Nearing the post-secular: Unity of Being in the later poetry of T.S. Eliot and W.B. Yeats
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This dissertation investigates the ways in which the quest for Unity of Being in the later poetry of W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot anticipate what is now known as the “post-secular”. The term “Unity of Being” is drawn from Yeats’s understanding of this phrase, and this study attempts to connect it to Eliot’s thoughts on unity and his dialectical imagination. The focus on unity in their later works invite just such a comparison. Unity of Being, as Yeats understands it, is an all-inclusive, co-existent wholeness energised by an antinomial engagement of opposites. This wholeness may be understood in comparison to concepts such as oneness, harmony, wholeness, and interconnectivity. In order to compare and examine Yeats and Eliot’s shared quest, a three-point model outlining Unity of Being is tested against their later works. These points include 1) a grappling with opposites, 2) ensuing inarticulacy, and 3) a capacity for eudaimonic incarnation. The aim of Yeats and Eliot’s quest is to attain glimpses of Unity of Being, the unity they perceive as the underlying current of life which is nonetheless only partially attainable within life. Their quest involves a sometimes-violent grappling with the opposites that hold eudaimonic potential; it leads to realisation, wholeness, even joy. The study of Yeats and Eliot’s quest towards Unity of Being therefore relates to eudaimonic studies, that is, it is concerned with investigating configurations of well-being attainable through the warring of the opposites. By employing a “hermeneutics of affirmation” instead of Paul Ricouer’s infamous “hermeneutics of suspicion” and its demystification strategies, this study will investigate Yeats and Eliot’s unique quest for Unity of Being by considering certain markers of well-being, specifically those shaped by the secular-transcendent dichotomy. In their questing, Yeats and Eliot grapple with the secular and the religious, concepts commonly thought to be directly opposed. This secular-transcendent intermingling is at the heart of current post-secular studies, which question the sharp distinction between the secular and the religious, a distinction resulting from the process of secularisation. The mid-twentieth century was dominated by the advancement of scientifically dominated standards that awaited the decline of religion’s significance in society and academic practice. In the early twenty-first century, however, the religious turn in the humanities renewed interest in traditionally religious concerns, initiating a collective attempt to establish a renewed synthesis between secular and transcendent ways of seeing. The dissertation will focus on the important recognition that Yeats and Eliot’s exploration of the relations between the secular and the religious anticipate this post-secular synthesis. The nature of their quest and the pressures of Modernism anachronistically pushed them in the direction of this development. As Modernists, Yeats and Eliot wrote during the “Age of Anxiety” and partook in its religious crisis and the ensuing syncretic search for religious experience. Their syncretic search also gave way to a pursuit of secular concerns alongside religious and transcendental beliefs.
- Humanities