Idea for essay – what else?


Since I’m disappointed in Auden’s political views (his bread’n’butter Marxism and ‘conservatief gemopper op pantoffels’), I want to make sure that during this course I learn things from Auden in his own domain – taking him as the scholar in poetry he is.

As mentioned on the blog, in my essay I will look at at science’s influence on poetry (as a profession/system in culture) according Auden. As I explained this would be the 3rd way to look at the relation between science and poetry.

If I can show (by analyzing Auden’s writing) what science does (to poetry), it tells us something about what science is. Therefore the notion of science is redefined, because next to self definition things are also identified by how other things see it. So by making the whole relation clear, poetry is in some way ‘fighting back’ to science, in a truth speaking empowering way.

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.

I’ve written some essays during the bachelor on the survival of archetypical figures (the explorer, the warrior), and how culture deals with and compensates for their disappearance. This is a topic which fascinated me throughout the bachelor and I hope to one day construct a theory around it (in a PHD or thesis):

“The relation between what mankind could have done , can do in the present and to be more precise can be. Certain ancient cultural figures, archetypes and identities are not available anymore (like explorers, due to the lack of land to be explored), whilst people could still embody others (pirates). What I desire is to study how these figures have ‘disappeared’ throughout history and to explore the possible causes in the field of both social constructions (for example warriors are bound to a pre-modern society that doesn’t have a professional army) and technology (Gunpowder had an impact on the disappearance of the warrior and technologies like Google-Earth exclude the possibility of finding unexplored land). The most interesting cases are those in which the social conditions influence the technology. Besides this, I also want to study the cultural impact of the loss of particular cultural figures, and how art (in a wide meaning, including videogames and animated movies) compensates for this. Culture allows these figures to hibernate, and maybe one day return” (from my CAST motivation letter)

It would be nice if I could use Auden and poets as a case in this broader framework. The big problem is that I will lack authority to say a lot about the figure of the poet myself, since I’m writing about (Auden) and to (you) a poet. So I will have to stick close to Auden own theories. This it will be a very humble claim (on how Auden thinks that science influences the poet, not on how it is in general). The big advantage is that I find Auden’s work very rich in this regard.
Not only does he offer alternatives for the whole archetype discourse (talking about ‘sacred beings’ or ‘eternal characters’ in some of his essays) which, while I use it a lot, I’m starting to feel uncomfortable with it. Auden also makes very interesting points on culture, and the whole alchemical notion we discussed in class appeals to me. Matter of fact, what you told in class about culture as something that can carry things that are gone in reality over time and from which they may rise up again – is what I up till then thought of as my own conception of culture. You used an earth metaphor, while I used an air one in my last paper on Zeppelins:

“We will claim that this technology first evaporated from history, underwent a long hibernation in culture, until its idea finally condensed – like a dewdrop – back into a material form”

Now the big challenge is to wrap this all up into a coherent essay, and not to drift off topic (I already failed in this text). I want to go for richness, but I don’t want to write a whole thesis so I will try to go for a rigid argument and pump the richness in the illustrations and side remarks. I hope to somehow be able to add a normative edge to the essay.


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.

Main question: What is the influence of science on poetry (and culture at large?) according to Auden?

Sub questions:

– What is the role of science in general according to Auden?

– What is the role of the poet according to Auden?

– How did the figure of the poet survive over time, what happened to him (as far as connected to science)?

– What can be said about the status of the poet in modernity, regardless Auden? (for example in other societies like the Sovjet Union, which is one of my favorite sidetracks).

– What are the consequences of science for poetry afterwards?

– What does this tell us about science?

– What does this tell us about the survival of cultural figures?

– What does this (or at least Auden) tell us about culture?

How can I solve my main question about science ßà poets?

– By looking at Auden’s essays on this topic.

– By learning from what we as a group find out about the relation Auden & Science by analyzing poems. 

I will look for the essays, and take in the conclusions from the poems as they come. This way I can connect in a meaningful way to our group work.


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