Discussion paper: Approaches to our goal and my road.

By Tuur Ghys

For a change I’d like to call this post rather important, for the first part addresses the whole group (it’s a reflection on how we can tackle this course), and the second is a first try to formulate an idea for my essay. Take it as a discussion paper. Ok, listen up:

What we are actually doing during this course is looking at the influence of science on Auden.

What we actually should do by the end of this course is look at Auden’s influence on Science.

While we could just study science’s influence on poetry, Wiel Kusters has put our end goal to finding out something about the influence of poetry on science, thus going against the stream.

For now I think there are 3 ways to do this, and I hope you all will find more:

1)      Looking for a direct link from Auden’s Poetry towards science. This would be going head-on against the stream and hoping to find direct influence from an artist on the science system. This seems very hard, but if there is something – at all – to be achieved with this approach, I think Rick’s idea could work: Looking at what influence Auden as a person had on scientists and the science system, at what changes he made.

2)      Looking for an indirect link from Auden’s Poetry towards science. This seems to be the most common sense way to tackle this assignment. Since direct influence from poetry as a system on politics seems unreal, we can look for indirect (but real) influence – thus adding one system. For example we could look at how Poetry influences politics, and how politics influence Science. Same for Religion and other things. Given that Wiel Kusters did not give us an impossible assignment, I think many of us will find this a successful road.  

3)      Looking at how Auden’s Poetry redefined the influence of science. This is my third way. Instead of trying to go against the Science à Poetry influence stream, I want to go with it and reflect on what happens. If Auden makes clear what influence science has on poetry as an art/profession, he tells us something about what science does (influence), therefore he (re)defines what science is. If you change the properties of something (including what effect it has on other things) you change its identity.

Enough of this now, onwards to how my first idea for the essay. I will take this 3rd road, and explain it a bit more.

I want to look at science’s influence on poetry (as a profession/system in culture) according Auden. As mentioned above this will tell us something about science, since it highlights effects of science we didn’t think about earlier. Who knew about the effects of science on the career of poets? Since Identity is not only created by self definition, but also by the relation to others, the relation (influence) science has to other systems redefines science. So far the recap of my previous argument.

More concrete, I’m intrigued by Auden’s analysis of what influenced the changing position of the Poet in modernity displayed in The Poet and the City. I want to hijack his point and wrap it up in my own cultural science discourse, thus looking at the effects of science on the survival of the archetype of the poet – or the bard, as Auden might put it.

What does it bring?  Well by doing so we might find out more about the influence of science on figures and identities in our society. I see this as just a case study of the influence of science on life, and will probably present this in the form of a romantic warning against the loss of identity. Showing what scientists can do to poets offers them an entry to reflect on what – the hell – they are doing.

If you are still reading, I would now like to address some self-criticism and discuss the problems I see arising with this idea:

-First off all I am stuck with Auden. If I want to make more general claims about science and cultural figures (archetype is such a weighty word) I shoot myself in the leg by basing myself on one poet. I will also need more relevant texts. Thus I will have to be very specific and explicit about how I use Auden in this topic, and be humble in my claims.

-Second and connected to this, I might be impressed by the Poet and the City, but I also think Auden is wrong at some points and that the role of the poet-figure in modernity is bigger (we should look beyond the West) than he might ascribe to it. So I will bring in other authors, which again brings the risk of going off the Auden topic.

-Third this topic is limited because I might not have a lot to add to Auden himself. I’m impressed by his essay, and I wonder how I can top it. I’m not a poet, but I’m writing about a poet (Auden), for a poet (Kusters), thus I will need to empower myself with some authority and very hard arguments if I want to add to this debate.  

[ The good thing is that now I have the freedom to fully ‘respect’ Auden since he writes about poetry, while on other topics I find it hard to take him as an authority. But this might also be fruitful if I might write a plan B essay, for example about how Auden is a decadent hypocrite who likes to talk with a Marxist accent but flees from all real action. The decadence discourse would be fairly easy (comparing him to fellow gay poet Oscar Wilde), but then the link to Science is lost. Anyways, Comments on plan A please. ]

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