These lectures were delivered at the New School for Social Research in Greenwich Village during the academic session 1946-47. Arthur Kirsch has pieced them together from the records of four people who attended them. To have one's lectures put together from students' notes years after they were given is a rare mark of distinction; offhand I can only think of Saussure and Wittgenstein, though possibly one could add the name of Jesus. Pascal's Pensées were put in some kind of order long after his death, but he had written them down, so no allowance needs to be made for mishearing, faults of memory, or the occasional failure of the student to follow the argument. Some disagreement about what was actually said seems inevitable, and it has proved to be so in the case of Saussure. Kirsch, however, has one very dependable witness, Alan Ansen, who was soon to become the poet's secretary. Ansen was an exceptionally alert, well-read note-taker, but he missed a few of the lectures, and for them the editor has to turn to the much less reliable Howard Griffin (who also, in his turn, became Auden's secretary) and to two other volunteers, women who had preserved their notes from the spring term.
LRB 22 February 2001 | PDF Download