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Durham University

Department of English Studies


We host a large number of conferences, lectures and seminars each year, many of them open to the public. Subscribe to our monthly North East Literature Events newsletter and we'll keep you posted. If you are a staff member or student and want to publicise your event, contact

Late Summer Lectures 2020

T.S. Eliot and the Anxious Body

2nd September 2020, 17:30 to 19:00, Online (Zoom), Cécile Varry (Université de Paris)

Since mental health has obtained as much attention and priority as physical health in recent years, this lecture will evaluate the anxious bodies seen in T.S. Eliot's poems and his reaction to their tension.

By Cécile Varry (Université de Paris)

The bodies in T. S. Eliot’s poetry need to calm down. They twist, clutch, cling, wriggle, sprout, and burn. In a word, Eliot’s bodies are anxious.

How do you soothe the anxious body? The drastic solution suggested at the start of Eliot’s first collection of poems (1917) is to put it to sleep artificially (‘Like a patient etherized upon a table’). This is followed by more violent approaches: head chopping, impaling, flattening; and finally, at the end of an irresistible seaward movement, drowning. But the body always comes back, it always clings on.

This paper explores Eliotic tension as something of the body, giving rise to a conflicted, overpowering desire for physical loosening.

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