T. S. Eliot and Metaphysical Laughter: A Phenomenology of Reading

Author's Department

English & Comparative Literature Department

Document Type

Research Article

Publication Title

Analecta Husserliana

Publication Date





Since its early reception in the world of letters, T. S. Eliot’s short poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” has been praised as an original study of the modern malaise and also rebuked for testing the intellectual patience of its readers. The poem has been examined as a representation of modernity itself and also read as an anticipation of Eliot’s later stance as a religious poet and social critic. However, the purpose of this paper has been determined according to what might be called the poem’s appeal to the modern reader, which, in my view, undercuts both a purely thematic treatment of literature and the more dogmatic approach that emphasizes the emergence of a religious motif in much modern writing. By examining the place of the reader in “Prufrock,” therefore, I will discuss how the poem itself can be appreciated as an attempt to elicit “metaphysical laughter” through metonymy, irony and comic excess, and to engage the reader in a new quest for spiritual abundance.

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