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     Eliot: Definition of Culture

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    Abdul-Settar Abdul-Latif
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    PostSubject: Eliot: Definition of Culture   Fri Feb 08, 2008 4:42 am



    In Notes Towards a Definition of Culture (NTDC) Eliot develops the concept of the cultural nation as an "organic" structure, which allows him to differentiate it from the political nation: Whereas the cultural nation is seen as a tree that "must grow; you cannot build a tree, you can only plant it, and care for it, and wait for it to mature in its due time" (15), the political nation is seen as a machine, i.e., as a human made artificial structure ("Unity" 19). This distinction helps to explain why Eliot can become a naturalized British citizen in 1927 while maintaining the sense of being an American: His naturalization is a political decision and distinct from his inherited local loyalties to the regional cultures of his childhood -- loyalties that are not the result of a conscious choice but of time -- taking about one or two generations to mature (NTDC 52). Whereas Eliot merely concedes that cultural and political nation depend upon and affect each other ("Unity" 118), Frost sees both as an inseparable unit when saying: "I've about decided I am an American -- U.S.A." ("Assurance" 222), with "America" signifying the cultural, and "U.S.A." the political nation. Consequently, he cannot feel equally loyal to both England and America: "My politics are wholly American. ... I suppose I care for my country in all the elemental ways in which I care for myself. My love of country is my self-love. My love of England is my love of friends" ("To John W. Haines" [1916] 205). The fact that Frost equates his love of America with "self-love," whereas he regards his love of England only as "love of friends," demonstrates the "bifocal concept" (Hagenbüchle 6) underlying his cultural and national identity formation: In order to determine his own identity, it is necessary for him to define "the other." It also shows how closely Frost's self-awareness is linked to his sense of belonging to a particular region or nation, a sense of local rootedness that Eliot apparently lacks: "Some day I want to write an essay about the point of view of an American who wasn't an American, because he was born in the South and went to school in New England as a small boy with a nigger drawl, but who wasn't a southerner in the South because his people were northerners in a border state and looked down on all southerners and Virginians, and who so was never anything anywhere and who therefore felt himself to be more a Frenchman than an American and more an Englishman than a Frenchman and yet felt that the U.S.A. up to a hundred years ago was a family extension" (Eliot, qtd. in Read 15).
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