About Geoffrey Hartman.
What threatens the mimetic is, to put it bluntly, the infinity of evil glimpsed by our generation, perhaps beyond other generations ....
The trouble with infinity of any kind is that it dwarfs response and disables human agency. We feel compelled to demonize it, to divest the monster of human aspect and motivation, to create the stereotype of an evil empire. We romance ourselves into a psychically secure and ideologically upright posture, simplifying the representation of evil and the entire issue of mimesis. What is required, however, is a world that still has enough plausibility to represent what was almost destroyed: the trustworthiness of appearances, a consistency between the 'human form divine' and what goes on within it, shielded from the eye.
The hurt inflicted on appearances--on a (harmonious) correspondence between outer and inner--is so acute that it leads to a stutter in the representational faculties. The stutter in verbal form is akin to poetry like Celan's and in visual form it distorts, or simply divorces, features that once were kind. When Wordsworth as a young man hears for the first time the "voice of Woman utter blasphemy" (that is, a prostitute cursing), his reaction describes an ominous breach in the idea of the human, one that opens the possibility of deceptive look-alikes and, since the human form is not radically affected, drives a wedge between outward appearance and inner reality. It is as if the baffled eyes, unable to read the soul from a physical surface, were forced to invent an anti-race or dark double:
I shuddered, for a barrier seems at once Thrown in, that from humanity divorced Humanity, splitting the race of man In twain, yet leaving the same outward Form. (1850 Prelude, 7.388-91)
This troubled, ambivalent moment could breed either a deep compassion or a demonization of the other race. If the sense of evil gets the upper hand, scapegoating becomes inevitable as a way of marking the evil, of making its hidden presence biological and photogenic. The correspondence between inside and outside is saved, but a group is ritually excluded from the human community to bear the stigma of what is evil and now markedly inhuman.
... Thus the problem of limits changes. It is not so much the finiteness of intellect as the finiteness of human empathy that comes into view.
--"The Book of Destruction," in Probing the Limits of Representation, ed. Saul Friedlander (Harvard U. Press, 1992), 329-30, 332.
I am tempted simply to continue the quote--assuming that everyone reading these words would find in them what she needs to go on with her own project. The fact that Celan and Wordsworth are so naturally linked, that the "monster" and the "evil empire" can be uttered unblinkingly in the same paragraph as the "human form divine," is what most characterizes Hartman's embrace. Our lives have intersected in many times and places over the past thirty years, but the watershed was the interdisciplinary conference convened by Saul Friedlander at UCLA in 1990 that produced the volume Probing the Limits of Representation; the above quote is from the concluding chapter of that volume.
In that and future essays and common ventures, Hartman's voice enabled insights that I had only dared to mumble to myself--all pointing in the same direction, unsentimentally but also unapologetically: toward the "deep compassion" that can come of this "troubled, ambivalent moment." Hartman's "shoah" project, first presented as an exercise in reading Celan through Wordsworth, has the widest possible ethical and political implications for literature and life in the interminable aftermath of Auschwitz. But in Jerusalem, where I live, Hartman's words resonate with a particular urgency.
A terrible space was liberated after the Israeli victory of 1967, a space where the "monster" became a free-floating signifier and vengeance towards that monster's 'tribe' seemed countenanced by the miracle of a swift victory. Theological impulses that had been contained for twenty years resurfaced as the legacy of the shoah hardened into a conviction of eternal Jewish victimhood. I began to see Hebrew literature and Israeli culture as a struggle between the impulse to segregate a "group [as] ritually excluded from the human community to bear the stigma of what is evil and now markedly inhuman" and acts of compassion, empathy and faith in a "world that still has enough plausibility to represent what was almost destroyed: the trustworthiness of appearances." Although there were hardly any plausible comparisons to be drawn between the Nazi butcher and the Arab/Palestinian adversary, a template was being activated that reinforced Manichean impulses. And this template was reflected in a stark geographical shift: almost overnight, a path had been cleared from Auschwitz to the Temple Mount. Indeed, it seemed, "if the sense of evil gets the upper hand, scapegoating becomes inevitable." The very site on which "scapegoating" had originated has become, once again, the place where, as Derrida taught us, we "sacrifice others to avoid being sacrificed oneself" (Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, trans. David Wills [U. of Chicago Press, 1995], 85-87).
By the Second Intifada, the "stereotype of an evil empire" had come to prevail in the Israeli street over the more delicate negotiations among frail human beings pushing back against the walls and barriers that separate and mythicize.
What do a few words from an English professor at Yale matter? Well, they matter if literature matters. A few intrepid Hebrew writers were our early warning system, extending against all odds the "finiteness of human empathy" to a traumatized people that repeatedly finds its answers in the simplistic formulations of a "sense of evil," in scapegoating, in vengeful visions and in an epistemology founded on the demonic/divine divide. If, before our "baffled eyes," Israel after 1967 seemed to have invented an "antirace or dark double, a 'splitting the race of man / In twain,'" writers like Dan Pagis managed to challenge this split vision while inscribing unspeakable loss as a Hebrew "stutter."
Born in Radautz, in the Bukovina region of Romania not far from Celan's birthplace of Czernowitz, Pagis entered the "concentrationary universe" as a nine-year-old and preserved in his taut poetic lines the detritus of his childhood: an Underwood typewriter, a grandfather clock, fragments of scriptures, of jokes, of truncated conversations. Essences floating in outer space flouted not so much mimesis itself as its syntax, its "narratable dimension." As the metonymic particles of interrupted lives, Pagiss "transparent wake of the past" met Celan's "graves in the air" (Dan Pagis, "Point of Departure," Points of Departure, trans. Stephen Mitchell [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1981], 41; Paul Celan, "Deathfugue," in Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan, trans. John Felstiner [New York: Norton, 2001], 31). And in the early aftermath of the Six Day War, he was one of the only ones to push back against the "evil empire," to insist that "they definitely were human beings" (Dan Pagis, "Testimony," Points of Departure, 25). Other Hebrew writers who would call attention to the inherent human propensity for evil and challenge the dichotomies in official Israeli sites and rites of memory include David Grossman and Yoram Kaniuk. If, that is, even the Nazis were human beings with choices and not the devils spawn, then the very human propensity for evil had to be reincorporated into a world of "plausibility."
But that challenge was not this poets last. Something happened late in Pagis's life that would also bring Hartmans own detour into focus. For personal reasons that had public resonance, Pagis began to relinquish the "stutter," the "hurt inflicted on appearances" for a fuller realization of the autobiographical sentence, for a renewed commitment to a narratable world located in the "trustworthiness of appearances." In his case this meant relinquishing the laconic, enigmatic line of poetry for the open-ended, capacious but syntactically coherent prosaic sentence. In "Abba," an unfinished manuscript that was published posthumously, Pagis opened his poetic lines, his heart, and his attention to a prose account of the more complex relationship between himself and his father, who had, presumably, abandoned him to his fate at the age of four.
As I was completing my essay on the "Prosaics of Memory" in Pagis's late writing for the volume that Hartman was editing on Shapes of Memory, I allowed myself to admit, tentatively and a bit sheepishly, to a kind of disappointment in the "prosaic" absence of the magic of Pagis's earlier terse and enigmatic poetry. In an act parallel to his early reading of Celan through Wordsworth, an act that also in some senses explained his own navigation through the haunting and "prosaic" hours of witness-testimony, Hartman gently shepherded me toward a conclusion that read Pagis through Wallace Stevens. Along with his regard for the empathy unleashed by the prose that flattens the stuttering, Hartmans editorial hand expressed the ever-elusive magic in the poetic word that has been his vocation. Here is how that essay ends--and my little tribute to Hartman's big gift to me, of imagination spurned and craved:
Do we read this prose, then, as an alternative construct of memory, or do we read it as "final words" that provide an ultimate deciphering, a hermeneutic code imposed on that spare poetry of empty spaces? And our uneasiness concerning this shift to a prosaics of memory, is it but that of petulant readers deprived of Active unlikeliness, of a more obvious type of lyric enchantment?
Yet not too like, yet not so like to be Too near, too clear, saving a little to endow Our feigning with the strange unlike, whence springs The difference that heavenly pity brings. For this, musician, in your girdle fixed Bear other perfumes. On your pale head wear A band entwining, set with fatal stones. Unreal, give back to us what once you gave: The imagination that we spurned and crave. --Wallace Stevens, "To the One of Fictive Music" (HR, 133)
Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
The phrase would not be effective without the story, yet its focus is so sharp that a few words seem to yield not simply the structure of one story but that of all stories in so far as they are telltales.
--Beyond Formalism: Literary Essays, 1958-70 (Yale U. Press, 1970), 337
The Preface to Geoffrey Hartman's Beyond Formalism showed him to be a critic actively broadening the role of literature and the role of criticism and interpretation. Many literary critics who pursue such aims adopt an intensely polemical stance, but Hartman chose a different route. He did not imagine that his approach must confute all others. He did not conduct an intensive ground campaign against a critical school like that of the New Criticism even when he felt it to be "dangerously narrowing." Rather, he recommended a criticism that "guides us to larger structures of the imagination: to forms like drama and epic, but also to what Northrop Frye calls 'archetypes' and Levi-Strauss 'mythemes'" (xii). His critical campaign has always been one against narrowing, and I can best pay tribute to his expansiveness by trying to track his discussion of the five brief words "the voice of the shuttle."
