Posts in category "Vol. 08 No. 1"

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Richard E. Matlak, Deep Distresses: William Wordsworth, John Wordsworth, Sir George Beaumont, 1800–1808

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Richard E. Matlak, Deep Distresses: William Wordsworth, John Wordsworth, Sir George Beaumont, 1800-1808.  Newark, NJ: University of Delaware Press, 2003.  201pp. $43.50 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-87413-815-9).

Reviewed by
John L. Mahoney
Boston College

Richard Matlak's Deep Distresses: William Wordsworth, John Wordsworth, Sir George Beaumont, 1800-1808 is a notable study of a key episode in Wordsworthiana, the death of the poet's mariner brother John in the wreck of his ship, the Earl of Abergavenny. It is also a fascinating series of persuasive speculations that connect the accident with Sir George Beaumont's painting of Peel Castle in a Storm and Wordsworth's great poem Elegiac Stanzas, Suggested by a Picture of Peele Castle in a Storm. Matlak, with "long part-time experience with both military and commercial operations" (11) and an impressive command of the required maritime history, offers a psychological or psychobiographical approach to a range of key questions: What drew John Wordsworth to assume command of the Abergavenny and engage William and Dorothy enough to offer financial support? Why did Beaumont paint two oils of the wreck? Why was Wordsworth so engaged by the painting that he felt the need to write his poem and to correspond with Beaumont? And what conclusion can be drawn about John's much discussed behavior at the time of the wreck that took his life?

Matlak is, of course, familiar with the important views of scholars like Karl Kroeber, Geoffrey Hartman, Leon Waldoff, Kenneth Johnston, Thomas McFarland, and Marjorie Levinson, but he has his own agenda. With the scholarly acumen of a Wordsworthian master--one remembers his earlier book The Poetry of Relationship: The Wordsworths and Coleridges, 1797-1800--and the artistry of an exciting storyteller, he proceeds to deal with his key questions. Drawing on primary sources in maritime history of the period, he describes the life and challenges of the mariner of the time, and proceeds to introduce John Wordsworth as he returns to Grasmere from one of his many voyages. His return this time is marked by his need for money and his forceful request that his family support his final command. And it promises to be a lucrative trip with a cargo valued at some £270,000, "one of the richest vessels ever to sail to India under the Company flag" (85-86). As Matlak puts it, "John's point is clear: you who are to gain from my success owe me your support" (67). Matlak sees in the poet's Michael interesting parallels between the wastrel son Luke and the devoted father Michael and John the mariner and William the poet, and he sees something in the Leonard of William's The Brothers in the frequently absent John.

The facts of the case are clear enough. The Earl of Abergavenny, an East Indiaman, went down in a turbulent sea two miles off the coast of the Bill of Portland on February 5, 1805, and 246 perished. Rumors and gossip of all kinds followed, especially stories of the courage or irresponsibility of the Master, and there were suggestions of incompetence or alcoholism. Digging into the Naval Chronicle for 1805, Matlak provides the account of one Cornet Burgoyne as he tells of how in the midst of great distress, "the Boats were never attempted to be hoisted out. About two minutes before the Ship went down, Mr. Baggot, the Chief Mate, went to Captain Wordsworth, and said, 'We have done all we can, Sir, she will sink in a moment.' The Captain replied, 'It cannot be helped--God's will be done'" (93). The East India Company, jealous of its commercial reputation, pointed to pilot error. "William," says Matlak, "in writing to friends, emphasized a familiar impression that John was indifferent to his survival"; he stressed favorable reports "as evidence of increasing certainty not just that John had acted appropriately, but that he had acted heroically" (103).

With the facts established, Matlak opens his own interpretation. He sees John, with his work, and Beaumont, with his reputation and influence, as patrons of William, both feeling that his genius and poetry could make a difference in the world. Beaumont, obviously attuned to stories of the wreck, and sensitive about the gossip about John's behavior, painted two oils. They were paintings of Piel Castle, a fourteenth-century castle built as a warehouse for cargo against pirates and invaders, and of a ship in distress. Wordsworth shortly after the tragedy had shared with Beaumont his oft-quoted thoughts of questioning whether it would be "blasphemy to say that upon the supposition of the thinking principle being destroyed by death, however inferior we may be to the great Cause and ruler of things, we have more of love in our Nature than he has?" Beaumont's response is instructive if not exactly comforting to a distressed William, a blend, as Matlak reminds readers, of sentiments in Tintern Abbey and Pope's Essay on Man. He finds that "it is pleasing and awful to observe the great vessel of the universe steadily measuring its course with undeviating serenity--because guided by the perfect hand which governs all and 'rolls through all things,'" and "I am still confident good will ultimately arise, for I have full faith in the aphorism that 'partial ill will in the end produce universal good'" (130).

Although Beaumont's painting doesn't seem referential or political, it clearly struck a distraught Wordsworth. Indeed Matlak suggests that the poet, now savoring the memory of a 1794 visit to his cousins in Rampside, near Piel Island and its castle where he had visited the grave of his beloved Hawkshead teacher William Taylor and learned of the death of Robespierre and the tempering of violent revolution, would have found in the painting a context of "spiritual revelation" to support him in dealing with popular responses to John's tragedy (134). But it is not only John's tragedy but the fate of William's own poetic career, especially in the light of the savage reviews of his 1807 Poems, in Two Volumes. Once upon a time, his Elegiac Stanzas recalls, at Rampside--on the coast, near the Castle, in summer--he would have done a different painting. There would have been no storm, no ship in danger, no Castle battered by wind and rain: "A Picture had it been of lasting ease," "So pure the sky, so quiet was the air!"

But now there is a new picture and a new world. Both John's death and the crisis in William's poetic career are incorporated into Beaumont's painting.  All three players in the drama--mariner, painter, poet--come together in the great lines of Elegiac Stanzas: "Beaumont, Friend! who would have been the Friend, / If he had lived, of Him whom I deplore."  He will always know "[t]he feeling of my loss," but now "with mind serene."  He will always see the painting as "a passionate work," with the battered Castle and "[t]hat Hulk which labours in the deadly swell," but praise it as "wise and well."  He is a changed poet, a changed man, like Peele Castle "standing here sublime," welcoming "fortitude, and patient cheer," bidding "farewell" to "the heart that lives alone" and now preaching a new gospel: "Not without hope we suffer and we mourn."

Richard Matlak has set himself the formidable task of coming to terms with "the principal problem of 'Elegiac Stanzas'" (11), and he has combined full and impeccable research with superb close reading skills to meet the challenge. For him John's death followed by Beaumont's painting lead to the great poem that celebrates what he regards as "the poet's renunciation of his gladsome belief in Nature's benignity" (17). Deep Distresses is an important addition to contemporary Wordsworth scholarship.

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Sheila A. Spector, "Glorious Incomprehensible": The Development of Blake's Kabbalistic Language & "Wonders Divine": The Development of Blake's Kabbalistic Myth

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Sheila A. Spector, "Glorious Incomprehensible": The Development of Blake's Kabbalistic Language. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2001.  x + 202pp.  Illus: 50 b&w and 4 color.  $46.50 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8387-5469-4).
Sheila A. Spector, "Wonders Divine": The Development of Blake's Kabbalistic Myth. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2001.  213pp. Illus.: 54 b&w and 4 color.  $59.50 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8387-5468-6).

Reviewed by
Mark S. Lussier
Arizona State University

N.B.: In this review, the former work is abbreviated as GI, and the latter work is abbreviated as WD.

