Comments on The Vergin & The Dynamo

Comments on The Vergin & The Dynamo (Auden, 1962).

 BY TUUR GHYS

 Instead of giving a summary or general interpretation of this essay, I would like to single out some elements of this text that struck and triggered me, and elaborate on them. 

 First of all, I see this essay as one big statement, instead of an argumentation. It is to some extend and argument because the essay is chronological, and the statements built upon each other in a deductive way. But Auden does not, however, give any warrant for his claims at any point. To me this essay is rather ‘liked or disliked’ than ‘approved or falsified’. This interesting way of writing an essay gives a certain form of freedom (from warrants) to both writer and reader.

    We are more or less steered (by the briefing of this course) to see the following quote as a main point in the essay: “Without Art, we could have no notion of Liberty; without Science no notion of Equality; without either, therefore, no notion of Justice” (p. 62). When I take this as a (political) claim on Liberty and Equality, it would just be another catchy (dweperige) quote among a long line of quotes (regardless their possible truth!), maybe next to Moa’s ‘power grows out of the barrel of a gun’. No impressive at first sight. When I take this as a claim on Art and Science (and their unexpected positive effects), things get interesting for it gives us a new way to explore these concepts in our research.

    On page 67 Auden makes the interesting observation that poetry is not a craft. I wonder in how far this also applies for science and research. If science is not a craft (in Auden example of the carpenter), it adds something to the debate on how to grade manual vs. intellectual labor. What we do in a university might not be better or more valuable than the work of craftsman (they might have good arguments to claim the opposite), but at least we can claim it is more problematic: If I write a paper, I don’t know how the end product will look like, and will always have to bear a certain degree of nervousness and uncertainty about my own abilities.

The three dogmas of a Poet’s art on p. 69-70 strongly intrigued me when I read them, and are for me the most interesting part of this essay. Unlike in the first point I made (on freedom and equality), I think it is interesting to take these presuppositions outside the context of art, for I think they also have a moral value for society. I can see a parallel with my own writing (bachelor thesis) on why our society still hasn’t fixed the problem of poverty. Allow me the following experiment and loosely replace ‘Historical world’ with ‘Vulnerable people’ in the text:

1)      Vulnerable people exist, and their existence as people is a good – thus humans have an intrinsic value (humanism, human rights).

2)      Their state of existence is fallen, full of unfreedom and disorder – thus acknowledging that our society is not perfect and suffering exists (recognition of the problem).

3)      The vulnerable people are redeemable people – thus acknowledging that our society is broken but can be fixed (recognition of responsibility).

This is a parallel to my thesis that in order to solve poverty in our western democracies the majority first needs[1] to recognize 1) the unconditional value of a human 2) the problem, 3) the possibility of solving it. For Auden these assumptions are presuppositions of his art. Without art, we could have no notion of…


[1] And my claim continues that if they don’t the problem of poverty will never be solved, because capitalism produces poverty by default. Therefore we need a humanist cultural/moral revolution.

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