Many another critic might use the names Frye and Levi-Strauss and archetypes and mythemes as virtual amulets to ward off baleful influences, but "The Voice of the Shuttle: Language from the Point of View of Literature" has always seemed to me a quintessential example of Hartmanian criticism because of its way of adopting various critical perspectives and adapting them from within. Calling this essay (along with another on Hopkins's poetry) an experiment in structuralist reading, Hartman early introduces a point that seems to move with archetypalism and structuralism to an account of narrative that is ahistorical in being more than historical: "The phrase [the voice of the shuttle] would not be effective without the story, yet its focus is so sharp that a few words seem to yield not simply the structure of one story but that of all stories in so far as they are telltales" (337). Much archetypalist and structuralist criticism is committed to the large typicalities of narrative forms--even when, as with Roland Barthes's analysis of Genesis 32:22-32, the folkloric trial sequence and the religious marking of Jacob are shown to be equally available readings of the passage that continually compete for our attention (in a fashion that more nearly resembles the alternating appearances of Jastrow's duck-rabbit as Wittgenstein describes it than the ambiguity of the New Criticism).
Hartman, by contrast, makes a point about archetypes that is distinctive. He says of the phrase that seems to loom larger than the story in which it is set: "And this, perhaps, is what archetype means: a part greater than the whole of which it is a part, a text that demands a context yet is not reducible to it" (337-38). A remarkably creative understanding of such things as the Oedipus story leads Hartman past something like Levi-Strauss's notions that connect Oedipus's lameness to primordial concerns about whether humans have an autochthonous origin. Levi-Strauss takes a feature of Oedipus--his lameness--and links it not merely to the description of this one character but of recurrent human questions; the lameness that seemed a part assumes the prominence that we would expect the whole to have. In Levi-Strauss's account the feature takes center stage, a metonymy being no longer a part but the whole in its largest presentation.
Yet while Levi-Strauss deploys a logical analysis that presents each of his terms in sharp relief, Hartman interests himself with the metonymic effects of the phrase "the voice of the shuttle" precisely along the line that it itself stakes out and constitutes in and of itself. "Voice," a metonymic substitution of the effect of the picturing tapestry for the cause, and "shuttle," a metonymic substitution of a productive cause for the product, operate along the logical lines that rhetoric identifies as its predictable deviations.
Even as Hartman traces out a rhetorical analysis that centers on a disturbance of our sense of causality, he is already providing a very unnarrow account of the scant five words with which he began. For the thing that he uses the rhetorical analysis to identify is an otherwise unobtrusive expansiveness (somewhere) in the midst of those five words. "The power of the phrase," he observes, "lies in its elision of middle terms and overspecification of end terms" (338). Indentifying that pattern of expansiveness leads him to ponder a series of examples: the line "Sonorous metal blowing martial sounds" from Milton (PL, 1:540); Joycean puns (342); the tmesis he describes in Donne's "In what torn ship soever I embark" and in Hopkins's "Brute beauty and valour and act, oh air, pride, plume, here/Buckle" (354-46).
Sometimes attending to the tmeses through which poets fill and overfill what might otherwise be overweeningly overspecified end terms, sometimes times identifying interpretation as a matter of inducing an opening (351), Hartman uncovers literary speech--that of the poet, that of the critic--as a matter of making "room in meaning itself" (352). This understanding of the role of literature shows how frequently the interrupted end-stoppings of rhyme appear in a variety of forms--metaphors, tmeses--and how salutary these apparently minor openings are in sustaining life and the imagination against a condensation that would be a closing and a closing-down.
An attention to the literary figures of metaphor and metonymy had enabled a structuralist such as Levi-Strauss to map relationships as they appeared in naming practices, with cows, for instance, being associated with humans by contiguity and birds by metaphor. In talking about "language from the point of view of literature," Hartman, by contrast, replaced the map that depicted relationships with a suggestive account of how literature and literary language might alter the observable world, extending past the points of the kind of map that structuralist framing produced. The essays in Beyond Formalism are, as Hartman says, "text-bound" (xiii), but the kind of interpretation he gives those texts "from the point of view of literature" allows "few words" to seem to be many, not through ambiguity so much as the expansiveness in time and space that literary language allows them to assume.
University of Chicago
The revolutionary or apocalyptic mind sees a future so different from the past that the transition must involve violence ... In Christian eschatology the new heaven and
earth are separated from our familiar world by a second Deluge: the flood of fire and terror described in the Book of Revelation. There is a necessary violation of nature or of a previous state of being. Yet Wordsworth keeps his faith in the possibility of an unviolent passage from childhood to maturity, or even from nature to eternity. He converts nature into a paraclete, the paraclete. Perhaps he remembers that though according to Paul "we shall be changed," and in a twinkling, a rape of time, there is the counter-balancing promise that "All shall survive." The divine hiatus, the revolutionary severance of new from old, is never total: the previous order, as if nothing could die absolutely, remains latent, waiting to return.
--Wordsworth's Poetry, 1787-1814 (Yale U. Press, 1964), 50
Geoffrey Hartman's designation of Wordsworth's nature as a "paraclete"--the comforter and surrogate presence whom Jesus promises his disciples when he is gone--occurs in the context of his describing Wordsworth's alternative to revelation conceived of as a violent break with the past. When he uses the same figure in a later essay on Marvell's "The Nymph Complaining the Death of Her Fawn," to describe the Fawn, who, left by the faithless lover, has quickly taken his place in the Nymph's affections, Hartman explicitly refers to the scriptural passages in John where
Christ promises the Comforter (Paraclete) to his disciples when they do not suspect or do not understand that he must leave them.... in preparing them for his absence, for temporality, [Christ] tells them of the Comforter, who is to be his surrogate and a spirit dwelling with them in his absence, more intimately even than He. The Paraclete, Donne comments in a sermon, as well as a mediator and advocate, "is in a more intire and a more internail, and a more viscerall sense, a Comforter." (BF 181-182)
The figure of Wordsworth's nature as paraclete, then, condenses several aspects of Hartman's dialectical argument about Wordsworthian maturation or education: it makes of nature a figure of continuity across what would otherwise be a violent break or rupture; a figure of substitution and surrogacy; and a figure of indeterminate, immanent, internal presence, not something separable to which one can point. "Nature as paraclete," one might say, is shorthand for the strangely self-canceling, self-erasing disappearing act by which nature gently and nonviolently leads Wordsworth to a point beyond nature.
In the later essay "A Touching Compulsion" Hartman retells this story of guided loss from the perspective of what psychoanalysis sometimes rightly considers the miracle of object-transfer. There "nature" and "mother" again appear together, never separately, as doubled figures for the possibility both of ongoing connection with the world and of an uncanny independence from it. What are the implications for Wordsworth's reception as an ecological poet in a time of ecological crisis of this understanding of "nature" as a surrogate companion and substitute love-object that makes further substitution possible? The most obvious thing to say would be that this is not the static figure of nature as a primal Eden, to which humans can have only a protective or corrupting relation, a fantasy that recurs within the popular environmentalist imagination. A kind of antidote to the spell of nativist localism or stubborn provincialism, Hartmans Wordsworth's nature loosens fixity and makes reattachment possible. Over against the doubt and mistrust of the "Athenian afraid to leave Athens because where else would he find sun and moon?" (WP, 166) Wordsworth's faith in nature as in something unlosable, as something bound to reappear if not here, then there, weirdly enough makes possible the loss, abandonment, or destruction of particular objects, and removal from particular places--even as it predicates the love of these objects on their repeatability and easy replaceability:
The obsession with specific place lifts from him or blends into a more generous conception of nature: he feels he can stand, cast roots, in many places. What happens here and now has happened before, and is elsewhere, everywhere, "on earth, / Or in the heavens, or in the heavens and earth." This multiplying locus assumes a tremendous sweep and molds for itself a subtler form as the blank verse of the fragments becomes an exercise in fluidity. (WP, 166)
Some six years before these lines appeared in print Hannah Arendt had claimed that "earthly nature, for all we know, may be unique in the universe in providing human beings with a habitat in which they can move and breathe without effort and without artifice" (Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition [U. of Chicago Press, 1958], 2). Yet forest ecologists are now telling us, "if you like this particular species of pine, then enjoy it, make the most of it, because in a little while--a mere 100 years or so--these trees may well be gone." Rereading Wordsworth's Poetry fifty years later, in a period marked by anthropogenic climate change, dwindling biodiversity, ocean acidification, and mass extinctions of an unprecedented rate and scale, how should we read the substitution of fields and fields of genetically modified corn and soy, or wood-stands of rapidly growing GE trees designed to sequester carbon while producing biofuel, for the forests, prairies, grasslands, or wetlands that preceded them, in relation to the play of substitution and transferable attachment identified by Hartman? Far from its apotheosis, 1 would argue that the ongoing expropriation of the commons for these purely and aggressively managed forms of life has more in common with the terror and desperation of the imaginary Athenian for whom there will be no sun unless he puts it there and keeps it there, than with the easy transfer from definite to indefinite, the ongoing passage from the determinate to indeterminate and back again, characterizing the geniality of Wordsworth's blank verse, in which one resting point may be as good as another.
