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Showing posts from June, 2015

Rome Note: The Ordinary

Something juxtaposed to everything appears as nothing. But then something juxtaposed to nothing can appear as everything.

This is loosely how one of the speakers at the philosophy, theology and literature conference I recently attended in Rome described a knot of problems around finitude that recurred in many of the panels. The first formulation is the problem of nihilism: of a shattered absolute and a relinquished transcendence. If the infinite withdraws itself, then the finite world can seem unmeaning and abandoned. It seems worthless, as nothing at all. If we remember our lost absolutes, our finitude seems as nothing.

The second reinscribes a transcendence through Heidegger 'es gibt': the fact - the apparently miraculous or stunning fact - that there is a world rather than there not being one. Things - ordinary things like leaves and cats and typewriters and walls - are, and through them we sense a bundle of qualities (the greenness of the leaves, the shape of the cat, the …

Research Diary 14/6 (and a note on fantasy)

1. Well, both papers (one on Wordsworth and 'piety'; one on mother/infant lyrics) are done now and more conventional blogging will shortly resume, although I hope to write on more research diary entry on the actual conference experiences.

Writing the papers involved two very different experiences. The topics themselves are different: one is ultra-canonical, and part of a research project that in some shape or form goes back to 2010; one is archival and based around highly marginal writers, and part of a purely exploratory set of research. But what struck me was how formally different the writing experiences were.

Because I was negotiating a set of nearly two dozen texts with the mother/infant paper, it was deeply planned in advance. I had 300 words to deal with three conventions of the genre, and 300 words to deal with three especially interesting poems that broke the boundaries of the genre. This really isn't a lot of words to play with! But the structure was fairly simpl…

Research Diary 5/6

Only a few weeks to the June conferences, with BARS (and maybe just bars) on the horizon too...

1. I have mostly been doing contextual research to support my exploratory paper on poems to newborns (by female writers, largely in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century magazines). This comes out of a long-standing interest in embodiment and women's writing, as well as a purely inquisitive search to find poems by women on pregnancy.

This has meant some in-depth work on eighteenth-century motherhood. Apart from anything else, it's been fascinating, discovering things that only cultural historians can root up. This ranges from the fact that newborns were routinely given purgatives to the fact that a child's existence could only be validated by the mother herself (on feeling the 'quickening'). Or that Diderot places the end of childhood innocence at age seven, or that lone mothers petitioning the Foundling Hospital rarely used the category of sexual passivity/victimhood to na…