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Feb 03, 2011 | David | 0 Comments


Poetry and Melancholia

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University of Stirling

7-9 July 2011

Thursday 7th July 2011

12:00-3:30 Registration (Crush Hall)

3:30-3: 45 Welcome

4:00-5:00 Keynote 1

Professor Catherine Maxwell (University of Queen Mary)

The Pleasures of Melancholy

Chair: Dr Kyriaki Hadjiafxendi (University of Exeter)

Abstract Pending

5:00-6:00 Parallel Session 1

The Melancholy of Influence

Chair: TBA

Dr Michael Philips (University of York)

William Blake, Samuel Palmer and Albrecht Dürer’s Melancholia I

For his biography of William Blake, Alexander Gilchirst wrote to Samuel Palmer in August 1855 asking him to recall his impressions of Blake, whom Palmer had first met in October 1824. Palmer described how ‘No man more admired Albert Durer’, adding, that ‘close by his engraving table, [he kept] Albert Dürer’s Melancholy the Mother of Invention’. As Blake had been forced to sell his collection of prints to raise money to live in 1821, his unwillingness to relinquish his impression of Dürer’s Melancholia I clearly suggests that it had a special significance for him, and, as Palmer relates, that it must always have been located within sight of where he engraved his own works. The paper will consider the influence of Melancholia and Dürer’s image in examples of Blake’s work, focusing upon the Frontispiece to America a Prophecy 1793, while considering those of Salvatore Rosa’s Democritus in Meditation (1662), Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione’s Melancholia (La Melancolie) (c.1645-46), as well as Dürer’s Melancholia I. (1514). The paper will then go on to consider how, at the time of Blake’s death, in one of his own works Palmer alludes to Dürer’s image in a poignant tribute to his spiritual and artistic mentor.

Dr David Stewart (Northumbria University)

J. H. Reynolds and Wordsworth’s Shadow: Poetic Influence and Melancholia

The work of Harold Bloom has encouraged critics to see the question of poetic influence in terms of anxiety and forgetting; creativity is achieved by powerfully repressing the fact of poetic secondariness. I will suggest that influence might be phrased in terms of melancholic self-consciousness rather than anxious repression by considering the shadow Wordsworth cast in the late Romantic period. Wordsworth’s poems ask to be read in strikingly Bloomian terms; the canonical permanence they aspire to is achieved by contrast with a popular, and consequently ephemeral, poetry. The model proved influential, but for some writers it posed a problem. The Wordsworthian division between the permanent and the ephemeral couldn’t help but suggest to some that they belonged in the second category. Such an influence may have caused some to give up; others may have found the Wordsworthian shadow anxiously enabling. But for others, such as, I will propose, John Hamilton Reynolds, the possibility of secondary status prompted a form of creativity guided by a melancholy recognition of the fact. In his two major collections, The Fancy (1820) and The Garden of Florence (1821), Reynolds’s poems are saturated with allusions to Wordsworth. For Bloom, creativity under the shadow of a powerful predecessor is achieved only through a process of repression; allusions, which reveal a self-conscious indebtedness, can only be a sign of failure to achieve primacy. But Reynolds achieves a form of creativity which takes its power from its very self-conscious recognition of its place in Wordsworth’s shadow. Avowedly secondary, Reynolds offers his poetry to his readers to be enjoyed precisely on account of its melancholy failure to achieve the canonical position that the model he invokes demands. Reynolds’s example suggests melancholy’s ambivalent creative power.

Affective Discourse

Dr Kenneth Collins (University of Glasgow)

Religious, Political and Personal Melancholy in the Writings of Yehuda Halevi (c. 1070-1141): Poet, Philosopher and Physician