After a period of seeming dearth in Blake studies, where individual studies of the poet/prophet were rare while collective studies of Romanticism focused on broad movements like colonialism, historicism, and imperialism abounded, the last ten years have seen an explosion of both single studies dedicated to particular aspects of Blake's visionary agenda and essay collections presenting scholarly analyses across a broad spectrum of concerns. This re-turn trend toward single author studies actually delights me, since I've always preferred, as a reader, to participate fully in the critical struggle between the unruly artist and the striving critic that shapes the very background radiation to most memorable studies of Blake. With the appearance of Sheila Spector's double-volume examination of the Kabbalistic dimensions of Blake's linguistic and mythic efforts, the ground of future discussions of the poet's divine vision has shifted radically, since any motivated study of the mythic and mystic dimensions of the major epics would now be required to address this complex mapping of the evolution of "a stable core of fourfold symbols that, remaining fairly close to their kabbalistic prototypes, provide a basis for the later alterations" (WD 107) of the myth after the Lambeth period.

Before entering more fully into the dense and enriched environment of Spector's arguments, however, I feel compelled to begin with the physical objects themselves. Setting aside, for the moment, the logic or necessity behind the double-volumes themselves, the books are generous in their illustrations and luxurious in their dimensions, positioning tactile pleasure at the horizon of reception. As someone periodically involved in publishing work on Blake (and thereby as someone who knows the cost of illustrations), I find the works delightfully visual and laud both author and publisher for this commitment. "Glorious Incomprehensible" includes four color and fifty-two black & white reproductions, offering not only a massive range of Blakean images but an impressive array of images drawn from the Kabbalistic tradition (my personal favorite was "The Right Table of the Commutations" found on page thirty). "Wonders Divine" equally delights in its copious visual field, although the emphasis shifts appropriately to Blake's works, and taken together the volumes sound the depths of Blake's indebtedness to the Hebraic tradition generally and Jewish mysticism specifically.

The analogies between the Kabbalistic and Blakean mythopoeic systems are copious; within both, words function simultaneously as "motivated signs" and "incarnate symbols" (GI 32), thereby giving rise to "a fully conceived version of Christian Kabbalism" capable of articulating Blake's "own prophetic vision" (WD 24).  The somewhat mirrored structure Spector provides in these works fosters an unusual and exemplary degree of 'intra-textuality' (a mode often operative in Blake's own work) that allows readers to better contextualize the simultaneity of development for Blake's linguistic and mythic codification of collective tradition and individual genius now recognized as the emanative core of the illuminated books.  Not surprisingly, Blake's "intellectual orientation" (GI 43) differed significantly from contemporary theories of language and rhetoric, with the poet rejecting "the materialistic definition of language" in preference for its spiritual operations, linking his thinking somewhat with Hugh Blair and George Berkeley.  Here linguistic interest intersects spiritual demand, and Spector's survey of the religious contexts within which Blake hones his prophetic stance thoroughly supports her view of the prophecies as seeking "a linguistic form that could transcend its own grammatical structure" (GI 53). Furthermore, this discussion, when involved intra-textually with the mythic contexts discussed in "Wonders Divine," interconnects in splendid fashion how a myth built through "amalgamation" (WD 34) best serves a language striving to overcome its own prison-house.  I would argue that Spector's critical effort is best appreciated when readers undertake the type of interrelated reading across the volumes just discussed, but for the remainder of this review, I will address the volumes individually, beginning with "Glorious Incomprehensible" and proceeding to "Wonders Divine."

Having convincingly established the 'gaze of intentionality' in Blake's work in the introduction and first chapter, where spiritual/prophetic discourse strives across the history of its textual development "to transform consciousness" (GI 55), Spector structures her discussion accordingly: "In the earliest composite art, Blake's linguistic manipulations are restricted to the material surface, manifesting a kind of pre-intentional level of consciousness. . . . Then, in the early prophecies, he explores the fact of intentionality, attempting to liberate thought by inverting fundamental principles upon which conventional language is predicated. . . . Consequently, in the minor prophecies, Blake explores the concept underlying the material system, . . . [and] in the major prophecies, he was able to create a mystical form of language through which, finally, in Jerusalem, he himself could merge with the ultimate referent, the Divine Vision" (GI 56). Certainly, no recent critic has read this movement in Blake's work from pre-intentionality to ultimate significance as intensely as Spector, and the approach provides a linguistic context for Blake's provocative endorsement of etymological contradiction, an ambiguity vibrantly present in his appropriation of Hebrew.

In "Pre-Intentionality: 'Newton's Sleep,'" Spector analyzes this "contradictory" verbal presence through Thel, Tiriel and Visions of the Daughters, finding literal and symbolic borrowings in the process and leading, in the case of Thel, to the conclusion that "the poem as a whole was generated around the various Hebraic meanings Blake found for the single phoneme thel" (GI 63). The "non-grammatical" language Tiriel utters expresses "the failure of the hero to effect any valid intentional experiences" (GI 67), thereby unveiling "the [very] impossibility of knowing" (GI 71). In Visions of the Daughters, the linguistic responses of Oothoon, Bromion, and Theotormon to a former's brutal rape shape "an extended analysis of three distinct modes of thought, articulated in three different languages" (GI 72). Not surprisingly, as Spector observes, the trajectory of development points toward Blake's deepening awareness of complex connections "between language and the mind," exposing in the process "the fallacy of 'semantic idealism,' the implication that, ultimately, words can only convey a speaker's state of mind" (80).

Blake's stance against Locke's view of language opens the third chapter, since the subversion of the material surface in the earliest works sought "to reveal the fallacies inherent in empiricism" (GI 81), and with The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, he introduces contraries as an "alternative theory upon which to base an intentional relationship" (GI 81). Spector charts this alternative from The Marriage through America and Europe and into Songs of Innocence and Of Experience, with etymologies and phonetic echoes of character names forming "an underlying layer of Hebrew for what are actually totally unrelated concepts" and therein supplementing a view of "language" seen as offering "no underlying system or organization" (GI 88, 98). The analysis here arrives at a familiar insight through a "crooked path," since the linguistic flirtation with contraries (structural and linguistic) proved "self-limiting" (GI 108), which pointed to a problem in Blake's conceptualization of intentionality itself and which necessitated, in Spector's view, a shift "to allegory, a metaphorical trope that enables him to objectify the process of language formation through a series of personifications whose interactions could then be analyzed" (GI 109).

Blake's labor to reformulate his conception of intentionality occupies Chapter Four, which traces Blake's refinement of his allegorical mode sequentially from The Song of Los through the books of Urizen and Ahania to The Book of Los and turns to the visual field of these works to argue that collectively "they force us to acknowledge the limitation of language, for in order to make sense of the composite art, we must allegorize, that is, create a context through which a plausible relationship between the visual and verbal art can be established" (GI 112). Rational and spiritual layers of language, the soul of respective symbolic layers, collide. Not surprisingly, Urizen is seen as attempting "to expand the [textual] focus beyond the material effects of language," and in Ahania, whose name "suggests binding and/or fastening," the emanation of Urizen emerges as "the mode of thought that connects the subjective consciousness with reality" (GI 115, 121). Blake's solution to the problematics of linguistic appropriation and transmutation appears in The Book of Los, which "has been entirely liberated from the constraints of corporeality" and which adopts a "metalinguistic thrust" to "replace conventional modes of thought with categories capable of promoting the visionary faculty" (GI 121, 123, 124).

In the fifth chapter, "The Divine Intentionality: 'my supreme delight,'" Spector concludes her analysis of intentionality through detailed engagements with the major prophecies, offering a highly complex and satisfying assessment of Blake's drive to achieve his "supreme delight" through apprehending the "ultimate referent" of divine intentionality, a "progression from what appears to have been Blake's original intention to produce a conventional allegory in the earlier portions of Vala/The Four Zoas, to an objective delineation of the via mystica in Milton, and finally, through its subjective actualization in Jerusalem" (GI 128). The play of Hebraic etymologies is traced with insight and energy through this chapter and offers considerable clarification of the shift across the epics "from the allegory of self-reflection [to] a transformative mode of speech" (GI 127) that allows particular (William Blake) and general (Divine Vision) to merge. This self-reflectivity is most memorably displayed in Milton when past and present poets merge via the poetic character of Los, which also articulates those new categories of thought posited previously by Spector, and in Jerusalem Blake shifts from theoria to praxis, deploying a "grammar of practice" whose modulations of "sounds and rhythms produce an almost hypnotic effect" that establishes "the locomotive means by which others might achieve visions of their own" (GI 151, 156).

