Landscape With The Fall Of Icarus Bruegel Analysis Essay

Icarus and the Myth of Deconstruction

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Icarus and the Myth of Deconstruction

In all three texts, it is the act of analysis which seems to occupy the center of the discursive stage, and the act of analysis of the act of analysis which in some way disrupts that centrality. In the resulting asymmetrical, abyssal structure, no analysis -- including this one -- can intervene without transforming and repeating other elements in the sequence, which is not a stable sequence.
Barbara Johnson
"The Frame of Reference"
The Critical Difference

1. Introduction

Among its detractors, literary theory has a reputation for sinful ignorance of both literature and the outside world; literary critics either overemphasize the word at the expense of context (as in formalistic criticisms) or overemphasize context at the expense of the word (as in political and historical criticisms). However, deconstruction holds a particularly tenuous position among literary theories as a school that apparently commits both sins; while formalistically focusing on the words on the page, deconstruction subjects those words to unnatural abuse. Thus, deconstruction seems locked in the ivory tower, in the company of resentful New-Critical neighbors.

Such charges have received insufficient response from deconstruction's top theorists who, though they define and redefine the basic tenets of their approach, fail to justify such an approach in the world. They have explained their purpose, but not their motivation. With this desperate need in mind, then, embarking on any new piece of deconstruction poses a twofold demand: to not only seek to unfold new facets of a text (or texts) through a deconstructive lens, but to aim that lens outside of literature and show its implications in society, away from any ivory tower.

Ovid, Pieter Brueghel and W. H. Auden have (inadvertently) created a lineage convenient to these demands. In Ovid's myth "Concerning the Fall of Icarus" from Metamorphoses[i], he created a character that has become an icon, several millennia later. Pieter Brueghel adopted the icon in the sixteenth century for his painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, which then received famous treatment in the twentieth century by W. H. Auden in his poem "Musée Des Beaux Arts." These three works provide a beautiful, laboratory-quality arena in which to apply various deconstructive ideas: Jacques Derrida's theories of translation and the "dangerous supplement" and Roland Barthes' conception of the myth as language. However, such an inheritance necessarily extends to include the critical work that draws it together.

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"Icarus and the Myth of Deconstruction." 10 Mar 2018

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Another criticism very clearly provides yet another rereading -- a fourth translation -- and incorporates itself in the very lineage that it describes.

2. Mythdefining

The examination of pieces of artwork that build upon one another involves the examination of at least two levels of interpretation. Disregarding the function of Ovid's myth (as an interpretation of society), Brueghel's painting reflects the painter's view of the Icarus myth, and Auden's poem expresses the author's view of the significance of Brueghel's Landscape. One could very easily apply the term "literary criticism" to Brueghel and Auden's efforts; looking at the particulars of their interpretations, one sees the patterns of modern literary theory. Brueghel teases social commentary out of Ovid's myth, while Auden finds a psychological meaning in Landscape.

2.1 Ovid: "De Casu Icari"[ii]

Contrary to the title of this story in Metamorphoses and particularly to the modern interpretation of the myth, "Concerning the Fall of Icarus" focuses primarily on Daedalus, Icarus' father. The most popular portion of the myth relates to Daedalus' vain attempts to caution his son, encouraging Icarus to take the middle road:

Oh Icarus, I advise (thee) that thou mayest-run in the middle path, lest, if thou shalt go too low, the water may burthen the wings; if too high, the fire may burn (them). Fly between

As Icarus and Daedalus take to the sky, Ovid describes the magnificence of their flight through the eyes of onlookers on the shore:

Some fisherman, while he catches fishes with trembling reed, or shepherd leaning to (on) a staff, or ploughman to (on) a plowhandle, saw them; and was astonished; and believed (them) to be gods, who might be able to…(pass-through) the sky.[iv]

In these excerpts and throughout the myth, Ovid places language of spatial verticality next to language of divine hierarchy; thus, Ovid identifies danger in Daedalus' "dangerous arts"[v] insofar as they challenge the line of demarcation between humans and gods. When Icarus falls, Ovid clearly intends this death as punishment for Daedalus, who loses his only son for his forbidden attempts to "renew (change) nature."[vi] Daedalus, in his grief, names the Icarian Sea and peninsula after his dead son. At the closing of the myth, Ovid leaves readers with a clear impression that the violation of divine natural order leads to disaster.

