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T.E. Hulme and the problem of unity. Sanson, Barbara Anne


T. E. Hulme is a controversial figure in modern literary criticism but his influence on the thought of T. S. Eliot and on the principles behind the Imagist movement is assured. Recent critical examinations of him have discovered strong Romantic tendencies in his thought, in spite of his firm anti-Romantic initial stand. This Romanticism is particularly evident in his aesthetics, in the definition of unity he applies to the image. The aim of this paper is to trace the idea of unity through the whole of Hulme's writings, to clarify his definitions of the idea in different contexts, and to try and discover some basis for the particular definition of unity he uses in the case of the image. Hulme's metaphysics delineates the limits of unity and provides his basic definitions of the term. Hulme denies the principle of continuity which he believes to be the basis of Humanism and Romanticism. In place of one all-pervasive unity, he presents a triple structure, in which each realm is different. The realm of ethical and religious values is unified and unchanging. The realm of the knowledge of mathematics and the physical sciences is unified, yet subject to change. The unity of this realm is the product of the human intellect, of its tendency to organize and manipulate the flux of life, reducing it to counter words. The ideas of this realm, which Hulme believes to be finite unities, will change when new facts are introduced. The realm of life is characterized as a continuous state of flux or change and is not unified. Hulme ascribes to Bergson's theory that man has two ways of obtaining knowledge, by intuition and by intellect. Intuition achieves a direct contact with the flux, obtaining an intensive manifold, in which the parts cannot be separated. The intellect divides things into parts, obtaining an extensive manifold. An awkwardness in Hulme's metaphysics is his belief in Original Sin, which makes man a finite unity. This definition of man is a contradiction of his belief that life is flux and change. Whereas Hulme's metaphysics denies a single unified system of reality, his aesthetics postulates the unity of the aesthetic creation. Hulme begins with a mechanistic conception of art which he subsequently contradicts completely. Art occupies a unique place in Hulme's thought, in that he allows it a vital unity which is inconsistent with any of the definitions of unity brought out in the discussion of his metaphysics. Yet the life-in-death which Hulme allows art is only temporary and will decay into commonplace. In the Cinders theory Hulme asserts that plurality is the nature of reality and that relativity is absolute. Unity is impossible, an illusion, on this theory. Yet a work of art emerges in this discussion as a unity, in which the form contains the content completely. Hulme states that art creates another "mystic" world. Art would appear to be the one unity, bringing together all three realms, which according to Hulme's metaphysics must be discontinuous. At the same time, the existence of an artistic unity, unlike the absolute values of religion and ethics, is ephemeral. The idea of unity, in the writings of T. E. Hulme, has different meanings in different contexts.

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