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Title: John Berryman and the spiritual politics of cold war American poetry
Author: Cooper, B. B.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2007
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John Berryman continues to be critically perceived as an academic, establishment poet whose career represented a development from New Critical traditionalism towards a solipsistic, self-absorbed confessionalism. In this thesis, I seek to challenge such a limiting view through an exploration of his two long poems, Homage to Mistress Bradstreet and The Dream Songs, as works that extensively engage with contemporary American Cold War culture to a degree not admitted by such restrictive paradigms. Centrally, I examine the way in which Barryman’s engagement with religion occurs not simply as a personal questing, but as a form of cultural critique that is reflective of the politicised nature of Cold War American religious life. In chapter one, I interrogate the persistent critical tendency to codify American poetry since World War II in terms of an opposition between a ‘mainstream’ establishment centre and a countercultural ‘avant-garde’. I then seek in my second chapter to highlight the inadequacy of this canonical model, through an exposition of spiritual politics as a shared concern of the two poets most famously associated with the ‘establishment’ and ‘countercultural’ subdivisions of Cold War American poetry: Robert Lowell and Allen Ginsberg. In chapter three, I discuss the spiritual politics of Berryman’s Homage to Mistress Bradstreet. In chapter four, I challenge Christopher Rick’s suggestion that The Dream Songs is a ‘theodicy’, and show how recognition of the political nature of Berryman’s religious engagements actually exposes the poem as a form of ‘antitheodicy’, whereby its protagonist Henry is continually unable to reconcile the contemporary world in terms of any overarching scheme of divine justice. Finally, in my fifth chapter, I examine four key thematic concerns of The Dream Songs – World War II, the Cold War, Freudian psychoanalysis, and the minstrelsy and blackface traditions – in order to elucidate the heterogeneous contexts in which Berryman’s religiopolitical concerns operate.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available