Topical overview of my final essay

In case you are interested, here are my first ideas concerning the final essay…

As Haynes states, literature allows the anxieties of society with respect to science and technology that cannot be directly stated; this especially was relevant in the early twentieth century when fears concerning future progress of science, effects of the power of knowledge on the emotional state of individuals and the community as a whole were a prominent topics (Haynes, 1994). In this sense, the idea that the rise of science and technology would lead to a loss of individual liberty and the rise of nationalistic totalitarianism implied the question of the moral responsibility for new findings.

We can find exactly these topics being critically put on the fore and discussed by the American writer W. H. Auden who lived during this period. In his poems and essays he sheds light on the seemingly ambiguous relationship between arts and sciences in modern society. But he also discusses what this relationship actually can mean in the light of living together in such a culture influenced by Christian belief. His answers are far from being clear cut ideas; instead his overall aim rather is to empower the readers of his works to decide on their own what would be ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Auden likes to ‘play’ with words, he sometimes evokes puzzling images contradicting each other, he categorizes human existence and at the same time opposes this rationale as dominant force in our society. In doing so he makes us think and hence critically reviewing our human behaviour in a time of scientific change. Even though his works were at the height during his lifetime, they nevertheless have a remarkable relevance for our today’s society. The influence of science and technology within the context of our knowledge society or economy does more and more affect our human existence. We should not forget about the moral dimensions of new scientific insights and products as being embedded in a socio-cultural context. Auden reminds us of these aspects but at the same time he does not impose moral dogmas onto his readers. He just did what made him most happy and in what he was ‘good’: He wrote poetry.

In my essay I will discuss, by means of a variety of Auden’s poems and essays, the moral dimensions found in his literary universe. I will try to contextualize his works but at the same time I do not claim to promote any Truth in the essentialist sense. My aim in discussing Auden’s works is in line with his own approach: let us actively think about what is going on in our society, let us think about how different notions of science and art construct human life in society that allow for multiple perspectives.


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