Bachelor of Arts
Galway Kinnell, Book of Nightmares
The Book of Nightmares is a myth of questioning and renewal, with the self as its subject and the world as its text. The problem, however, is that these two are fundamentally at odds. Kinnell's ideals are fixed on the assertion of the self, as artistic authority and mythic wholeness, but the reality of the present produces a range of conflicts and ambiguities which problematize this striving. The poet fixes himself at the center of a process of mythopoesis, using the notion of myth to give form and meaning to experience. Thus it becomes a demiurgic endeavor -- he is a creator, a myth maker who seeks to reconcile the ambiguities of contemporary experience with a restorative mythic consciousness. It is grounded in a movement toward eventual wholeness, though the strategies the poet employs engage the destructive as well. One of his tasks involves the balancing of equally vital urges, the mythification and demythification of his selfhood; he works to engender a kind of holistic consciousness by exploring the potential universality of the self, but this also involves stripping away layers of identity, egoic veils which render the self incapable of apprehending experience coherently. The poem itself embodies a site where myth and experience, self and world commingle and depend on each other for persuasiveness. The interaction of these crucial dynamics -- the construction of the poet's selfhood and his development of the mythic consciousness which informs this construct -- constitutes the focus of my analysis. And the mediation of a transformed self and world, in whatever problematized form it finally assumes, represents the central project of The Book of Nightmares.
Robertson, Michael Patrick, "The Mythmaking Self (or the Myth Making Self): Fiction and Experience in Galway Kinnell's The Book of Nightmares" (1992). Honors Papers. 567.