Yehuda Halevi, physician and philosopher, ranks as one of the greatest of the mediaeval Hebrew poets of the Jewish Golden Age in Spain. His philosophic writings, published as The Kuzari, remain well known to this day, and much of his religious poetry has entered the synagogue prayer-books. Contemporary evaluation of his secular poetry and recovery of his later correspondence from the Cairo Geniza have enabled a fuller understanding of the poet and his work. Halevi’s lifespan includes his time in Muslim Spain, where the attitude to Jews swung between acceptance and hostility, and his experience of the violence of the First Crusade which led to massacres across Europe and the end of the Jewish presence in Jerusalem. This paper examines Halevi’s poetic writings which exhibit personal longings, as well as religious and political sentiments, thus providing insight into his world-view, indicating both deeply personal sentiments while reflecting religious and national feelings. Halevi uses his poetry to illuminate the extent of his personal despair, the depth of his mood and the anguish of the contemporary Jewish life in Europe. His immersion in the comfort of religious experience, with its promise of ultimate redemption is balanced by his profound sense of rejection and exile: “Storm tossed and afflicted like a ship battered, hears once more a psalm of thanks.” Legend tells of his death at the gates of Jerusalem as the ultimate metaphor of his life: this greatest of poets facing his end alone.

Dr Sam Ladkin (Sheffield University)

Melancholy: A Phenomenology of Alienation

I a geologist have illdefined notion of land covered with ocean, former animals, slow force cracking surface &c truly poetical.

Charles Darwin

I propose a paper discussing the interpretative functions of the melancholy mind with specific reference to one of Clark Coolidge’s book length poems, Melencolia. Clark Coolidge is arguably the most significant American poet since any published by Donald Allen in the groundbreaking anthology, The New American Poetry in 1960. Coolidge has been anthologized as a postmodern poet, a New York poet, a Language poet and a Black Mountain poet. Coolidge’s work is divided between short abstract and lyrical pieces, and his many long poems. Melencolia, from 1987, is in part an ekphrastic work referring to two engravings by Albrecht Dürer, Melencolia I and St. Jerome in his Study. It is a complex, long poem which has at its allegorical heart a re-imagining of the flood; the divisive theoretical impetus in the development of the discipline of geology. The work conflates the geological fall into ruins (diagenesis), and the linguistic fall from the Adamic Paradisal state.           According to Giorgio Agamben the melancholic strives “to transform into an object of amorous embrace what should have remained only an object of contemplation.” Melancholy is therefore a form of cathexis in which the world is perceived and understood according to the projection of loss: the profane world is held more dearly by the intimation of mortality and the fear of losing the world. For Walter Benjamin melancholy is an epistemology requiring an extended, deep contemplation of objects best answered in allegory: “Allegories are, in the realm of thoughts, what ruins are in the realm of things”. For Benjamin the “Grüber” or grubber is the figure who wrestles with these earthly fragments. I want to explore this allegorical mode as a way of reading “difficult” poetry. It involves a kind of paranoia for detail and association, a relevant methodology being the kabbalistic hermeneutic of midrash, a schema of interpretation focussing upon textual anomalies, repetitions and missing elements, what we might term following Warburg a focus on the “disconcerting elements” of the text. I want to ask whether melancholy is a mode of reading which is itself a kind of practice, practice for the kinds of sensitivity and engagement with the ruined emblems of our alienated (fallen) state. I want to ask, finally, whether the allegory that is this melancholy can be understood as a phenomenology of alienation.

Dr Paola Baseotto (Insubria University)

Melancholia as the Paralysis of the Self in Edmund Spenser’s Poetry

The Spenserian canon is replete with narratives of melancholia. The Faerie Queene, the collection of Complaints, and the Shepheardes Calender depict characters displaying the outward marks of melancholy as Renaissance miscellaneous writings described them. My paper shows that Spenser’s use of the specific contemporary discourses of melancholia is highly selective. His references to medical views of the consequences of an excess of melancholy humour in the blood are neither more numerous, nor more accurate than those present in most sixteenth-century writings. No trace is found of the Aristotelian apprehension of melancholy as a sign of genius. The theological emphasis on the supernatural causes of melancholia, when God or the devil agitate the humours, has equally not left significant marks on Spenser’s texts. What they inflect instead is the self-absorption and weariness with duty that men of letters and authors of psychological tracts described as typical of melancholy people. Spenser creates fictions in which various characters fall prey to melancholia arising from an ever frustrated longing for permanence and the sense of disillusion and exhaustion following abortive quests. While these narratives suggest that melancholy is an understandable response to the tribulations of life and the suffering of melancholy characters is often described with emotion and sympathy, the Spenserian focus is on the futility of a life that has lost meaning and purpose. It is my contention that what makes the motif of melancholia in Spenser’s poetry distinctive is not merely its pervasiveness or the remarkable variety of ways in which it is treated, it is rather its function within the Spenserian discourse of active engagement which is at the core of his work. The moral, emotional, and spiritual torpor, as well as the morbid desire to grieve which characterize people immured in self-pleasing melancholy are incompatible with the moral and political purposes that decide his rhetorical strategies.

