Metaphysics as a Means in “Burnt Norton”

Philosophers' Imprint (forthcoming)
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Philosophy-and-literature as a subfield theorizes about the relationship between the two. Though few would explicitly say that philosophy is the point and literature the means, it’s common to see discussions of literature serving as an expression of philosophical insight and uncommon to see discussions of philosophical ideas put in service of literature. So, the aim of this paper is to explore, and suggest one concrete instance of, a literary work where philosophical concepts are instrumental for literary ends. The metaphysical claims in T.S. Eliot’s “Burnt Norton” are not there to make a philosophical point, but to create a new sense of a lyric “now” that produces a time internal to the poem. This is a poetic achievement, and philosophical utterances help to produce the lyric now by foregrounding temporal readerly phenomenology. The example enriches our understanding of the possible relationships between philosophy and literature.

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Hannah Kim
University of Arizona


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