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Durham University

Department of English Studies

Event Archive

This is an archive of past events within the Department of English Studies. Please see our current events for forthcoming activities.

Some of our public events are recorded and are available as podcasts via our Research English At Durham blog.

T.S. Eliot and the Anthropology of the Primitive

9th September 2015, 17:30 to 19:00, Alington House, Duygu Senocak

The fourth lecture in our series of Late Summer Lectures looks at the sources and methods used by the poet T.S. Eliot, in his epic modernist work, The Waste Land.

Eliot’s notes to The Waste Land stimulated an investigation of anthropology as a fertile source of his poetry. Although the assessment of the famous “mythical method” has often been confined to the Frazerian comparative method (The Golden Bough 1890), Eliot was a copious reader of anthropology whose range went beyond James George Frazer, to include names such as Max Müller, Edward Burnett Tylor, Emile Durkheim, and Lucien Lévy-Bruhl. This paper will, first, offer an account of the modernist interest in the so-called “primitive” culture and Eliot’s anthropological influences and then proceed to demonstrate how Eliot formed his own theories about “primitive mentality” in the light of the findings and deficiencies in ethnographic studies of his time. This paper argues that Eliot’s intellectual input, particularly his attempt to make a conjunction between primitive mysticism and poetry, bears a greater affinity with the mid-20th century anthropologies of Ernst Cassirer and Claude Lévi-Strauss than it does with Frazerian mythography. While Cassirer’s work links “mythical thought” with the ritualistic roots of poetry, Lévi-Strauss’s concept of “bricolage” offers a procedural model for the “mythical method.”

About Late Summer Lectures

Now in its sixth year, the Late Summer Lecture Series enables doctoral and postdoctoral student from the Department of English in Durham, Newcastle, and York to broadcast their ground-breaking research to a wider audience. The full programme for the latest instalment is now available for viewing on the Late Summer Lecture Series website, and reflects the diverse and exploratory nature of research currently undertaken by scholars in the North East.

Podcasts from previous lecture series can be downloaded via Research English At Durham.

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Research in English At Durham (READ) blog showcasing the the literary research emerging from the Department of English Studies


We host a large number of conferences, lectures and seminars each year, many of them open to the public. Find out more on our Events page.


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