Tag Archives: Coleridge

NASSR 2017 Daily Recap: Sunday, Aug. 13

Storify Recap

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Stephanie Edwards’s Recap

Day four of the conference was, undoubtedly, the most exciting for me since it was the day of my own panel. Before my mid-morning panel, I heard some interesting and unique papers at “The Life of Things.” Brianna Beehler’s paper, “Frankenstein’s Doll: Production Narratives, Animation, and the Novel,” offered a really cool and fresh approach to reading Frankenstein as a doll narrative, with the Creature moving from doll to doll player. As a huge fan of Frankenstein, I was very excited to think about my beloved text in a new way.

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The Medieval Mystic Behind Coleridge’s Imagination

Developing a Counter-Enlightenment Mind

Coleridge’s famous definition of the imagination in his Biographia Literaria rejects John Locke’s understanding of the mind as a tabula rasa, a blank slate upon which experience impresses, though we find the empiricist view extending back to classical thought (see Plato’s Theaetetus and Aristotle’s De Anima). Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) supposes that the mind is a “white paper void of all characters, without any ideas,” a passive slate void of agency or a priori knowledge until acted upon by the external world. Coleridge, who was an increasingly Christian Neoplatonist, abhorred Locke’s static conception of the mind and attributed the decline in English philosophy and theology to the popularity of empiricist modes of thinking.

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Romantic Landscapes, Part II

I was lucky enough, during one of the few trips I made into London from the West Country via rail, to catch a musical performance of Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner by the Trad Academy Sea Shanty Choir at historic Wilton’s Music Hall. The show was at 7:30 pm on 15 July, a Saturday; and because the last train back to Templecombe would leave Waterloo Station at precisely 9:20, I had to find lodgings in London for that night or risk getting “locked out” and, possibly, forced to pay through the nose for a few restless hours in a room that didn’t fit into my budget (this had happened once before, but is a story for a different day). I booked a room for that night in a nearby Chamberlain’s (the pub chain) hotel about a ten minute walk from the music hall. I showed up there several hours early, ate fish and chips, requested “iced tea” as my complimentary beverage (to the utter dismay of the bartender), climbed the five flights of stairs to my room (for the lift was broken), and took a nap. After the 140-minute train ride in, and another two hour walk from the station (I refused to pay for a cab), I knew that I needed to sleep or I would be unable to savor the coming performance.

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Romantic Landscapes, Part I

I recently took a class in post-colonialism which was subtitled “Place and Space in Contemporary Anglo-American Literatures.” The professor wanted us to think like real estate agents: that is, to always be repeating the mantra “location, location, location” as we read various contemporary texts. One of the novels we read for class was V.S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival, the autobiographical story of a Trinidadian writer who retires to the English countryside in Wiltshire, living in a guest cottage on the edge of a manor that has fallen into disrepair.

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Romantic Objects

I’ve long been fascinated by two Romantic objects that figure prominently in poetry and prose: the Aeolian harp and the Claude glass. The Aeolian harp is a stringed instrument that is placed in an open window so that the strings vibrate with the wind, sort of like a sideways guitar.

Aeolian-HarpInWindow

Image source: http://chestofbooks.com/reference/American-Cyclopaedia-V1/Aeolian-Harp.html

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The Poetic Word in Byron, Zaum, and Nabokov—and a Happy Birthday to the Latter

At the climax of the thunderstorm in the alps in  Childe Harold III, Byron/Harold flashes some virtuosic self-aggrandizement:

Could I embody and unbosom now

That which is most within me,—could I wreak

My thoughts upon expression, and thus throw

Soul, heart, mind, passions, feelings, strong or weak,

All that I would have sought, and all I seek,

Bear, know, feel, and yet breathe—into one word,

And that one word were Lightning, I would speak;

But as it is, I live and die unheard,

With a most voiceless thought, sheathing it as a sword. (st. 97)

Byronism was always poised on the brink of self-parody, even if it waited until Don Juan to tumble gleefully over the edge. Here the verse inflates a Wordsworthian sense of psychic geography to alpine magnitude. Yet at its climax, the stanza dismisses the expressive power of its own vehicle—language. Wordsworth, predictably, was not amused by Childe Harold. He held the younger poet’s newfound reverence for nature an affectation, “assumed rather than natural,” and accused Byron of “poaching on my Manor” (3:394). The remark performs a fascinating inversion since, as Tilar Mazzeo notes, “the professional Wordsworth casts himself as the lord of the literary estate and charges the aristocratic Byron with crass appropriations that are figuratively beyond the pale” (144). Beyond the pale is right: poaching had been codified a hanging offense since the Black Act of 1723, which became both model and synecdoche for a “golden and sanguine” legal code that deemed nearly every offense against property a capital crime.

