2 points about The Dyer’s Hand: essays & his political face


I’ve read this text with great interest, since it is relevant for my essay, but In this post I will not touch on those things that I want to use / find interesting for Auden’s view on science & culture. I will make two other points who might help to a more general understand of Auden the writer.  

 As some of you that read this text might have noticed, it strongly overlaps with the essay’s we have read (like the Virgin & the Dynamo), they make the same argument and certain parts are just copied. The difference is that this is a lecture, and is presented as one long talk/argument.

One effect is that he makes the same arguments as in the essays, but in a less abstract manner. There is less wordplay and more argument, and I’d claim that this presentation is an easier, less problematic read. Maybe it is simply better. Of course both text have value since they differ in the elaborations and additional points (both are worth reading despite the overlap).

 A second point is that in this text Auden sheds a lot of light on his relation to Marxism and communism. It’s clear enough for me to draw conclusions:

– Next to his usual bread ‘n butter Marxist remarks, he goes straight against Marx is this text. On p. 548 he calls him an animist who’s feet are of the ground. On page. 568 he also ‘makes nonsense of any doctrine of historical necessity’(clearly directed at Marxism), and ends with the ironical “Highbrows and Lowbrows of the World, unite!”. So far for his mysterious relationship to Marx: at least at this point of his life, and in this text, he clearly takes sides against him.

– At many points in this texts he indirectly refers to the Soviet Union (I won’t point them all out) in a negative way. This makes clear that he is not a ‘fellow traveler’ type of left intellectual (I don’t think he’s left at all by the way, but I can’t conclude that from this text). While ‘fellow traveler’ has a bad connotation to us now, I don’t think that in his times it would have been that unusual to be – we don’t really disrespect Sartre for it.

–  Only by the very use of the word ‘totalitarian’ Auden locates himself in the ‘totalitarianism’ camp. By that I mean the camp of those who support the totalitarianism thesis (that puts communism, fascism and Nazism on the same line) and use it as a rhetorical weapon during the cold war. While in our times most people are more or less in this camp by default since it’s the dominant discourse (it’s almost cliché), in his times this was clearly taking sides.

–  When talking about society and politics Auden annoys me by moments because he (aware or not) seems to take a very elitist stance. When he things of (problems of) identity, he thinks of kings and high-class people. He only talks about the lower class either 1) as half idiots being part of the evil and fallen ‘public’, 2) as the victims of ‘the other camp’ of the cold war, as if they were all deceived subject (leaving out the possibility that they might also want credit for the incredible achievements of the work they do for their society). Auden makes it seem as if there lived no communists (outside the leaders) in the communist camp – to me a ridicules, naïve and condescending idea – regardless the reality of propaganda. 3) when he needs them for rhetorical reasons as the innocent, idealized ‘common man’ to side with him against bureaucracy. Of course we have to see him within his timeframe, but he gives me the strong impression to relate towards the ordinary people in either a paternalistic or populist way.     

Ok, I got carried away a bit by playing devils (?) advocate for the Soviets there, but I conclude that Auden:

– Cannot be called a Marxist.

– Was not a ‘left intellectual’ to the standards of his time (compared to real ones).

– Was (at least in the latter period) clearly in the West, British, conservative/capitalist, totalitarian-thesis camp of the cold war.   

Leaving my personal arguments in this text alike, I think we can take these conclusions as facts unless I’m proven wrong.

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