Approaching T. S. Eliot’s oeuvre as a coherent whole, this essay argues that his early work registers a set of philosophical difficulties inherited from the epistemological presumptions of the modern university that he gradually reformulates and resists over the course of his intellectual, artistic, and personal development. As Eliot moves from analytic philosophy in his doctoral dissertation through the philosophically invested poetry that culminates in The Waste Land (1922) and, finally, to the autobiographical and participatory idiom of Four Quartets (1943), his work increasingly emphasizes idiosyncratic, incommensurable, and personal modes of understanding over universal structures of knowledge. Attending to the philosophical and aesthetic implications of objective description embodied by the dissertation and the endnotes of The Waste Land, this essay reads the vocal unity, implicative openness, and overt autobiography of Four Quartets as the culmination of a resistance to the fragmented, depersonalizing epistemological dualism that Eliot first began questioning as a graduate student.

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