Thursday, September 11, 2008

Scale models

At the TLS, Sean O'Brien considers the latest installment of Edward Mendelson's edition of the prose of W. H. Auden:
Displayed to good effect throughout his first prose book, The Enchaf├Ęd Flood (1950), or The Romantic Iconography of the Sea (1949), and elsewhere here, Auden’s liking for lists and taxonomies and subheadings suggests, as does his prose in general, that he had a natural talent for teaching. He likes to provide a relief map of a mass of information with the major features pointed out and distinctions boldly drawn.

There is also (and this too suits the schoolmaster’s role) at times something eerie and even slightly mad in the tenor of the reprinted lectures which make up The Enchaf├Ęd Flood. It is as though the process of model-building itself, with its binarisms and special cases, is the real object of Auden’s interest. He engages in a form of secondary world-making analogous to collecting complete sets of tea-cards or, as in his own case, the scrutiny of books on mining and engineering. Something in Auden that was precocious in childhood comes to seem childlike in adulthood. The desire for reason and order is equalled by a belief that these properties in themselves are resonant with magic of divine provenance. (Is this a gendered condition? Many women seem baffled or irritated by men’s attachment to information or facts for their own sake.)
Mildly annoying generalization at the end there, eh? My answer is "No"!

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