Rewriting Approaches

Chair: TBA

Dr Reena Sastri (Oxford University)

“Depressives hate the spring”: the recovery of poetry in Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris

American poet Louise Glück’s 1992 sequence The Wild Iris stages the emergence from a dark, barren period of grief into a poetic blossoming. At times suggesting that “despair” might “stimulat[e]” poetry, the volume as a whole enacts a poet’s “retur[n]” from depression’s “oblivion […] / to find a voice.” Or more accurately, to find many voices: the sequence’s poems are spoken by a gardener, her flowers, and someone or something she addresses as a god. Rewriting approaches to pastoral from Greek myth and Biblical parable, to Blake and Keats, to Eliot, to Plath, Glück characterizes writerly productivity by an alternation of idleness and labor, dearth and plenty. She ultimately places her “faith,” however, not in seasonal recurrence, but in responsive speech. Staging dialogue between speakers – nearly all of the poems employ second person address – she complicates models of lyric’s solitary nature: in her work, the lyric “I” is constituted in relation to a “you,” a relation that enables the recovery of voice and agency. Glück’s poetics ring changes both on traditions of pastoral and lyric, and on psychoanalytic models of language and loss. Not simply recovery, poetry’s unpredictable, disruptive energy emerges out of the dynamic interplay between forces of decay and renewal, silence and speech, solitude and relation, melancholy and joy.

Dr Evan Jones (Manchester University)

Cavafian Melancholy in Don Paterson and A.E. Stallings

This talk will examine ways in which two contemporary poets have expressed Cavafian melancholy in recent collections by including translations of the Greek poet. Both the Scottish poet Don Paterson (b.1963) and the American poet A.E. Stallings (b.1968) have situated translations of Cavafy among their own poems, incorporating Cavafy’s poetics into their aesthetic and expressing their autobiography via the Alexandrian’s ideas. In this way, Cavafy becomes evidence of experience, as if the loss and alienation in Cavafy’s poetry is evidence itself for Paterson and Stallings’ own feelings of loss. Don Paterson’s Forward Prize-winning collection, Rain (2009), approaches the elegy from many angles, and draws out in many poems the poet’s close relationship with loss, particularly of his friend, the poet Michael Donaghy (1954-2004). His translation of Cavafy’s ‘Τεχωουργός κρατήρων’ [The Bowl-Maker] takes the poet’s sometimes flirtatious tone (commented on by Stallings in her review of Rain) towards a homoerotic metaphor, suggesting a deeper nature for male-male friendship. He uses Cavafy’s poem as metaphor for his own experience, drawing the Alexandrian’s poetics into his own and spinning them to force the reader to consider the context of Cavafy’s work within Paterson’s oeuvre. In Stallings’ collection, Hapax (2006), the poet herself has changed cities and countries, and the poems throughout examine that sense of alienation, a mix of loss and discovery, most potent in her translation of Cavafy’s ‘Η Πόλις’ [The City]. Like Paterson, she adds Cavafy to the discussion of her work. But with ‘The City’, she adds Cavafy’s own alienation from the city around her, the alienation of departure and the loss of space, as a voice battles with itself towards self-defeat. ‘The City’ is also the first poem of Cavafy’s canon, the first poem he wanted his readers to happen upon in their discovery of his work. It is an opening for Stallings’, too, an acknowledgement of the Greek tradition around her in her new life in Athens.

Amy Jordan, University of Durham, England

“Let the binding be… blue-black if possible”: Re-assessing the Melancholy Art of John Berryman’s Dream Songs

“Henry hates the world.  What the world to Henry

did will not bear thought.

Feeling no pain,

Henry stabbed his arm and wrote a letter

explaining how bad it had been…”

–          John Berryman, Dream Song 74

“Current… society would drive anybody out of his skull, anybody who is at all responsive,” declared John Berryman in 1970.  Small wonder, one might surmise, when the rise of Cold War nationalism in previous decades, coupled with the conditions of academy success, checked the American intellectual’s response to his growing sense of sociopolitical alienation.  This age encompassing the Sputnik crisis, Soviet tensions and the Kennedy assassination was “an age when for many… the future [had] ceased to exist.”  Furthermore, for the post-war poet negotiating its unfamiliar terrain, it was symptomatic of wider artistic malaise: no longer figured as the New Critics’ unified, unifying makar/maker but as a traumatised onlooker confronted by the dissociation of cause from violent effect, just how was he to put melancholy world into enduring lyric form when around him “things [were] going to pieces”? This paper considers Berryman’s 1969 long poem The Dream Songs as a sustained exploration of the nature and function of melancholic dispossession in verse.  Inhabiting a textual terrain of syntactical disruptions and ellipses, the work’s Protean protagonist, Henry, must endure the death of friends, enforced prison-camp marches and lynching before a baying crowd.  Examined thus, his capacity to assume the sufferings of his generation refutes dominant “confessionalist” readings of Berryman’s oeuvre: this is less “undisguised exposure of… personal events” than a deliberate desubstantiation of the beleaguered personality, in which performance of the social “other” in its various guises (drunken nihilist, disgruntled professor, citizen “free, black & forty-one”) renders Henry stranger still to himself. The Dream Songs’ performances of melancholic self-destruction, I argue, necessitate a radical re-vision of the poem as a metapoetic critique of national hegemonies.  Interrogating the sorrows Henry enacts before an eager audience serves ultimately to highlight their dual function: “playing” at otherness keeps his true nature under elaborate wraps whilst simultaneously implicating the reader in his “going to pieces”.  Such a reading renders it unsurprising that The Dream Songs leave behind not suicide notes but “letters”, for it is the creative artifice inherent to Berryman’s melancholy art that cements his enduring relationship to American history and culture.

6:30-7:30 Wine and Cheese Reception (Courtesy of the Centre of Victorian Studies, University of Exeter)

Friday 8th July 2011

9:30-10:00 Tea/Coffee

10-11 Keynotes 2 and 3

Plenary Panel: Nature, Space and Landscape

Chair: Dr David Miller (University of Stirling)

Professor David Reide (Ohio State University)

The Landscape of Melancholy

I want to suggest in a general, and necessarily somewhat sketchy, way that one path from Romantic through Victorian to aestheticist and eventually modernist poetics is through the mortification (killing off) of nature by the melancholy gaze and subsequent substitution of artifice in the form of a glimmering figuration in language or even through the explicit substitution of artifice, as in Hardy’s rendering of Shelley’s immortal skylark as a pinch of dust and feathers and displacement by a bard’s “Ecstatic heights in thoughts and rhyme” (l. 24),  or Yeats’s displacement of dying generations of birds with a golden bird upon a golden bough. It may have sounded melodramatic when I argued some time back that in the post-Romantic melancholy imagination, the Romantic life of things gives way to representations of the death of things, but I want to repeat and attempt to further substantiate that claim here, and further to develop my claim that since the early Romantic poetry of Coleridge and Wordsworth, poets have substituted allegorical figuration for the life of nature, the artificial for the natural and, in the language of Timothy Morton, environment or “atmosphere” for the living spiritual presence that Wordsworth in particular found in the natural world.   In parallel terms, ontological presence becomes no longer a sense of transcendent or indwelling divinity in which we live move and have our being but rather a Heideggerian being as such, felt as stimmung or mood, and in post-Romantic poetry that mood when most attuned to the natural world is melancholy.

Professor Cornelia Pearsall

Tennyson and Imperial Melancholia

In calling Tennyson “the great master of metric as well as melancholia,” T.S. Eliot posits a linkage between the form and the content of the Victorian laureate’s work.  My paper addresses some of the ways in which metric and melancholia are inextricably bound for this poet, focusing in particular on Tennyson’s representations of imperial affect.  His poetry on imperial subjects chronicles, I argue, two entirely separate processes, which this paper nevertheless hopes to reconcile: the celebration of imperial expansion, with its inherent sense of aggressive increase, and the experience of melancholia, with its inherent sense of uncontrollable loss and diminishment.

