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Masteroppgave Hedda Lingaas Fossum

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  • Wicked at all times.

    Original Sin in W. H. Audens anti-totalitarian

    political philosophy

    Hedda Lingaas Fossum

    A Thesis Presented to

    The Department of Literature, Area Studies and European Languages

    University of Oslo

    in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the MA Degree

    Spring 2014

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    Wicked at all times.

    Original Sin in W. H. Audens anti-totalitarian political philosophy

    Hedda Lingaas Fossum

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    Hedda Lingaas Fossum

    2014

    Wicked at all times. Original Sin in W. H. Audens anti-totalitarian political philosophy.

    Hedda Lingaas Fossum

    http://www.duo.uio.no/

    Trykk: Reprosentralen, Universitetet i Oslo

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    Abstract

    In this thesis, I investigate the function of Original Sin in W. H. Audens political philosophy

    during and after the Second World War. The analysis is twofold, with a theoretical bridge. In

    the first chapter I consider the role of Original Sin in Audens understanding of fascism,

    liberalism and democracy during the early 1940s, based on a reading of selected prose (1939-

    48) as well as two long poems Auden wrote in the early 40s: New Year Letter (1940) and

    For the Time Being (1941-42). Drawing on a theoretical framework developed by Roger

    Griffin in his study of modernism and fascism, I show how Audens religiously grounded

    political philosophy in general, and his notion of the time being in particular, underpins his

    rejection of totalitarian apocalypticism. In the second chapter I bring in the theoretical

    perspective of political philosopher Hannah Arendt, whose concept of action sheds light on

    the time being as well as providing a useful conceptual framework for my analysis in the third

    chapter. In chapter 3 I investigate Audens poem sequence Horae Canonicae (1949-54) in

    light of the findings from the previous chapters, with focus on its central theme of the act or

    crime and its portrayal of beginnings and ends. I demonstrate how a reading of the poems in

    light of 1) Audens political philosophy from the 1940s onwards and 2) Arendts theory of

    action reveals new insights into Audens understanding of Redemption or the Last Judgment.

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    Preface and acknowledgments

    I first fell for Auden in a library in Connecticut. It happened during the Fall semester of 2010,

    on the near-deserted third floor of the University of Connecticut library, Storrs Campus. I, like

    many in my generation, had first come to know of Auden through the movie Four Weddings

    and a Funeral (1994), where the character Matthew (John Hannah) gives a beautiful and

    understated reading of the poem Stop All the Clocks. The next encounter had been just as

    much of a coincidence, when one of Oslos cheap chain bookstores inexplicitly happened to

    have one volume of Another Time (1940) on sale for 30 NOK. It was lucky that Another Time

    should have been the first collection of Audens poetry that I read; unlike the Collected Poems

    it includes two of Audens most famous, but later to-be-discarded poems; Spain, 1937 and

    September 1st, 1939. These two rhetorically powerful poems contributed to a firm first

    impression of Auden as someone who also had something to say about politics: Find

    what occurred at Linz / What huge imago made / A psychopathic God along with lines like

    None can live for long / In an euphoric dream; / Out of the mirror they stare, / Imperialisms

    face / And the international wrong. The same collection a jackpot, really also contains

    Audens elegy to W. B. Yeats, in which he not only writes that poetry makes nothing

    happen, but that the role of poetry is, In the prison of his days / Teach the free man how to

    praise.

    But back to the library in Connecticut: on that near-deserted third floor I found, among

    other works, a first edition of The Shield of Achilles (1955). I opened it on a random page and

    read the curious, casual poem Vespers. Casual, that is, until its very last lines, where the

    speaker states that without a cement of blood (it must be human, it must be innocent) no

    secular wall will safely stand. I didnt understand what it meant. This, I believe, was the true

    beginning of my fascination with Audens poetry a mystery. I found nothing in the poem to

    explain why a civilization even our dear old bag of a democracy, as Auden writes, adding

    insult to injury by necessity should have to be founded on innocent blood, nor why anyone

    would end a poem on a statement like that, and then seem to move on as if nothing had

    happened. The quest for an answer led me to the sequence Horae Canonicae, which again led

    me to discover and then try to figure out Audens Christianity, which eventually led me to the

    topic of this thesis, broadly described: Original Sin in Audens political philosophy. Needless

    to say, it has been a process in several stages, during which I have had a lot of help from a lot

    of people.

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    I have many to thank for what is good in this thesis. Any remaining faults or flaws are, of

    course, my own.

    First of all, I owe thanks to Dr. Erik Tonning at the University of Bergen, whose generosity,

    expertise and assistance has been instrumental to the development of this thesis. Thank you

    for facilitating my participation at the Modernism, Christianity and Apocalypse conference

    held in July 2012 and your helpful suggestions and comments on my paper; for your feedback

    and editorial assistance with the conference volume essay; and for allowing me to participate

    at the Modernism and Christianity PhD seminar held in May 2013.

    I am thankful to my supervisor, Professor Juan Christian Pellicer, for his patience,

    encouragement and many rounds of feedback and helpful suggestions.

    Thank you to the participants at the Modernism, Christianity and Apocalypse conference and

    Modernism and Christianity PhD seminar for exemplary analytical performances, instructive

    discussions, helpful feedback and for expanding my literary and theoretical horizons.

    I want to thank my colleagues in Lasso and Bygen literary magazines for their inspiration,

    feedback, countless enlightening discussions and overall example. Nowhere have I learned

    more about literature.

    Thank you to Bokvennen Litterrt Magasin for printing my essay on Auden in the 1930s, and

    for valuable feedback and editorial assistance.1

    I am grateful to a number of people for commenting on and proof reading drafts, for listening

    patiently to explanations of often vague and obscure ideas, and in other ways challenging me

    to think. Thanks to Guilherme Schmidt Camara, Ingrid Hjertaker, Elin Kittelsen, Eivind

    Myklebust, Vincent Mystad, Andrea Phillips, Ingrid Rdergrd, Marie Rdergrd, Kjetil

    Simonsen and Ida Amalie Svensson. Thank you for your friendship and your help.

    Particular gratitude is reserved for Ida Johanne Warnes Kjey for her careful readings and

    incisive comments on countless drafts, for interesting discussions, for her consistent good

    judgment and, not least, her unwavering enthusiasm and optimism about the project.

    At last, thanks to Guilherme Schmidt Camara for his support, patience, and much else.

    1 Hedda Lingaas Fossum, Inn i sin tid: W. H. Auden og diktets muligheter, in Bokvennen Litterrt Magasin 3

    (2013), 71-19.

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    Innholdsfortegnelse

    Introduction ................................................................................................................................ 1

    Original Sin ............................................................................................................................ 2

    Materials: Prose ...................................................................................................................... 5

    Materials: Poems .................................................................................................................... 7

    New Year Letter .................................................................................................................. 7

    For the Time Being ............................................................................................................. 9

    Horae Canonicae ............................................................................................................. 10

    Theoretical Framework ........................................................................................................ 11

    Modernism and Christianity ............................................................................................. 12

    Modernism and Fascism ................................................................................................... 13

    Auden and Hannah Arendt ............................................................................................... 17

    On Methods .......................................................................................................................... 17

    1 Apocalypse Deferred: Original Sin in W. H. Audens Anti-Totalitarian Vision ............. 21

    1.1 The outlaw and the liberals ........................................................................................ 21

    1.2 Self-love and Sin .............................................