In answer to the environmentalists concern that with so weightless an anchor, so loose a tether, substitutability begins to look a lot like disposability, one should remember that the capacity in Hartman's Wordsworth for associative displacement is also an exercise in ongoing surrender to the tenacious hold of "mute, insensate things." Flirting in his later work with the idea that within matter itself there is a strangely animate principle of inanimacy that resists change, or permits it only so as to return (ironically) to a changeless state, Hartman proposes something that sounds akin to Freud's death drive but is in fact another kind of eros--the practice of a mind that "cultivates a refusal to leave behind something deeply relational ... even when the muteness in question is associated with suffering rather than tranquility or happiness" ("Wordsworth and Metapsychology," in Wordsworth's Poetic Theory: Knowledge, Language, Experience, ed. Alexander Regier and Stefan H. Uhlig [New York: Palgrave, 2010], 198). Cutting through Hartman's writings is the uncertainty as to whether "Nature" is a principle of expansion, a force, however mild, of Enlightenment abstraction displacing the pantheon of "middle spirits" of place whose particular powers did not extend beyond their limited domains, or a counterveiling power that seals their chthonic memory by growing down and into muteness instead of up and out of it. This ambiguity's most abbreviated form would be Lucy's simultaneous expropriation and internalization in "A slumber did my spirit seal."
In John, Jesus's consoling announcement to his disciples of the paraclete to come is inseparable from what they don't want to hear--news of his imminent departure, which he also repeatedly figures as a return to the Father: "Yet a little while [mikros chronos] am I with you, and then I go unto him that sent me" (John 7:33); "Yet a little while [eti mikros chronos] is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth" (12:35). The announcement "I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter [paraktetos], that he may abide with you forever" (14:16) is followed by the warning "Yet a little while [eti mikron], and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also" (14:19). Perhaps the most extraordinary sequencing of intervals of temporal presence already hollowed out by imminent departure and return occurs in John 16:16:
A little while [mikron], and ye shall not see me: and again [palin], a little while [mikron], and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father.
Compare this hide-and-seek, "fort-da" game that Jesus seems to be playing with his disciples to the one played between the disciple Wordsworth and educator-nature in Wordsworths Poetry:
It follows that nature, for Wordsworth, is not an "object" but a presence and a power; a motion and a spirit; not something to be worshiped and consumed, but always a guide leading beyond itself ... The Negative Way is a gradual one, and the child is weaned by a premonitory game of hide-and-seek in which nature changes its shape from familiar to unfamiliar, or even fails the child. There is a great fear, either in Wordsworth or in nature, of traumatic breaks: Natura non facit saltus. (42)
What is a "little while," the phrase that translates the repeated "mikron" with its elided ett (yet, still) in John but a little spacing of time? A form of temporizing and dalliance with false surmise? Jesus promises them an idle interval, a time under erasure, already withdrawn and emptied of presence by the absence that will cut it short. A time that is promised not to last may be bearable for that reason, or incapable of being enjoyed for the same reason, or enjoyed purely and simply as supplement, as interlude, a "not much" that hardly demands return. In this briefest of sequences in the second half of 16:6, the promise of the Greek "palin'--"again" (when said of time) but also "back" (when of place) and "further"--finds itself realized within the line by the recurrence of mikron (here "small" said of time--of little or no duration). As an experiential rather than quantitative measure of time as it whiles itself away, this mikron may be shorthand for the temporariness of the temporal that makes of all units of time, however objectively long, "little whiles." If we remember the omitted eti, which was present in the earlier verses, then the sense is that of a small miracle--a weightless counter-weight to the reality principle, by which Christ is "yet"/"still" (against all odds) available to their gaze and will be so again (for another little while). Tire gift of Hartman's reading practice is to teach us to take the promised Paraclete, not, as in the overt sense of 14:6, as the ironically deferred promise of one who, when he comes, will abide with us forever, but as already at some level realized, already present, in the rhythm of this temporizing--in the scansion of these small, necessarily circumscribed advances, exercises in companionate walking, or intervals in time. His is the guiding hand that gives us the means and license to tarry, according to the opening lines from Milton's Samson Agonistes, whose intertextual knot he disentangles in the essay "Diction and Defense"--lines that also "lead" the poem Wordsworth addresses to his daughter Dora in 1816, even as they evoke the figure of Antigone leading the blind Oedipus at the opening of Sophocles's Oedipus at Colonus:
A little onward lend thy guiding hand To these dark steps, a little further on!
University of California, Berkeley
"Far other vows must I prefer...." With these words, and still paying formal tribute to Hesper, Akenside deviates from Bion. He converts the Evening Star poem into something psychic and strange, haunted by loss, memory, sublimation, and the influence of poetic song. He leads us to a symmetrical and cunning space:
See the green space: on either hand Inlarg'd it spreads around: See in the midst she takes her stand ...
both empty and full, natural yet ghostly. That narrow, clearly framed yet open space is not unlike poetry, especially when based on the classical sense of centering. The very predominance of a prototype, the very fixation on theme or symbol, becomes the poet's way to a wilder symbolic action and enlarged vision of continuity.
--"Evening Star and Evening Land," The Fate of Reading and Other Essays (Yale U. Press, 1974), 151
One passage? I could have chosen the first sentence of "False Themes and Gentle Minds": "The writers of the Enlightenment want fiction and reason to kiss" (BF, 283). That would do just fine. Still, the choice is hard because the impact of Geoffrey Hartman is cumulative: an attitude towards interpretation, a manner of arranging material, his immense skill in pacing and the use of the zoom lens, and an ear that never fails to hear significant change in literary history. What I got directly from the passage I did choose is the compulsion to quote those lines from Akenside's "Ode to the Evening Star" repeatedly.
Let me begin with the end of my passage from "Evening Star and Evening Land" in order to emphasize Hartman's inspirational attitude towards interpretation. Reading "a wilder symbolic action" is like reading "fields of sleep" in the Intimations Ode. You want to say, "didn't he mean sheep?" And likewise, "didn't he mean wider?" No, "wider" is what someone else would have written, and of course it's entailed here by displacement forward to the word "enlarg'd," quoted from the quotation, which in turn is shown by this means to have accomplished Hartman's broadening of literary historical implication all by itself. But the elegance of this enlarging compression is not confined solely to the writing of literary history. Genius--of the place or otherwise--defies fixed pattern or teleology, and that's why the word "wilder" appears, intensifying the "symbolic action" borrowed from Kenneth Burke. Alongside the insistence that something in literature is changing at this moment, and inseparable from that, there is a hermeneutic leap shared by poet and critic, a leap back and forth between them, perhaps even a hazardous extravagance of the kind that Schleiermacher's Romantic hermeneutics called divination. This passage shows--shows me, if you will--that interpretation is nothing without its other requisite, philology (plenty of it here); yet interpretation can't afford to repose in the sober security that unaided philology provides. Is philology ever unaided anyway? Should interpretation more openly pursue its unavoidable preconceptions? A scholar starting out gets her wrist slapped pretty often by those who discourage these questions, then as now, but when I was a beginner it was Hartman's example, with William Empson's, that kept me asking them.
By 1972 Hartman's work more openly pursued the psychoanalytic aims reflected here in "haunted by loss, memory, sublimation, and the influence of poetic song." Akenside's "Ode to the Evening Star," like many odes, is really an elegy. It visits "fair Olympias virgin tomb" as the lament of a lover cheated by death. "'Far other vows must I prefer,'" the poet says, to the marriage vows that Hesper expects to hear. Well, he doesn't call Olympia Parnassia, but you get the idea: if we can agree with the wild notion that the "framed yet open space is not unlike poetry," then the "loss" and "memory" of Olympia is the loss and memory of Greece itself, here in addition commemorating Bion, and we see that the gentle mind of this ode participates in Hartman's great theme of westering in Hesperian lands. The "sublimation" involved is then the virginity of the beloved, displacing the feeling of belatedness, the feeling this "minorpiece of the 1740's" reflects in evoking cultural symbols that are far from being still unravished brides of quietness.
The odd thing about this corkscrew of a poem is that it could have been called "Ode to a Nightingale." When he starts searching for Philomela's bower, the poet requests Hesper's guiding light but turns his attention for a while from light to sound, because it is the nightingale's song that consecrates remembered walks with Olympia. Once Hesper's light and Philomel's voice together have sublimated eros into thanatos, the poet arrives at the enchanted clearing where '"she,"' the bird, is now a figure which, though vocal, is nonetheless a medium of vision: "See in the midst she takes her stand." The English oak where she sings is "centering" the green space with its bedded kine, surrounded by trees: "The stars shine out; the forest bends: / The wakeful heifers gaze." It must have taken enormous strength of will not to have called this clearing a Lichtung, after Heidegger, another victim of the tyranny of Greece. The false theme insistently in play is the persistence of the divine in the natural, the particular fiction that reason still wants to kiss. To be sure, the toxic Heidegger is perhaps not irrelevant, as the shining out of the stars (Hesper now seemingly eclipsed among them) is the aesthetically registered ontology of Morike's lamp in the Heidegger-Spitzer-Staiger controversy: Was aber schon ist, scheint es in ihm selbst. The forest bends toward the light, and the animals are entranced by the presence of the Word in a phantom Nativity. If indeed this "open space is not unlike poetry," it is not quite right even so to suppose it a New Critical trope for lyric form. The "poetry" Hartman has in mind and pursues for the rest of the essay enlarges, or opens, formalism as the persistence of prophecy in the imagination of nature.
Paul H. Fry
Heidegger's "Thought gathers language into simple speech," together with the final image of the philosopher-peasant cultivating a speech with unapparent furrows, has a relation to Wordsworth's own cure of language.
Unfortunately, as I have suggested, the very absence on the continent of a Wordsworth or a Wordsworth reception removed what might have moderated a cultural and political antimodernism vulnerable to vicious dichotomies.
--"The Question of Our Speech," The Fateful Question of Culture (Columbia U. Press, 1997), 79
Quietly, even sneakily, in the middle of "The Question of Our Speech," Geoffrey Hartman reveals a political and cultural power of poetry that is at once overwhelming and unbelievable. I find this passage to reveal one of the most beautiful expressions of poetry's power, but more unusually and self-reflexively of criticisms power. Hartman opens the lecture as a defense of poetry at the height of the cultural and New Historicist turn away from aesthetics and considers the importance of bringing "poetry, or literature generally, into the fold of cultural discourse." But the importance of poetry is due not to its particular relevance or power, to the fact that it has any "bearing on cultural critique" or that it might "confirm or disconfirm specific remedies concerning social and political reorganization that may be drawn from theories about our imperfect transition from feudal and rural conditions to an industrial society," but rather because it is a resource for generating concrete counterexamples. Indeed Hartman sets out by sounding a bit like Auden, where an absence of consolation here is replaced by the absence of predictive or evaluative power before often violent social and political realities. Yet, despite this powerlessness, poetry's capacity comes in its articulation of possibilities, in its generation of "counterexamples to disembodied thought and unearned abstraction" (61). What I find remarkable, and beautiful about this passage, about the moment in which Hartman describes a radically, even absurdly alternative, counterintuitive, and utterly bold point of view is that it dramatizes a possibility of criticism. It reveals a criticism that operates like poetry, a criticism of the counterexample.
"The Question of Our Speech" is the second of Hartman's Wellek lectures, delivered at UC Irvine in 1992, and it has stayed with me since I first read it while writing my dissertation and, later, my book on the rhetoric of Romantic survival. It is the kind of work, like Wordsworth's Poetry, that is so utterly world shaping that it has become in my mind indissociable from thinking about poetry; it becomes a mirror, to use Hartman's own metaphor. Returning to this essay reveals to me that what I have tried to understand by the name "biopoetics" may be only what Hartman calls poetry, and what I try to practice as a mode of criticism at the edges of reason is part of a long, not always voiced conversation with Geoffrey Hartman.
But let me also confess: I don't know that I believe a word of what Hartman says here. I don't know that I can accept its counterfactual mode. I don't know that I can share its poetry as much as I admire it. Hartman's point, as I understand it, is that Germany skipped a vital stage in its cultural and national development. England, as Hartman narrates it, experienced a shift from national and nativist identification of genius as an organic formation to a conception of individual genius--from the epic to autobiography--highlighting the formation of a poet rather than the people. This shift leads to genius as a name not only for belonging, but also for displacement. By understanding the poet in this way, as an individual who exceeds her time, the English Romantics poets prompt novel efforts in England and abroad (starting with Francis Galton) to articulate the origins of creative genius. This notion of the individual poet troubles accounts of collective inheritance, nationalism, and nativism that correlate with what Giorgio Agamben calls "Language and Culture." What Hartman sees, what Agamben misses, is how poetry--how Wordsworth--undoes this correlation. Hartman recognizes Wordsworth as achieving a kind of transference, translation, even conversion in which poetry acts like an archive that holds a no longer viable and never fully realized past. Rather than turning it into a source of nostalgic attachment, rather than sustaining a destructive melancholia, that which is abandoned (or negated, to follow the dialectical logic that informs Wordsworth's Poetry), even if only an unfulfilled possibility, is also maintained. And this, Hartman suggests, is sufficient to preserve against a violent nostalgia and unrealizable vision that depends upon the destruction of modernity. This double gesture of negation and archive allows for what Hartman describes as Wordsworth's "precarious cultural transfer (translatio) of English rural life--or rather its spirit" (7). This form of translation "gives representation to what in English culture was previously unrealized or semi-articulate, a potentiality only." Hartman goes on to conclude: "I speculate that this saved English politics from the virulence of a nostalgic political ideal centering on rural virtue, which led to serious ravages on the continent" (7). The presence of Wordsworth saves England; the absence destroys Germany. This is the political possibility of poetry, but poetry, Hartman also acknowledges, continues to illuminate, to save the world from certain darkness, even if it can't ever be proven to matter. And so he concludes the speculation by admitting that "were my conjectures to be disproved or shown incapable of being proved, I should continue to feel as Mrs. Henshaw does, in Willa Cather's My Mortal Enemy: 'How the great poets do shine on ...! Into all the dark corners of the world. They have no night'" (7). This affirmation of the eternal sunshine of poetry, this tremendous, precarious political power, a power that, moreover, is not identical with poetry, reveals not poetry's power, however, but rather the enduring power of Geoffrey Hartman's criticism. What Hartman affirms here is a power to save that does not correspond to literary culpability.
Geoffrey Hartman's understanding of Wordsworth's extraordinary power--of what Wordsworth means for history--is nowhere more strongly in evidence than it is in this passage from The Fate of Culture. It is here, in a moment that feels hyperbolic, excessive, and surprising, that we catch a glimpse of Hartman's notion of poetry's possibility, and, more than this, of the devastation that its absence makes possible. For me, Hartman is the critic who does not refuse Romanticism after Auschwitz; the critic who lets us register a Romanticism that in Britain is a condition of survival.
A dozen or so years after the Wellek Lectures, Hartman writes in A Scholars Tale (Fordham U. Press, 2009) of the powerful experience of studying comparative literature at Yale. With other refugees and veterans as his classmates, he realized that "it seemed necessary to affirm the wealth and worth of a literary inheritance that had brought such a wonderful harvest of modernist works, even though these did not prevent political disaster. It never entered my head to blame them in any way. I was glad they were still there, as if they too had escaped mortal danger" (9). Here, Hartman, turning to the continent, describes another scene, one in which the works of literature survive in their intrinsic power, without having had the force to alter the world extrinsic to them. Hartman's sense of poetry here emerges in its difference from two contemporary, competing notions of literature, that of Paul de Man's aesthetic ideology and New Historicism (the topic of a long footnote to the passages that interest me, and in which Hartman distinguishes his notion of poetry's power from that of the early new historicists). What I want to suggest then is that while at this moment Hartman seems to describe another relation to poetry, marked not by its transformative power, but by its survival, he again offers a critical intervention that shares a form with literature. Here, he responds directly to the critical Zeitgeist, while he reminds us of literary possibilities that remain inexhaustible, inexhausted, we can rediscover in these words, despite their occasional quality, a way of thinking about poetry and a way of practicing criticism that is as urgent and as timely as ever. And at the moment that he admits that it is poetry's ability to live on, to endure destruction, that inspires him, he also opens its relation to the world of listening and archive.
In other words, and while this may be saying far too little, Geoffrey Hartman saves Romanticism for us.
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Each of us finds his own exile, but with less of a good conscience. To be creative, to recover through exile a paradise within or a fruitful solitude, one needs the sense of being moved by some force majeure, whether it be Politics, Art, or Destiny. --"The Interpreter: A Self-Analysis," The Fate of Reading and Other Essays (Yale U. Press, 1974), 4
My copy of The Fate of Reading has traveled with me. It bears the inscription "For Mary Jacobus--Spring visitor at New Haven," and the date: March 6, 1976. I had met Geoffrey Hartman in Oxford, maybe the year before. His work struck me then (it still does) as liberatory. A young Romanticist, my own first book not yet in print, I had turned to essays by Hartman for inspiration, but also for--let's call it--freedom. The burden of academic prose lay heavily on me. This, then, was how one might write: with lucid, reflective excitement; with prose that cut an edge; playfully and ruefully aware of the literary-critical giants of past and present; erudition without intimidation.
Rereading the first essay in The Fate of Reading ("The Interpreter: A Self-Analysis"), I'm struck afresh by its edgy self-inquiry, its modesty and daring, and how it turns the subject under scrutiny--the interpreter--every which way. Finding the passages I had marked in pencil four decades ago (my epigraph is the first) brought a double encounter: with myself as a reader, then (scarcely understanding what I read) and now; with Hartman then--and as I have read and heard him since. I did not then fully understand another paragraph that I seem to have marked, one that I recall being impressed by at the time: "Representation, in short, is Coming Out ... There is in the artist, perhaps in everyone, a representation-compulsion inseparable from coming-of-age" (FR, 8). The statement follows swiftly on from a passing reference to Rilke and a quotation from Smarts Jubilate Agno. Hartman links Smart's perpetual prayer to psychoanalytic free-association. The structure of his own essay is free-associative. Only now, looking back from the other side of my later immersion in psychoanalysis, can I recognize the extent to which the kind of freedom for which I looked in Hartman's critical writing was associated with the theory and practice of psychoanalysis: "The Interpreter: A Self-Analysis."
That fantasy might lurk in the "the cool element of scholarly prose"; that the interpreter might have literary personae; that literary criticisms anaclitic "leaning" might be a source of security; that criticism might free the text from its "context" and make it available for other times and places--all this and much more lurks in pages that read now like notations from lively conversations with the self-analyst within, and with others then practicing literary criticism; the others inside and the others alongside, or over against (Bloom, Derrida, Lacan ...). "The Interpreter" is nothing if not dialogical. Hartman's ability to be in dialogue with himself and others, yet take the tempo of his self-inquiry from the pulse of his own lively (and not uncombative) reflectiveness, is one of the distinctions of prose that never ceases to surprise--mingling sobriety and impishness. Hartman's model is Reynard-Hermes, thief and messenger, stealing and mediating with what his note characterizes as "accommodating eloquence" (FR, 316). Bloom is present in Hartman's text as the father of belatedness. Hartman--no heavy father he ("Apollo is not always a heavy father")--slyly announces his own trajectory: "Beyond Belatedness." Canny mediator, edging ahead.
And exile? Hartman's personal trajectory was shared by others who, born before World War II, made the voyage from Europe to America and were received into the academy. His historical roots have over the decades given rise to an intense commitment to examining the force majeure of destiny. Being moved by art and literature, by poetry and the creative possibilities of criticism, proved not to be enough. Others will have paid tribute to Hartmans work on Holocaust literature. What his essay spoke of, indirectly, was the potential for such reconnection with the past. This, surely, was one of the ways in which the interpreter experienced his own exile, ceasing to hide behind the text. "Coming Out" meant representing the work of art and "presenting" himself at the same time: making himself present in the text, "like Smart's figures, au pair"--however doubled (FR, 8). To come out is risky; it requires strength, courage, and commitment. Hartman's essay put down a marker for himself; it challenged his readers to do the same. The autobiographer and self-analyst retained his un-fashionable un-coolth. Hartman insisted that that the critic be present (au pair) in his own criticism.
Towards the end of his essay, Hartman touches on the relation of book and body by way of an essay by Bertram Lewin ("Sleep, the Mouth, and the Dream-Screen"). Rereading "The Interpreter" forty years later, I'm pretty sure that Lewins essay, which I later came to know, was then an entire blank to me. Lewin's dreamer projects the dream onto the mothers breast, which rolls up or away. Hartman is manifestly fascinated ("bemused") by the movement of the withdrawing breast. The dream screen, like criticisms anaclitic leaning on the work, becomes for him a reminder of something there, outside or beyond fantasy, a necessary prop. Without the work of art, text, poem, or book--nature itself--the critic would have nothing on which to project the dream. Fantasy reenters the picture, as a necessary projection onto an-out-there, a real. These memories and projections form the basis of thinking. "Interpretation is a feast," writes Hartman. One might wonder about the feast that disappears, as in The Tempest--can hallucinating the breast bring its own disappointments? Is thinking about something when it's not there the basis of all thought, as for Freud?
Hartman concludes that the word or image puts us in touch with the mother and lost body-feelings. Is there a certain wistfulness in this? He draws attention to the way in which "something forgotten or inert proves to be central." Perhaps, he speculates, what had been forgotten was not the breast, but the act of dreaming or writing itself; perhaps forgetting is necessary if one is to continue to dream and write. The book is not the body; he opts for the "double-breasted" book. The last word is from Hamlet--not Hamlets challenge to the Oedipal ghost, but his companions guarding the ramparts: "Nay, answer me; stand, and unfold yourself." If Hartman had ventriloquized Hamlet instead of the jittery guards, his self-analyst might have answered a different challenge. Instead, he makes the book his challenger. The dream-screen, the writing, also shields and protects. The interpreter stays the ghost with the shield of words.
University of Cambridge and Cornell University
What is meant by the radical character of art, in isolation or in conjunction with other types of radical activity, can only be demonstrated by a close analysis of the rhetorical and symbolic dimension. (Carlyle attempted something of this nature in his books on Cromwell and the French Revolution.) This analysis is not possible without literary experience: we must learn not only to read between the lines but also to hear the words, the words in the words and the images of voice they evoke. The institution of writing itself, at the level of complexity literature reveals, is presupposed, and the link between writing and ideation can no longer be ignored.
The productive force of close analysis has already enabled certain Romantic and post-Romantic writers to enter our consciousness in new and startling form: Rousseau, Blake, Wordsworth, Shelley. Holderlin, Michelet, and Nietzsche have benefited. Others, Ballanche, Carlyle, Emerson, Thoreau, Melville, Hugo, are being revalued. After a painful separation this limited, supposedly for its own good, the understanding of literature--"literature" became only that, and was resolutely dissociated from thought-systems of a religious, political, or conceptual kind--we are now returning to a larger and darker view of art as mental charm, war, and purgation.
--"Radical Art and Radical Analysis," The Geoffrey Hartman Reader, ed. Geoffrey Hartman and Daniel T. O'Hara (Fordham U. Press, 2004), 256-57
This passage concludes Geoffrey Hartman's brief, evocative survey of radical art and analysis in modernity that begins with voices that disrupt art. The example he lingers with in the beginning of this essay is strategic: Ariel's song in The Tempest, "Come unto these yellow sands," whose flourishing "Hark! Hark!" is upstaged and out-worded by Burthen's "Bow-wow!" and "Cock a-doodle do!" By waylaying the rhyming incantation of Ariel's song and, behind it, Prospero's magic, Burthen turns the mastery both seek away and awry, half undermining the power that Prospero and Ariel rely on to control the island, its inhabitants, and shipwrecked visitors. Burthen's rude words may carry some whiff of Caliban's earlier diatribe against Prospero and language, whose "rough magic" pinches and binds him on the island of his birth and former freedom. For Hartman, Burthen's "bow-wow" calls the tune, even as it is for Ariel a disruptive barking. The ensuing mix of song and rhyming interruption at "the lunatic fringe of rhyme or rhythm" and "mimicry forces Ariel's song to include words that mock that song's incantatory authority" (GHR, 254).
This frictive difference within radical art calls Hartman back to William Blake's insistence that the Poetic Genius rolled out in "All Religions Are One" challenges oneness, social unity, and hierarchic order from within by using words and forms that resist assimilation. Hartman notes that art's contribution to political and radical thought is rarely sustained, with notable exceptions, among them Bertolt Brecht, whose dramatic forms suspend counter-rhythms and inner frictions. And yet, Hartman also suggests, even artists and works that speak more equivocally about political disruption, as does Percy Shelley in The Cenci, a play that savages "state-sponsored power" even as its author and text remain half-enchanted by that power, provide textual occasions for adducing, as psychoanalysis reminds us, unconscious and resistant traces within art and reading that resist unifying regimes by mimicry, even as Burthens interruption resists Ariel's song.
In his closing remarks, quoted here, Hartman rounds back to the public and specifically political disruption of revolutions, which he characterizes as "festivals" whose voices break out in ways that not even revolutionary politics can limit. Such manifestations, he also notes, can become distractions from the radical work that exceeds specific revolutionary occasions. For Hartman, the texture of speech and action, its sustained rhetorical and symbolic work, marks the point where literary analysis and radical art meet. At this meeting point, we are able to recognize how artists of modernity--Hartman's roll call begins with Rousseau and ends with Hugo, moving between Europe, England, and America--belong to thought and literature. That belonging offers, as Hartman acutely reminds us, no easy comfort. For once we recognize that the analysis of literary forms is also bound to the work of thought those forms uneasily transmit, we return, as Hartman puts it, "to a larger and darker view of art as mental charm, war, and purgation." By echoing key words in Blake's prophetic writing, Hartman calls us back across the literature of modernity to one of its most radical voices, setting the temper of the work that lies ahead. By showing how art insists on its radical potential by charm, war, and the emptying of even its most powerful and excessive claims, Hartman attends to the inner rhythms that protect, by letting loose, the impulse toward difference and disruption that makes radical art and politics possible.
Theresa M. Kelley
University of Wisconsin-Madison
The pastoral mask has fallen.... If the fate of art is linked to the fate of pastoral--a large claim ... and in which "pastoral" stands over against total demystification--then it is important to seek vestiges of pastoral. All the more so if pastoral restrains, even while it acknowledges, the "dread voice" of prophetism.
--Minor Prophecies: The Literary Essay in the Culture Wars (Harvard U. Press, 1991), 7
These words have long resonated with me as a trenchant characterization of pastoral for our times (which, like reading, also has a fate). Pastoral (once dignified by Paul de Man as the theme of poetry itself) emerges as both elegiac and resistant in its "standing over" (Paul De Man, Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism, 2nd ed. [London: Routledge, 1989], 239). If pastoral persists though hesitantly, Hartman's own chastened mode of prophecy bridles against the predominance of blanket demystification. If all knowledge is guilty, he urges our suspicion to fall on the very "demystification that taught us this lesson" (.MP, 3). Trust cannot be in mistrust alone, the latter being no sustainable basis for critical intervention (MP, 11). In A Scholars Tale Hartman tells us how he is attracted to minor literary genres "with a small footprint and large resonance" (SchT, 67). This sustains defense of a "green belt for the mind" (Scars, 28) arising from a Romantic "anti-self-consciousness" which survives in the face of Hartmans double displacement: first from Germany to England and then on to America. In the midst of this "green exile" was a "companionate presence" of rural landscape so that, having crossed the Atlantic, he could feel like "the Unexile" or more wryly a "Jew of culture" (SchT, 21). For Wordsworth via Heidegger, as for Hartman himself, the sentiment of being must equate with a "freedom from permanent exile" (FQC, 77).
Hartmans meditations on pastoral, seen largely through Wordsworth, accompany a preoccupation with the modern imagination, first apparent in The Unmediated Vision (1954). By the time of The Unremarkable Wordsworth (1987), he sees the modern imagination, haunted both by the unmediated and mediated, as "stronger than ever, but also more homeless than ever" as it falls back on itself, or "endlessly outward" (UnW, 17). It is from the earlier pastoral tradition of Virgil, Milton, and Marvell that Hartman first detects how intimately pastoral itself can be drawn toward prophecy, so that its own "green belt" has a counterworld tension. Marvell's idyll is "deliberately diminished" but "will not give up a magical ambition to rival or supplant nature." In pastoral, the "casual is often a veiled form of the highly purposed," and, with Virgil, the "pressure of the greater world is there for those who can recognize it." By the time of Milton's Lycidas "the prophetic threatens to transgress the pastoral mode" and Hartman notes it actually does so in Pope's Windsor Forest (BF, 179, 189, 316). The rise of an ethos of "local attachment" in the eighteenth century announced tensions between local and global with us ever since, though for Hartman this is not "entirely retro and sentimental" (SchT, 65). Demystification cannot be averted prematurely, however: Hartman alerts us to how a belief in "prior ecological innocence" conspires with ideologies that seek a "cure of the ground" which entails sacralizing a particular community in its land (FQC, 87). Evidently thinking of Nazi Germany and Zionist Israel, he does not lose sight of hope in a more harmonious modern imagination unalienated from the rural, as exemplified in the work of George Eliot, Ruskin, Raymond Williams, and others (SchT, 92). This is the "English nature" of Wordsworth and Keats "saturated by a complex ideology" but Hartman will hold demystification at bay as he refuses to overrecognize in it any "selfish and parochial purpose" ("The Psycho-Aesthetics of Romantic Moonshine: Wordsworth's Profane Illuminations," The Wordsworth Circle 37 : 13n 10).
