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The Modernist Party$
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Kate McLoughlin

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780748647316

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748647316.001.0001

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Prufrock, Party-Goer: Tongue-Tied at Tea1

Prufrock, Party-Goer: Tongue-Tied at Tea1

(p.45) Chapter 2 Prufrock, Party-Goer: Tongue-Tied at Tea1
The Modernist Party

Kate McLoughlin

Edinburgh University Press

In ‘Prufrock, Party-Goer: Tongue-Tied at Tea’, Kate McLoughlin investigates social performance in the context of JÜ;rgen Habermas’s theories of communicative action. The putative tea-party in T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ (written 1910-11) is, in Habermasian terms, a less than ideal public sphere; Prufrock and his interlocutors lack the necessary ‘communicative competence’ with which to reach common understanding. Disclosing the affinities between Habermas’s ideas and the philosophies of Josiah Royce and F. H. Bradley (studied by Eliot at Harvard), the chapter explores why Eliot chose to locate communicative failure in an occasion so apparently benign as a tea-party. The party becomes ‘an alien ritual, possible formally to describe but not to enter into […] unsusceptible both to external explanation and to internal communication’.

Keywords:   T. S. Eliot, ’The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.’, Tea-parties, JÜ;rgen Habermas, Communicative action, The public sphere, Performance anxiety

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