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Title: Poethics : twentieth-century apologia in T.S. Eliot, Joseph Brodsky, Seamus Heaney and Geoffrey Hill
Author: Williams, David-Antoine
Awarding Body: Oxford University
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2006
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This thesis explores a strain in twentieth-century ethical reflection: the writings of poets on the social and spiritual value of their art. Beginning with T. S. Eliot's idea of 'poetic integrity', and tracing its use and development in the prose and poems ofJoseph Brodsky, Seamus Heaney, and Geoffrey Hill, the thesis employs 'poethics' as a term combining the literary and the ethical imperatives without subordinating one to the other. Thus the ethics arrived at by these four poets can be treated outside the political and/or deontological apparatuses favoured by much contemporary 'ethical' criticism,. retaining the poets' own emphasis on the primacy of the linguistic in literary art. Chapter One presents T. S. Eliot as the inaugurator of the poethical synthesis with his doctrines ofpoetic 'integrity' and 'duty to language' and shows how these seemingly :estheticist precepts allow him eventually to .prescribe a vital social role for the poet. Next, the two most provocative aspects ofJoseph Brodsky's prose-his hyper-individualist :esthetic and his repeated assertion that a:sthetics precedes and is superior to ethics-are read, first within a traditionally Kantian interpretation of autonomy, and then in light of the ethical philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas. In the third chapter, Seamus Heaney is shown to enact diachronically and dichotomously the dual ethical role that Eliot imagined for poetry: £irst as protector oflocal culture and second as facilitator of intercultural exchange. Finally, Geoffrey Hill's 'theology of language' is described as a double struggle against the two limits of language: the unspeakable-the horror of man's evil-and the unsayable-the sublime and holy Word. His view of language as a medium tainted by sin and fraught with peril is analysed alongside his ethically ambitious poems on death and suffering, including on the Holocaust. The conclusion proposes poethics as a critical category for modem and contemporary poetry.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Oxford University, 2006 Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available