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Showing posts from 2011

Religious Desire

I gave the following paper at the 8th ECLRNI (18th Century Literature Research Network in Ireland) symposium at Trinity College Dublin. Seeing as it represents the earliest stages of some contextualising research, and as it isn't particularly long, I feel that Maddalo is as good as place as any to share it...
Religious Desire in Isaac Watt's Horae Lyricae and Elizabeth Rowe's 'Devotional Soliloquies'
This paper comes out of a wider research project on prayer and poetry, one chapter of which is focused on Felicia Hemans’ late verse. In thinking about Hemans, I became interested in the extent to which a female devotional tradition stretched back, and in what ways women writers appropriated various models of prayer and devotional selfhood. Seeking a circumscribed way of comparing male and female religious verse, Isaac Watts (who revolutionised hymnody and decisively shaped dissenting devotion) and Elizabeth Rowe (arguably the best known female religious poet of the 18…

De Quincey: Irony, Addiction, Culture

It's been a year since I lectured - and blogged - on de Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. Well, it's come around again and although I didn't manage to reflect it in the imperfect repetition of the lecture, I do wonder if I'm now seeing a different kind of text (as always, the text that is always new as we re-read is the one with the true value...)

One thing I'm becoming interested in is the lightness of touch - and the flamboyance of prose - that we find in the Confessions. From the way that the text suspends itself teasingly above the very genre of the confession ('guilt, therefore, I do not acknowledge' (p.2), he claims) to the way it is shot through with Greek and Latin references, de Quincey initially occupies a position of textual and linguistic control. One dimension of this mastery is irony. Although he poses his own personal experience as an alternate authority to the contemporary medical discourse around opium, he does so with ch…

Kadare/Kafka: Concreteness and Absurdity

Having returned from a trip to Albania in September, perhaps the strangest and least-known corner of Europe, I read a novel in a handsome Vintage edition I had picked up in Tirana by Ismail Kadare, the country's most famous writer. As I read it, I became subtly but insistently conscious of what I thought might be echoes of Kafka's The Castle. I hesitated because I have no idea whether the dialogue I was perceiving was conscious or purely something that happened to scratch against my memory of studying Kafka at MA level, but when I found Kadare's Broken April slots next to Kafka on my bookshelf, I felt serendipity at work (and as I google the two names, I find that I am hardly the only one to awaken to the comparison).

Like Kafka's nightmarish village, ruled over by the inscrutable authority and impassable bureaucracy of the Castle, the world depicted in Broken April - that of the binding blood feuds of the Albanian mountains - is haunting and disorientating. Enigmatic f…

October Notes and Thoughts

Some random notes and thoughts:
1. The poetics of the diaphanous (embers, washes of light, evanescence, the aerial) in Shelley. How related to the poetics of the veil? If the veil is a negation – a visible mark of the invisible – then what is the diaphanous? The invisibility of the visible? A gesture of pure light – not excess of light perhaps, not an aesthetics of incandescence – but a gesture at the conditions of possibility of the visible itself. Looking at the sky on a summer day: one can see the light that would frame objects, but no objectivity itself. The object withdraws, but not in any negative theological or sublime sense.
Ruskin on water, the aerial and Turner.
2. Derrida on the suspension of reference (cf. the ‘poetic’ function in Russian Formalism and Czech Structuralism, the eclipse of the message by the medium): the hesitations of the ‘veil’, the ‘flight’, ‘the leap’, as they condense down toward the point of an idea or of a dancer’s toe…are always, in addition, descr…

Landscape and Counterscape

Jacqueline Labbe's work on Charlotte Smith is truly excellent, and I've always found it among the most lucid and agile writing on female Romantic literature. Lecturing on her 1807 (posthumous) textBeachy Head this week, and thinking about its many voices and voiced positions, therefore, it was reassuring to read Labbe suggesting 'in this poem Smith preserves a persona reliant on a multiplied sense of self; characterized by a keen awareness of the suitability of voice, tone, self-construction, self-placement'.* As I was already thinking about Beachy Head in terms of pastoral, and then in terms of the eighteenth-century prospect poem, what began to coalesce in my head was something in terms of position, genre and landscape.