2.2 Brueghel: Landscape and the Fall of Icarus[vii]

Landscape and the Fall of Icarus, it takes more than a moment to find Icarus; eventually, one identifies a tiny pair of white legs, kicking as they disappear into the water in the lower right hand corner of the canvas. Meanwhile, a farmer looms in the forefront, dutifully plowing. A fisherman and a shepherd, just behind him, also tend to their work. These characters, in Ovid's myth, had played minor roles as awestruck perceivers of Icarus' glory; Brueghel reacts to Ovid's marginalization of the farmer, shepherd and fisherman by marginalizing Icarus.

Brueghel borrows heavily from Ovid's original theme of verticality and natural order; however, where these themes applied to a divine order in Metamorphoses, they refer to a social order in Landscape. He constructs Landscape as an "eloquent affirmation of communal responsibility and rejection of personal ambition"[viii] -- an ethical work which, with no small degree of propagandizing, promotes hard-working acceptance of one's social tier. Ethan Kavaler places Landscape in its historical context:

The ancient myth, retold in the 16th century, had come to exemplify hierarchy secured and disruptive ambition thwarted, thus conforming to one of the arch narratives of the culture. Icarus attempts to rise above his proper place and consequently tumbles, while the plowman remains at his station, wedded to the soil. Difference in the size of the figures confirm distinctions in value; this large and impressive farmer, content with his modest lot, is an appropriate foil to immodest Icarus. The image of the peasant dutifully plowing was one of the conventional signs of willful submission to a large social structure, of the world in order, an image associated with literary tradition of the Common Man. In the Fall of Icarus, a myth of early modern Europe is opposed to one of antiquity [ix]

Thus, Brueghel applies a socio-political criticism to Ovid's original work; in doing so, as Kavaler notes, Brueghel creates a new myth, which he "oppose[s]" to Ovid's original.

2.3 Auden: "Musée des Beaux Arts"[x]

In this ekphrastic poem, Auden applies a psychological critical approach to Brueghel's painting, refocusing his work on Icarus and concentrating on a theme of human indifference to suffering. He begins the poem distantly and indifferently, imitating the disinterestedness that he criticizes:

About suffering they were never wrong
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along [xi]

Auden alludes to art, generally, in these opening lines. He specifically references Landscape at the end of the poem, as an example of human unwillingness to acknowledge or sympathize with suffering:

In Brueghel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.[xii]

Rhyme underscores Auden's primary theme. Uneven line length and erratic rhythm distract readers from rhyme ("away"/"may", "green"/"seen") at the end of every line. Visually, however, rhyme demands readers' attention; this demand for attention reinforces Auden's claim of habitual human inattentiveness.[xiii]

3. The Son Also Rises

All three works lie wide open to the observations of a simple, signifier-level deconstruction. Such simple criticisms form the foundation for any deconstructive analysis. The Auden poem, for instance, emphasizes the impenetrable subjectivity of suffering just as it announces its fame; the popularity of suffering as a subject for the "Old Masters" undermines the claim of human disinterestedness in the matter. Furthermore, although Auden describes that in the Brueghel painting, "everything turns away / Quite leisurely from the disaster,"[xiv] he forgets a category of observers: the millions of people who flock to see the work of the Old Masters in the Musée, including himself. Thus voyeurism coexists with disinterestedness in "Musée des Beaux Arts."

