21 February 2009

Eden According to W.H. Auden

This is something I’ve had sitting around on my computer for a while. Despite, however, its tremendous appeal for me, I’ve still yet to attempt to give my own answers to the questionnaire. Perhaps I’m still just too enamoured of Auden’s. Personally, I think he should have been made dictator and given free reign (except maybe for the Roman Catholic thing). From W.H. Auden, The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays (NY: Vintage, 1968), pp. 6-7:
Though the pleasure which works of art give us must not be confused with other pleasures that we enjoy, it is related to all of them simply by being our pleasure and not someone else’s. All the judgments, aesthetic or moral, that we pass, however objective we try to make them, are in part a rationalization and in part a corrective discipline of our subjective wishes. So long as a man writes poetry or fiction, his dream of Eden is his own business, but the moment he starts writing literary criticism, honesty demands that he describe it to his readers, so that they may be in the position to judge his judgments. Accordingly, I must now give my answers to a questionnaire I once made up which provides the kind of information I should like to have myself when reading other critics.


Landscape: Limestone uplands like Pennines plus a small region of igneous rocks with at least one extinct volcano. A precipitous and indented sea-coast.

Climate: British.

Ethnic origin of inhabitants: Highly varied as in the United States, but with a slight Nordic predominance.

Language: Of mixed origins like English, but highly inflected.

Weights & Measures: Irregular and complicated. No decimal system.

Religion: Roman Catholic in an easygoing Mediterranean sort of way. Lots of local saints.

Size of Capital: Plato’s ideal figure, 5004, about right.

Form of Government: Absolute monarchy, elected for life by lot.

Sources of Natural Power: Wind, water, peat, coal. No oil.

Economic activities: Lead mining, coal mining, chemical factories, paper mills, sheep farming, truck farming, greenhouse horticulture.

Means of transport: Horses and horse-drawn vehicles, narrow-gauge railroads, canal barges, balloons. No automobiles or airplanes.

Architecture: State: Baroque. Ecclesiastical: Romanesque or Byzantine. Domestic: Eighteenth Century British or American Colonial.

Domestic Furniture and Equipment: Victorian except for kitchens and bathrooms which are as full of modern gadgets as possible.

Formal Dress: The fashions of Paris in the 1830’s and ‘40’s.

Sources of Public Information: Gossip. Technical and learned periodicals but no newspapers.

Public Statues: Confined to famous defunct chefs.

Public Entertainments: Religious processions, Brass Bands, Opera, Classical Ballet. No movies, radio or television.

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