11:00-11:30 Tea/Coffee

11:30-1:00 Parallel Session 2

Crises of Subjectivity and Faith

Chair: TBA

Professor Michal Ephratt (University of Haifa)

Dr Eynel Wardi (The Hebrew University)

Not, Nay, Knot: Melancholia, Writing, and Modern Subjectivity in “Carrion Comfort” by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Our paper offers a close analysis of Hopkins’ sonnet “Carrion Comfort” focusing on the ways in which it constitutes an attempt to overcome the melancholic condition it expresses and enacts.  Drawing on psychoanalysis and using linguistic concepts and tools, we address the threat besetting the poem’s melancholic subject of disintegration and collapse into the silent abyss of anti-cathexis, while tracing the process of binding desire and subjectivity in and through the course of the language-binding poetic performance. “Carrion Comfort” is one of Hopkins’ “Sonnets of Desolation”, written in 1885 during a period of spiritual crisis he was undergoing in response to his distressing stay in Ireland, where he was posted  by his superiors in the Society of Jesus.  But the poet-priest’s melancholic crisis and his way of grappling with it through poetic writing reflect the more universal circumstances of the modern crisis of subjectivity and its poetic representations. Hopkins’ poem reflects the sense of a modern subject who has to speak himself into provisional, precarious being in relation to unstable objects and meanings over an unstable or absent ground. Alienated from ordinary predicative language and thus denied its cohesive effects, he must employ alternative means of linguistic binding that will regain him subjectivity by binding his fragmented drives into desire. Thus, in “Carrion Comfort”, both the sense of the self and of language which allows his grip on existence are configured in an image of a rope that is attached to nothing and is therefore threatened to be unraveled. Keeping it intact and as something to cling to is achieved by adopting a form of language consisting of alternative modes of concatenation, e.g. syntactic: a skeleton composed of isolated function-words or filled by nullified content-words and silences; as well as phonetic: assonance articulating and omitting grave-rounded vowels and their graphemic representation.

Dr Rosie Miller (University of Wolverhampton)

Losing Their Religion: Poetry and the Melancholic Withdrawal of Faith.

The cultural melancholia inaugurated through the Victorians’ loss of faith in received Christian tenets is embodied and explored most fully in their poetry.  A. N. Wilson writes of the Victorians experiencing themselves as being abandoned by the ‘great[est] Love-object’ – God – and how their bereavement is ‘just as emotional as religious conversion’ (Wilson, God’s Funeral, p.13, p. 4). This paper will take as its initial focus the greatest poem of both loss and desire in the nineteenth century, Tennyson’s In MemoriamIM fuses both personal and cultural loss into sustained elegiac form and in so doing starts to shift elegy into being a poetry that can no longer fully offer consolation.  If Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’ – also famously elegiac – seems to offer the consolation of human love in the face of the withdrawal of the tide of divine presence, then by the turn of the century and the poetry of Thomas Hardy both God and the beloved (Emma) are elegized ghosts which only poetry can attempt to make manifest.  Moving further into the twentieth century, both Philip Larkin and R. S. Thomas – from their differing perspectives of belief or non belief – use their poetry as a means to register that which is absent or lost in terms of a culturally not-present Christianity and/or God.  Poetry itself becomes melancholic, in its being the very place that such losses can be articulated and explored.  In this sense, some twentieth century poetry both confirms and denies the (in)famous dictum of Arnold that poetry is all there is left to console us.  In terms of Freud’s ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ poetry such as Larkin’s and Thomas’s is the refusal to leave the work of mourning for a newer, brighter day.  Into the later twentieth and twenty-first centuries Don Paterson’s poetry retains a strong commitment to be the ‘less deceived’ in the face of the post-Christian.  The relation to that which is lost remains, however: ‘[a] poem’, says Paterson at the start of ‘Prologue’, ‘is a little church’.

