Writing in the dark: exile and identity in the poetry of W.H. Auden, Joseph Brodsky and George Szirtes

Murphy, M., 2000. Writing in the dark: exile and identity in the poetry of W.H. Auden, Joseph Brodsky and George Szirtes. PhD, Nottingham Trent University.

10183374.pdf - Published version

Download (42MB) | Preview


This thesis examines the work of W.H. Auden (1907-1973), Joseph Brodsky (1940- 1996), and George Szirtes (b. 1948) in relation to their differing experiences of exile. In my introductory chapter I give a brief overview of those similarities and distinguishable patterns that exist in their writings, and which tell us important things about the ways in which exile has come to be a defining feature of, and give a precise identity to, aspects of modem European and American poetry.

Chapter One examines how, by emigrating to America and becoming a voluntary exile, Auden looked to escape a certain kind of limiting and parochial Englishness. It also saw him attempting to jettison W.B. Yeats's influence, an influence which Auden came to recognise as providing a negative role model for the complex relationship between public and private selves. These themes, the chapter argues, are most fully worked out in the series of great elegies contained in the third section of Another Time (1940) in which Auden examines the 'Just City' from the perspective of the exile. As a result, Auden was able to write about the plight of German and German-Jewish refugees with a sensitivity that may have been impossible in England. In developing this argument, this chapter then focuses on Auden's long poem, 'New Year Letter' (1941), in which his sense of alienation in New York is compared to his English childhood. What is of central importance here is that the formative childhood experiences which Auden describes are contained in a remarkable passage written in German. Certain experiences, Auden seems to be suggesting, cannot be defined by or limited to a single language.

'Displacement and misplacement,' Joseph Brodsky wrote, 'are this century's commonplaces.' In Chapter Two I examine how Brodsky's poetry developed out of his experience of reading and translating English and American poetry while he was an internal exile in the Soviet Union. When, after his expulsion from Russia in 1973, he found himself in America, Brodsky's work became an attempt at rediscovering a sense of both a personal and cultural identity through his engagement with the English language. Thus the boundaries he crossed were both geographic and linguistic. This chapter charts the development of Brodsky's unique form of cultural hybridity through such important poems as 'Elegy for John Donne', 'Verses on the Death of T.S. Eliot', 'Elegy: for Robert Lowell' and 'Lithuanian Nocturne'.

George Szirtes has consistently examined how the objective events of history become intermingled with the private material of memory. Chapter Three looks at the ways in which Szirtes's work examines and integrates the exile's experience of a necessarily fragmented past, using these fragments to construct and integrate an identity for ourselves in the present. This aspect of Szirtes's work, in particular the use he makes of photographs and photographic techniques - i.e montage - to write about the relationship between memory and memorial, is discussed in relation to Surrealism, and artists such as Christian Boltanski, Diane Arbus and Andre Kertesz.

In proposing that these writers share aspects of a coherent poetics of exile, my chief methodologies are the writings of Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) and Theodor Adomo (1903-1969). Adopting certain key concerns of Marxist and Freudian theory - particularly their analyses of alienation - Critical Theory saw in literature the means of uncovering evidence of ideological attempts to distort human consciousness. As such, the Frankfurt School provides a model for reading emigre texts which examine both the material conditions of exile and the effect this has on the individual and on society.

Item Type: Thesis
Creators: Murphy, M.
Date: 2000
ISBN: 9781369315790
Divisions: Schools > School of Arts and Humanities
Record created by: Linda Sullivan
Date Added: 22 Sep 2020 10:01
Last Modified: 16 Aug 2023 10:01
URI: https://irep.ntu.ac.uk/id/eprint/40870

Actions (login required)

Edit View Edit View


Views per month over past year


Downloads per month over past year