Likewise, the Brueghel painting inverts its own themes as it asserts them. The very title of the painting -- Landscape with the Fall of Icarus -- re-marginalizes the ploughman who Brueghel attempts to bring to the forefront; Brueghel subverts the ploughman's agency by making him a part of the Landscape which focuses around Icarus. The structure of the title caters to the compulsion of viewers who, although the vibrant red shirt of the ploughman in the foreground makes him the immediate focus of the landscape, undoubtedly scan until they find the tiny white, kicking legs in the corner. Thus the painting speaks of the impossibility of its own attempt to glorify the myth around the dutiful, ambitionless workers; it admits of the impossibility of the idealized ploughman who does not take interest in (or notice) ambition, and who accepts his place in the natural social order.

Even in Ovid the myth of Icarus falls short of providing the moral lesson it attempts to promote. Icarus, who "in bold flight… forsook (his) leader, and touched with desire of heaven…acted (his) course too-high"[xv] and consequently fell, should be interpreted as a warning, a punishment for Daedalus' "dangerous arts." Icarus, drowned, provides the example of the gamble involved in an attempt to raise man to the level of a god; he could be sent back to a lower level in the natural hierarchy than that from which he started.

However, in his death, both the sea into which Icarus fell and the land where his father safely arrived take on his name:

(his) mouths calling-on the name of (his) father, are-received in the azure water (the Icarian sea): which drew a name from him…and the land was-called (Icarus) from the name of (him) buried.[xvi]

In his death, Icarus becomes a title. His death magnifies him beyond his original, human scale: he becomes a name for nature, much greater and more powerful than any individual. Thus, instead of descending into the dark waters, Icarus rises; he becomes immortal; his punishment becomes a kind of promotion.

These simple and abbreviated deconstructions of each individual text provide an illustration of the foundations of the deconstructive method, which seeks to invert the hidden arguments of explicitly non-argumentative texts. Simple deconstructions as enacted above, however, rarely appear alone in published literature. Rather, the typical deconstructive essay highlights one fundamental ambiguity in a text -- the punishment/reward, or drowning/resurrecting of Icarus, for instance -- and inserts that opposition into a larger, critical matrix. Generally, deconstructive critics borrow heavily from previous psychoanalytic, philosophical, and literary scholars including Nietzsche, Heidegger, Freud, Lacan, de Man and Derrida. Barbara Johnson, a literary theorist at Harvard University, provides several brilliant examples of deconstruction at its best; the following analysis of the Icarus lineage (a truly deconstructionist analysis, insofar as it matches the style of the genre) has been modeled in particular after her work.[xvii]

4. W.W.J.D.
(What Would Johnson Do?)

Although their explicit themes differ widely, the works of Ovid, Brueghel and Auden share a common indeterminacy, related to Icarus' status as a signifier.

Icarus ceased being a character and became a signifier at a discrete moment in his history: the moment at which Ovid killed him. In Metamorphoses, Icarus' martyrdom intended to make him into a stable reminder of the dangers of human meddling with the divine order. However, Icarus-the-Signifier escaped Ovid's grasp; in Ovid's very act of naming him, Icarus undermined Ovid's theme, attaining immortality in his death. Likewise, Icarus-the-Signifier evaded Brueghel; lingering between the air and the water, he distracts attention from Brueghel's moralized ploughman. Finally, Auden failed to confine Icarus as an example of human inattention to suffering; Icarus-the-Signifier popularizes his own suffering.

In an essay on Hamlet, Marjorie Garber noted that the problem with Old Hamlet is that he "isn't dead enough"[xviii]; Icarus poses the opposite problem. Icarus's death and transference, rather than stabilizing his identity, unleashed it; his absence prohibits any limitation of his meaning. His meaning encapsulates everything and contains nothing. In short, Icarus is too dead.

The following exploration of theories of translation, myth and supplementation provides a multitude of ways of examining Icarus as an overly-dead signifier. These theories touch upon the very nature of the inheritance between Ovid, Brueghel and Auden, explaining their compulsion to repeatedly murder and reanimate their shared subject.

