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Showing posts from February, 2010

Epiphany and Metonymy: Joyce's Dubliners

I'm in no sense a modernist scholar, so I think I'll struggle to say anything particularly original on James Joyce's short collection Dubliners. But as a Romanticist, at least, I'm often compelled to read modernist texts which appear to invest intense value in certain instants of experience, figuring revelatory moments or epihanies - precisely because this seems a torn inheritance from Romanticism. Indeed, I have written on this topic and the difficult plays between transcendence and immanence, the 'moment' and its transience, in modernist poetry.
What is the modernist epiphany? Typically, it does seem to be a moment of unveiling - of realisation or insight - recovered from the fragmentary chaos of modern, often urban, life. Yet in Dubliners, I'm not always convinced about applying an aesthetics of epiphany to the stories, many of which do appear to conclude with some form of telling 'instant', but not necessarily in a straightforward way. For moment…

In Praise of a Heresy: Silent Reading of Poetry

In the study of English literature, it is axiomatic that poetry should be read out.
It is a dogma that I myself hand down thoughtlessly. Whenever describing and teaching close reading, I will recommend students read the poem aloud.In classes and seminars, if we are doing anything more precise than thematic discussion, then I will want the poem read out. I will sometimes even bemoan how weak some readings-out are (it is a certain, unique pain to see a cherished passage of Keats or Donne ritually slaughtered).
There are good reasons for this. One is that poetry came from song, and is rooted in a verbal tradition: to some extent, we are falsifying this history if we do not read aloud. Equally, if one thing is to divide poetry from prose then it is its rhythmic organisation: a density of point and counterpoint which can only be realised with the glottis, the tongue, the passage of breath.
Yet, it strikes me that I am quite happy to read poetry silently, in line with our dominant culture o…

Four Sisters: Goblin Market and Sense and Sensibility

Two texts about sisters, pleasure and displacement this week.
Sense and Sensibility is a novel in which the unfavoured sister - the overwrought and overemotional Marianne - is continually distracted, displaced from herself. After being spurned by Willoughby, she falls into the deep wells of a pathological sensibility: hysterical, uneasy, irritable, near-consumptive, swinging between states of violent outburst and limp paralysis. Her attention to her surrounds is lost: 'what is the matter with Marianne? - she looks very unwell, has lost her colour, and is grown quite thin' (Ch.33).
She does, in a very real sense, spend half of the novel lost: to herself, to others. The system in which she is lost, I would argue, is one of substituable identities. The network of romantic liaisons and approaches elegantly drawn by Austen is ultimately a social fabric in which one possible partner can be exchanged or substituted for another one: time and time again, affection is transferred, pote…

Jane Eyre: Transactions, Cigar Smoke and Nightingales

Rather brilliantly, I forgot my first seminar started at 11am, not 10am, and hence have an hour of unforeseen liberty. And some time to write a brief blog entry.

Re-reading is important. I very rarely re-read unless I have to, primarily because of a crushing sense of interminable guilt about the hundreds of books that remain to be read. Yet, forced to re-read because I'm lecturing on a certain book, I realise more and more Coleridge's dictum that 'not the poem which we have read, but that to which we return...possesses the genuine power'. Indeed, it is the sense that there is always more to be read - a reserve, a remainder, a promise - that is for me the very definition of the aesthetic.

Re-reading Jane Eyre (only for the third time, I'm ashamed to say - it's a novel to which I came rather late), one strand has impressed itself more and more, and that's the repeated vocabulary of transaction: of relationships which are contractual, deadened and economic in …