The Grice Club


The Grice Club

The club for all those whose members have no (other) club.

Is Grice the greatest philosopher that ever lived?

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Thursday, June 4, 2015

AUDEN AND GRICE: The "or" implicature


Auden famously (or is it infamously) turned his back dramatically on much of his own writing.
The most enduring and popular line from "September 1st, 1939" -- the day Hitler's panzers jumped the border into Poland, effectively sparking the Second World War – “We must love one another or die" – was thought unsuitable by Auden because, strictly speaking, some say, it isn't true.
It was perfectly timed, in an historical sense, on the eve of the most destructive war in history.
But, as Auden later lamented, not a word of poetry could have prevented the horrors of the Second World War.

Auden then rethought his line almost immediately.
Indeed he turned VIOLENTLY against it, tried to ban, or vanish it.
Called the poem in which it appeared ‘trash’.
Wystan turned on the line ferociously, for a time forbidding any republication.
Then allowing it a temporary return from banishment when he grudgingly agreed to include an altered version (with the 'or' changed to 'and') in a collected works edition.

It was a monumental alteration.
To change the line from "We must love one another OR die" To "We must love one another AND die" (while some wit did suggest Auden should have changed it to “We must love one another AND/OR die.”), the result of Auden’s emendation is an entirely different poem.
We shall NOT open a greeting card and see "We must love one another AND die."

I sense a fundamental contradiction here between the energy expended in weakening a poem in the name of truth or accuracy and the thesis regarding poems surviving in the valley of their making.