4.1 The Dangerous Supplement

Derrida's theory of the "dangerous supplement," which he introduces in an essay on Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions, perfectly relates to the problem of Icarus-the-Signifier. One can think of the "dangerous supplement" as a caption inserted next to a photograph in a textbook; this supplement, which nominally seeks to clarify, actually has a much more complicated relationship with the photograph it adjoins. As will be discussed in the following section, the caption cannot cleanly reproduce verbally what the picture expressed visually. It inevitably adds meaning to the photograph and risks replacing the photograph altogether.

Derrida introduces this concept in an examination of Rousseau's ambiguous relationship with the art of writing. Rousseau, at first, praises "living speech"[xix] for its direct presence, its immediacy. Ironically, however, he finds that he cannot express himself as well in speech as he can in writing; thus, ultimately, he chooses to sacrifice presence (speech) for clarity (writing), and therein accepts absence. "Paradoxically, he will hide himself to show himself better."[xx] Likewise, Brueghel and Auden supplement their works with an older, absent work: Ovid's. Their works both supplement the original myth and use it as a touchstone on which to build their pieces of art.

Supplementation of any kind -- in either Rousseau or the Icarus lineage -- entails dangerous consequences:

The supplement adds itself, it is a surplus, a plenitude enriching another plenitude, the fullest measure of presence…but the supplement supplements. It adds only to replace. It intervenes or insinuates itself in-the-place-of; if it fills, it is as one fills a void[xxi]
Yet the danger of the supplement does not end here. Derrida continues:

The supplement has not only the power of procuring an absent presence through its image; procuring it for us through the proxy [procuration] or the sign, it holds it at a distance and masters it. For this presence is at the same time desired and feared.[xxii]

Rousseau's choice of absence over presence, and his quest for clarity, relates to the martyrdom of Icarus; his death (absence) entailed the promise of stable meaning, clarity. Yet, as seen with Icarus -- and with Rousseau -- absence does not bring stability of meaning. Rather, the supplement, like the original, holds the potential for further instability, indeterminacy and incoherence.
Such an explanation seems to indicate that the original had to be preordained with the possibility of being supplemented; speech necessitated writing, Daedalus necessitated his dead son, Ovid necessitated Brueghel and Auden. Thus, Brueghel and Auden could only look to supplement Icarus "on one condition: that the system of supplementary in general be…already operative for a long time and that, in a certain way [Ovid's Icarus himself] be already a supplement."[xxiii]

Ovid, as well as Auden and Brueghel, supplemented Icarus; as Auden's poem threatened to eclipse Brueghel's painting and the painting threatened to eclipse Ovid's original myth, Ovid sought to hide the indeterminacy at the core of Icarus. In the formulation of his story of Daedalus (which extends beyond "Concerning the Fall of Icarus"), Ovid relies on Icarus as a stable, clear representation of Daedalus' transgressions against "nature." Killing Icarus -- making him absent -- intends to clarify his role, solidify him and make him meaningful.

This finality evades Ovid. Naming immortalized Icarus who, simultaneously immortal and dead, can no longer defend himself or limit his meaning. He has no defense against supplementation by various puppeteers -- Auden and Brueghel -- and therefore no way to hold off acknowledgement of his indeterminacy.

4.2 "Traduttore, Traditore"[xxiv]

Brueghel and Auden's efforts constitute an effort not simply to rewrite or supplement Icarus, but also to translate him. Roman Jakobsen defines three forms of translation: intralingual translation, interlingual translation, and intersemiotic translation.[xxvi] The Icarus lineage falls under the third of these forms, as an example of transmutation between linguistic and nonlinguistic signs.

Derrida has devoted volumes of work to theories of translation. He depicts translation as an imprecise and uncertain science, in opposition to its most common understandings. Translation exchanges the inadequacies of one text for another and therein -- rather than simply transferring meaning cleanly from one language, or system of signs, to another -- it multiplies indeterminacy. Furthermore, an act of translation is the genesis of not only a new text but a new, indeterminate relationship between the original text and its translated version.

The members of the Icarus-lineage make no claims of direct or accurate interpretation of one another. Brueghel evidently meant to invert both Icarus and "Concerning the Fall of Icarus" as Ovid wrote it. Likewise, Auden located psychoanalytic themes in the Brueghel painting with the knowledge that other themes, perhaps more prominent, also operated there. Yet their joint use of a central signifier -- Icarus -- indicates some belief in common meaning, in sharing a solid unit which has an essential signification.

This belief in this "intact kernel"[xxvii] lies at the foundations of traditional interlingual translation, which attempts to cleanly transfer such a kernel -- in the form of meaning -- from one language to another. Simply, Derrida states: "there is no intact kernel."[xxviii] The drive to translate works relies upon the repression (or, at least, suspension) of disbelief in the intact kernel:

There is a prehistoric, preoriginary relation to the intact kernel, and it is only beginning with this relation that any desire whatsoever can constitute itself. Thus, the desire or the phantasm of the intact kernel is irreducible -- despite the fact that there is no intact kernel…and there never has been one. That's what one wants to forget, and to forget that one has forgotten it. ..This phantasm, this desire for the intact kernel sets in motion every kind of…tongue, appeal, address.[xxix]

Translation, like language itself, projects an illusion of intact meaning where there is none; but since the illusion of intact meaning has so much pull on human psychology, it must be protected. Translation, then, serves as a contract for the survival of the illusion of meaning:

In this contract it is a question of neither representation nor reproduction nor communication; rather, the contract is destined to assure a survival, not only of a corpus or a text or an author but of languages.[xxx]

To push this concept of a contract further, translation seeks to promote language, which is itself a kind of translation (or at least, formulation) of meaning into form.

The intersemiotic translations that take place between Auden, Brueghel and Ovid protect the illusion of a single "intact" Icarus. However, in reality, the Icarus of Ovid is a stranger to the Icarus of Brueghel, who has no relation to the Icarus of Auden -- except, perhaps, in his common name.

With every new drowning of Icarus (who, one would imagine, is rather weary of being held at water level, and is ready to be let go), he experiences a resurrection. This resurrection is coincident with his ceased status as a character and new birth as a name, as it marks the point at which Icarus becomes a signifier. This naming resurrection appears clearly in Ovid where Icarus is simultaneously made mortal and immortal, dying and living forever. Brueghel dunks Icarus into the sea as an example of deadly, socially harmful ambition; yet he lingers at the surface of the water, refusing to disappear and thereby refusing to accept the marginalized status that Brueghel affords him.

Icarus-the-Signifier encapsulates the illusion of the intact kernel, of the thing-in-common, and of the unifying meaning of the three myths. The translation of Icarus multiplies the significations of this one, lonely, abused signifier which absorbs every meaning ascribed to it because it has no original, essential meaning. Icarus-the-Signifier is empty; the attractiveness of translation lies in its ability to stall recognition of this essential emptiness.

4.3 Mythdefying

Roland Barthes, in Mythologies, deconstructively analyzes the genre of the myth. In Mythologies, he extends the definition of a myth to a level that has particular relevance to the examination of the Icarus lineage:

I resented seeing Nature and History confused at every turn, and I wanted to track down, in the decorative display of what-goes-without-saying, the ideological abuse which, in my view, is hidden there…the notion of the myth seemed to me to explain these examples of the falsely obvious. At that time, I still used the word "myth" in its traditional sense. But I was already certain of a fact from which I later tried to draw all to consequences: myth is a language.[xxxi]

Barthes, here, professes an interest in the "falsely obvious," the argumentative structure that hides in "what-goes-without-saying."

Any assumption incorporates an assertion; all statement includes an argument. This structure of hidden argument appears repeatedly in the Icarus lineage. For instance, Auden does not simply observe that human suffering goes unheeded; he asserts that human suffering goes unheeded. Thus the identification of opposing themes in his work should come as no surprise; as with any argument, assertions must rest upon their opposing claims, using them as leverage.