The concluding focus on "Poetic Genius" allows Spector to connect Blake's use of multilayered language enriched by Hebraic linguistic resonances and his own poetic practices and to chart its transformations, a progressive shift away from "linking words to their referents in external reality" and toward a "kabbalistic myth as the structuring principle through which to rebuild the ur-language of Adam" (167). Obviously, this focus shifts readers to the concerns explored in "Wonders Divine," where myth viewed through the critical lens of intentionality "focuses on the ways different levels of consciousness establish relationships with their respective referents" and where the analysis of Blake's myth parallels that of his language to track "a profound shift in Blake's subjective consciousness" (WD 19) across his written work. Spector's exploration of structural correspondences between Blake's syncretic myth and kabbalistic planes of experience and existence, both emanative models, is detailed in its connections ("the goal is integration of all elements into a composite totality" [WD 23]) and broad in its aspirations ("a diachronic analysis of these underlying structures that Blake's shifting attitude toward myth, and through myth the evolving creative consciousness" [WD 24]).

The opening chapter deftly discusses prevalent Christian exotericism at the core of European mythic formations and the sub-current "esoteric myth of Kabbalism" dispersed "in the same geographical locales" (WD 27), a dual presence giving rise to "a Christianization of Jewish mysticism" (WD 29) across Renaissance Europe. The subsequent discussion of the arrival of this presence in England provides the last layer of a solid contextual foundation upon which to mount the argument that "Blake's myth comprises an amalgamation of the Christianized version of Lurianism superimposed on an Anglo-Israelite base" (WD 34) but which recognizes this final mythic state as the product "of a forty-year intellectual process" (WD 35). Given this spectrum of concerns, Chapter Two moves rapidly through discussions of "Milton's justification of Calvinism" as "the mythic heritage of virtually all of English ever since" (WD 36), the dominate dual categories within which "Kabbalistic speculations fall" (WD 39), and their amalgamation in Christian Kabbalists like Mirandola and von Rosenroth into "an ecumenist Judeo-Christian myth" (WD 46). Here Spector, for perhaps the only time across both volumes, allows the enriched analytic environment she creates to dissipate somewhat, and the third chapter on "Pre-Mythology: Miltonic Antecedents" was the least satisfying, perhaps because the terseness of the analysis did not allow for greater critical synthesis, although its closing discussion of Visions of the Daughters of Albion certainly confirms the author's sense of its simultaneous functions as transition to myth and as preliminary framing for "the problems he was to work on in the illuminated books" (WD 58).

The loss of critical intensity, however, was brief, and "The Fact of Myth: Contemporary Apocalypse" (Chapter Four) pursues the implications of Blake's insight that "myth controls thought" (WD 59) with considerable energy across The Marriage, Songs of Innocence and Of Experience, and the historical prophecies America and Europe. Blake's refutation of Miltonic narrative and mythic commitment in The Marriage has received extensive prior analysis, which renders almost all discussions hopelessly incomplete, yet Spector's identification of the problems encountered in the work's reconfiguration of exoteric myth along esoteric lines (overturning figural functions while retaining etymological essences) helps elucidate Blake's vacillation in the inclusion and later alteration of mythic entities like Rintrah and Urthona, not to mention the nuclear family in the closing "A Song of Liberty." The subsequent discussion of Songs extends the pursuit of mythic maturation in its vibrant visual fields, having established its linguistic presence in the metalanguage of The Marriage, with Blake beginning already to probe the limitations of a dyadic structure for mental experience suggested in the work's title, displacing "the interest off of the duality of good and evil, and onto the mythic structure from which the duality originally derived" (WD 65). Once archetypal base and mythic structuration are provided a unified framework, "an alternative set of archetypes" (WD 72) emerges to figure forth "an alternative mode of thought," one that indicts "theological doctrine that posits physical hardships as the birthright of all descendents of Adam" (WD 74). The terse analyses of America and Europe confirm this view of Blake's developing myth, with both works beginning to display "kabbalistic elements," although the author acknowledges that, at this nascent stage, those traces "are far from developed" (WD 83).

In Spector's view, Blake's early mythic gestures taught him "the impossibility of renovating the exoteric myth into a viable structure" (WD 85), and in the poetic sequence beginning with The Song of Los and extending through The Book of Los, Blake begins to fashion a syncretic myth from both exoteric and esoteric traditions. The deepening semiotic miasma of these works (with full-page walls of words often interspersed with full-page illustrations) suggests that Blake refines his concept of myth toward an interactive psycho-historical myth increasingly conversant with the minute particulars of "kabbalistic cosmogony," especially that associated "with the Sefirotic Tree, the ten hypostases assuming the same kind of fourfold configuration embodied in the souls and worlds" (WD 86). The correspondences traced here are concrete and detailed, leaving little doubt about Blake's indebtedness to kabbalistic structuration, and the mythic development begun in Los's song is charted with great energy in Urizen and Ahania, with the former superimposing kabbalistic elements onto Milton's two falls while the latter probes the faulty "judgment" exhibited by Urizen that alienates him from "the ameliorating qualities of love," the alienation of the Rational from the Spiritual Soul. Thus, the prophetic sequence provides the opportunity to see Blake's process of building myth through appropriation, transmutation, and amelioration, even though the sequence ultimately fails to "cohere into a unified system" (WD 105).

Of course, the work turns to the large epics in seeking that coherence through the unifying presence of "The Transcendent Myth: Kabbalism" (Chapter Six), where Spector argues that "the various kabbalistic motifs Blake had been experimenting with evolve into a complex, multifaceted myth whose archetypal structure provides the means of reconciling the two dilemmas [the functions of Christ and the prophet in the fallen world]" (WD 107), yet readers persuaded by Peter Otto's recent critique of transcendence in The Four Zoas will perhaps balk at the rather abbreviated and somewhat mechanical application of transcendental kabbalistic elements to the work's various nights. The analysis continues to be crisp and compelling, especially when it ventures into the contorted visual field of the manuscript itself, and the discussion of Milton allows a spatialization of these concerns relative to the "speculative and contemplative forms of Kabbalism" (WD 131) as Blake moves to transform mundane into sublime allegory (WD 132). As in most sections of both volumes, Spector here continues to shower her readers with provocative etymologies that weave the exoteric Christian and esoteric Hebraic into a unified framework, although the major difference between the two emerging in Milton (the presence of an "Internal Saviour, now defined as the visionary faculty that enables humanity to develop its full potential" [WD 137]) highlights Blake's particular view of prophetic agency and its supporting visionary faculty. With the mythic and mystic work refined through The Four Zoas and Milton completed, Blake offers in Jerusalem "a perfect poem, one whose form and content coalesce in the artistic representation of the Divine Vision" (WD 140), restoring a balance between the visionary and the material, between consciousness and cosmos, through endless acts of self-annihilation now associated with the eternal prophet operative within all. Appropriately, given this emphasis in Blake's culminating epic, the volume concentrated on myth concludes with a meditation on "The Eternal Prophet" (just as the former volume focused on language concluded with a meditation on "The Poetic Genius"), a contemplation moving well beyond the expected emphasis on the Hebraic, which recedes to the background to allow Blake's works concluding priority.

This work is undoubtedly the most detailed and energetic assessment of the role a vibrant and emergent Jewish mystical tradition played in Blake's final crafting of his myth. The achievements that stand behind these volumes are copious indeed, and this learned work offers cogent and persuasive arguments for Blake's syncretic path through kabbalistic thought in the maturation of his psycho-historical myth. However, as this detailed review also suggests, the very depth of Spector's dual volumes can impede readers unwilling to swim through its tentative assertions (which occur early and often) and its highly specialized language (which functions as its own linguistic unconscious). As well, the "intra-textual" dimension of these volumes discussed above as a strength can also impede an unencumbered and direct engagement with the parallel concerns. Although these two critical reservations occasionally coalesce into "readerly" resistance, the depth of analysis, the relentless pursuit of etymological connections, and the insistently strong writing overcome such resistances and will temper understand of Blake's mythic impulses for the foreseeable future.

