english lecture november 30,2010
Tony Harrison “The Mother of the Muses”
On The Board:
Mnemosyne (the mother of muses; memory)
Eros (life instinct)
Thanatos (death instinct)
V, and Other Poems (1990)
Tony Harrison, “The Mother of the Muses”
- Harrison is married to opera singer Theresa Stravos
- Visiting her father who has alzheimers; this poem is about alzheimer’s
- Also deeply about loss of memory and holocaust. The creation of culture and the
preservation of the past as means of coping with the present.
- Greek word for memory “mnemosyne” meaning ‘the mother of muses’ ‘memory’
- Memory is crucial to creativity. You can’t have imagination without memory or
language without memory because language itself is dependent on memory.
- What happens when memory disappears? Their identity essentially disappears to
people who have alzheimers
- Unpacking this poem is serious.
- l.163: Bombing of the Dresden Zoo. Note the presence of flashes. ‘fu’ sound. Harrison
is counting on the bodily effect the ‘fu’ sound to provide emphasis.
- Poem is about balances and equivocations. It doesn’t blame one person, but more
- “Swine” reduces the enemy to animals. It’s hard to kill human beings, so people reduce
them to animals which are easier to kill in their minds.
- The sense that at least the old folks were spared, ties into the theme. We have to find
something to rejoice in, something that we can find positive.
- Why has memory become so important over the last couple of days? Why is memory so
important? What is it about memory that we must take care of the memory that we
have? Why has there been such a resurgence in the importance of Remembrance Day?
Why is there a memorial highway in every city? Why the revival in cars/vintage
clothing? Why is there a memory industry in our culture?
- Consumer culture. World of shopping/playing/skiing, a world of living in the
moment. We’re seeing destruction of religious cultures all over the world hence
the movements to teach the Inuits languages for fear that their cultures are
- 6 hectares of the amazon a day is destroyed. The world is being destroyed.
Nature will be silent, because there will be nothing there anymore. S
- Sense of generational passing (last veteran dying), sense of millennium ending
- Who controls the past controls the present and the future. The erosion of the
past has been recognized as an important feature of fascist/communist/nazi
- The Heri