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Identity, environment, and deity

Controversial poet Ronald Stuart Thomas was considered to be one of the leading writers of the twentieth century. This book, in three parts, interprets the development of a major theme over Thomas's twenty-seven volumes, probing particular themes and poems with a meticulous insight. The themes of identity, environment, and deity treated reflect the major preoccupations of his life and work. The book presents a comprehensive examination of these major themes as they occur across Thomas's substantial oeuvre, while providing an expanded frame within which the considerable complexity of Thomas's work can be explored. It suggests that such poetic explorations and revelations of identity provide the prima materia of the poetry and form an underlying foundation to Thomas's poetry viewed as a single body of work. Thomas's treatment of the natural world, in particular the theology of nature mysticism vital to much of his work, is then discussed. The book also looks closely at Thomas's increasing preoccupation with science. It explores his philosophical concern with a scientific register for poetry, his own experimentation with that register, his subtle ambivalence towards applied technology, his ongoing critique of 'the machine', and his view of modern physics. Finally, examining Thomas's 'religious poetry', the book re-focuses on the exact nature of his poetic approach to a 'theology of experience' as reflected in his 'mythic' and 'via negativa' modes. It highlights Thomas's 'reconfiguring' of theology, that is, his insistence on the central validity and importance of individual spiritual experience, both as absence and as presence.

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introduction 28/1/05 1:18 pm Page 1 Introduction Overview The themes of identity, environment, and deity treated in this book reflect the major preoccupations of R. S. Thomas’s life and work. My intention in the book has been to set out a detailed and comprehensive examination of these major themes as they occur across Thomas’s substantial oeuvre, while at the same time providing an expanded frame within which the considerable complexity of Thomas’s work can be more profitably explored. However, I want to stress throughout the book that these ‘categories

in R. S. Thomas
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The scientific world

radical experimentation with the ‘new vocabulary’ of modern science. As I have already mentioned, such experimentation becomes widespread only in the later poems, where it is often characterised by an ‘escalating irony’ which I will look at more closely in Chapter 5. None the less, it is possible to see these dual forces of simplicity and experimentation working more or less in tandem across Thomas’s oeuvre. A brief chronological sampling from the poems helps to illustrate this. For example, Thomas’s second volume, An Acre of Land (1952), is stylistically devoted to the

in R. S. Thomas
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pervasive. This examination of individual collections allows one a view into the most concentrated treatment and development of such themes by Thomas, as well as a deeper grasp of the character of the individual volumes, each of them significant milestones in the oeuvre as a whole. My chief purpose in these final chapters is to highlight and explore what might be called Thomas’s ‘reconfiguring’ of theology, that is, his insistence on the central validity and importance of individual spiritual experience, both as absence and as presence. That insistence radically expands

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from divinity which he traces to the mythic ‘fall’ of humankind. Finally, I chapter5 28/1/05 1:31 pm Page 142 142 A poetics of environment have set out to illuminate Thomas’s preoccupation with pure science, and in particular with modern physics, not only as a potentially unifying force, but as an essentially imaginative, intuitive, and therefore artistic approach to the world. It remains to take up in Part III Thomas’s search for deity as it reaches with growing intensity across his poetic oeuvre. As we shall see in Chapters 6 and 7, the search for deity is

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corresponding intensification of the autobiographical instinct but because it says something about what poetry as autobiography is for R. S. Thomas. Despite its forward-looking title, the poem functions as a kind of anchor and pivot in the oeuvre, echoing a process which underlies the prior work while consciously reaffirming a purpose in writing which may have been more or less unconscious up to this point. Thus the poem consolidates, foregrounds, and, in some ways, reinitiates the ongoing project of autobiography in Thomas’s work, what I refer to here as the ‘project of the

in R. S. Thomas

oeuvre, partly in an attempt to curb the idealising tendencies of the German reading public. The differing biographical and artistic studies reproduce what Christian von Zimmermann has identified as the two main biographical narratives characteristic of modernity, namely anthro­ pologisation and idealisation, that is, either an attempt to underline similarities between exceptional and average human beings, or an admiring elevation of biographical subjects that emphasises their status as exceptional individuals.2 As discussed in Chapter 1, in the instance of ∙ 55 ∙ A

in A history of the case study
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Mirrors of French ideals?

Lemarie praised the devotion of the bishop of Saint-Malo, Guillaume Le Gouverneur, to Borromeo and hailed his defence of ecclesiastical privileges in the hope of spurring him to still greater efforts.46 So too had Ambrose and Thomas of Canterbury conserved the spiritual jurisdiction of the church with constant vigilance; like them, all bishops should know that, in fulfilling the demands of their vocation, they might face suffering, torture and, ultimately, a horrific death. Their office was ‘a true apprenticeship of martyrdom’, which might bring, at any moment, ‘the

in Fathers, pastors and kings
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Literary satire and Oskar Panizza’s Psichopatia criminalis (1898)

drawn to the theme of political repression in Psichopatia criminalis, without necessarily being able to reflect on the link between their attraction and Panizza’s perceived victimisation. For other readers, Panizza’s late literary oeuvre in particular seems tainted by the fact that the eccentric writer was committed to a mental asylum, never to leave the confines of the asylum again. These readers remain haunted by Panizza’s psychotic illness, which seems to call into question his literary abilities. Literary scholar Michael ∙ 90 ∙ LITERARY SATIRE AND OSKAR PANIZZA

in A history of the case study
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Baconian rhetoric and the New Atlantis

’s oeuvre as a whole. In this essay I argue that the New Atlantis is less an epitome of Bacon’s ideas than a means of persuading others to support his projected reform of scientific endeavour. The New Atlantis amply illustrates Bacon’s understanding of rhetoric, or the ‘art of elocution or tradition’, as the art of communication – a ‘transitive’ art, the scope of which is ‘the expressing or transferring our knowledge to others’.5 But the New Atlantis is, above all, an instrumental text. Although it is designed to communicate Bacon’s ideas, it is not so much a descriptive

in Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis