Poetics of Unremembered Acts
Reading, Lyric, Pedagogy
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: Northwestern University Press
Title Page, Copyright
I am fortunate to have many people to acknowledge and thank for helping me to complete this book. Not all forms of teaching are accidental, even if the full significance of that teaching remains always on the horizon. This book would not have been possible without my many teachers in the Department of Comparative...
Introduction: Reading in the Dark
In February 1808, William Wordsworth confesses in a letter to Sir George Beaumont, a wealthy British nobleman and art patron, that he “wish[es] either to be considered as a Teacher, or as nothing.”1 Given the opposition, to be considered a teacher is to be considered “something.” And if Wordsworth were...
Part I. Reading—Pedagogy
1. “Cozen’d” into Knowledge: Locke
Sometimes it is better not to know what you are doing. For John Locke, teaching children to read involves a game in which letters are inscribed on the sides of dice, creating words spelled by chance when rolled together. Locke’s reasons for including the die-rolling game are entirely practical. Because children might...
2. On Learning to Read as Not Myself: Rousseau
If the goal of reading pedagogy is to ensure that readers are properly trained to decipher the message transmitted, then Rousseau’s Émile demonstrates, perhaps unintentionally, the cost of training readers to disregard language’s lyric potential—its potential to exceed the intentions of the user and to refer aberrantly...
Part II. Lyric—Pedagogy
3. Leaving the World to Darkness: Gray
Although Thomas Gray later became suspicious of its success, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” (1751) was immensely popular from its first appearance.1 And its continued popularity led Edmund Gosse in 1882, more than a century after initial publication, to describe Gray’s “Elegy” as the...
4. The Craving for Incidents: Wordsworth
If Gray’s “Elegy” concludes with a pronouncement that one “can’st” read even as the poem challenges readers who struggle to make sense of it, Wordsworth’s “Simon Lee” poses a similar challenge in taking on poetry’s social function. How does one learn to read poetry, and what is poetry good for? In his preface to Lyrical Ballads from 1800, William Wordsworth famously, if also...
5. Lyric Yawns: Keats
Early chapters of The Poetics of Unremembered Acts focused on Locke’s and Rousseau’s pedagogical treatises and specifically on their attempts to teach children how to read. While significant differences in method exist between the two, both define reading as ideally a process of decoding. The message conveyed...
In moving from Locke’s die-rolling game to Keats’s yawning tomb, we have passed from one form of repetition to another. Both Locke’s game and Keats’s yawn allegorize the transformation of a mechanical repetition into a speech act, one divorced, however, from familiar notions of subjectivity, will, and intention. My point is not simply to identify the ways intention is undermined...