Robert Penn Warren's internal injuries: ''a picnic on the dark side of the moon''



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Robert Penn Warren has a facility for transforming region and history into fiction and poetry. His novel Flood: A Romance of Our Time (1964) and his poem sequence ?Internal Injuries? (1968) stand out insofar as they share a leitmotif; that is, he uses images of imprisonment to represent the loss of free and responsible selfhood under a technocratic dispensation. He is the quintessential loneliness artist, as can be heard through the voices of his characters. His literary criticism is a testament to his concerns about how one comes to reconcile oneself to place. His theory of literature provides us a unique window on what it means to discover oneself in the tumult of a rapidly changing landscape. The use and misuse of technology to augment one?s relationship to place and self is my overriding concern. In Fiddlersburg, the town in Flood, melodrama hangs in the air like rotting perfume. All that will remain once the town is flooded is the penitentiary. In ?Internal Injuries,? Warren?s poem-within-a-poem sequence about the loss of self within the modern city, Warren invokes the penitentiary to represent and speak for the loss of self and the feeling of lonesomeness. Flood speaks to ?Internal Injuries? in the sense that Warren oscillates between the discovery of self in Flood to the loss of self in ?Internal Injuries.? I give my observation of how Warren?s critical work forms a dialogue with his creative work, offering insight as to how the oldest maximum-security penitentiary in Kentucky speaks to the lost and found selves of Warren?s world. Finally, I deal with the problem of modernity and Warren?s perennial concern about the alienation of the self and how he wrestles with it from a deeply personal and experiential perspective. The reader will find that Warren?s critical and creative works form a kind of inside passage.