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Showing posts from September, 2013

40 Monograph Challenge #19: British Abolitionism and the Rhetoric of Sensibility

Title: Brycchan Carey, British Abolitionism and the Rhetoric of Sensibility: Writing, Sentiment and Slavery 1760-1807 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)

Methodology: In a sense, formalist, but deeply historicist in its selection of largely non-canonical texts across a range of literary and non-literary genres.
Critical Context: The large existing body of work on sensibility (Markman Ellis, Janet Todd, G.J. Benfield-Barker etc.); work on abolitionist poetry, especially Marcus Wood.
Thesis: In the late eighteenth-century, there was an unusually specific connection between a literary mode (sentimentalism) and a political movement (abolition). This connection worked through a particular and definable use of rhetoric.

In a Nutshell: The introduction of Carey's book does a good job in setting out the triangulated co-ordinates implied by the title: abolition, sentiment/sensibility and rhetoric. The argument is that a 'sentimental rhetoric' emerged as part of the wave of 'new…

Notes on Godot

Went to see the Exeter production of Waiting for Godot last night, staged by the Miracle Theatre Company. Although I naturally came across a slew of Samuel Beckett when I lived in Dublin (along with O'Casey and Friel, he's a staple), I'd never actually seen Godot live before, so it was interesting for me.  Aware that Beckett is incredibly hard to write about well, and being no twentieth-scholar myself, I just offer a handful of random observations.

1. Beckett and Buridan. Early in the play I was struck by an exchange where Vladimir and Estragon discuss, with characteristically dark humour, hanging themselves. The question is, with a fragile bough, who should hang themselves first and prove it is possible for both men:
ESTRAGON:(with effort). Gogo light—bough not break—Gogo dead. Didi heavy—bough break—Didi alone. Whereas-VLADIMIR:I hadn't thought of that.ESTRAGON:If it hangs you it'll hang anything.VLADIMIR:But am I heavier than you?ESTRAGON:So you tell me. I don'…

40 Monograph Challenge #18: Bluestockings

Title: Elizabeth Eger, Bluestockings: Women of Reason from Enlightenment to Romanticism (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)

Methodology: feminist, historicist, cultural materialist
Critical Context: feminist canon revision (e.g. Mellor, Curran, Armstrong, Guest); on the bluestockings specifically, Slyvia Myers
Thesis: identifies a late eighteenth-century cultural 'moment' when female intellectuals played an active, and to a certain extent feminist, role in forging a national literary canon and a broader sense of national cultural identity

In a nutshell: As well as introducing the reader to the key historical figures of the Bluestocking movement,* Eger marshall the evidence that both female and male writers recognised the immense cultural contribution being made by women in the late eighteenth century, and the cultural and critical authority they were increasingly appropriating. Chapter one looks at how symbolic figures (muses, Sappho etc.) could actually be invested and identi…

Top Boy/The Wire

Top Boy, a Channel 4 series set on a drug-strewn East London estate, is often described as a British Wire. Having spent a pleasurable six months in Ireland watching the boxed sets of the latter with my girlfriend of the time, I'm interested in the comparison. I really like Top Boy, but it seems a very different kind of series in form to The Wire, even though its content (drugs, deprivation, organised crime, black subculture, violence, youth) is similar.

I think that one of the differences can be summed up in a haunting, yet repeatedly deployed, trope in Top Boy - the stylised evocation of London at night, a place of glimmering orange streetlights and the distant burn of Canary Wharf. Indeed, the spectral presence of those skyscrapers is so fundamental that the programme chooses it as its defining image, capping a beautifully shot title sequence as follows:


It is a lyricism that is largely absent from the Baltimore of The Wire. I don't think that this means Top Boy is a more ro…

40 Monograph Challenge #17: The Truth About Romanticism

Realistically, I should retitle this the 30 monograph challenge, since that's probably as far as I'll get by December, but I suppose it just goes to show how difficult it is to take 45 minutes out of your day to keep up with the academic field! Summer has been good: recently been at the British Library researching Byron criticism (and reading a monograph per day - but I'm promised not to cheat on this!); now in the midst of a spell of pre-term writing.

Title: Tim Milnes, The Truth About Romanticism: Pragmatism and Idealism in Keats, Shelley and Coleridge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)

Methodology: takes its philosophical cues from pragmatist (frequently analytic) philosophers like Quine, Strawson and Rorty
Critical Context: in a sense, ambitiously, all of new historicism and deconstruction; more specifically, in dialogue with Kathleen Wheeler, Jerome Christensen, Paul Hamilton, as well as work on Romantic empiricism and Romantic audiences
Thesis: Despite idealis…