Nothing to Admire: The Politics of Poetic Satire from Dryden to Merrill

Overview

Nothing to Admire argues for the persistence of a central tradition of poetic satire in English that extends from Restoration England to present-day America. This tradition is rooted in John Dryden's and Alexander Pope's uses of Augustan metaphor to criticize the abuse of social and political power and to promote an antithetical ideal of satiric authority based on freedom of mind. Because of their commitment to neoclassical conceptions of political virtue, the British Augustans developed a meritocratic cultural ...

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Overview

Nothing to Admire argues for the persistence of a central tradition of poetic satire in English that extends from Restoration England to present-day America. This tradition is rooted in John Dryden's and Alexander Pope's uses of Augustan metaphor to criticize the abuse of social and political power and to promote an antithetical ideal of satiric authority based on freedom of mind. Because of their commitment to neoclassical conceptions of political virtue, the British Augustans developed a meritocratic cultural ideal grounded in poetic judgment and opposed to the political institutions and practices of their superiors in birth, wealth, and might. Their Augustanism thus gives a political meaning to the Horatian principle of nil admirari. This book calls the resulting outlook cultural liberalism in order to distinguish it from the classical liberal insistence on private property as the basis of political liberty, a conviction that arises within the same general period and often stands in adversarial relation to the Augustan mentality.

Dryden and Pope's language of political satire supplies the foundation for the later and more radical liberalisms of Lord Byron, W.H. Auden, and James Merrill, each of whom looks back to the Augustan model for the poetic devices he will use to protest the increasingly conformist culture of mass society. Responding to the banality of this society, the later poets reinvigorate their predecessors' neo-Horatian attitude of skeptical worldliness through iconoclastic comic assaults on the imperial, fascist, heterosexist, and otherwise illiberal impulses of the cultural regimes prevailing during their lifetimes.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Chistopher Yu's Nothing to Admire: The Politics of Poetic Satire from Dryden to Merrill in fact gives us plenty to admire. This is a learned, intelligent, and sophisticated book that traces the unfolding of a liberal politics of satire from the late seventeenth century to the mid-twentieth century.... This is superb reading, Yu catching the rhythms and exact colors of Dryden's writing, and he reads Pope with the same clarity, suggestiveness, and intuitive sense of the poetic text." —Studies in English Literature 1500-1900

"Christopher Yu has written a beautiful and an important book. It is important because it illuminates how the liberal tradition in politics and the poetic imagination have nourished each other for more than three hundred years. It is beautiful because it is uncommonly well-written: everywhere elegant, precise and free of jargon; everywhere attentive to the arts of language that give form and expression to the political concerns of the poets under examination. Mr. Yu reveals the affinities between the liberal tradition in political thought and the classical humanism to which that tradition has more usually been understood to be antagonistic. In the process he reveals the imaginative affiliations of Dryden, Pope, Byron, Auden and Merrill, giving us, it's not too much to say, a Dryden and Pope for our own times."—Richard Feingold, University of California, Berkeley

"Christopher Yu's Nothing to Admire makes and expertly supports several large, original, timely claims: that there is an unrecognized main tradition of verse satire—of a satiric mode rather than of any particular satiric genre or genres—in English, extending from the Restoration to the present and from England to America; that this tradition is in a special critical and constructive sense an 'Augustan' one, not only where a reader may expect to find something of this sort, mainly in Dryden and Pope and perhaps in Byron and Auden, but also in Merrill; and that this tradition has the distinct, peculiar merit of exhibiting how and why poetry bears crucially on liberal promotion of the public good, according to a rediscovered traditional liberalism not possessive but intellectually and morally wise."—Frederick M. Keener, Hofstra University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195155303
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 9/28/2003
  • Pages: 232
  • Lexile: 1710L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher Yu has a Ph.D. in English literature from Yale. An independent scholar and writer, he currently resides in Chicago.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 3
1 Satura Redux: Dryden and the Augustan Ideal 23
2 Arm'd for Virtue: Pope as Cultural Liberal 49
3 Byron, Laughter, and Legitimation 86
4 Auden in the Polis of the Absurd 123
5 Imbued with Otherness: Merrill's Mock-Epics of Desire 167
Notes 195
Index 213
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