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‘‘The Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive’: Dylan Thomas as Surrealist

John Goodby

Dada and Beyond, vol. 2: Dada and its Legacies, Pages: 199 - 223

Swansea University Author: John Goodby

Abstract

Argues that, for all his denials of its influence, Thomas was committed to forging a version of surrealism in his early poetry. Challenging the standard accounts by which British surrealism is reduced to the 'automaticist' strand of the movement, as exemplified by the work of David Gascoyn...

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Published in: Dada and Beyond, vol. 2: Dada and its Legacies
Published: Amsterdam - New York Rodopi Press 2012
URI: https://cronfa.swan.ac.uk/Record/cronfa337
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Abstract: Argues that, for all his denials of its influence, Thomas was committed to forging a version of surrealism in his early poetry. Challenging the standard accounts by which British surrealism is reduced to the 'automaticist' strand of the movement, as exemplified by the work of David Gascoyne - still dominant in contemporary criticism - the chapter argues for greater appreciation of the biomorphic, apocalyptic and visionary neo-romantic version of surrealism. These are shown to owe less to the Paris surrealists than to Joycean experiment and Eugene Jolas's 's 'revolution of the word', and various 'native' precursors such as Gothic, nonsense writing and Blake. Although this point was made by Breton and Herbert Read, it has never been substantiated, as it is here, by a close reading of Thomas's poetry and prose, and its contexts. Those contexts and their outcome - a liminal, hybridised, Anglo-Welsh, gothic-grotesque version of modernism - were what enabled Thomas to create a version of surrealism. The chapter draws on critical theory ranging from Bakhtin to Bataille and Freud in order to make its case, and ends with a test-case of Thomas's deployment of his surrealised, modernism from the margins, the notoriously impenetrable 'Altarwise by owl-light sequence'.
Keywords: Surrealism, Dylan Thomas, revolution of the word, Joyce, body, organic, inorganic, metaphor, Freud,pun, polysemy, Gascoyne
College: College of Arts and Humanities
Start Page: 199
End Page: 223