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Ashley Tauchert, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Accent of the Feminine

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Ashley Tauchert, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Accent of the Feminine.  New York: Palgrave, 2002. ix + 169pp. $52.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-333-96346-6).

Reviewed by
Harriet Devine Jump
Edge Hill College

Is there anything new to say about Mary Wollstonecraft? Mary Wollstonecraft and the Accent of the Feminine offers a sophisticated theoretical approach, based on Luce Irigaray's philosophy of sexual difference and subjectivity.

In her introduction, Ashley Tauchert rightly identifies "three distinct waves of interest" (4) in Wollstonecraft's life and works since her death. First-wave feminists--nineteenth century campaigners for women's rights--claimed her as a founding mother in their struggle for women's suffrage; the second wave, academic feminists of the 1970s, reclaimed her works and thought from the shadows; and the third wave ("symptomatic of the identity crisis of millennial feminism" [5]) has shifted the focus from celebration to identifying the flaws and inconsistencies in her feminism. Tauchert offers a refashioning of Wollstonecraft, emerging from a consideration of Irigaray's model of Western culture as replicating masculinist subjectivity and thus forcing those women who wish to write intelligibly into a crypto-masculinist subjectivity. She proposes a new category for women's writing, the Athenic mode, in which masculinist forms are disrupted by "figures of excess, lack, and hysteria . . . gestures towards a lost, and mourned, female embodiment" (8). She argues that Wollstonecraft's texts document a struggle between this mode and Matrilineal subjectivity, but believes that her later works point to a resolution of the struggle.

Part I, Chapter One reads Wollstonecraft's early writings "for evidence of transitional moments in her self-engendering as a writing subject" (20). Re-examining Wollstonecraft's unsatisfactory relationship with her mother, and her "proto-lesbian" (25) relationship with Fanny Blood, Tauchert suggests that the unresolved losses of these two figures, whose deaths occurred within two years of each other, are replayed in the early texts. Thoughts on the Education of Daughters is said to reflect on the failure of maternal affection, and to offer rational reflection as a substitute. Rational authority also displaces maternity in Original Thoughts, but Tauchert argues that the text also reconfigures the loss of Fanny Blood through the figures of Mrs Mason and Mary. In Mary: A Fiction, Wollstonecraft is shown as "defining (and defending) her identity as a woman" (34).

Part II, Chapter Two, reads Wollstonecraft's two Vindications. As previous commentators have remarked, this is the period when her distinctive voice emerged: Tauchert defines it as "a voice worrying at sexual difference and virtue, struggling to define femininity and masculinity in new ways" (55). She finds seeming contradiction in Rights of Man: Wollstonecraft effeminizes Burke and claims manliness for herself but also adopts the speech of female-embodied reason with which to admonish him. Tauchert goes on to argue that in the second Vindication Wollstonecraft offers the "surprising" communication of "fragments of a female imaginary beyond the rape paradigm of Rousseau's moral philosophy" (68).

In the third part of this book, Tauchert moves on to discuss Wollstonecraft's later texts under the heading "Matrilineal Writing." The Historical and Moral View of . . . the French Revolution was written during Wollstonecraft's first pregnancy, a moment, according to Tauchert, at which "the repression and burial of the maternal body . . . reaches its apex" (86). The result is a crisis, "a piece of writing that is peppered with bodies and body parts, a revolution that is imagined as a giant labouring body" (87), from which the maternal body emerges with new potency and creativity.

Having thus far discussed Wollstonecraft's works chronologically, Tauchert reverses the order of the two final texts--Letters from Sweden and The Wrongs of Woman--which are discussed in Chapter Four. Tauchert sees them as marking "a shift in [Wollstonecraft's] writing voice" (98), and accounts for the return of sensibility in these writings as a reflection of the fact that "the writer's maternity [is] a condition of their production" (100). The reverse chronological order is owing to the fact that while Wrongs of Woman is seen as recording "a narrative of the emergence of Matrilineal writing from patriarchy" (118), Tauchert argues that Letters from Sweden represents Wollstonecraft's most successful production of Matrilineal writing. Interesting connections are made here between these two texts, both of which incorporate the presence of daughters: in Wrongs of Woman, Maria's memoirs are addressed to her child, and in Letters, Fanny Imlay's presence pervades the text and, since the relationship with Imlay was at an end before the book was published, also provides a reason for publication (financial independence as a single mother). The chapter concludes with a discussion of Wollstonecraft's relation to the category of the Sublime, and suggests that the female-embodied writing subject of Letters from Sweden successfully disturbs the Athenic mode, making a different, Matrilineal, "journey into symbolisation" (129).

Does Tauchert's book offer a genuinely new and different Wollstonecraft from the feminist icon we have all come to know so well? It is presented as being a result of its author's dissatisfaction with "the popular versions of Wollstonecraft in circulation" (141), but, as she points out elsewhere, third-wave feminist critics have already to a large extent moved beyond the rather simplistic figure who appeared in much of the early criticism. This being said, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Accent of the Feminine is an impressive work, and offers a genuinely fresh and exciting way in to reading texts which are increasingly coming to be seen as canonical. The notes are helpful, and the bibliography is satisfyingly full and wide ranging. A brief summary such as this cannot hope to do justice to the subtlety and complexity of Tauchert's arguments.

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Alexander S. Gourlay, ed., Prophetic Character: Essays on William Blake in Honor of John E. Grant

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Alexander S. Gourlay, ed., Prophetic Character: Essays on William Blake in Honor of John E. Grant. Locust Hill
Literary Studies, no. 33.  West Cornwall, CT: Locust Hill Press, 2002.  xviii + 396pp.  Illus.  $60.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-93395-196-5).

Reviewed by
James T. Harris
University of South Carolina

A book dedicated to the distinguished legacy of John E. Grant in Blake studies should rigorously challenge traditional and established ways of understanding Blake.  It should also provide readers with innovative approaches to his oeuvre.  Furthermore, it should raise questions that may remain unanswered for now and yet point to fruitful paths for other students and scholars of Blake. Prophetic Character: Essays on William Blake in Honor of John E. Grant exceeds these expectations.  Several contributors--Catherine L. McClenahan, Morton D. Paley, and Richard J. Squibbs--present groundbreaking essays on topics that have received little or no critical attention, while others, Michael Ferber, Alexander S. Gourlay, and G. A. Rosso, offer chapters that demand reconsiderations of Blake and his art.  This collection contains thirteen unique and provocative essays that engage the reader at every turn.

Stephen C. Behrendt's contribution, "The Evolution of Blake's Pestilence," is excellent for the manner in which it contextualizes the Pestilence series in light of certain generic traits of history painting.  Behrendt's essay also detects and examines an "interesting counter-current" in Blake's twenty-five year revision of the series.  It is this counter-current, argues Behrendt, that illustrates Blake's efforts to "invoke and transform familiar conventions of facial and gestural rhetoric" in order to create a "powerfully visionary art, an art founded upon a dynamic imaginative interaction among artist, viewer, and picture" (5).  Professor Behrendt also points to several Blake texts, in order to contextualize the evolution of the Pestilence series in light of his other artistic productions.  The only addition that could make an instructive and informative essay even stronger would be the inclusion of all six versions of the Pestilence series, since only the final (c.1805) version appears in this chapter, as this would allow the reader to follow Behrendt through his detailed examination of Blake's revisions.

J. M. Q. Davies's "Variations on the Fall in Blake's Designs for Night Thoughts" focuses on the "great repository of motifs" present in the series that appear "in modulated form in the later Milton illustrations" (29).  While he acknowledges that there was much in Young that would give Blake offense, Davies claims that Young offered Blake fertile ground--"his praise of friendship, his enthusiasm for the Miltonic sublime, his apocalyptic sense of an ending" (27)--for considering the visionary possibilities of Young's poem.  Most interesting in Davies essay is his discussion of three possible iconographical influences for Blake's NT97, NT296, and NT297.  Davies aptly illustrates how Blake's depiction of the Fall can be understood as reactions to previous renderings, namely Marcantonio's Adam and Eve, Michelangelo's Fall and Expulsion, and Goltzius's engraving, Christ's Miracles

Michael Ferber reviews and revives the clod/pebble debate in Blake studies, with his chapter "In Defense of Clods."  Ferber's primary complaint is not whether or not particular scholars side with the pebble or the clod, but that "nearly all find fault with each and feel superior to both" (51), and consequently this leads to misreadings and confusions of Blake's agenda.  Ferber calls for a return in Blake studies to "the notion of 'the simple Blake'" (55).  Indeed, Ferber sees Blake critics detrimentally projecting their own psychologies, anxieties, and fears onto much simpler figures, such as the clod, the pebble, and Thel.  What happens to Blake, Ferber claims, is analogous to what happens to the teaching of Jesus: "Blake is elevated to the canon but his radical message is subjected to ever more sophisticated and worldly interpretations" (56-57).  Ferber's sometimes acerbic but always engaging and provocative essay concludes with an excursus on the too common practice in Blake studies of founding arguments on the faulty etymological premise that "Thel" necessarily derives from the Greek for "wish."

Taking its title from a quotation by this collection's honoree, Everett C. Frost's contribution, "The Education of the Prophetic Character: Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell as a Primer in Visionary Autography," makes beneficial use of H. Porter Abbott's term "autography" in order to investigate the narrative complexities of Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell.  Frost claims that the poem is "an autographic Bildungsroman of the prophet as a young man," of the sort that is "not the narrative of how he came to hold his present convictions but how, having already formed them, he informed and tested them" (72).  Professor Frost's comprehensive analysis of the poem's structure and organization, bolstered by a useful chart of its plot, builds on John E. Grant's reading of The Marriage and offers its own unique and refreshing perspective on Blake's "autographical" work: "It is more interested in the act of writing in the present as a means of producing the self as an identity constituted as pure text than it is in being thought a reliable reporter of events in past time" (71).

Alexander S. Gourlay's essay, "'Idolatry or Politics': Blake's Chaucer, the Gods of Priam, and the Powers of 1809," takes as its start the long held belief that Blake's statements in the Descriptive Catalogue are "largely metaphorical" (99).   Problematic about this idea, Gourlay explains, is that it denies Blake's statements "literal applicability to the picture in question" (99).  Gourlay goes on to argue that in Blake's tempera painting of Chaucer's pilgrims he updates many of the central concerns of Chaucer's epic.  Gourlay illustrates skillfully Blake's strategy in his engraving after the painting, a strategy intended to portray "an audacious satirical commentary on the persistence of pagan theology in the form of modern political celebrity" (99).  Gourlay evidences this persistence with his discussion of physical similarities between political celebrities of 1809 and Chaucer's pilgrims, as Blake depicts them in his engraving.  George III as the Monk, Pitt and Fox as Pardoner and Summoner, respectively, and the likeness of Blake himself as the Plowman are exemplary of Gourlay's insightful explanation of Blake's employment of allegory in order to provide political commentary.

Catherine L. McClenahan takes up an often-neglected character, Erin, in Blake's masterpiece of illuminated printing, Jerusalem.  "Blake's Erin, The United Irish, and 'Sexual Machines'" addresses the function of Erin in Blake's epic as she "works to revolutionize an 'Albion' dying in (and of) his current oppressive, warlike and punitive constitution as a nation and world empire" (150).  McClenahan takes into account the contemporary political upheaval in and around Ireland and asserts that Blake focuses on Ireland as a vehicle for considering the fate of liberty in Great Britain.  Of particular interest in  McClenahan's chapter is her comparison of the relationship between England and Ireland, especially during and after the Act of Union in 1800, as one based on traditional gender relations, with Ireland in the submissive and dominated position.  McClenahan's essay also provides useful analyses of Blake's views on nationalism and revolution. 

As the second of three essays that deal with Night Thoughts, Jon Mee's "'As portentous as the written wall': Blake's Illustrations to Night Thoughts" understands Blake's illustrations of Young in light of the variety of ways that "Young's text circulated in the print culture of the time" (172).  Mee goes on to argue that Blake "seems to court the charge of enthusiasm by refusing to take pains to distinguish between the passions of the spirit from those of the body" (176).  This is perhaps the reason, Mee adds, that Blake's publisher Richard Edwards put an end to publishing Blake's illustrations.  Those familiar with Mee's important prior work on Blake, radical enthusiasm, and the London print culture of the 1790's will not be surprised to find an insightful discussion of Blake's work alongside an extremely learned account of the British political culture of the 1790's.

Jennifer Davis Michael's "Blake's Feet: Towards a Poetics of Incarnation" surveys comprehensively Blake's symbolic references to feet in early works like Poetical Sketches and later texts such as Jerusalem.  Indeed, Michael suggests convincingly that understanding these various symbolic uses of "feet" is central to an appreciation of Blake's entire artistic project: "fusing spiritual, sexual, and poetic acts into one member" (206).  Michael's carefully detailed reading and well-argued essay present an innovative approach to both verbal and visual references to feet throughout the long span of Blake's career.

Peter Otto's essay, "From the Religious to the Psychological Sublime: The Fate of Young's Night Thoughts in Blake's The Four Zoas," investigates the close relationship between Blake's illustrations to Young and his own work in progress from the same period, The Four Zoas.  Otto begins by noting that some of Blake's pages from The Four Zoas survive on proofs of the engravings for Young and subsequently argues that Blake's illustrations to Young often seem to illustrate narrated events in The Four Zoas.  The sublime is Otto's primary focus, however, and he offers a compelling discussion of Blake's response to the religious sublime in Young, which Blake first critiques in his watercolors and then transfigures into a psychological sublime in his epic.  "Where Young's religious sublime offers eternal rest," Otto concludes, "Blake's sublime demands endless activity" (260). 

"William Blake and Dr. Thornton's 'Tory Translation' of the Lord's Prayer" by Morton D. Paley presents the first in-depth scholarly study of the last annotations that Blake is known to have written.  Paley operates from the assumption that Blake in all likelihood wrote the marginalia for an intended audience, as was a common practice of the time, and finds in the annotations thematic similarities and interplay with Blake's own works from the same period.  With scrupulous attention to detail, Paley makes sense of Blake's sometimes difficult annotations and then articulates Blake's critique of Thornton.  Blake objects "not to its lack of accuracy or its verbosity," according to Paley, but instead "to the world view he sees" in Thornton's translation (270).  Anyone embarking on a study of Blake's latter years would do well to start with Paley's essay.

G. A. Rosso's "The Religion of Empire: Blake's Rahab in Its Biblical Contexts" confronts head-on the commonly held view that Blake's epic poetry moves away from the political symbolism found in his prophecies from the 1790's.  Rosso carefully argues to the contrary that even though scholars of the Bible recognize two Rahabs, both of them represent in separate ways the complicity of church and state, religion and empire.  Blake brings these different versions of Rahab together, Rosso convincingly explains, and the unique result demonstrates that Blake is "able to perceive meaning and connection where others not as interested in apocalypse and empire see only disparate strands" (292).

In "A Numerological Analysis of Jerusalem," Sheila A. Spector considers the structure of Blake's late epic in light of Hebraic materials such as the Kabbalah.  It is the "kabbalistic prototypes," Spector explains, that "provided the basis for the intricate numerological pattern underlying the physical structure" (332) of Jerusalem.  Though at times perhaps it requires too much attention to Hebraic materials, Spector's analysis provides a compelling consideration of structure in Blake's poem.  She also  demonstrates persuasively the variety of ways in which Blake might have been familiar with kabbalistic numerology in contemporary sources, in addition to drawing parallels between Blake's work and numerological patterns in other epics with which Blake was certainly familiar, such as The Divine Comedy and The Faerie Queene.