Barthes goes on to define a semiotic system for the understanding of myth. Fusing together the Hegelian dialectic with Saussurean semiotics, he arrives at a tri-level model for the semiotic of the myth. At the first level, signifiers (words) and signifieds (meanings) join together to create signs. At the second level, the collective bunch of signs acts as a signifier and joins with the signified (meaning of the myth) to fuse into the mythical sign, the third level. Graphically, Barthes represents this system in the following way:[xxxii]

Barthes uses this model of myth-as-language to explain the function and effectiveness of mythical "truths."

Barthes' system, when applied to the Icarus lineage, expands; the mythical sign, again, becomes a signifier for a new myth -- itself constructed of language (another level of signifiers and signifieds) -- and extends the pyramid structure indefinitely out. The semiotic pyramid, in this lineage of Ovid, Brueghel and Auden, has at least nine levels: three levels per myth, joined together. The entire structure, however, would maintain a pyramidal shape analogous to that of each individual myth; the entire lineage, then, has the structure of a myth. It is a myth-of-myths: a meta-myth, which spurs from the act of deconstruction.

5. The Fourth Myth

In the previous discussion, translation and supplementation have been considered without direct relation to the act of mythmaking. However, such a connection is both necessarily and appropriate; literary theory is an act of translation, supplementation, and of mythmaking. Johnson acknowledged this connection in her recognition of literary criticism as "the art of rereading."[xxxiii] Thus, having devoted an essay to the rereading of a lineage of individual myths, it is now appropriate to reread the meta-myth of deconstruction.

Deconstruction, as its own myth, does not seek to simply poke vocabulary fun at its subjects. Rather, like any literary criticism or myth, it calls certain machinations or morals to the attention of readers. The deconstructive myth first spotlighted the minutiae of the Ovid, Brueghel and Auden myths, therein exposing the claims of each piece of art by subverting those clams, and resolving into irresolution. This irresolution and indeterminacy extended to a higher level. The examination of the tropes of translation, supplementation, and myth-making led to an acknowledgement of the empty, scattered phantasm of meaning at the center of each myth, and at the core of myth-making. This fourth exhumation of Icarus, enacted by the deconstructive myth, reanimated him as a model of the Saussurean signifier, itself.

Deconstruction may seem to arbitrarily subvert any claim of an author or artist; however, all of deconstruction's small subversions cater to a battle against one central claim: that of accuracy and ownership of meaning. The moral of the deconstructive myth, then, can be encapsulated in one word: relativism.

If explicit rhetoric takes into account all openly persuasive arguments, then hidden rhetoric takes into account every other text -- written, spoken, or visual -- whose surface launches no argument but which takes into account a series of basic assumptions that, by being assumed, are asserted. This unasserted assertion can be called bias. Deconstruction, then -- as the relativist critical school that examines the basic structure, function and effect of bias -- extends into every aspect of the real world and sits at the foundations of all forms of political literary theory, all rhetoric and any society.

[i] Ovid reiterated the myth, with a shift in its dominant theme, in Ars Nova (The Art of Love). However, the most popular form of the myth -- both thematically and structurally -- appears in Metamorphoses.

[ii] See Appendix A.

[iii] Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. George William Heilig (New York: Translation Publishing Co., 1961), 274.

[iv] Ibid, 275.

[v] Ibid, 275.

[vi] Ibid, 273.

[vii] See Appendix B.

[viii] Ethan Matt Kavaler, Pieter Brueghel: Parables of Order and Enterprise (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 57.

[ix] Ibid, 56.

[x] See Appendix C.

[xi] W.H. Auden, "Musée des Beaux Arts," in Western Wind, ed. John Frederick Nims and David Mason (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2000), Plate 3, lines 1-4.

[xii] Ibid, lines 14-21.

[xiii] Willard Spiegelman, "Lecture Eight: The Uses of Sentiment," in How to Read and Understand Poetry (The Teaching Company Lectures: 2000).

[xiv] Auden, "Musée des Beaux Arts," lines 14-15.

[xv] Ovid, Metamorphoses, 275-276.

[xvi] Ibid, 276.

