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Allegories of Writing: Figurations of Narcissus and Echo in W. B. Yeats's Work

Hedwig Schwall
Affiliation:
Leuven Centre for Irish Studies (LCIS)
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Summary

The number of studies on Yeats and postmodernism is growing, though exceedingly slowly. Though many scholars have opposed the idea that this monument of the Irish Revival could gain anything from a postmodernist approach, I believe he does, because Yeats is similar to Joyce in that his texts form an oeuvre for all seasons and all times. Yet, as George Bornstein points out, Yeats criticism is accurate but not always adventurous: “On the one hand, that they bring such historical, biographical, critical, and textual approaches to disparate culminations makes them worth the attention of any student of modernist poetry […]. On the other hand, methodologically the works display an indifference to changes in literary study for the past three decades that leaves plenty of territory for future scholars to investigate” (610). William Melaney complains that most critics still stick too much to Neo-Platonic readings and indicates that Paul de Man's use of image and emblem would be more fruitful, but does not try these insights out on actual texts. I fully agree with Melaney “that the role of the self in Yeats's poetry […] begins to suggest how a postmodern vision […] emerges on a textual basis” and that “Yeats's appraisal of discord as a positive value has psychoanalytic interest” (19 and 20, my emphasis), but this psychoanalytical aspect still needs to be elaborated. Alan Rea's focus on an evolution in the women figures throughout the poet's oeuvre has interesting observations but his text analyses remain fleeting and, as I intend to show, incorrect. Peter Higginson moves toward fertile ground by taking up Yeats's use of the term hysteria, but never properly defines the “something of a manic element identified by the poet as his ‘hysteria,’” and jumps to the rather general conclusion that this “consciousness of energy, of certainty, and of transforming power” contains “the root of madness” (272). Finally, I notice that Bornstein praises scholars like Nicholas Grene for his thorough formal analyses which show how Yeats's poems construct their meanings, but this seems to entail that he misses out on “an overall frame for them” (613). In this article I want to try a psychoanalytic approach to “the transforming power” of the poet, who, in Yeats's own words, “never speaks directly as to someone at the breakfast table, there is always a phantasmagoria” (Essays and Introductions 509).

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Writing Modern Ireland , pp. 237 - 253
Publisher: Liverpool University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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