Byron tried to exculpate himself by claiming that Percy Shelley had “dosed him with Wordsworth physic even to nausea” (Medwin 237). In this spirit, let us consider Canto III’s thunderstorm episode a Wordsworth-induced fever that ends in purgation. Byron/Harold begins this “classic piece of rodomontade” (Hodgson 379) by wishing he could “embody” and “unbosom” what lies within him. Even in the prefixes, these verbs do the work of synthesizing and then negating—the former a making and reifying, the latter an unloading, a jettisoning. These nearly contradictory transformations operate on “That which is most within me,” which is then detailed in a parenthetical inventory that ends up spilling out over five lines. This messy catalogue of the interior—thoughts, feelings, desires plus their objects—might seem random and spontaneous, but it lands squarely and deftly within the meter, such that it can be gathered “into one word.”

Continue reading The Poetic Word in Byron, Zaum, and Nabokov—and a Happy Birthday to the Latter

Eucatastrophe in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

First, let me say that I’d love some constructive feedback on this post. This is a sort of companion piece to my last post, in which I examined Coleridge’s influence on J. R. R. Tolkien’s conception of the imagination and its pivotal role in the creation of fantastic literature. But my long-term plan for my dissertation entails developing a critical theory of fantastic fiction (a loaded term in and of itself, I realize) from Longinus’s conception of the sublime as it relates to language and rhetoric, Romantic ideas about the imagination, and higher-order “big picture” ideas about the role of fantasy from Tolkien and, to a lesser extent, C. S. Lewis. Continue reading Eucatastrophe in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Coleridge’s Imagination through the lens of J. R. R. Tolkien

fairystories6As a writer of fantasy, J. R. R. Tolkien hardly needs an introduction. Even before the success of the film adaptations of his work turned Tolkien into a household name, he had won first the hearts of children with The Hobbit in 1937 and, some twenty years later, the hearts and minds of adult readers with The Lord of the Rings. But, like Coleridge and MacDonald before him, Tolkien thought deeply about his craft as a writer and creator, and it is by largely virtue of this thought that his art has achieved such timeless success. His 1939 lecture “On Fairy-Stories,” subsequently published as an essay in the 1964 book Tree and Leaf, is, as the editors of the recent authoritative edition of the essay put it, “Tolkien’s defining study of and the centre-point in his thinking about the genre (of fantasy), as well as being the theoretical basis for his fiction” (Flinger and Anderson 9). In this seminal work, he addresses all the points about the imagination raised by Coleridge and, following the Victorian writer George MacDonald, defends their application in the literary arts. Continue reading Coleridge’s Imagination through the lens of J. R. R. Tolkien

Romantic Web Communities

One of the great advantages we have as scholars is the opportunity to form communities beyond our institutions — not just at annual conferences in remote locales, but also in ongoing conversations on the web. These online communities are fora for scholarly dialogue and informal queries, requests for crowdfunding special projects and historical sites, and repositories of archival material. Here’s a brief roundup of selected sites, listservs, and communities available to Romanticists (and if you know of more, please get in touch!).

Academic listservs:

(1) NASSR List — the list of the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (subscription required). The list is frequented by many major scholars in the field, but also graduate students and junior faculty; this is a particularly excellent resource for answers to obscure and arcane historical questions, and for links to major awards and opportunities in the field. Continue reading Romantic Web Communities

On First Looking Into…Kubla Khan

The Orient as Other in Kubla Khan

By Lucille Starer Marshall

Orientalism, as defined by Edward Said, is a mode of knowledge production that sustains a basic distinction between the East and West. Orientalism produces cultural theories, political accounts, and literary representations of the Orient that maintain the world’s imbalances of power. At a time of Western imperialism and national cultivation, Romantic writers participated in constructing the image of the Orient. Through poetic style, diction, and narrative, authors established a distinct Other in order to assert the superiority of Western civilization. We encounter such Orientalism in Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. Continue reading On First Looking Into…Kubla Khan