Wordsworth has remained at the heart of Hartmans work of reading: this is the poet who renovated pastoral culture as a "fully modern poet" and achieved a "significant transmission of culture into a new era" (FQC, 72). If pastoral has no future, Wordsworths may have been "the last viable one" at the threshold of total urbanization" ("On Traumatic Knowledge and Literary Studies," New Literary History 26 : 10). The Lake poet clings to the idea (for the Enlightenment a superstition) that nature has "feelings, even passions'" which is itself a "new vision of community" (GHR, 328-29). Wordsworth's nature animism is "the last noble superstition of a demythologized mind" (UnW, 57). In terms of a persistent pastoral minimalism, however, this is an "art of semidisclosure" by which Wordsworth grounds the figure of the genius loci and rarely extroverts it (FQC, 151; SchT, 37). Wordsworth wants to include nature, nonetheless, "in 'the event of destiny'" which is the "unheroic life in ordinary surroundings," in itself a blankness at the heart of things which poetry does not erase (Scars, 142-43). Hartman is clear that Wordsworth's psychic depth "has fused with a peculiarly weak sort of strength in his poetry" ("Psycho-Aesthetics," 8). The very diminution might still echo a "mysterious intention arising directly from nature" (as in Wordsworths "Michael") (FQC, 75). Here, arguably, Wordsworth divines intention less as magical determination than as asymmetrical participation in the unconditional horizons of contingency itself. This states the matter too baldly, however, and Hartmans work points to the overdetermining pressures of both ecstasy and dread in Wordsworth's reserved sense of natural powers. The pastoral mode is not just a frugal minimalism, therefore, but borders a horizon mysteriously scarce (though not remote symbolically), which proclaims the visionary, but as such, detours (forcibly) through the traumatic.
Hartman's readings of Wordsworth oscillate between "dark and light, or heliotropic or melantropic," extolling a poet who knew that to "deny imagination its darker food ... is to wish imagination away" (UnW, 141). This marks Hartmans shift toward trauma studies in his later work, defined as psychic injury resulting from too great an internal or external excitation. As such, the only integration is phantasmic (though offering a possible transvaluation): trauma may indeed fall "outside (beyond?) natural experience." It is not at all certain "that love of Nature can dress, rather than address, the wound of consciousness" ("Wordsworth and Metapsychology," Stefan H. Uhlig and Alexander Regier, eds. Wordworth's Poetic Theory [Palgrave, 2010] 199, 206). Hartman will keep in play, nonetheless, something like a "secular grace" yielding a foretaste of divine harmony, attended by the pastoral bystander, "a figure of whatever in child or artist has escaped trauma, the salamander in the fire" (MP, 9). Thinking of Wordsworth's "spots of time," Hartman ventures that "even loss binds ... a paradox emerges which focuses on the fixative rather than the fixating power of catastrophe, on the nourishing and reparative quality of the 'trouble'" (UnW, 171). This is communicated by what Hartman dubs a nonanalytic "literary knowledge" (both poetic and critical) which reads the wound of the enigmatic "real" so as to identify with it and even bring it back, but "there is a limit to recovery." Within this limit, however, a "singing 'in the face of the object' (Stevens)" can survive, so that if traumatic severance of body and mind can be overcome, it is "to come back to mind through the body." This is to be reminded, nonetheless, that within the child's framework of trust "there are infinite chances to be hurt." The symbolic, Hartman adds, is not a denial of the literal but "its uncanny intensification" ("On Traumatic Knowledge and Literary Studies," PsyArt , 3,4,6,7). Is this intensification a move from the psychic towards the ontological, so that idealization might be read as a way of greeting existence, or of uncontainably participating in what has already greeted the self but which painfully exposes it? It is this which binds the imagination to "specific localities that could restore poetic strength and lead to a future as strong as the past" (ibid., 10). In avoiding reducing the "spots of time" diagnostically, Hartman can be read as referring such shock-effects towards Wordsworth's radical greeting of nature, with its pastoral return to the ordinary scarred by scarce commonalities of the numinous.
This is not to gainsay Hartman's earlier reading which insisted on pastoral reserve, where voice remains ghostly, so that he can conclude that there is "no 'resounding grace,' no ultimate pastoral" (FR, 29). This reserve maintains its own resistance, however, so as to hover penultimately, placing itself before a horizon of anticipation, though generically going no further. In more recent, metapsychological reflections, Hartman acknowledges how what is inanimate, or "animate yet non-human" gives rise to thoughts of supernatural presences or "unknown modes of being." The poetic mind refuses to leave behind something deeply relational, even when the muteness of nature is associated more with suffering than tranquility ("Wordsworth and Metapsychology," 198). But Hartman also discerns that Wordsworth's "strange moods of exaltation" inflated by "a trite or private happening" arise as through a "truth never before perceived." Where triteness implies a horizontal extension of subject matter, Hartman allows it "something more important: its vertical extension, its inward resonance" (UnW, 9). At other moments, Wordsworth is seen driving toward "a stilling of his scrupling response to intimations of immortality" (UnW, 146). This can be read as Wordsworth's rendering of eternity as scarcely sensed without relegating it, a minimalism internal to the spirit which chastens self-consuming vision. Hartman reminds us how Wordsworth "creates a mode of expression out of the intensity of his restraint," thereby distancing omnipotence or falsely immortal thoughts ("Wordsworth and Metapsychology" 202). Hartman prefers a frugality of spirit here rather than the spirits own distinctive scarceness, one testing the boundaries of pastoral itself. The frugality of the ordinary functions like a defense against losing the numinous, the latter persistently nonabsent but only remarkable as a weak presence. The frugal has to be self-consistent in its relinquishments, while the scarce offers to maintain a broader, paradoxical sphere of relations: what is muted is left its magical reserve if it is not to be mutilated. Hartman is sensitive to this when he notes that "Non-human nature enters as alive, nurturing, ominous, even partaking of the divine. In that respect, humanism is not enough. The transhuman or non-finite ... adds a special poignancy" ("Wordsworth and Metapsychology," 207). The "Westminster Bridge" sonnet suggests "a temporal greeting" where Hartman acutely juxtaposes the prophetic and the ordinary, as approaching "apostrophe or prayer" (UnW, 210). He doesn't hesitate to show elsewhere that '"the unimaginable touch of Time' points to a dissolution, yet still an image of eternity paradoxically insinuated by the endless, gradual wearing down of a material substance" ("Wordsworth and Metapsychology," 210n34). Such a Wordsworthian wearing down can render materiality thin or translucent enough to "touch" its own horizon. Attenuation figures a tenacious votive offering, where the line between natural and supernatural is found to be malleable, even a matter of sensation, though not crossed within the terms of pastoral. To reach this point, however, is to have crossed through exile.
University of Warwick
The heart pleads one cry. Not this or that Not more or less But all. All. --"Five Elegies," The Eighth Day: Poems Old and New (Texas Tech U. Press, 2013), 11
This short poem, the first of the "Five Elegies" in Geoffrey Hartman's 2013 collection, The Eighth Day: Poems Old and New, evokes a metaphysical primal scream, a yearning for totality and unity that is enacted in the verses' structure, sense, and sound. The chiasmus uniting the "one cry" of the first verse with the final monosyllabic "all" enfolds, in a choking embrace, both the "this or that" and the "more or less," that is, the multiplicity of differentiated, fragmentary, and incomplete phenomena. The poem is an elegy, not a hymn. Rather than affirming the existence of a cosmic unity, this elegy conjures it through words that implicitly lament its absence. The closing "all," however, is an awe-inspiring single sound of wholeness; it is a majestic sentence in its own right. It follows the densest of descriptions of the price that must be paid for such an absolute: the emptying of "this or that," of what is concrete, defined, and made to the human measure of "more or less." Along with "this" and "that," with "more" and "less," what is dismissed in this negation of specifics is the "or," that is, the signifier both of disjunction--of uncertainty and hesitation--and of the possibility of an alternative, of escape from closure.
The poem conveys the radicalism and grandeur, as well as the peril, of the Romantic vision, a primary subject of study in Hartman's early work. Even as his interests shifted to other fields, the idea of a unifying "all" remained present, often as foil or touchstone, as an object of longing in his work. The vision of an "all" left traces in his critical and theoretical writings through the decades, always resisting ever-shifting onslaughts--including modernism, deconstruction, and a concern with literature of trauma--that emphasize the fragmentary and contingent, the nonsynthesizable and ruptured. The remnants of Hartman's Romantic yearning for unity and wholeness prevented him from ever fully joining his fellow travelers in the heydays of theory: he never entirely shared their single-minded fixation on difference and deferral, on endlessly disseminating flights of meaning. This resistance is most obvious in Hartman's revaluation of the Jewish textual tradition.