The final chapter in the book, Richard J. Squibbs's "Preventing the Star-Led Wizards: Blake's Europe and Popular Astrology," provides a strong finish to an impressive collection.  Squibbs reviews some of the popular almanacs that circulated in the 1790's, in an effort to understand Blake's prophecy in terms of the politically charged astrological discourses found therein.  Squibbs argues that "Europe associates star-gazing with a counterrevolutionary ideology that denies the French Revolution what Blake sees as its true role as the agent of apocalypse" (351-52).  Consequently, Blake urges his audience to reject astrology as a way of understanding the events in France and turns to the program of Revelation as the means of best comprehending the vital millennial importance of the Revolution.  

All in all, Prophetic Character: Essays on William Blake in Honor of John E. Grant provides a welcome and refreshing contribution to Blake studies.  Because it offers a variety of innovative readings and arguments, I enthusiastically recommend this book to veteran readers of Blake and newcomers alike.  The former will find themselves re-examining their positions, while the latter will discover an intriguing and instructive introduction to William Blake.  These scholars present a fit tribute to the brilliant and inspiring legacy of John E. Grant.

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David P. Haney, The Challenge of Coleridge: Ethics and Interpretation in Romanticism and Modern Philosophy

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David P. Haney, The Challenge of Coleridge: Ethics and Interpretation in Romanticism and Modern Philosophy. Literature and Philosophy Series. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001.  xviii + 309pp.  $59.00. (ISBN 0-271-02051-2).

Reviewed by
Anya Taylor
John Jay College of Criminal Justice - CUNY

The Challenge of Coleridge aims to demonstrate the overlap between hermeneutics and ethics, to show how reading deeply may lead to acting morally, how reading and respecting the otherness of a written text resembles hearing and respecting the otherness of an individual person. The book hopes to encourage a new way of teaching the humanities, by "placing the texts of the past and the present into a conversation in which the attention of both partners is focused, albeit from different historical horizons, on important issues of mutual concern" and thus to remove the humanities from "the criteria of technological production" by which university administrators often evaluate their worth (xiii). Even as it promotes the idea of conversations and dialogues on issues, the book engages in such conversations, ranging widely over living and dead philosophers. As Haney ventures into his vast terrain, he is guided by "Gadamer's notion of a transhistorical conversation that is more comprehensive than the horizon of either the modern interpreter or the historical text, a concept which . . . can provide an important alternative to the currently dominant ideological interpretations of history" (xii). Those of us who teach the humanities enter the field of this book with great hope that ethics, morality, and the conscience will be clearly applied to actions as well as interactive words to deepen our teaching of texts and perhaps even our engagements with actual persons. Chapter headings such as "Knowledge, Being, and Hermeneutics," "Oneself as Another: Coleridgean Subjectivity," and "Love, Otherness, and the Absolute Self" promise opportunities for meaningful contemplation. The recollection of Haney's fine "Aesthetics and Ethics in Gadamer, Levinas, and Romanticism: Problems of Phronesis and Techne" (PMLA 114.1 1999, 32-45) adds to the anticipation.

The admirable aim of the book quickly bogs down in its allusive method. Voices from different times, religions, cultures, and critical schools speak simultaneously as in the chat room that Haney describes, down to reproducing the participants' grammatical errors and casual lower caps (13-14). Communications enter in mid-sentence and are interrupted by other messages, shifting the subject at each intervention. Sentences with several buttressing references are not uncommon, such as the following: "by seeing the relation between narrative and ethics as one of `mutual dependency, resistance, and repression,'[Geoffrey Galt Harpham] tends to contain the ethical within the interpretive techne of psychoanalysis. Therapy is not necessarily incompatible with phronesis, as Martha Nussbaum shows in her carefully qualified endorsement of the medical analogy in Aristotle . . ." (41). Paragraphs swirl with quotations that often veer from the argument. For example, one paragraph rushes from Gadamer to Ricoeur, to Gary Aylesworth, to Habermas, to Dilthey, and ends with a question that the reader finds herself asking: "The question, once again, is whether Gadamer's hermeneutics has really surpassed the Romantic point of departure of hermeneutics" (59). In this eternal chatroom dominated by the quarreling of contemporary theoreticians (Levinson, McGann, P. Christopher Smith, Alasdair MacIntyre, Bernard Williams, Charles Taylor, Gianni Vattimo, Gunter Figal), there is no before or after, influence or anticipation, originator or modifier, for the voices all talk at once, not under any clearly defined topic, or, to be old-fashioned, "topic sentence." The thrust of argument does not guide these quotations so that they build on each other.

In this echo chamber one voice that is rarely heard before page 180 is Coleridge's. Haney admits that he is not a Coleridge scholar, that many Coleridgeans have covered the ground of his ethics in precise and illuminating ways (especially Laurence Lockridge and Mary Ann Perkins), and that Coleridge scholars may disagree with his readings. More alarming, in view of the title of the book, is the claim that to participate "in this hermeneutic conversation, the modern `reader' may or may not have actually read Coleridge" (24). It is not surprising, then, to find that of the statements by Coleridge that do appear many are quoted from the studies of Coleridgeans, rather than from the texts in The Collected Coleridge where Coleridge establishes his ethical principles. Despite the anguish of a hermeneutic search for methods of achieving objectivity toward writings of the past, Haney does not hesitate to summarize Coleridge's opinions in decisive ways, omitting Coleridge's nuanced recognition of alternative approaches. For example, he states simply that Coleridge is conservative in advocating land as a source of permanence and is liberal in advocating commerce as a source of progress (17) but these terms, dropped abruptly in to the crises of the 1820's, do not do justice to the complexity of Coleridge's hard-won political balance; the use of the anachronistic terms "conservative" and "liberal" undoes the very goal of stepping out of his own perspective that Haney had been advocating for the previous ten pages as a necessity for hermeneutic understanding.

If the reader is encouraged to go ahead and make judgments about Coleridge's opinions without actually reading him, in what way is Coleridge a "Challenge"? If it is true that "Coleridge is interested in some of the same ultimately undecided (and undecidable) issues that haunt thinkers in the twentieth century" (22), would not the challenge arise in finding out exactly how he formulates and then solves them? If he throws down a challenge to us to continue addressing these problems, we need to see where contemporary thinkers specifically pick up this challenge from him. To call Coleridge or his writings a challenge surely needs a clear outline of his ethics (beautifully accomplished by Lockridge, whose long quotations blessedly dominate several chapters of the book) so that his inheritors know where to continue the inquiries that he began. One begins to ask "Where's the beef?" Where is this Coleridge and his ethical challenge?

Dialogues require careful statements of position and then attentive listening so as to respond. Elinor S. Shaffer in "The Hermeneutic Community: Coleridge and Schleiermacher" (The Coleridge Connection, ed. Richard Gravil and Molly Lefebure [Macmillan, 1990]) provides an exemplary model by defining hermeneutics in its late eighteenth century expansion from biblical scholarship to secular imaginative communication, its connection to the intimacy of speech among friends, its presence in "the delicate art of quotation and reminiscence of quotation within each poem" (220), delineating this intertextuality precisely as it moves from Schleiermacher to Coleridge. With similar precision, Michael John Kooy in Coleridge, Schiller, and Aesthetic Education (Palgrave, 2002) steadily sets up the interplay of his two writers by topics and eras, indicating a constant dialogue, but a dialogue where there are differences in position, not a blur of vague resemblances. In The Challenge of Coleridge it would be helpful if, in line with these models of Anglo-German dialogue, Coleridge's ethical principles were set forward in an organized way, starting with the Kantian substratum of the distinction between persons and things with its many intriguing difficulties, and if Coleridge's particular ethical stances (such as those against the slave trade, child labor, the gagging acts) were developed in consequence of his central premises opposing prudentialism, utilitarianism, and Malthusian ways of thinking of individuals as parts of groups. It would be helpful if Gadamer's connection to Coleridge, either real or impressionistic, were established, and then if Gadamer's own position were clearly stated so as to further that dialogue. Levinas's position in this triangulation of thought also needs a decisive statement so that new understandings result from the interconnection. Without such order, references slide by in other people's commentary.

Coleridge's own ethical work is presented as absorbed into recent theories, whereas the genuine problems that he struggles with could well be pursued as viable and initiatory. His adaptations of the command to "Love your neighbor as yourself" include the command to "Reverence the Individuality of your Friend," a formulation that is troubling in that it does not say how you treat someone who is not already a friend. And what happens if you know the good and can't do it? Coleridge struggles with his awareness of the gulf between what he wills and what he does, between duty and the coiling serpents of incapacity to do one's duty, as for instance in a letter to Morgan of 14 May 1814: "By the long long Habit of the accursed Poison my Volition (by which I mean the faculty instrumental to the Will, and by which alone the Will can realize itself--its Hands, Legs, & Feet, as it were) was compleatly deranged, at times frenzied, dissevered itself from the Will and became an independent faculty" (CL 3:489). The chance to examine a passage such as this will turn students toward the humanities more readily than will summaries of summaries, which strain out the metaphors, the syntax, and the tone, all that entices in the thickness of language. Ethical decisions in revising a poem such as "The Letter to [S.H.]" are summarized from the work of Cyrus Hamlin, but Coleridge's revisions of this poem into "Dejection: An Ode" show him struggling to make exactly the kind of ethical decisions that will make him, or show him trying to be, a better person through writing, a process that Zachary Leader tracks (Revision and Romantic Authorship [Oxford, 1996], pp. 150-60).

The last chapters on Levinas and love venture into comparisons with Coleridge that many critics are now exploring. Levinas, too, is filtered through his observers: "As Ricoeur concisely (albeit critically) summarizes Levinas's position, 'Each face is a Sinai that prohibits murder' (Oneself 336)" (210). Levinas's work is filtered through his readers: Norris, Hartman, Gadamer, Kovesi, Ricoeur, and, anachronistically, even Coleridge, who "expands the notion of otherness beyond the limits of Levinas's paradigm" (180). Although Ricoeur's formulation of ipse and idem as different kinds of identities is helpful for understanding Coleridge, Levinas's complementary ideas of otherness, faces and voices, and love need precise investigation. Note how in the following sentence Haney begins to make a lot of sense and then calls in his authorities to obfuscate his point:

Love should produce self-completing, but it often confronts us with a mystery. As in Christabel's worst-case scenario, the prayer for the arrival of one's beloved can produce instead the monstrous Geraldine, who usurps and silences Christabel. Thus it is not surprising that in Coleridge's tormented thoughts about Sara Hutchinson, we find a confrontation between the Ricoeurean notion of otherness as supporting selfhood and Levinas's opposite emphasis, that there can be no authentic subjectivity without an other who cannot be comprehended by the self, but who instead calls one to responsibility by "coring out" the autonomous ego (233).

In enlightening segments (e.g., 182-220) Haney seems almost visibly to cast off the buttresses of reference and stand free in the swing of his own opinions, but, as he nears the end of his huge accumulation of quotations, references to others return almost obsessively, balking the flow of his own ideas. Instead of going on with the excellent choice of describing love in "The Blossoming of the Solitary Date Tree," he immediately recurs to Ricoeur, calling the poem "[a] Ricoeurean structure of seeing oneself reflected and supported by solicitude for another that, temporarily, finds no discrepancy between love and moral solicitude: as the child prepares to repeat the mother's sounds, 'She hears her own voice with a new delight'" (236). One more sentence and this poem of distinctive ethical and hermeneutic interest vanishes in the blur of contemporary philosophers.

The demands of Others to speak drown out the author's voice. Coleridge also cannot be heard over the din, and even Gadamer and Levinas do not get to state their cases in sustained order. In his next book, having done with his homages, Haney will have earned the right to speak in his own voice.

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Charles Mahoney, Romantics and Renegades: The Poetics of Political Reaction

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Charles Mahoney, Romantics and Renegades: The Poetics of Political Reaction.  New York:
Palgrave, 2003.  x + 266pp. $90.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-333-96849-2).

Reviewed by
Robert K. Lapp
Mount Allison University

Skip over the title of this book to glance at the table of contents, where the key terms "Hazlitt" and "Apostasy" point directly toward its major strengths. "Repeatedly taking its bearings from Hazlitt's critical interventions of the 1810s" (2), this book makes a substantial contribution to Hazlitt studies by reinforcing a trend toward the positive revaluation of his Regency writings, in particular his relentless exposure of the political tergiversations of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey. More than this, Mahoney advances our understanding of the intersection of literary and political discourse during the Regency by focussing on Hazlitt's master-term "apostasy," discerning in it a far more resonant figure than its negative connotations might suggest. By "pressuring" the term's "obliquely impacted etymological resonances" (3), and by applying these to a series of nuanced and illuminating close readings, Mahoney discovers that apostasy, in the writings of romantic authors, comes to name something more than a mere "standing-off" or a "standing-away" from a previously held political or religious principle. Instead, "it repeatedly figures a standing so precarious as finally to be indistinguishable from a falling--and not an isolated fall at that, but an always-falling which can be seen to occur with reference not merely to political principle, but, more unpredictably, literary language" (2). Readers alert to the deconstructive turn will detect in this "always-falling" the familiar vertigo of "an uncontainable falling characteristic of figurative language" in general, and thus an inevitable swerve away from historical particularity toward the risky claim that "romantic apostasy designates less a postrevolutionary historical phenomenon than an abiding crisis in literary signification" (12). For now, however, let us set this point aside, and instead hasten to note that Mahoney balances his figural analysis with "detailed historical assessments of English literary and political culture from the revolutionary decade of the 1790s through the reactionary years of the Regency" (4). In this context, "romantic apostasy" comes more convincingly to name "a particularly romantic anxiety concerning the precarious relation between literary language and ideology," especially "those features of [such] language which seemingly precipitate a falling in with power" (5).

This analysis enables Mahoney to juxtapose meticulously constructed re-readings of such familiar texts as Coleridge's 1790s odes and Wordsworth's sonnets with such defining episodes in Regency culture as the appointment of Southey to the Laureateship in 1813, Kemble's 1816 production of Coriolanus, and the entertaining twists and turns of the "Wat Tyler affair" of 1817. Along the way we encounter not just Hazlitt but also Leigh Hunt, not just The Examiner and The Courier but also The Yellow Dwarf, and not just Abrams, Bate, and E. P. Thompson, but also Christensen, Curran, Erdman, and Liu.

To illustrate Mahoney's approach at its best, let us pause for a moment over Chapter 3, "'Lawless Sway,' Pendulous Politics," which focuses primarily on Wordsworth's "Sonnets, dedicated to Liberty." The phrase "Lawless Sway" is taken from Wordsworth's "Sonnet on Milton," an indication that Mahoney is willing (and able) to take on the huge topic areas of Milton's iconic status for the Romantics in general, and Wordsworth's self-construction as Milton's poetic heir in particular. Yet it also introduces a previously unexamined key term from Wordsworth's sonnets ("Sway"), which Mahoney is able to read in Wordsworth's primary sense of "dominion" and in its usefully submerged secondary meaning of "the action of swinging (pendulously)" (101)--the figure that will most efficiently encode Wordsworth's form of apostasy. The chapter then proceeds to shed new light on the massive Wordsworth-Milton nexus by taking its bearings from one of Hazlitt's most apparently egregious attacks on Wordsworth--a brief paragraph and footnote at the end of a theatre review of Comus in The Examiner that contrasts Milton's consistency of principle with Wordsworth's shifting politics, as evidenced in the latter's recently collected Poems (1815). These, of course, Hazlitt has read with typical vigilance, and discovered that not only has Wordsworth included a newly sycophantic "Sonnet to the King" ("November, 1813"), "complimenting him on 'his royal fortitude'" in the war with Napoleon, but he has "struck out of the collection" some key lines from his 1790s "story of the Female Vagrant, which very beautifully and affectingly describes the miseries brought on the lower classes by war" (80).

