Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Snark as Christ-figure

An endearing thing about Auden's book on Romanticism, The Enchafed Flood, is that it treats Carroll and Lear on par with the more "serious" Romantics; this leads to many odd felicities. E.g., here's Auden talking about ships as communities:
a ship can represent [...] the civitas terrena, created by self-love, inherited and repeated, into which all men since Adam are born, yet where they have never totally lost their knowledge of and longing for the Civitas Dei and the Law of Love. From this arise absurd contradictions [...]

Then he quotes Melville, from Pierre, on the contradictions:
Bacon's brains were mere watchmaker's brains; but Christ was a chronometer... And the reason why His teachings seemed folly to the Jews, was because he carried Heaven's time in Jerusalem, while the Jews carried Jerusalem time there... as the China watches are right as to China, so the Greenwich chronometers must be wrong as to China. Besides, of what use to the Chinaman would a Greenwich chronometer, keeping Greenwich time, be? Were he thereby to regulate his daily actions, he would be guilty of all manner of absurdities: -- going to bed at noon, say, when his neighbors would be sitting down to dinner.* [...] with inferior beings, the absolute effort to live in this world according to the strict letter of the chronometricals is, somehow, apt to involve those inferior beings eventually in strange, unique follies and sins, unimagined before.

This earns the following footnote:
*cf. the snark
Its habit of getting up late you'll agree
That it carries too far when I say
That it frequently breakfasts at five-o-clock tea
And dines on the following day.
The book, which I haven't finished yet, is extraordinarily helpful as a guide to Auden's Kierkegaard-and-Whitehead phase in the 1940s (esp. the long poems, esp. The Sea and the Mirror, in which Alonso's song is very lightly processed Whitehead -- I also vaguely wonder if Auden saw any parallels between Alfred North Whitehead and Moby Dick (also white and northern and of considerable stature)). I'd been meaning to post about Auden's recycling of Alonso's advice to Ferdinand in the Tempest adaptation (1945) in his intro to the Portable Greek Reader (1948) but the scale of reuse is actually more formidable, as the same set of images is expanded into an entire lecture in the Flood (1949).

I am pretty sure this has been done to death in the literature, but a benefit of being an amateur is that there's no opportunity cost to reinventing the wheel.

(PS see here for previous notes on sleeping habits.)

No comments: