The poetics of impurity : Louis MacNeice, writing and the thirties
This thesis argues that the notion of 'impurity' may be taken as a model for paradigms in MacNeice's texts which are subjected to undercutting and transgression, by virtue of their presumed identity, their context, and by the workings of the text. This impurity challenges notions of MacNeice as an exponent of 'common-sense' empiricism. Chapter One examines notions of purity and impurity as promoted by MacNeice in the thirties. MacNeice's exposition in Modern Poetry is shown to be contradictory. Comparison with the figure of Orwell indicates that Modern Poetry, and its promotion of common-sense 'experience' or 'life', is an unreliable guide to MacNeice's thirties work. Chapter Two examines notions of 'History' in the thirties, and of MacNeice's treatment of time in a number of poems. MacNeice's poems demonstrate a conception of time-as-difference, which is shown to be historically constructed within 'static' or 'imaginary' frames of reference. These frames of reference are seen to be imperiled by historical circumstances Chapter Three analyses MacNeice's presentation of representation in, and of, society in the thirties. Attention is paid to poems dealing with problems of representation and of observation within a given social context, particularly that of consumer culture. Chapter Four examines MacNeice's examination of the subject or 'I' of the thirties. I argue that MacNeice evidences a scepticism towards the claims of the thinking, acting, subject, inhabited as it is by the dominance of text or 'writing' within history, and the indeterminacies this engenders. Chapter Five offers a reading of Autumn Journal which emphasises MacNeice's attention to the processes of the construction of 'unreliable' fictions. Rather than asserting the values of liberal humanism in the poem, it is seen to question the implications of such an act itself. The poem is shown to question the notion of the possibility of the 'honesty' of the subject which is often attributed to MacNeice. Chapter Six argues for the necessity of further re-examination of 'Louis MacNeice, writing and the thirties' and the wider implications of 'impurity'.