Mahoney then puts Hazlitt's incisive observation to work in a number of usefully illuminating ways. He shows, for example, how it makes Hazlitt (from Wordsworth's point of view) one of the poet's most "politically unfit readers" (122), thus contesting the traditional view of Hazlitt as one of Wordsworth's most ideal readers (a view dating back to Abrams's Natural Supernaturalism and based on selective quotation of Hazlitt's remarks on the "revolutionary" poetics of the Lyrical Ballads). But Hazlitt's comments in the essay on Comus also show how he participates in the larger tendency at the time to think of Wordsworth and Milton in terms of one another. Mahoney treats Wordsworth's own promotion of this identity in a detailed analysis of his sonnets, supplementing Liu with Hazlitt in order to show that "the vaunting 'sway' of Wordsworth's sonnets is not merely the dominion which the poet would check (Napoleon's) or, later, celebrate (Wellington's), but also the vacillation of the poet who, in educating power (clarifying the constitution of 'true Sway' for the imperial governor), falls under its sway" (104). Finally, he is able to juxtapose Hazlitt's attack on the 1815 Poems with Leigh Hunt's striking retraction of it one week later in The Examiner. Hunt, it seems, had fallen under Wordsworth's "sway" during the latter's promotional visit to Hampstead, and Mahoney uses the details of this visit, and the division of opinion it created between Hunt and Hazlitt, to determine that "the most potent political implications of romantic criticisms of Wordsworth . . . can be read in the conflicted constructions of Wordsworth as cultural property" (119). In a brilliant coda to the chapter, he aligns this idea of "property" with the patronage of Sir George Beaumont, as well as with Wordsworth's own enclosure of his growing literary estate in the 1815 Poems, and finally with some of the lines from the suppressed portion of the "The Female Vagrant" that depict "the expulsion of the narrator and her father from their land" when they fall under the "sway" of "a mansion proud" (122). As Mahoney makes clear in his introduction, "the point of such a critique is not to expose the apostasies of the Lake poets . . .  but to analyse the formal and rhetorical structures of their writings . . . which seemingly precipitate a falling in with power" (5).

Though this brief summary does no justice to the intricate surface of Mahoney's argument, it will give some sense of its range and structure. And the other chapters contain similar feats of reading, whether it be to unpack the implications of Coleridge's fascination with his own adage "Once a Jacobin always a Jacobin," Hazlitt's witty inversion of this into "Once an Apostate and always an Apostate," the epithet "renegado" flung at Southey in the context of the "Wat Tyler affair," or the way Kemble's Coriolanus turns the sheer tenacity of standing--his refusal to "bend"--into tragic falling. Mahoney's innovation in each case is to place emphasis less on the "political construction of apostasy (as an ethical dereliction or betrayal)" and more on "its rhetorical status (as an uncontainable falling characteristic of figurative language)" (5). As suggested at the outset, this emphasis constitutes one of the strengths of the book, but also a point of vulnerability. One promising feature of this approach, for example, is the inevitability that Hazlitt himself--that hero of unflinching consistency of principle--will also be subject to the figurative "sway" of romantic apostasy, that he will turn out to be, in Mahoney's suggestive phrase, a "closeted Coriolanus" (146).

This is precisely the aim of the final, climactic chapter, "Criticism on the Verge," and yet this turns out to be the least satisfying dimension of Mahoney's argument. Having been warned in the introduction to the book that "the critic cannot but fail in any attempt to arrest the fall of apostasy," and that "[s]uch fallings-off constitute the irony of romantic apostasy" (3), it is therefore ironic that when it comes to Hazlitt, Mahoney's approach is precisely "to arrest the fall of apostasy" by claiming that "apostasy emerges in Hazlitt's writing not as a matter of political opinion, but rhetorically, as a product of the irrepressible vehemence--that is to say, of the force--of language" (168). In other words, in this one case, Mahoney will turn away completely from any attention to a "political construction of apostasy," in effect taking Hazlitt at his own word that he never once flinched or bent or swayed from his adherence to the "good cause" of "civil and religious liberty."1 And what Mahoney adduces in support of his purely rhetorical reading of Hazlitt's apostasy is certainly true as far as its goes: that Hazlitt's fascination with the sublime force of Burke's style, for example, and his efforts to produce an answerable equivalent, bring him to a sort of fractal "verge" at which "the language of power is no longer distinguishable from the language of power" (188). But why save Hazlitt from pitching over this verge into political apostasy as well? Why prevent the "uncontainable falling," "the seeming inevitability of indicting oneself in the exposure of another's apostasy"? (5, 3). After all, this is where the deconstructive logic of the figure would take us, setting loose a truly "vertiginous,"2 ahistorical collapse of all language into an "abiding crisis of literary signification" (12), a seeming black hole of "romantic apostasy" that will quickly obliterate any frail verge "between poetry and prose, politics and literature, gravity and levity" (185) and ensure that Hazlitt's writing--and Mahoney's too (not to mention that of this review)--will always already be indicted in some discernible form of "always-falling," ideological as well as discursive, ideological because discursive.

At the risk of further irony, let us arrest this fall and return instead to historical particularity in order to suggest some of the ways we may indeed track Hazlitt's fall over the verge into political as well as rhetorical apostasy. Klancher has shown that the "Reading Public" addressed by Hazlitt in the periodical press is not uniform but plural, and therefore Hazlitt's political opinions will discernibly "sway" when he is performing (at sixteen guineas a sheet) for Francis Jeffrey of the Whig Edinburgh Review as opposed to writing sharp copy for the "querulous" Leigh Hunt of The Examiner (116). This synchronic swaying can in fact be measured by comparing his two reviews of Coleridge's Statesman's Manual in the Examiner and The Edinburgh.3 Can his principles be said to shift diachronically as well? What might it mean, for example, for Hazlitt to invoke the nostalgic mode in his essays for Scott's London Magazine during the prosperous 1820s (that "age of talkers, and not of doers"4), a nostalgia that can be shared across former postrevolutionary political divisions by all (middling-class) "men of letters," but not, for example, by laboring-class readers sent underground by the Six Acts?

Such questions, of course, are meant to supplement rather than undermine Mahoney's achievement, and to keep those discussions going that he has both launched and refined. To this end, all readers interested in Hazlitt and in the intricate conjugations of the political and the rhetorical during the Regency are encouraged to consult this book, and to add "romantic apostasy," as Mahoney has freshly redefined it, to the lexicon of critical terms at our collective disposal.

1. William Hazlitt, The Complete Works of William Hazlitt, ed. P.P. Howe, Vol. 17 (London: J.M. Dent, 1930-4), 107, 110. (Back)
2. The word "vertiginous" is used countless times throughout the book (35, 42, 44, 48, 49, 57, 68, 127, 136, 145 [2x], etc.), along with cognates of "precipitous" (8, 12, 29, 32, 35, 53, 78, etc.) and the word "economy," as in "economy of falling" (8, 29, 77, 136, etc.) or the "economy of Coleridgean apostasy" (38, 48, 54, 79). This repetitiousness of usage might be overlooked if it were not also for the repetition of entire passages (on pages 4 and 11, 29 and 102, 165 and 166, 180 and 183). Some readers may also be put off by Mahoney's indulgence in dubious etymologies ("the seeming necessity of falling which lurks in falloir" [29]) and outrageous puns (as when "the tantalizing figure of the 'eddy'" in Talfourd's description of Hazlitt's prose suddenly becomes "that other Eddie," Edmund Burke, thus creating "the eddy of Eddie" [190]). I suspect even Derrida would cringe at some of these stylistic moves, and Hazlitt would call them "cant." (Back)
3. See Contest for Cultural Authority: Hazlitt, Coleridge, and the Distresses of the Regency (Wayne State UP, 1999), chapter 4 passim. (Back)
4. Hazlitt, Complete Works, Vol. 11, 28. (Back)

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