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International Journal of Literary Culture / Internationale Zeitschrift für literarische Kultur

Ed. by Biti, Vladimir / Liska, Vivian

CiteScore 2018: 0.12

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.122
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.329

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Volume 50, Issue 2


Where Truth is not Itself: Laura Riding’s Life of the Dead

Alexander Dickow
Published Online: 2015-11-04 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/arcadia-2015-0029


Laura Riding’s Life of the Dead (1933) is a strange, morbid, bilingual poem in French and English that poetically renders ten engravings by John Aldridge. In this poem, Riding appears to deliberately misdirect the reader, so that this bizarre poem hovers between the comic and the morbid. As a lesson in uncertainties and indetermination, The Life of the Dead represents an example of a poet’s practice in contradiction with her theory. For while Riding identifies poetry with rigorously self-identical Truth, The Life of the Dead seems bent on emphasizing its lack of self-identity, its multiplicity of meaning and impression. Translation – both from image to text, and from French to English – vividly demonstrates this lack of self-identity, so that the poem appears divided against itself. Laura Riding herself occupies an analogous paradoxical position in Anglo-American poetry: while constantly working to distinguish and distance herself from her contemporaries and from critics and exegetes, poems like The Life of the Dead grapple with the same problems of ambiguity and negativity that have been the hallmark of poetic modernity since Mallarmé. Hence, in this bizarre poem, Riding appears to operate at once on the margins and at the center of modernist poetic practice.

Keywords: Laura Riding; Modernism; translation; French poetry; ekphrasis

Works Cited

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About the article

Published Online: 2015-11-04

Published in Print: 2015-11-01

Citation Information: arcadia, Volume 50, Issue 2, Pages 420–432, ISSN (Online) 1613-0642, ISSN (Print) 0003-7982, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/arcadia-2015-0029.

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