The Physiology and the Pathologies of the Female Mind (Seminar Room )

Chair: Dr Kyriaki Hadjiafxendi (University of Exeter)

Dr Josie Billington (University of Liverpool)

Grace Farrington (University of Liverpool)

The Sonnet Cure

In ‘The Art of English Poesy’ (1589), George Puttenham laid the basis for a ‘homeopathic’ treatment of sorrow when he described the poet as a ‘Physician … not only by applying a medicine to the ordinary sickness of mankind, but by making the very grief itself (in part) a cure of the disease’. While ‘lamenting is altogether contrary to rejoicing … yet it is a piece of joy to be able to lament with ease, and freely to put forth a man’s inward sorrows and the griefs wherewith his mind is surcharged’. Delight as a form of healing likewise lies behind Philip Sidney’s account of poetry as possessing ‘the most conveniency to nature’ of all other forms of imitation ‘insomuch that, as Aristotle saith, those things which in themselves are horrible … are made in poetical imitation delightful’ (‘The Defence of Poesy’, 1595).

This paper considers the curative properties, for writers as well as for readers, of the form most closely associated with Renaissance poetics, the sonnet. Specifically, it will look at:

(i)   the creative practice of a grieving poet at work. Though Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s most famous work is her adaptation of the Renaissance sonnet sequence, Sonnets from the Portuguese, the poet first turned to the sonnet following the death of her brother. The original manuscripts of her ‘grief’ sonnets help make visible the creative tension, at the point of composition, between the ‘sorrow’ of content and the ‘delight’ of form;

(ii)   the evidence from recent research undertaken by the speakers on the therapeutic efficacy of reading as a ‘health technology’ in contemporary mental health contexts. Using practical examples of the shared reading of sonnets by patients suffering from depression and other serious mental health problems, the paper will demonstrate the particular ways in which the sonnet can both offer and help release a language and thinking closer to ‘conveniency’ than to despair.

Dr Lobna Ben Salem (University of Jendouba)

“Sweet Skepticism of the Heart”: (En)gendered Melancholia and the Gift of Knowledge  in Emily Dickinson’s Poetry

In early nineteenth century, the shift in medical characterizations of melancholia – from an association with both feeling and intellect, to an association with just intellect – affected society’s ability to see women as producers of meaningful literature. Emily Dickinson, the nineteenth-century American poet contested the belief that melancholic brilliance is a privileged male domain and presented in her poems female personas actively engaged in melancholizing: longing for lost loves, brooding over absent objects and changed environments, reflecting on unmet desires, and lingering on events from the past. It is a practice that produced its own kind of knowledge and contributed to the poet’s artistic empowerment. For Dickinson, the expression of melancholia signified a literary genius based in suffering, rational power, and linguistic facility, a formula that culturally excludes female nature. By presenting the body as the vehicle of authentic melancholic symptoms, rather than the cause of nervous illness, Dickinson seeks to make her rational ability, her deep feeling, her poetic talent, and her suffering visible. While the male melancholic could abandon his body in order to claim the power associated with transcendent melancholic vision, a woman melancholic such as Dickinson, always caught in the essentialist woman-as-body formulation, could not choose to transcendent the body, but might choose the embodiment of her suffering to her advantage. This paper contends that Dickinson’s poetry engages with a non-conformist construction of a female melancholic self that contests culture’s gendered conceptions of rationality and sensibility.

Dr Paula Guimarães

Some Portuguese Sources for Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘Poetics of Melancholy’ in Sonnets from the Portuguese

