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Title:W. H. Auden's documentary vision
Author(s):Bryant, Marsha Carol
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Nelson, Cary
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Fine Arts
Literature, English
Abstract:In the destabilized England and America of the 1930s, many artists turned to the documentary method for representing and interpreting social reality. But W. H. Auden came to question this approach in Letters from Iceland, Spain, and Journey to a War. All three works explore the powers and limits of perception. By offering competing and contradictory ways of seeing, they reveal a visual instability at the center of Auden's career--which prefigures the uneasy mixture of the external world and allegorized landscapes in the long poems. Crucial to Auden's experiments are his photographs in the travel books.
Letters from Iceland reflects Auden's film work with its radically disjunctive form: lists, quotations, Auden's photographs, and poems and prose by Auden and by Louis MacNeice. The often disorienting photographs blur the line between observer and observed. With the camera eye Auden can connect random images and events while avoiding the causal logic of narrative or the rhetorical logic of expository prose. Demystifying the high modernist collage, he presents this inherently public form as a necessary way of apprehending the external world.
Auden could not translate his encounter with the Spanish Civil War into a documentary text. His dispatch "Impressions of Valencia" confuses perspective and spatial relations like the Iceland photographs. As he continues to write about the war, Auden retreats from concrete representation so that in Spain the country is emptied of distinguishing features. Its use of the definite article invites misinterpretation, teasing its readers to fill in abstract representations with their own images.
Auden turns to the Sino-Japanese War much more distrustful of documentary. Journey to a War combines verbal and visual representations: the opening poems, Christopher Isherwood's diary, a "Picture Commentary" of Auden's photographs, and the sonnet sequence In Time of War. By constructing precarious relationships among these competing genres, Auden creates a self-conscious, unstable text. Both writers must acknowledge the imperialist vision they inherit from Britain--Journey to a War marks their negotiations to allow the Chinese a reciprocal gaze. The book shows Auden's ultimate rejection of documentary by questioning the acts of seeing and recording.
Issue Date:1989
Rights Information:Copyright 1989 Bryant, Marsha Carol
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI8924778
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI8924778

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