Swinburne
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For many years impassioned Swinburneans have tried to make the scholarly world take Swinburne seriously, and have made some progress. Recently, however, at diverse cultural levels informed by, yet largely dissociated from Academe, something quite unexpected and astounding has happened: in rock, in jazz, in poetry, in fiction from magic realism to the crime novel, Swinburne is emerging as a living force in our own culture. In short (and as a scholar I shudder as I key in the words), Swinburne is cool. That it should come to this!

Let us begin soberly, with two splendidly uncool items illuminating the poet's social and intellectual context. Those interested in Swinburne's family history can now visit The Swinburn(e) Family History Site at http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Atlantis/8805/index.html, but will pay special [End Page 401] attention to the site "Sir John Swinburne of Capheaton, Northumberland, England" at http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Atlantis/8805/sirjohn.html; this site provides basic information on the Swinburne family (beginning with a John Swinburne born c. 1612), along with photographs of Capheaton Hall and other relevant locations. At the entry on the poet, there is a link to a slightly fuller outline of Swinburne's career. An exploration of these sites deepens one's sense of the degree to which this poet was embedded in the English gentry.

At the same time, of course, Swinburne was deeply involved with French culture, and this relationship deserves far greater attention than it has ever received. While various studies have explored his response to Sade, Hugo, Baudelaire, and Mallarmé, much more remains to be done in this area. Anyone working on Swinburne's connections with France would do well to consult Michael Kelly's "Comparing French and British Intellectuals: Towards a Cross-Channel Perspective" (French Cultural Studies 14, no. 3 [October 2003]: 336-348). Kelly has little to say of Swinburne directly, although he begins by discussing Jill Forbes, an academic who published on Swinburne in the 1970s and wrote a D.Phil. thesis on the poet's influence in France. The value of Kelly's article lies in his clarification of the practical and theoretical challenges in comparative discussions of French and British thinkers, and also in his outline of a wider "conceptual project around which a comparative study could be organized," focusing on "the forms of association, communication and action," and analysis of intellectuals' "relationship to the state, and to the institutions of political and social power" (p. 345).

Significant criticism on Swinburne himself has appeared this year. Jerome McGann, whose Swinburne: An Experiment in Criticism (1972) may be said to have initiated modern Swinburne criticism, has happily returned to the field with "Swinburne's Radical Artifice; or, The Comedian as A.C." (Modernism/Modernity 11, no. 2 [2004]: 205-218). This richly celebratory article presents Swinburne himself as "a wonder, a terror, and finally a catalyst for great social and cultural change," and his aesthetic program as "a great, neglected cultural and scholarly obligation" (pp. 207, 206). McGann's rapid, sweeping, but deeply informed review of the scholarly tradition points out how responses to Swinburne by T. S. Eliot, Henry Adams, and William Empson were inflected by the critics' own cultural agendas, and points out that the fundamental issue at stake was and remains Swinburne's opposition to the replacement of "individual imaginative life" by institutional religion "at the center of human social and interpersonal exchange" (p. 212). By emphasizing poetry's self-reflexivity and its "Ovidian capacities for infinite metamorphic change and transformation," Swinburne reaffirms the individual imaginative life (pp. 212-213). [End Page 402] Brief but provocative close analysis of "Anactoria" and "The Garden of Proserpine" illustrates McGann's argument.

For a generation, against the repudiation of Eliot expressed by such critics as Rikky Rooksby (and, I must add, myself), deconstructionist critics have celebrated Eliot's charge (that Swinburne provides only the hallucination of meaning) as a demonstration of Swinburne's sophistication and proto-Derridean genius. McGann absorbs but also transcends this line of argument: "Searching poems for their meanings, we often forget that in poetry, language is not a vehicle of reference...


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