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Showing posts from March, 2010

Dorian Gray and the Scepticism of Scepticism

A short post on The Picture of Dorian Gray. If I could compose it in pointed aphorisms, I would, but it will just be a few thoughts on a novel that I think is fascinating.

Dorian learns his aestheticism from Lord Henry. It is notable, at points, that he begins to mimic his speech patterns - those elegant, provocative paradoxes. Yet he is not Lord Henry, and that is what interests me here.
Lord Henry's discourse is mobile, subversive, transgressive and witty. Fixed points of reference, canards of nineteenth-century culture, received morals and social standards are all dizzyingly reversed. Yet, although there is a strain of idealism in Lord Henry (particularly in terms of his Hellenism), it is as if his discourse seeks no dwelling place. It does not strive, I would argue, to ever assert a positive code. In fact, he is insouciantly distanced from his own discourse: he often claims to have forgotten what he has previously stated, as if it is merely an experimental and impromptu perfor…

There's Nothing New Under the Sun (Links)

For those first year students who are dutifully following the Maddalovian meanderings.
Last year I wrote posts on Calvino/Stoppard here, and on Jim Crace here. May they be helpful to all, or some, or none.
Since it seems a bit empty to merely recycle old stuff, I'd thought I'd share the following poem by J.H. Prynne which I'm working on at the moment....

Moon Poem

The night is already quiet and I am
bound in the rise and fall: learning
to wish always for more. This is the
means, the extension to keep very steady
so that the culmination
will be silent too and flow
with no trace of devoutness.
Since I must hold to the gradual in
this, as no revolution but a slow change
like the image of snow. The challenge is
not a moral excitement, but the expanse,
the continuing patience
dilating into forms so
much more than compact.
I would probably not even choose to inhabit the
wish as delay: it really is dark and the knowledge
of the unseen is a warmth which spreads into
the level ceremony of diffusion. T…

Dracula and Postmortem Photography

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) has been read as allegorising many things. It's been interpreted as a novel about reverse colonisation, about homosexuality in the wake of the Wilde Trials, about venereal disease, about anxieties surrounding the New Woman, about evolutionary degeneration... I'm all for that, but I've been considering a rather more straightforward allegory, given its subject matter: could it allegorise nothing more oblique than attitudes towards the dead?
(Apologies, the following post will be morbid, and more morbid still. But then it is Dracula, I can't really write about flowers. Unless they are bulbs of garlic.)

It is, after all, a book that spends around one hundred pages (chapters VIII to XVI) intensely observing the body of Lucy Westenra: first as a dying body, then as a dead body, and then as an undead body. A third of the novel, then, is spent quite literally laying Lucy to rest. There is a lot of anxiety about this body, at every stage from i…

My Ideal English degree...

I've studied and taught at quite a few different universities now, and seen a range of different approaches. As an idle thought experiment, I've dreamed up the following, perhaps moderately sadistic, English degree programme, which would satisfy all my little quirks and foibles.

The quicker-witted among you will notice it's a four-year programme. Maybe the last year could be designated as an honour year, in a way common in Scottish universities. It would have a three term structure (each term 8-10 weeks, not sure), and each term would have two modules run side-by-side, with the exception of the summer term which would only run one module in order to allow exams.
First Year Foundation module. This would be a double-module, run over two terms. It wouldn't attempt to be a 'canon' run-through, but would cover (sometimes over multiple weeks), key concepts in literary studies whilst also covering a good range of texts for the students to get their teeth into. Genres wou…

Bleak House and Being-Narrated

Just (literally) finished Dickens's Bleak House, probably the longest novel I've read since Richardson's sublime Clarissa - which has around a million words, and is admittedly quite hard to beat in the 'long novel' stakes.

It is fantastic.
However, it's not very critical or analytical to merely express awe, so want to briefly pen a note about something that has been mounting as a way I am seeing the text. Something very early on caught my attention: Esther, in chapter 3, states that it is 'curious to [her] to be obliged to write all this about myself! As if this narrative were the narrative of my life!' (p.40).* This is a strange thing indeed, since Esther is one half of a dual narrative: a first-person narrator who threads the stories of herself and a set of characters close to her alongside the anonymous third-person narration that begins in London (the first voice we hear in the novel). Part of this is perhaps down to characterisation: Esther is self…


In the Artist's Studio One face looks out from all his canvases,
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,
A saint, an angel — every canvas means
The same one meaning, neither more or less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.
Not one of Christina Rossetti's greatest poems, I think, but one of her most interesting, 'In the Artist's Studio' watches over the scene of the male gaze with a slyly sceptical female one. The sonnet initially seems to offer stable circuits affirming artistic beauty: the mirror as preserving the image of female loveliness, or the exchange of gazes between the painter an…