Skip to main content


Showing posts from 2016

The End of Research Leave

Well, it's been seven months since I've last blogged anything, and that's largely because having wrapped up teaching for the 15/16 academic year, I embarked into the mysterious waters of a half-year research leave in order to bring my long-awaited (um, well, long-awaited by me) monograph project to completion.

Aaaand, to adopt the Stewart Lee defence, time passed and something happened. They can't say nothing happened! 70,000 words of note-taking (thank-you SimpleNote), 30,000 words of fresh chapter stuff, revisions on the other 40,000 words that was sitting in various .doc files, and I have something resembling a manuscript. It's not quite ready for submission to publishers yet, but it's getting there. Romantic Prayer: Reinventing the Poetics of Devotion, 1773-1832 here we come.

Anyway, I was very glad to be able to speak to colleagues who had been on research leave before me, so in that spirit here's four not-so-much-lessons as observations.

1. I found it…

Where is the Meaning in Shakespeare?

You shouldn't get annoyed about articles in the Guardian, especially ones with clickbait headlines, otherwise you'd spend your entire life in a digitally-engendered rage. However, following a mildly indulgent piece on theatrical snobbery last week, I found myself reading this not altogether dissimilar article by James Gingell on Shakespeare. The subeditors haven't done a bad job here, and the following does sum it up fairly effectively: 'Rejecting the cult of Bardolatry does not make you an intellectual philistine - Shakespeare is hard to understand, and the language barrier gets in the way of the soul-nourishing content we are led to believe can be found within his plays.'

Now, the first statement is a truism. I'm not an early modern scholar nor a particularly keen theatre-goer. As an academic, I'm well aware and duly sceptical of the historical process through which authors, including Shakespeare, becomes canonised, not least because Shakespeare's own…

Maurice Riordan's 'Badb': A Commentary

I came across Maurice Riordan's work in a bookshop in Derry, and he's one of the contemporary poets who have really caught my eye and ear. Holy Land (2007) is good, but I really really like Floods (2000). It was therefore a pleasure to find a short - albeit not altogether characteristic - text of his to use in concluding my teaching year. Although that was over a month ago now, I wanted to write a few reflections on the blog and I've finally managed to get around to it!*

'Badb' (the title coming from the name of an ancient Irish war-goddess in the shape of a crow) is a somewhat Hughesesque lyric which was perfectly fitted to a seminar on 'nature', producing two really good sets of student discussions. I'm never entirely sure of copyright issues, so I haven't reproduced the text here, but it's easy enough to find the poem as part of a Google preview of Flood, or failing that here. Above all, I just think that as a tracing of the wavering line bet…

Dorian Gray, Ethics, Aestheticism

A bit late, this, but some reflections after my final seminars of 2016 on Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. In many ways, it's the ideal week 11 'end-of-term' text: textured enough to provoke discussion but also engaging and accessible.

One point we discussed, especially in the second seminar, was a tension that I feel is hard to resolve conclusively: how do we read the novel's vividly moral framework (soul, sin, curse, downfall) against the aestheticist principles (codified in the novel's preface) that suspend ethics or treat ethics merely as a formal/stylistic problem? Whilst of course we don't have to accept the preface as binding, if there is conceivably 'no such thing as a moral or an immoral book', then why does the novel's central trope - the portrait - encode so rigorously a register of immorality? Is this simply a dazzlingly reflexive twist: an a-moral book about a Faustian arc, endlessly switching art and life, using morality and imm…

The Inhumane George Eliot?

Among the monographs I sometimes entertain myself by thinking I'd like to write (Eighteenth-Century Insensibility, Romanticism Materialism...) is a slight fascination with what we might call 'inhumanism' in the nineteenth century. I don't mean so much the inhumane as violence or evil, but simply the points where humanity meets it own edge: Shelley's early reflections on necessity in Queen Mab and its notes, for example.

I was reminded of 'inhumanism' in this week's seminar, which were on George Eliot's unusual gothic novella The Lifted Veil. On asking some students to analyse the extravagant closing scene - where a servant is temporarily and horrifyingly revivified through blood transfusion - it was pointed out that all the characters respond to the spectacle in ways that suspend their humanity:
The lips continued to murmur, but the sounds were no longer distinct.  Soon there was no sound--only a slight movement: the flame had leaped out, and was be…

A Portrait of the Artist as an Inauthentic Man: Leaving the Atocha Station

I came into seminars last week on Ben Lerner's 2011 novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, to find that the lecture had apparently been one of those strongly polemic ones that get the students talking. Lerner's text follows an American writer - over-intellectual and self-deconstructing at best; pretentious and manipulative at worst - as he drifts through a literary fellowship in Madrid, and the lecture had critiqued it on the grounds that it was emptily postmodern, unoriginal, a work of existentialist bad faith.

I should confess immediately that I differ from my colleague. I like this novel: I found it intelligent, funny, sharply written, evocative and occasionally profound. That, I guess, is just subjective. But I think the lecture did raise important questions about 'authenticity' which can be discussed and perhaps disputed in more concrete terms. I actually think the novel is deeply concerned with authenticity - in life and in art - but in a way that is anything but sha…

Broken Passions/Enclosure and Nostalgia: Hemans and Swinburne

A new term; two new modules (or one new module and one old friend returning: TRU2010). With my teaching load weighted towards the spring, I'm not sure how much I'm going to be able to blog over the next 10 weeks, but after two excellent introductory classes on Romanticism to Decadence (Keats, Hemans, DG Rossetti, Swinburne), I felt I wanted to offer two short notes on seminar discussion.

1. Although I'm a fan of Felicia Hemans, and have written on her, I have to say 'Corinne at the Capitol' isn't one of my obvious favourites. However, having taught it last year and this, I'm enjoying the new nuances that are coming up. One of my seminar groups appeared to have a penchant for form, and when it came the Hemans, they cleverly juxtaposed the unhindered aesthetic of the improvastrice (the rapturous, firelike, spontaneous and feminine poetic) with the regular - almost monumental - stanzaic form.

Whilst I think you have to pay attention to the fact that the poem i…

On Laclau and Mouffe

Poor Bruno Latour. Like my 2013 monograph challenge and the rather more modest 2014 'minor Romantic' binge before it, it turns out trying to fit something else blogworthy in between the demands of modern academia and real life is quite hard - as such, I only managed nine rather than ten theorists in 2015. So Latour's We Have Never Been Modern falls off the edge, for the time being at least, and I end up with Ernest Laclau and Chantal Mouffe's Hegemony and Socialist Strategy.

1. The problematic from which the study sets off is, broadly, the insufficiency and disintegration of the orthodox Marxist political model, which posited both a deterministic progress through phases of history, and a priori 'subjects' of history such as the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. These premises became increasingly difficult to maintain as one observes a 'disjuncture between "theory" and "observable tendencies of capitalism"' (loc. 834).* For example, it…