THE BLOG
04/11/2014 11:39 am ET Updated Jun 11, 2014

Pygmalionization

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In "The Secret Auden," (The New York Review of Books, 3/20/140 Ed Mendelson quotes the following passage from a lecture Auden gave on Shakespeare's sonnets,

"Art may spill over from creating a world of language into the dangerous and forbidden task of trying to create a human being."

The essay is a brilliant meditation of Auden's character in which seemingly erratic and selfishly indulgent behavior belied a deeper generosity. But the subject here is love which as we know doesn't abide the reality principle, depending as it does on idealization. How else can instinct navigate the shoals of consciousness? Mendelson writes about Auden and his lover Chester Kallman,

"He had begun to sense that he had caused the break between them by trying to reshape Kallman into an ideal figure, an imaginary lover who he valued more than the real one. What Auden had thought of as love for the younger man had been infected by libido domanandi, a lust for the power to transform him into someone else."

Personality is a subject that can drown the words of a brilliant poet in jargonese. But Eliot's famous remarks about the impesonaity of the artist in "Tradition and the Individual Talent" not withstanding Mendelson's quirky view of Auden turns out to be an exception in the often turgid world of literary biography. It's a form of poetry in and of itself. And his observation about Auden's relationship with Kallman makes one think in general about the nature of love. Eliza Doolittle finally rejects Henry Higgins in Pygmalion. All his work has gone for nought, but in actuality doesn't this transformative process goes on in most relationships in which the self is often shaped by its interaction with either the expressed or subliminal wishes of others?

Sculpture: "Pygmalion and Galatea," by Falconet (1763), photo by Alex Bakharev

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}

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