"The Man who Suffers and the Mind which Creates':
the Dialectics of Personal Experience in War and Modernity Poetry" (2009–2010)
Supervised by Professor Patricia Rae
The antagonism between war and modernist poets inherited by today’s scholars originates from conflicts of that period. Our understanding of this antagonism is forever mediated by the longevity of the modernists’ reception of war poetry. While the modernists frame their complaints about the unoriginality of war poetry as aesthetic concerns, these divisive allegations obscure the fact that these aesthetic concerns are influenced by more significant ideological differences. The true intersection between war and modernist poetry lies in their divergent attitudes on the position of personal expression in poetry.
Modernists, in their reception of war poetry, postured themselves in opposition to the war poets as the poets for their time. After all, once the Armistice was signed in 1919, there was little need for the poetry of protest, there was little need to evoke empathy, as the slow realization of the aftermaths of war was finally transpiring. Innovation and experimentation replaced the soldier poets’ insistent cries of for truth and peace, offering new possibilities of expression, and moved away from the political to the impersonal. Indeed, modernist literature flourished during the inter-war years, dominating Britain and America.
The threat of war in the mid to late 1930s marked the regeneration of war poetry, albeit in a hybrid poetic form, merging political concerns with elements of modernist experimentation. Poems, such as W. H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939,” in which the speaker watches “As the clever hopes expire/ Of a low dishonest decade” (4–5), would not have been possible without the dialectic antagonism between the modernists and soldier poets during and subsequent to the Great War.
What was lost by modernists in their repudiation of the lyric “I”/eyewitness account, the power and necessity of empathy in a world of ‘simulation,’ was eventually rediscovered. The immediacy of Auden’s speaker’s lyric self resonates with the accusatory timbre of Owen and Sassoon as he asserts: “All I have is a voice/To undo the folded lie” “the lie of Authority/Whose buildings grope the sky” (78–9; 82–3). But the allusive difficulty of the distinctly Modernist epistemological investigation remains as, “dotted everywhere,/Ironic points of light/Flash out wherever the Just/Exchange their messages” (91–4).
"Reading the Fragmented Text:
the Love Poetry of Catullus and Horace" (2006–2008)
Supervised by Professor Ross S. Kilpatrick
We can never really know someone in love, or whether someone is in love, because, where love is concerned, we fall into timeless paradigms. When it comes to poetry, we can never truly know a poet because a poet is veiled in the persona of the poem. Thus, though a poet in love is doubly concealed by persona and paradigm, since there exist elements that both unite and distinguish a poet in love, it is is possible to read how poets (re)present the self-in-love.
With guidance from the critical theories of Jacques Lacan on the relationship of the “imaginary” with the divided self, of Roland Barthes on the “lover’s discours,” and of William Batstone on “the point of reception,” I challenge the traditional role of the reader, explores the limits of reception and textual reconstruction while examining how Horace and Catullus portray themselves in love. By considering our understanding of persona and the paradigm of love influence our conceptions of love in Roman love poetry, I will argue in this essay that such poetry is more than just a confessional trope. If we consider the self as akin to a fragmented text, love poetry, as a form of self-reflection, is singularly suited to uniting the soul’s divided self.
Jacques Lacan defines “poetry as the sole instrument adequate to an investigation of love." Along with Plato and Sigmund Freud, Lacan makes a connection between desire and the need to express the self through art. As described by Micaela Janan in When the Lamp is Shattered (1994), desire and need are particularly related in Catullus’ Lesbia narrative. It is also present in the way Horace portrays himself as in love in the first book of the Odes.
Horace and Catullus offer an important comparison to each other, since we see Catullus as the genesis of love poetry and we often understand Horace as the antithesis of the Catullan amator, despite their similarities. I will examine of how Horace and Catullus portray themselves in love, informed by an analysis of questions of authorial intent and the problems of reception, and will argue that poetry be considered as a mode of genuine self-expression and reflection, challenging the traditional relationship of the poet and the reader.
"Establishing the Ambiguity of Prophecy
in Books 6 and 8 of Vergil's Aeneid" (2005-2006)
Supervised by Professor Anthony Barrett
W. H. Auden’s poem “Secondary Epic” (1955) problematizes the structure, content, and function of Vergil's Aeneid. In this epic, the poet illustrates a time before Augustus was princeps, a time before the Rome was a Republic, a time even before the Romulus and Remus set their sights on those auspicious seven hills. This can be a difficult images for both his contemporary Roman audience and readers of posterity. Together they stand alongside Aeneas and Evander atop the glorious Palantine of the future while, in the present, they can look out over the present and past splendours of Rome. Vergil demands his readers to imagine something they can already see, a process complicated by the possibility that this "future" Rome in the Aeneid may not be the Rome they are currently viewing.
This complication is most tangible in Vergil's representation of Augustus as a pre-destined saviour of the Roman state and people. To establish this fate, Vergil employs prophecy as a literary device that both structures and effaces the constructed nature of Augustus' divine authority as princeps. There are two functions of prophecy in the Aeneid. First, prophecy constructs a link between the diegetic (mythic or literary) and extra-diegetic (historical) narrative events to extend the significance of the prophecies' themes by offering a prescribed interpretation of these events. Second, as protreptic or didactic device, prophecy establishes the importance of ambiguity as a means of interpretation. To help his readers navigate these ambiguities, Vergil establishing Aeneas, the hero of the epic, as a reader of events and situations from within and beyond his own narrative as a model by which his contemporary Romans might resist and deconstruct the narrative Augustus himself gradually established to justify his own authority.