[xvii] Johnson was a student of Paul deMan, and her primary focus in her published work has been French Literature, particularly Beaudelaire. She has also translated several works of Jacques Derrida. For spectacular examples of her style of deconstruction, see the essay "The Critical Difference: BartheS/BalZac" from The Critical Difference, and her lecture "Double Mourning and the Public Sphere" from the Bucknell Lecture on The Wake of Deconstruction.

[xviii] Majorie Garber, "Hamlet: Giving Up the Ghost," in Hamlet, ed. Susanne L. Wofford (Boston: St. Martin's Press, 1994), 301.

[xix] Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), 141.

[xx] Ibid, 142.

[xxi] Ibid, 145. Note that the French verb supplementer has two meanings, one which resembles the direct English translation ("to add to") and another which means "to replace."

[xxii] Ibid, 144-145.

[xxiii] Ibid, 155.

[xxiv] "Translator, Traitor" -- borrowed from Derrida

[xxvi] Christine V. McDonald, ed., The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation (Texts and Discussions with Jacques Derrida), trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York: Schocken Books, 1985), 225.

[xxvii] Ibid, 115.

[xxviii] Ibid, 115.

[xxix] Ibid, 115.

[xxx] Ibid, 122.

[xxxi] Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (New York: Hill and Wang, 1972), 11.

[xxxii] Ibid, 115.

[xxxiii] Barbara Johnson, The Critical Difference (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), 3.


Auden, W. H. "Musée des Beaux Arts." Western Wind. Ed. John Frederick Nims and David Mason. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2000. Plate 3.

Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. Trans. Annette Lavers. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972.

Brueghel, Pieter. Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels.

De Man, Paul. Critical Writings, 1953-1978. ed. Lindsay Waters. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989.

Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

_______. "Des Tours de Babel." Trans. Joseph F. Graham. Theories of Translation: An Anthology of Essays from Dryden to Derrida. Ed. Rainer Schulte and John Biguenet. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

_______. Dissemination. Trans. Barbara Johnson. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

Gaber, Marjorie. "Hamlet: Giving Up the Ghost." Hamlet. Ed. Susanne L. Wofford. Boston: St. Martin's Press, 1994. 297-329.

Hecht, Anthony. The Hidden Law: The Poetry of W.H. Auden. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993.

Johnson, Barbara. A World of Difference. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.

_______. The Critical Difference. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980.

_______. The Wake of Deconstruction. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers, 1994.

Kavaler, Ethan Matt. Pieter Brueghel: Parables of Order and Enterprise. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

McDonald, Christie V., ed. The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation (Texts and Discussions with Jacques Derrida). Trans. Peggy Kamuf. New York: Schocken Books, 1985.

Ovid. Metamorphoses. Ed. William S. Anderson. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1972.

____. Metamorphoses. Trans. George William Heilig. New York: Translation Publishing Co., 1961.

____. The Art of Love. Trans. Rolfe Humphries. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1957.

Selden, Raman, ed. Cambridge History of Literary Criticism. Vol. 8. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Spiegelman, Willard. "Lecture Eight: The Uses of Sentiment." How to Read and Understand Poetry. (The Teaching Company Lectures: 2000).

Appendix A

Jump back to section 2.1 Ovid: "De Casu Icari"

