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Showing posts from November, 2010

De Quincey, Labyrinth, Modernity

I just want to briefly touch on one section of Thomas de Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater which affected me quite powerfully the first time I read it, and continues to intrigue me. It concerns Ann, a young prostitute who had aided De Quincey in a time of sickness and for whom he had returned to the city some months after:
Meantime, what had become of poor Ann? For her I have reserved my concluding words. According to our agreement, I sought her daily, and waited for her every night, so long as I stayed in London, at the corner of Titchfield Street. I inquired for her of every one who was likely to know her, and during the last hours of my stay in London I put into activity every means of tracing her that my knowledge of London suggested and the limited extent of my power made possible. The street where she had lodged I knew, but not the house; and I remembered at last some account which she had given me of ill-treatment from her landlord, which made it probable that…

Keats and Belatedness

I have a difficult history with John Keats, perhaps ever since my undergraduate essay on him at Oxford was met with the beautifully faint praise that 'this would have been a first-class essay...in the 1960s'. The first chapter of my doctorate was on Keats, and it was then abandoned as I decided to focus on Coleridge alone. Undeterred, at the moment I am trying to work on something about Keats and Robert Southey which will analyse prayer, emotion and 'Greek religion'.

I'm also lecturing on his Odes at NUI Maynooth this week, and it's in this context that I've become increasingly intrigued by the motif of belatedness. From 'Ode on Melancholy', with its transitory sensations that carry sorrow and loss as their obverse sides ('Beauty that must die'), to the 'Ode to Psyche' with its 'latest-born' goddess, 'too late for antique vows / Too, too late for the fond believing lyre', there is a sense that Keats's Odes are al…

Blake/Barbauld: Apocalypse and History

As an humanities academic living in the time of the Browne Report, and living in Ireland at a time of economic cataclysm (a recent newspaper leader here felt the need to argue that the Republic is not 'the worst country in the world'), I think I am becoming almost immune to apocalyptic rhetoric. The sense that things are senseless, that things are collapsing with untold velocity, demands a trope and the rich discourse of apocalypse steps forward, as it has done on frequent occasions before in history.
The strange thing - and the thing I want to explore here - is that apocalypse is generally invoked not to express historical chaos, but to explain historical chaos - to, in fact, restore the linearity and intelligibility of history at junctures of instability and violence. It is a meta-historical concept, not an anti-historical one: things fall apart for a reason. After all, the fury and disaster of the Christian apocalypse (from which the Western tradition takes its cue) is the…