Thomas the wound: trauma and the early poems of Dylan Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

In Dylan Thomas’s 18 Poems (1934), Twenty-five Poems (1936) and The Map of Love (1939) the traumas of birth, love, sex, death, mourning, war and history, are also traumas of writing and symbolisation. The experimental modernist practices of these poems disrupt the notion of a stable, straightforward correspondence between language and reference, exposing a wound which exists at the core of social and linguistic being. For this reason Thomas’s challenging youthful writing is not only full of images of trauma, it is itself traumatic for readers with commonsensical or ‘ordinary language’ assumptions about the nature of successful poetry. Over the years, those readers have included Thomas’s politically-conscious fellow poets of the 1930s, the writers and critics associated with the Movement in the 1950s, and contemporary scholars of Welsh writing in English. For many of these critics, Thomas has been a subject they seek to ignore and yet one to which they constantly return. His work might thus be said to possess the traumatic latency described by Cathy Caruth: ‘it is only in and through its inherent forgetting that it is first experienced at all’. Furthermore, that latency might, like the nagging awareness of the Real as anomaly or rupture described by Slavoj Žižek, be considered to expose the constructedness of the ideological fantasies underpinning our own exploitative social order. As the research of Victor Golightly and Victor Panaanen has shown, Thomas saw himself as a socialist artist, despite the opacity of his style. The article concludes by exploring the usefulness, for human liberation, and for an understanding of Thomas’s early poems, of Geoffrey Hartman’s suggestion that the inherently wounded and wounding nature of language might also be the key or ‘password’ making possible an ethical relation to the other.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCritical Engagements: A Journal of Criticism and Theory
Volume5.1/5.2
Publication statusPublished - 14 Oct 2011

Fingerprint

Dylan Thomas
Trauma
Poem
Language
Latency
Reader
History
Social Order
Socialist
Forgetting
Opacity
Poet
Ordinary Language
Conscious
1930s
Rupture
1950s
Writer
Usefulness
Artist

Keywords

  • Dylan Thomas
  • Dylan Thomas's early poems
  • 18 Poems
  • Twenty-five Poems
  • The Map of Love
  • trauma
  • Modernism
  • political poetry
  • Slavoj Zizek
  • the Real
  • wound
  • password

Cite this

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title = "Thomas the wound: trauma and the early poems of Dylan Thomas",
abstract = "In Dylan Thomas’s 18 Poems (1934), Twenty-five Poems (1936) and The Map of Love (1939) the traumas of birth, love, sex, death, mourning, war and history, are also traumas of writing and symbolisation. The experimental modernist practices of these poems disrupt the notion of a stable, straightforward correspondence between language and reference, exposing a wound which exists at the core of social and linguistic being. For this reason Thomas’s challenging youthful writing is not only full of images of trauma, it is itself traumatic for readers with commonsensical or ‘ordinary language’ assumptions about the nature of successful poetry. Over the years, those readers have included Thomas’s politically-conscious fellow poets of the 1930s, the writers and critics associated with the Movement in the 1950s, and contemporary scholars of Welsh writing in English. For many of these critics, Thomas has been a subject they seek to ignore and yet one to which they constantly return. His work might thus be said to possess the traumatic latency described by Cathy Caruth: ‘it is only in and through its inherent forgetting that it is first experienced at all’. Furthermore, that latency might, like the nagging awareness of the Real as anomaly or rupture described by Slavoj Žižek, be considered to expose the constructedness of the ideological fantasies underpinning our own exploitative social order. As the research of Victor Golightly and Victor Panaanen has shown, Thomas saw himself as a socialist artist, despite the opacity of his style. The article concludes by exploring the usefulness, for human liberation, and for an understanding of Thomas’s early poems, of Geoffrey Hartman’s suggestion that the inherently wounded and wounding nature of language might also be the key or ‘password’ making possible an ethical relation to the other.",
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Thomas the wound: trauma and the early poems of Dylan Thomas. / Chamberlain, Richard.

In: Critical Engagements: A Journal of Criticism and Theory, Vol. 5.1/5.2, 14.10.2011.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

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