Paul Magee on Unconscious Self-Appraisals in Literary Works

Join us for next week’s CuSPP seminar:

Unconscious Self-Appraisals in Literary Works

Thursday 10 May, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

Ezra Pound struck a pencil through the lines in The Waste Land manuscript that referred to the writing of bad poetry. Similarly, his mentee Hemingway cut a description of poor novel-writing from The Sun also Rises. In both cases, it was a character in the text (Fresca, Jake) who was described producing bad writing, not the author himself. What intrigues me is the possibility that these passages were cut as unfortunate self-reflections. I proceed to suggest that self-critical voices accompany literary composition, at times make their way into the manuscript and in happier cases are cut. In this paper I will attempt to demonstrate these claims, both in regard to the two texts above (pointing, for instance, to the fact that Jake at that point in the manuscript’s history was still called ‘Hem’), and through an eclectic archive of related instances from Anglophone novelists and poets, including Anne Enright, John Keats, Robert Lowell, Craig Raine and Alice Oswald. This will involve speculating on what an imperative to cut disguised authorial self-evaluations implies about the nature of literary composition, with key attention to what it implies about the performativity of that process.

Paul Magee studied in Melbourne, Moscow, San Salvador and Sydney. His books are From Here to Tierra del Fuego (University of Illinois Press 2000), Cube Root of Book (John Leonard Press 2006) and Stone Postcard (John Leonard Press 2014). Cube Root of Book was shortlisted in the Innovation category of the 2008 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature, while Stone Postcard was named in Australian Book Review as one of the books of the year. Paul has published widely on poetic composition and critical judgement. He teaches poetry at the University of Canberra, where he is Associate Professor.

Image: Ian Fairweather, Figure Group IV (1970).

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