The Victorians, David Riede writes, “often saw melancholy as we now see depression, as a mute or incoherent mood that imprisons the sufferer within himself, and the precise antithesis of poetic creativity” (2005: 2). They were indeed pioneers in breaking with the traditional Renaissance and Romantic attitudes of equating melancholy moods with artistic or poetic genius. Christine Ross also refers to “the nineteenth-century decline of melancholy (the temperament) and its gradual replacement by melancholia (the clinical disease) and then depression”, but she emphasises the “gendered dimension of the slippage” (2006: 69), from an essentially masculine form of suffering to womanly-related disorders like hysteria (fitly symbolised by Tennyson’s “Mariana”). Coincidentally, the Victorian Age’s characteristic nostalgia and especially its cult of mourning were also closely associated to the feminine. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was initially assessed as an emotional and ‘depressed’ woman poet, and her confined life frequently compared to Tennyson’s ‘Mariana’ or the ‘Lady of Shalott’ in her ‘lofty melancholy’. Being recently bereaved, she was certainly a ‘mourning’ woman, apt to be transformed into a poetic icon. Nevertheless, she made a brave attempt to resist and even escape the sickening disempowerment which had affected female predecessors as Hemans and Landon; her later poetry is well known to formulate a strong social position for the woman poet. Initial difficulties in reconciling religious faith with inherited High Romanticism may have created her “melancholy dialectic of ego and conscience” (Riede 97); but it was her escape from patriarchal authority that enabled her to develop “a genuine dialectic with her conscience” and truly “engage in a poetics of melancholy” (Riede 94) in Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850). We contend that this poetics was not derived from a genial masculine tradition but from a rather obscure feminine one, namely Camões’ ‘Catarina’ and Mariana Alcoforado’s ‘Portuguese Letters’ (1669).

Melancholic Genius and Insanity (Seminar Room )

Adrianne Kalfopoulou (Hellenic American University)

Christina Kkona (Hellenic American University)

Poetry & Melancholia in Sylvia Plath

This paper is part of a work in progress and joint research project that explores the question of how the romantic underpinnings of Sylvia Plath’s poetry may be related to the gradually emerging presence of an abject self in her poems after “Poem for a Birthday”. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s American romantic assumptions regarding the self and particularly his views in his essay “The Poet” as they influenced certain aspects of Plath’s early poetry will be discussed as the cultural privileging of what I have elsewhere termed Plath’s “Emersonian I/Eye” (“Sylvia Plath’s Emersonian I/Eye” forthcoming in Women’s Studies, an Interdisciplinary Journal). After situating Plath’s cultural background in the context of an Emersonian, Unitarian New England, this paper will address how, through the modernization of this inheritance, Plath’s speaking I, in its complex confrontation with a multiple other, enters a moment of abjection. Poems from Plath’s “Poem for a Birthday” through to “Waking in Winter” will be analyzed to expand on the notion of what constitutes the particular form of abjection that signifies the extremity of a form of cultural ambition particular to Plath. Interestingly too, are the kinds of boundary blurrings that take place in many of Plath’s hospital poems, such as “Waking in Winter” and “Tulips” in which any attempt of identification is doomed to failure, given the impossibility of differentiation between subject and object, I and the other. Because of the viagra 50 mg online very ambiguity of such an opposition, poetic creativity, much more than any other discursive form, becomes the space of sublimation.

Emilia Musumeci (University of Catania)

The melancholic poet as an insane in Cesare Lombroso’s thought

This paper analyzes the relationship between poetry and melancholia in Italy from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, through the work on Genius and Insanity of the famous psychiatrist, Cesare Lombroso, in which the poet becomes a deviant figure to be studied and cured.

Dr Matthew Sperling (Oxford University)

Depression, Sin and the Hidden Injuries of Class: The Case of Geoffrey Hill

Since when has our ultimate reprobation

turned (oculos tuos ad nos con-

verte) on the conversion or

reconversion of brain chemicals—

the taking up of serotonin? I

must confess to receiving the latest

elements, Vergine bella, as a signal

mystery, mercy, of these latter days.

The Triumph of Love (1998), CIX

How is it tuned, how can it be un-

tuned, with lithium, this harp of nerves?

Speech! Speech! (2000), 3

I’m quite sure that this unlooked for creative release has a great deal to do with that. There are certain kinds of chronic depression that have been traced to chemical imbalance in the brain. In retrospect, I don’t know how I survived almost sixty years without the medication I now have. From late childhood, I suffered from chronic depression, which was accompanied by various exhausting obsessive-compulsive phobias. Totally undiagnosed, of course. I now see that the kind of perfectionism at which I was aiming in the earlier books was, so to speak, the acceptable fact of this obsessive-compulsive disorder.