"Concerning the Fall of Icarus"
from Metamorphoses

Meanwhile Daedalus, thoroughly hating Crete and long banishment, and touched with love of (his) native soil, was shut-out by sea. "Although he may-shut-up lands and waters," said-he, "but surely the heaven lies-open. We will-go by-that (way): Minos may-possess all (things); he possesses not the air." He said; and dismisses [applies] (his) mind into unknown arts, and renews [changes] nature. For he places in order feathers, begun from the least, the shorter following the long, so-that thou mayest-think (them) to have-grown on a declivity. Thus sometimes a rustic pipe rises by-degrees with uneven oaten-reeds. Then he binds the middle with flax [thread] and the lowest with wax and bends (them) thus arranged with small bending, that they may-imitate true [real] birds. The boy Icarus did-stand together, and ignorant [not knowing] himself to-handle dangers, with brightening countenance, he did-catch-at the feathers which the wandering [unsteady] breeze had-moved; now he did-soften the yellow wax with his thumb, and did-hinder the wonderful work of (his) father by his sport. After-that the last hand was-placed to the undertakings, the artist himself posed his body upon the double (two) wings, and hung in the moved air. And arranges (his) son, and says, "O Icarus, I advise that thou mayest-run in the middle path, lest, if thou shalt-go too-low, the water may-burthen the wings; if too-high, the fires may burn (them). Fly between each. I order thee neither to view (the constellation) Bootes nor Helice [the greater Bear], nor the drawn sword of Orion. Myself (being) guide, crop [proceed in] the way." Equally [at the same time], he delivers instructions of flying, and fits the unknown wings to (his) shoulders. Between [during] the work and admonitions (his) aged cheeks were-wet; and (his) paternal hands trembled. He gave kisses not to-be-repeated again to his son; and raised on wings he flies before; and fears for (his) companion, as a bird, which leads-forth (her) tender offspring from lofty nest into the air; and he encourages (him) to follow, and instructs (him) in the injurious arts, and himself moves his-own wings, and looks-at the wings of (his) son. Some (fisherman), while he catches-at fishes with trembling reed [fishing-rod], or shepherd leaning to [on] a staff, or ploughman to [on] a plough-handle, saw them; and was-astonished; and believed (them) to-be gods, who might-be-able to-crop [pass-through] the sky. And already Junonian Samos, and Delos, and Paros, had-been left on the left part; Lebynthos and Calymne, fruitful in honey, were on the right, when the boy began to-rejoice in bold flight and forsook (his) leader, and touched with desire of heaven he acted (his) course too-high. The nearness of the rapid [hot] sun softens the fragrant waxes, the bonds of the wings. The waxes had-wasted-away: he shakes naked arms: and being-without rowing [flight], he gathers not any airs; and (his) mouths calling-on the name of (his) father, are-received in the azure water (the Icarian sea): which drew a name from him. But the unhappy father, nor now a father, said, "O Icarus, O Icarus," he said, "where art-thou? in what region shall-I seek thee, O Icarus?" he did-say. he looked-down-upon the wings in the waves; and he cursed his arts; and hid [buried] the body in a tomb; and the land was-called (Icarus) from the name of (him) buried.

Appendix B

Jump back to Section 2.2 Brueghel: Landscape and the Fall of Icarus
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus


Appendix C

Jump back to Section 2.3 Auden: "Musée des Beaux Arts"
"Musée des Beaux Arts"

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Brueghel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

The poem "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus", by William Carlos Williams, portrays in writing the painting by Brueghel. The piece depicts the Greek myth of the tragedy of Icarus, a boy who flew too close to the sun with wax wings and fell into the sea to his death. The poem has no set rhyme scheme or meter, an example of one of Williams' many free verse poems. After reading the poem many times, I started sensing a feeling of insignificance; that the tragic event of Icarus' death was "quite unnoticed".

One factor contributing to this feeling was the stanza organization. Each stanza was very short, usually containing a sentence or less, and included many enjambments, "a farmer was ploughing/ his field/ the whole pageantry", "of the year was/ awake tingling/ near". The considerably short length of each stanza creates a feeling of unimportance; with no attempt at describing the scene in-depth, Williams just gives the reader a superficial view of the scene.

There are also some stanzas that explicitly state the insignificance of Icarus' fall, "the edge of the sea/ concerned/ with itself" and "insignificantly/ off the coast/ there was/ a splash quite unnoticed/ this was/ Icarus drowning". The first of these stanzas relates back to the painting, where one can see Icarus drowning at the edge of the sea. As the stanza reads, "the edge of the sea/ concerned/ with itself" the idea that not even the ocean cares about Icarus drowning fills the reader's mind. In the painting, the part that has Icarus drowning is extremely small and tucked away into the corner, away from the eye of the viewer. Williams accentuates this unimportance by writing, "insignificantly/ off the coast/ there was/ a splash quite unnoticed/ this was/ Icarus drowning". When viewing the...

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