In the spirit of Rousseau, I must confess. I confess that I have always held what is probably a peculiar interest in a rather particular narrative genre. This genre might best be described (perhaps also in the spirit of Rousseau) as “scholarly autobiography.” It is not quite the dissertation, or thesis, itself. Many of us, I’m sure, are already all too familiar with that genre’s idiosyncrasies, conventions, and requirements. In any case, the dissertation properly belongs in the realm of scholarship. Yet, neither is it really the conception, or account, that we all have in our minds of where we see our scholarship positioning us in relation to ongoing conversations with colleagues, or within our field more broadly. Nor is it even how we imagine our work will evolve in the future. Nevertheless, this genre pertains precisely to the dissertation, itself. Moreover, it is a genre that all of us, as graduate students, are deeply invested in. I speak, in particular, of the stories surrounding our dissertations. Often these are autobiographical, but many times they also take on the aspects of history, fiction, even myth: from whence our interests came, how they shaped our decisions to become scholars, and how they continue to guide us along what may well be for many of us our own personal “Quest Romance.”
What would Lord Byron say, I wonder. How might that quintessentially Romantic “man of affairs,” as Jerome McGann once delighted in punning, respond to our current state of affairs? What would he say of our endlessly streaming 24-hour news cycle, or to our social media? We can never know, of course. But as a politics and news junkie, as well as a Romanticist, I love to speculate.
The boys of the newly formed Dead Poets’ Society are holding one of their weekly meetings (except Knox Overstreet, who’s at a party trying to talk to the girl of his dreams) when there’s a sound—the likes of which strikes terror into the hearts of teenage boys: a girl’s laughter. Charlie leads them in, offers them cigarettes, while the rest of the group stares on in silence, not sure what to say, what to think, or even whether or not they’re allowed to speak. The boys eventually try to talk, though it’s Charlie who eventually succeeds in properly “wooing” the girls by of course reciting poetry: first a poem by Elizabeth Barret Browning, and then a second one by George Gordon, Lord Byron. Continue reading In Defense of Mr. Byron
There’s a recurring question that springs to mind whenever I sit in the Starbucks in the Barnes & Noble in my little East Texas town and stare up at the mural of authors who all seem to have transcended time and space to have coffee alongside the hipsters: who put Oscar Wilde next to George Eliot, Rudyard Kipling, and Trollope? Seriously, is it any wonder that the man looks so bored? Wilde shouldn’t be surrounded by those Victorian fogies, he should be sipping gin with Truman Capote, Christopher Hitchens, Walt Whitman, and the one man who would almost certainly guarantee a good time, and who also happens to be the focus of this essay, George Gordon, Lord Byron. The reason for such inclusion is simple: Byron could be an absolutely trenchant satirist when he wanted to be. Byron, like Wilde, Capote or Hitchens, could bring out his own breed of sharp wit whenever someone at a dinner party decided to be cleverer than him, only to be left decimated in a single sentence by his superior rhetorical ability. I know this is a platitude, but sometimes I really wish I could have been a fly on the wall whenever Byron let loose one of those glorious aphorisms that sealed his entrance into the hall of “Truly Spectacular One Liners,” if only to see and understand how it was that Rodney Dangerfield sealed his membership before the poet. (Then again, when you’ve starred in Caddyshack, your “Immortality card” is pretty much secure, unless you’re that blond kid who was the protagonist, and does anybody have any clue what happened to that guy?) Continue reading Dear Mr. Southey, Jump in a Lake: Byron and Epic Humor