Alexander Chee pulled this out of the Faber archives and posted it on Twitter yesterday (I'm starting to think he's rooting around in my dissertation for inspiration!). It's TS Eliot's recommendation that Faber publish Nightwood.
Eliot sort of adopted Barnes, acting on her behalf to get the novel published, and contributing an introduction once it was. The theory of course being that if someone with as exalted taste as TS Eliot endorsed Barnes's book, it would appeal to a more general audience. And who knows– maybe it would improve his street cred, too, as the father of modernism struggled to stay relevant with the cognoscenti in the late 1930s. (Kind of like if James Wood wrote the introduction to a really far-out experimental prose-poem published by Salt or Soft Skull, to show he really isn't a curmudgeon about anything that isn't Flaubertian realism.)*
Of course, more recent feminist critics have scoffed at Eliot's introduction, reading it as a condescending attempt to legitimize or control this uncontrollable carnivalesque text. (Out of curiosity, I wonder what James Wood thinks of Nightwood? Now that would be an essay worth reading.) If this is the case, I'm sure it was not Eliot's intention to do so; rather, his idiom is so different from Barnes's that the introduction seems a little absurd, given the kind of language that follows. And Eliot seems to be aware of this: "When the question is raised, of writing an introduction to a book of a creative order, I always feel that the few books worth introducing are exactly those which it is an impertinence to introduce." He then goes on to express his doubt that he has understood the novel– he says only that it took him "some time to come to an appreciation of its meaning as a whole," and that he believes it will appeal mainly to readers of poetry.
In my view, this is because the novel's language is at once so radical– just as Eliot himself was once perceived to be– and so deeply entrenched in the English literary tradition (not to mention the French and the German) that it calls for readers who are accustomed to truly paying attention to the language of what they are reading. To say of a novel that it deserves to be read by those who read poetry is, I think, high praise. ( Andrew Seal further considers this aspect of Eliot's introduction.)
*Not that he is. He loved Rifka Galchen, didn't he? & etc. I personally don't care if he is or isn't. And I do love TS Eliot– Prufrock, The Wasteland and the essays you have to read in grad school, "Tradition and the Individual Talent" and "Ulysses, Order, and Myth." And, of course, if you are familiar with these essays, then it makes perfect sense that Eliot would have appreciated Nightwood.