Daniel C. Remein
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The aesthetics of Beowulf in the middle of the twentieth century
in The heat of Beowulf
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In light of Brodeur’s assignment instructing students to read the Finn episode of Beowulf ‘as a modern poem’, this chapter traces the multiple critical and poetics genealogies by which this assignment would have been legible to Brodeur on the one hand, and to Blaser and Spicer on the other. The chapter chronicles the processes by which Brodeur’s effort to frame Beowulf as worthy of aesthetic study became possible by an admixture of the New Criticism and an investment in authorial individuality. Beowulf became an object of aesthetic inquiry as a transcendent, yet original, organic unity. Meanwhile, although medievalism was crucial to Poundian modernism and its effort to construct an ecologically and aesthetically charged non-representational poetics, Ezra Pound’s investments in a poetics of masculinist and eventually fascist ‘potency at rest’ led to his dismissal of Beowulf from the avant-garde’s canon of medieval poetry. The chapter argues that amidst the pre-Stonewall queer culture of the Berkeley Renaissance, Blaser’s and Spicer’s encounter with Beowulf unfolds in the wake of, but simultaneously contests, the aesthetics of both Pound’s medievalism and Brodeur’s fragile framework for aesthetic analysis of Old English poetry. Finally, the chapter sketches the intellectual conditions that eclipsed Brodeur’s approach to Beowulf’s aesthetics and makes the case that, within the context of the debates around the advent of oral-formulaic theory to Old English studies, his project harbored an impulse to ensure that the aesthetics of Beowulf were included in contemporary literary discourse.

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