In his seminal 1994 essay "Midrash as Law and Literature," Hartman writes: "I am a raider of the lost ark" who seeks to recover the treasures buried by age-old anti-Judaic foes. "Sneaking through the wall like a thief in the night," he enters the grounds, which are guarded by orthodox Jewish sentinels who ward off all intruders (TP, 85). The "treasure" that he conquers and transmits to the reader lies in the ingenious strategies employed, on several fronts at once, for this adventurous raid. He never entirely dismisses the longing for unity, though it assumes different consistency and shape.
In Hartman's poem, the elegiac plea for "all" is perhaps an echo of Ralph Waldo Emersons incantation concerning the oneness of man and nature united in and through poetry. Emersons visionary proclamations "I am nothing; I see all" and "The life of the All must stream through us" are undoubtedly among the pre-texts of Hartmans elegy (Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Nature," in Nature and Selected Essays, ed. Larzer Ziff [New York: Penguin Books, 1982], 39; "Natural History of Intellect," The Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, in 12 vols. Fireside Edition. Vol. 12: Natural History of Intellect and Other Papers [New York: 1909], 19). Though Emerson is but one of several Romantic voices underlying Hartman's work, the American Transcendentalist plays a special--and paradoxical--role in Hartmans critical writings, including in his approach to Jewish texts. "Midrash as Law and Literature" begins with a startling quote from Emerson, one that provides Hartman the starting point for his reflections: "I'm tired of scraps," Emerson notes in a journal entry dating from 1854. "I do not wish to be a literary or intellectual chiffonier. Away with this Jew's rag-bag of ends and tuffs of brocade, velvet, and cloth-of-gold; let me spin some yards or miles of helpful twine, a clew to lead to one kingly truth" (Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Heart of Emersons Journals, ed. Bliss Perry [New York: Dover, 1958], 267, quoted in TP, 86). Emerson contrasts the continuity and unity of all, which, for him, rests on the oneness of man, nature, and poetry, with the Jews' precious but artificial and discontinuous patches of texture that correspond to disparate and incongruous exegetic fragments lacking necessary coherence or finality.
Dismayed by this disparaging comment about Jews, Hartman confronts a dilemma that sets his loyalty to the Romantic poet against a defense of Jewish texts. However, rather than resolving this dilemma he instead elects for "this and that:" "Emotionally and intellectually," Hartman contends, "I am with Emerson, but empirically and spiritually I'm closer to the point where Midrash and Kafka intersect" (TP, 86). These allegiances are expressed in different modes. In feeling and in thought Hartman is "with Emerson," united with him in a bond of like-minded souls. In contrast, the distance to the juncture between ancient Jewish and modernist incompleteness is not a merging into one; rather, it is conveyed in relative terms of "more" rather than "less" proximity. Hartman designates his sympathies in the language of poetry: the distinction he renders between two forms of relation coincides with their respective contents. This double allegiance corresponds to the two paths Hartman takes in countering Emerson: on one hand, he argues that there is nothing wrong with rag-bags, bits and pieces, "this or that"; on the other hand, he contends that rag-bags are in truth the most refined of textures, with a binding power of their own. These contradictory claims result in formidable insights about how closure and infinity--as well as "all" and "this or that"--can be combined yet never reconciled.
Hartman begins his defense of Jewish scripture and commentary by noting that the image of the Jew's rag-bag "does not have to be an insult" (TP, 86). It can be praise: for though it is true that the Torah displays no formal unity defined along the lines of Aristotle, and that Midrash and Gemarah hardly resemble the church fathers' all-absorbing interpretation that dissolves all inconsistencies and contradictions, there is nonetheless another kind of truth to the discontinuity and fragmentation of these Jewish texts. Although the darshan, the Jewish commentator, also seeks to "redeem the text's negative features (incoherence, ellipses, the disparity of historical fact and religious expectation)" and aligns them with preformed religious values, he refrains from seeking any essential unity: thus, rather than claiming a higher, God-ordained or natural totality, Midrashic commentaries interpret the Torah's incongruities and gaps as faithful renderings of human complexity (TP, 90). Even when rabbinic exegesis resorts to homiletic or moralistic demonstration, sometimes based on numerical relations between letter values in accordance to the sacredness of biblical Hebrew words, such demonstrations remain acknowledged to the interpreter rather than as proof of any single, revealed truth. Thus, the infinity of meaning suggested by rabbinic Midrash is closer to the contingent ramshackle of daily life than to any mystical understanding of language regarded as an emanation of the divine name. Moreover, the fragmentariness of Midrashic commentary is the correlative of a metaphysical condition--the expulsion from paradise--or of a historical trauma, first and foremost the destruction of the Temple. Pretense of unity or harmony would be a betrayal of Jewish scriptural and historical memory or, more generally, an embellishment of the human condition. In this respect, Midrash not only meets modernist literature, such as that of Franz Kafka, but is also compatible with Hartman's immediate theoretical context, namely, deconstruction.
Yet there is also another logic in Hartman's defense of Jewish textuality, one that affirms unity and cohesion. Rather than praising the fragmentary aspect of this textuality, he insists that it is bound by a continuity and wholeness of its own. To this end, he quotes the American poet A. R. Ammons, so as to note the dangers of total freedom and openness:
... all possibilities of escape open: no route shut, except in the sudden loss of all routes . ("Corsons Inlet," quoted in TP, 100)
In quoting these lines Hartman marks the distance separating him from both the closed oneness of the Romantic all and the infinite openness of deconstruction's freestanding textuality. As in Hartman's poem, Ammons's verses are structured by chiasmus, but here it performs a paradoxical reversal of the Romantic "all." In the place of the "one cry" there are infinite roads. In the middle verse a radical turnaround occurs: after "open" and "no route shut" the exhilaration of the free flight is abruptly reversed into a paralyzing disorientation. It marks the inherent limit of this openness. No external constraint, no restriction imposed from the outside, hems in the infinity of possibilities; their very endlessness is a dead end.
The Torah and its Midrashic commentary are, for Hartman, an alternative to this other, paradoxical form of closure. Together, they form a unity, albeit a different kind than either Greek poetics, Christian dogma, or the Romantic "all." Unlike the Aristotelian unity of the classical work of art, the Torah is episodic and lacks both temporal and situational unity. But, Hartman suggests, this is precisely why the Torah invites, or even calls for, interpretation, for exegesis which, unlike the Christian Patrologia, is neither teleological nor totalizing. Midrashic hermeneutics preserves the sacred arche-text; by "a virtuosity that saves the whole," it preserves the "unity and integrity" of Scripture. It never replaces or supersedes it by exegetic imposition, but brings it closer to the human order of concrete, relative, and impure reality. Together, Torah and Midrash constitute an ever-renewable, performative coherence wherein creative freedom is relegated to commentary and the text of Biblical scripture remains intact. It is this "wonderfully inventive yoking of one text to another," this coupling of playful, punning, polysemic commentary on the sacred text to which such commentaries remain faithful yet insubordinate, that prevents the "all" from turning into a worldless nothing (TP, 101).
University of Antwerp
So in poetry we often sense a word under the words. This paragrammatic doubling, which may induce a doubting of the literal or referential meaning, can be compared to what happens when the boundary between living and dead becomes uncertain in the mind of the mourner. The poet feels that what is lost is in language, perhaps even a lost language; under the words are ghostlier words, half-perceived figures or fragments that seem to be at once part of the lost object yet more living than what is present.
--"A Touching Compulsion," The Unremarkable Wordsworth (U. of Minnesota Press, 1987), 29.
My short passage is borrowed from "A Touching Compulsion," an essay that was first published in The Georgia Review in 1977 and later republished in The Unremarkable Wordsworth without the original subtitle: "Wordsworth and the Problem of Literary Representation." I have chosen this passage as point of departure in part because it features one of Geoffrey Hartmans characteristic "mishearings," as doubling, drawn from Ferdinand de Saussure, becomes doubting. In fact "A Touching Compulsion" is full of puns: I gazed becomes I grazed, geometry becomes geomatry, fits becomes feats. Such acts of creative overhearing feature prominently in the essay and are theorized, however minimally, in the passage above. Few are capable of matching Hartman's ear as his readings glide metonymically from text to text, from present word to aberrant mishearing, discovering a generative tissue of associations that he joins with the various modes of survival that literature makes possible. To learn to read with Geoffrey Hartman is to learn to read what is just barely (not) there.
The essay has a clear pedagogical function. As Hartman explains in the opening pages, the essay was written at a time when psychoanalytically oriented criticism was becoming difficult to do even as more and more scholars were attempting it. "Today," he writes, "no one can line up writers or their books according to clinical categories or an applied science model" (UnW, 18). What can psychoanalysis still tell us about literature? Hartman offers his essay "as an attempt to lessen our dependence" (19) on the applied science model, which is why he describes his essay as more psychoesthetic than psychoanalytic near the essays conclusion. He describes the point of such inquiries: "they lead us to ... indeterminacy. They make us less sure, less dogmatic, about the referent of art" (28). I might just as easily have chosen these few sentences as point of departure, for they seem characteristic as well of Hartmans approach to literary criticism. Somewhat paradoxically, the point of the essay is to make us less sure, less dogmatic; the point of the essay is to give back to art its capacity to refer as if accidentally, especially as psychoanalysis threatened to become a master key for the interpretation of literary texts. Sure is from the Old French sur, which in turn is derived from the Latin secures ("free from care"). Sure and secure share the same etymological root. To be sure is to be secure, which means that one is free from care, but being free from care might not always be ideal. To be too sure of what one knows, for instance, may also mean that one no longer cares for it. Perhaps the less sure one is, the more one cares. However paradoxically, given the essays seeming pedagogical function, psychoanalysis (or Hartmans psychoesthetics) ideally leads readers to be less sure, less dogmatic.
