Auden's Games of Knowledge: Poetry and the Meanings of Homosexuality

Auden's Games of Knowledge: Poetry and the Meanings of Homosexuality

Auden's Games of Knowledge: Poetry and the Meanings of Homosexuality

Auden's Games of Knowledge: Poetry and the Meanings of Homosexuality

Synopsis

The first full-length consideration of Auden as a homosexual poet, this volume shows that Auden's career was tied to a process of gay self-interrogation unparalleled in modern poetry and argues that he was driven by a powerful yearning to comprehend the psychological, political, and ethical implications of same-sex desire. Auden's theories about poetry in the 1930s and after reflected an intense concern with how to write publicly as a homosexual poet. That struggle was made manifest in his love poetry, which Bozorth argues constitutes a kind of "erotic autobiography" exploring the distinct challenges of homosexual love. Bozorth's approach is manifold, examining the poet's engagements with avant-garde poetics, gay subculture, psychoanalysis, leftist politics, and theology. This book proposes that from his early fascination with secret agent and trickster figures to his later theories of poetry as an I-Thou relation, Auden viewed poetry as a fictional but primal erotic encounter with the reader.

Excerpt

In May 1951, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean—soon to be revealed as two of the infamous “Cambridge Spies”—defected to the Soviet Union after years of passing secrets from their posts in the British foreign service. In his last days before fleeing London, Burgess telephoned Stephen Spender several times, trying to reach W. H. Auden, whom he had known since the 1930s. By this time, Auden had left London for Ischia, where he and his partner, Chester Kallman, spent their summers. After his arrival there, Auden found himself confronted with reporters and police: it was now widely assumed that Burgess had defected, and he was rumored to be seeking sanctuary with Auden. In fact, Burgess never went to Ischia at all, traveling instead to Moscow via Prague. But before the episode was over, Peter Roger, a friend on his way to visit Auden, was arrested in Naples by the police, who mistook him for Burgess.

Why was Burgess trying to contact Auden? Was he seeking advice? Did he (as rumor had it) hope to find some sort of sanctuary with Auden? It is hard to imagine what Auden could or would have done to protect him, since they were not close friends, and there is no evidence that Auden knew Burgess was a Soviet agent. As Robert Cecil has suggested, Burgess was probably just trying to distract pursuers while he fled to Moscow (138).

Nevertheless, the episode resonates intensely for anyone familiar with Auden's career in the 1930s. For as Richard Davenport-Hines observes, here are all the elements of secrecy, border crossings, missed . . .

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