Disorientations: Canon without context in Auden's sonnets from China


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W. H. Auden's transmutation of homosexual-colonial paradox into discrepant rhetorics of travel is hardly new. Yet the career mobility Auden initiated after his trip to China, culminating in his embrace of an ascetic Christianity after 1943, signals his principled adherence to a negative poetics of transitivity - by which I mean Auden's increasing commitment to writing experience beyond its material context, as well as to the motility of signs unmoored to national-symbolic traditions. This development appears initially in the poet's "Sonnets from China" (1938) as a rejection of colonialism in favor of English literary humanism (inspired by E. M. Forster), subsequently as the rejection of humanism itself in the face of an inscrutable Chinese other unresponsive to English cultural soundings, and finally (after Auden's decision to depart for the United States in 1939) as the transcendence of context altogether. (SC)

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1576-1587+1708
Number of pages13
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2005

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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