Smith's assertive opening - 'on thy stupendous summit, rock sublime!...I would recline' - claims immediately the visual authority of the prospect poem: a form, often interleaved with the sublime, which surveys a landscape in a panoramic fas…

The Location of Pleasure in Sidney's Defence

Recently been reading Sidney's Defence of Poesy as part of a foundation course on poetry and history. It all seemed so simple at the time: a grand tour through some of the great historical manifestos which defined poetry's place in their cultures (Sidney, Pope, Shelley, Pound), starting with the Renaissance 'sugar-coated pill' theory of literature. To teach and delight! What could be easier?

Sadly, as is frequently the case, these theoretical texts are noticeably more complex when you root around outside their quotability. I've done my best to wrench the Defence into a self-consistent and relatively easy shape for the first-year undergraduate lecture, but - for myself - the terms wouldn't settle into a straightforward pattern. Perhaps because I did spend a bit of the early summer thinking of pleasure and utility in Shakespeare's sonnets (this is probably the best, or at least most coherent, of my four stabs at reading), I was particularly interested in the …


It has been several months since I've posted anything. There's a few good reasons for that: I've been enjoying my first full summer in Dublin, working on a chapter about Keats and have just finished a 10,000 word article on John Donne and the body. I've also been to Albania!

However, I hope to be up-and-running again. I also see that Google have overhauled the whole interface, so I've given Maddalo a shiny new look.

Note on Shakespeare's Sonnet 4: Life

Naturally, I don't think I'm ever going to complete this little series, but when I have time...

Vnthrifty louelinesse why dost thou spend,
Vpon thy selfe thy beauties legacy?
Natures bequest giues nothing but doth lend,
And being franck she lends to those are free:
Then beautious nigard why doost thou abuse,
The bountious largesse giuen thee to giue?
Profitles vserer why doost thou vse
So great a summe of summes yet can'st not liue?
For hauing traffike with thy selfe alone,
Thou of thy selfe thy sweet selfe dost deceaue,
Then how when nature calls thee to be gone,
What acceptable Audit can'st thou leaue?
Thy vnus'd beauty must be tomb'd with thee,
Which vsed liues th'executor to be.
Now, this sonnet sort of does what I implicitly critiqued when thinking about registers in sonnet 2. It makes an appeal, under the sign of the symbolic order (propriety, law, family), for desire and beauty to be absorbed into an economic register. Yet, partly because I think I've been a li…

Note on Shakespeare's Sonnet 3: Images

Looke in thy glasse and tell the face thou vewest,
Now is the time that face should forme an other,
Whose fresh repaire if now thou not renewest,
Thou doo'st beguile the world, vnblesse some mother.
For where is she so faire whose vn-eard wombe
Disdaines the tillage of thy husbandry?
Or who is he so fond will be the tombe,
Of his selfe loue to stop posterity?
Thou art thy mothers glasse and she in thee
Calls backe the louely Aprill of her prime,
So thou through windowes of thine age shalt see,
Dispight of wrinkles this thy goulden time.
But if thou liue remembred not to be,
Die single and thine Image dies with thee.

This sonnet brings out all my deep-rooted Derridean tendencies, and this is a fairly basic reading along those lines. As both the first and last lines evoke the relationship between self and image, the différance between the two seems most obviously at stake.
The opening quatrain establishes that although the young man's beauty, confirmed by the reflection in the mirror, currentl…

Note on Shakespeare's Sonnet 2: Beauty

The madness continues.

When fortie Winters shall beseige thy brow,
And digge deep trenches in thy beauties field,
Thy youthes proud liuery so gaz'd on now,
Wil be a totter'd weed of smal worth held:
Then being askt, where all thy beautie lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty daies;
To say within thine owne deepe sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame, and thriftlesse praise.
How much more praise deseru'd thy beauties vse,
If thou couldst answere this faire child of mine
Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse
Proouing his beautie by succession thine.
This were to be new made when thou art ould,
And see thy blood warme when thou feel'st it could.
I'm not sure I have anything singularly original to say about this sonnet, but I'm still interested in the exorbitant register of beauty, the aesthetic and the erotic. The question, I think, is what kind of experience is 'beauty'? What kind of value does it have? What kind of temporality does it have? (I've written o…