I love learning new words. Helen Gardner, in The Art of T. S. Eliot, taught me a new word: pastiche.
Definition of PASTICHE
1: a literary, artistic, musical, or architectural work that imitates the style of previous work; also : such stylistic imitation
Gardner refers to Eliot’s work, Gerontion, as having a “flavour in it of pastiche.”
We hear his voice through it, but we hear it rather in spite of a voice he is putting on.
It reminded me of a van Gogh painting I had seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, First Steps, After Millet. Van Gogh greatly admired Jean Francois Millet and made multiple copies of his painting, First Steps. Talk about pastiche! If you look at van Gogh’s First Steps and Millet’s First Steps, there is no mistaking which one is the van Gogh.
And yet, I think that, to some extent, to learn our own voice, we must try other voices in the process. In some ways, it sounds as though Eliot resented that part of the process when he said in his British Academy lecture,
Milton made a great epic impossible for succeeding generations; Shakespeare made a great poetic drama impossible; such a situation is inevitable, and it persists until the language has so altered that there is no danger, because no possibility, of imitation…. For a long time after an epic poet like Milton, or a dramatic poet like Shakespeare, nothing can be done. Yet the effort must be repeatedly made…
That Eliot made the effort and persevered is not unlike many great artists who start with imitation and develop into something more. Creative genius needs to be fed and nurtured to come alive. That nurturing and growing process, it would seem, happens in part through imitation of previous masters.
I love watching cooking shows on television, probably because I spend so much time in the kitchen. As I watched Top Chef this week, I thought that the kitchen is not unlike paper and pen, or canvas and brush, or any other art form. Danny Meyer, this week’s guest judge said,
If the food is really delicious and people freak out a little bit with the concept, you might be onto something. It means you’re breaking new ground, and the next thing you want to watch for is how many people copy you.
Breaking new ground in the culinary world is just as challenging as finding a new way to write poetry. People may freak out at first with the concept, but then, just watch how many people choose to copy the new thing.
It seems that in The Four Quartets, T. S. Eliot broke ground.
I can’t wait to get my copy of the book.