What does othering make? David Jones's A, A, A Domine Deus
In his poem “A, a, a Domine Deus,” David Jones encapsulated his outlook in its mode of that ambivalent anguish which he could never quite extirpate. The title, which serves also as a non-identical refrain, derives from the lamentations of Jeremiah over fallen Jerusalem.1 The poem also invokes the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of a valley of dry bones,2 as taken up by T. S. Eliot in The Waste Land, 3 and, in their absence, the “living creatures,” which were for him an enigmatic theophany. Jones records how he has diligently sought to discern both craft and signs within the contrivances of modern mass production and modernist architecture, but seems finally to confess in despair that he can find neither. His despair cannot be merely aesthetic, for he takes the physical productions of a civilisation to be the crucial indicators of the health of a culture, and so, in this case, the absence of signs is itself a sign of final decay, of the erosion of the West, which he consistently affirmed, in the wake of Oswald Spengler.4 Yet his own signs of despair, his “A, a, a,” and his “Eia!,” are not simply his own, but are also the collective cries of this culture also. In that sense, Jones speaks ambivalently from both outside and within his own times.