alters the past to create a new work of art which, is the visual talent”. Hence, the knowledge of the past and the creation of contemporary art becomes the “Tradition and Individual Talent.” He adds that the poet takes a “tradition” or the elements from the past. Still, there is also a change or alteration in the present, which creates something new. Hence, it is a “dynamic one.” It is also a “dynamic” in the sense that when one judges critically, one can find the elements of the past which have existed before and are guided to the present. The present modifies it when a new work of art to produce in the present.
Moreover, he highlights that “tradition” is not easily obtained and “inherited” but requires “hard labor” and effort. There has to be the development of the “historical sense” by a poet to write in “tradition,” and there is a recognition of the past, and the present poet creates a new work of art. Hence, there is a continuity of literary tradition because every poet writes in tradition.
The author does not mean by tradition the “following of the ways of the immediate generation before us” in blind or timid adherence to its success.” Tradition is a matter of much broader significance,” says the writer. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense. The historical sense, in its turn, “involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past but of its presence.” It compels a man to write with the consciousness of his own generation and with the feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe and of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes an accompanying order. This historical sense makes a writer traditional.
Individual talent is the capability of a poet to retouch and recolor the pastness of the past.No artist or poet of any art has his real value alone. If we want to evaluate him, we must set him among the dead poets. So here, the point is quite clear that the artist must have a historical sense. This historical sense is called the sense of tradition. Of course, Eliot’s conception of individual talent emerges from his reconciling the popular or usual idea of individual talent with the notion of tradition.
Lastly, Eliot also points out the judgment of the new work in the present. He states that the new part of work is assessed by comparing and contrasting the past and the present, which has altered the past. It is not merely done through comparison and contrast but to see the manners in which the present has modified or changed. The present has done to the past. It is to observe the range of changes in the new work of art to the present and to the past and to undermine the values of the past and present, which is equally balanced without damaging the past and the present. Hence, Eliot says this is the real sense of “tradition’.
From the above discussion, we can say that T.S Eliot explains artistically the adjustment between tradition and individual talent. In other words, he reconciles the demands of tradition with those of individual skill. His conception of them makes it clear that tradition and individual talent are closely related. Eliot’s idea of tradition and individual talent cannot be without criticism.