The "touching compulsion" of the essays title begins with Wordsworth. In the Fenwick note to his "Intimations of Immortality," Wordsworth remembers his need to reach out toward the world (some tree or wall) to recall himself from an abyss of idealism. Unlike Blake, whose created cosmos serves almost as substitute for reality, Wordsworth tries compulsively to touch this one. Hartman begins by complicating this familiar distinction between Blake and Wordsworth and argues that all artistic representation is a kind of reality testing, by which he means both competing senses of the phrase. Through art the poet touches reality, asking whether or not it is still there; but the poet (even Wordsworth) also challenges reality by testing its limits. The touching compulsion expressed through art is both a compulsion to encounter the world as it is (to represent and so double it) and a compulsion to mock it, affect it (i.e., doubt it). After all, one would not feel the need to represent reality if one did not already doubt it.
As a result poetry is both craft and craftiness, and one might say something similar about Hartmans own writing. His willingness to hear doubling as doubting leads him in the passage I have selected to celebrate the power of the poet to sense what is not there: "under the words are ghostlier words." Similarly, Hartmans creative mishearing shows a compulsion to test what is there, but with a touch that implies only minimal contact. Unlike when Adam in Miltons Paradise Lost "seizes" Eve's hand, as if attempting to restrain her, Hartmans touch refuses comparable efforts to seize, grasp, or handle. But he does not stand at a critical distance, refusing contact with the texts he reads. I suggested earlier that my selected passage offers a sort of minimal methodology, and as the footnote that appears after "paragrammatic doubling" makes clear, in "A Touching Compulsion" Hartman is thinking together linguistics and psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis becomes less dependent on the applied science model when it is combined with linguistics, as if the one interrupts the other and prevents it from becoming too dogmatic. Hartmans word is not "combined," though, but "adjoined." The footnote points toward Saussures Les mots sous les mots, and Hartman explains that he has "adjoined" to it Freuds essay "Mourning and Melancholia," when, for instance, he refers to the ways the lost object might seem more alive than what is present. Adjoin means to be located next to or very near, to be adjacent or contiguous to; or to add or append as an adjunct or supplement. In the text of the footnote Hartman identifies himself as the active agent: "The remarks I adjoin on mourning are influenced, of course, by Freuds essay" (223). But as the pun makes clear, words like doubling and doubting are also adjoined, they are located next to or very near to one another; they just barely touch. To notice this fact, to hear it, is to discover what was always there to be discovered--craft and craftiness.
Hartman describes how one senses words under words, and all of "A Touching Compulsion" is, in a sense, under Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida. The essays four epigraphs are drawn from the same scene in act 5, where Troilus and Ulysses eavesdrop on Cressida and Diomedes (and all are in turn overheard by Thersites). After declaring their faithfulness, Troilus and Cressida are separated by events of war, and in this scene we witness Cressida give to Diomedes the token of love that Troilus had only recently given to her. With multiple levels of overhearing, the scene is quite disorienting; and though it draws on the traditional view of Cressida as great betrayer and Troilus as betrayed, the scene leaves one feeling a bit unsure of just what one has seen (and heard) because Shakespeare never returns to it in the play. Hartman draws from a famously unresolved scene that stages the action of overhearing in an essay that foregrounds overhearing as an infinite task. But it is a scene that hardly celebrates overhearing as a positive good. Even if one allows for the possibility that Troilus misinterprets the scene, what he overhears hardly makes him happy. "A Touching Compulsion" celebrates overhearing but the celebration is qualified by the text from which Hartman draws his epigraphs, a text that is barely touched but touches the essay nonetheless. The effect is a bit unpredictable. Is the body of the essay meant to double the epigraphs or doubt them? The epigraph for the final section that includes my selected passage is spoken by Ulysses to Troilus: "Your passion draws ears hither" (28). For Ulysses, Troiluss passion must be constrained else they will be discovered and potentially harmed. For those who sense another word under the words, who perceive fragments neither present nor absent, these strange fits of passion draw our ears. The entirety of the essay hovers somewhere between.
Following Hartman, and by way of conclusion, I hear present within "A Touching Compulsion" also "A Teaching Compulsion," and so within Wordsworths Touching Compulsion also Hartmans Teaching Compulsion. In a sense, the point of Hartmans essay is to teach us how to be less sure, less dogmatic, less taught, itself an infinite task. Applied models of inquiry can be easily taught but risk becoming dogma. But as soon as one celebrates ones resistance to teaching, to being taught, one wraps oneself in the surety of unsurety. What I have learned (and aspire still to learn) from Hartmans teaching is that the chance to remain unsure is surely a chance that remains.
Thus Wordsworth, under the impress of a powerful feeling, turns round both it and its apparent cause, respecting both and never reducing the one to the other. By surmise he multiplies his moods, if not the phenomenon.... If "Lycidas" is compared with "The Solitary Reaper" and Keats' odes, it is apparent that surmise is no longer an exceptional figure of thought but an inalienable part of the poetry. The poem itself is now largely surmise, a false surmise, perhaps, but the poet has nothing else to dally with, and the distinction is less between false and true than between surmise and surmise. This too is an unsatisfactory formulation of the difference, for the single projections add up to more than their sum: they revive in us the capacity for the virtual, a trembling of the imagined on the brink of the real, a sustained inner freedom in the face of death, disbelief, and fact.
--Wordsworth's Poetry, 1787-1814 (Yale U. Press, 1964), 8-11
Initially encountered Geoffrey Hartman through The Unmediated Vision: An Interpretation of Wordsworth, Hopkins, Rilke, and Valery as a first-year graduate student at Yale. I was directed to it by a faculty member who simultaneously told me that Hartman had recently moved to the then-unimaginable University of Iowa. To someone whose undergraduate training had been chiefly British literary-historical, its theoretical presuppositions taken for granted rather than articulated, the crossing of national borders and periods in the book was unfamiliar, and the aspiration to "complete interpretation" more baffling still (UV, x). The Wordsworth that I knew did not inhabit the fourfold medieval scheme of interpretation into which Hartman rewardingly transplanted him [UV, 3536). The material form of the text matched its productive shock. The book proved as elusive as the man himself: the original had evidently disappeared (seized, probably, by a more comprehending graduate student) and what I held was an erratically reproduced, badly assembled photocopy.
Though Hartman remained frustratingly beyond my grasp, the absent presence exerted its force at a distance. The Wordsworth revealed by Hartman's "principle of generosity" (UV, 26) drove me straight to Wordsworth's Poetry 1787-1814 when it appeared. A half-century later it remains the starting point of my reading, writing, and teaching of the romantics. For some time it was the text to wrestle with: Hartmans focus, as declared in the book's first sentence, on "the individual poem, the sequence of the poems, and the generic relation of poetry to the mind," seemed to occlude significant aspects of meaning: the life of the poet in its sociopolitical context, the particular histories of composition and the actual arrangement of poems in collections, the singular and material as opposed to the generic (WP, ix). It has been surprising to discover that such considerations, which in the 1980s and 1990s made the poems more urgent for me, distanced them from students. My pedagogical failures underscored the wisdom of Hartmans approach: "Allowing ... the poem to integrate the biography of the poet" liberates students from worrying that they lack the contextual knowledge necessary for interpretation--and brings them to that knowledge as the fruit of their engagement rather than its precondition (WP, 14).
The passage on the importance of surmise quoted above occurs during a discussion of "The Solitary Reaper" at the beginning of Wordsworths Poetry, which pauses to look back to Milton and forward to Keats. The transition might seem merely associative or even distracting, were it not for the critical intensity of Hartmans concise discriminations among Miltons "specific rhetorical figure developed from Classical sources" (WP, 10), Wordsworth for whom surmise arising out of the ordinary has become "an inalienable part of the poetry" (WP, 11), and Keats's attempt "to transcend surmise, to turn it into real vision" (WP, 11). The pause returns us to Wordsworth with heightened awareness of the dialectical mode of poems that at once express a consciousness and react to that consciousness, and in their suspension (even as Hartman insists that the poem itself is a synthesis) "revive in us the capacity for the virtual, a trembling of the imagined on the brink of the real."
Hartman modestly begins the next paragraph by suggesting that it "might be useful to consider the Romantic lyric as a development of the surmise," a usefulness already instanced in the compressed accounts of Wordsworth and Keats (WP, 11). The pages exemplify reading as a passage from the visual processing of words on the page to a pause to listen to the voices that hover in and about texts ("What leaf-fring'd legend haunts about thy shape / Of deities or mortals"), to test the inward responses they arouse (including, perhaps, the ghostly hint of "halt" in the "haunt" of line 11, engendered by "Stop" in line 4), and to reabsorb them. The critical action repeats the poem: Wordsworth's halted traveler, the title of the section which the discussion of "The Solitary Reaper" introduces, announces the "thesis" of the book and its own mode of proceeding, the critic's pause to contemplate and enlarge. The capacity Hartman attributes to Wordsworth reappears when his own readers are drawn out of their customary instrumental habits. When I am struck anew by a passage I first read decades ago, or when students are disconcerted and then excited by a sentence in Wordsworth's Poetry, and so discover a power that one can variously call spiritual or virtual or freedom, my early misremembering of the title of Hartman's essay "A Touching Compulsion" as "A Teaching Compulsion" seems ever more fated.
Stony Brook University
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||p. 172-205|
|Author:||Ferguson, Frances; Goodman, Kevis|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2014|
|Previous Article:||About Geoffrey Hartman.|
|Next Article:||About Geoffrey Hartman.|