—Interview with Carl Phillips, ‘The Art of Poetry No. 80’, Paris Review, 154 (2000)

In writings published from the 1990s onwards, Geoffrey Hill had discussed freely the experience of depression and its relation to creativity. But Hill’s writings have long been expert in other modes of feeling bad about being alive. In particular, a belief in original sin underpins much of his work and thought, and its centrality grows from the late 1980s onwards as he engages in more depth with religious writing, so that a distinct canon of Hill’s touchstones on sin and human fallenness can be described (Augustine; Luther; Calvin; Newman; Barth). Hill’s descriptions of depression and creative release, and of sin and grace, are symmetrical and inextricable. Original sin and depression both posit states of being as the precondition of one’s mental and spiritual life: one doesn’t need to commit any sin to be infected by the transmission or inheritance of original sin, and similarly, in Hill’s description, ‘chronic depression’ is the ground of his being for as long as can be remembered (‘from late childhood’), and has no cause. It is all ontology and no aetiology. The terms of theological and of mental-health discourses are therefore apt to bleed into each other: indeed, section CIX of The Triumph of Love, quoted above, continues: ‘No matter that the grace is so belated’, as if the aid of SSRI’s were an unmerited, unwished-for gift from God. This paper will pursue the connection between depression and sin in Hill’s work, and will attempt to add a third term to the debate, socializing and historicizing the connection by situating it alongside Hill’s discussion of the effects of class division and displacement. It will draw on the range of Hill’s published writings but also on some crucial unpublished lectures, held in the Special Collections of the Brotherton Library at Leeds University, including one which relates Hopkins’s sense of sin to depression (where the Jesuit order offered him a ‘disciplined way of offering up the chronic depression, turning the affliction into a sacrifice’), and another, given as part of Boston University’s ‘Poles of Health’ colloquium in 1996, on ‘Biological and Social Approaches to Disordered Minds’, which engages strongly with K.R. Jamison’s Touched with Fire: Manic-Depression Illness and the Artistic Temperament to outline its own sense of the relation between depression and creation.

1:00-2:00 Buffet Lunch (Crush Hall)

2:00-3:30 Parallel Session 3

Early Modern Aesthetics (Seminar)


Dr Carroll Balot (University of Toronto)

The Aesthetics of Compensation in King Lear

Scholars in a variety of disciplines and fields have made ethical claims for their work based on the value of difference.  But respect for the other, or recognition, must coexist with the intrapsychic process of identification.  The scholarly denigration of the psychic processes of identification and incorporation in both literary theory and in historicist interpretations is rooted in a defense of professional expertise over and against the crucial—if perhaps discomfiting–maternal dimension of art.  Drawing on Giorgio Agamben and Leo Bersani’s critiques of the aesthetics of compensation, according to which the work of art is a sublimation of the experience of loss and an improvement on experience, my paper will argue that the now dominant reading of King Lear in which Edgar figures the redemptive power of the theatre overlooks a powerful aesthetic alternative in the person of Lear himself.   While Albany and Edgar coordinate the instrumentalization of loss in the service of future political stability, Lear embraces a condition of Saturnine melancholy, a divine madness which creates a third space in which the object is both lost and preserved.  This is the space of the image, an intensification of reality predicated on its destruction.  The play’s last words, “the oldest hath borne most; we that are young/Shall never see so much, nor live so long,” enables the resolution inherent in mourning by identifying Lear (with Gloucester) with a lost past, but we might take the example of Lear to remind us that the continuous present of melancholy is inherent in aesthetic experience.  Our academic scrupulousness should not blind us to art’s melancholic maternal capacities:  identification, recognition, holding, and even (as Christopher Bollas has suggested) cracking up.

Stephanie Spoto (University of Edinburgh)

The Feminine Demonic in Milton’s Ode to Melancholy, Il Penseroso

Written around the same time as his college exercise “On the Harmony of the Spheres”, Il Penseroso outlines a hermetic and neo-platonic cosmology which points to his reading of occult texts, a demonology which shows his continuing involvement with the nature of spirits, and especially with the many manifestations of the moon, and its connection to sexuality and the female demonic.

Milton directs the reader to read further into the poem, “where more is meant than meets the ear” (120), and as a result, he uses hermetic traditions of sympathies to discover occult mysteries.  The narrator pleads “me goddess bring/ To arched walks of twilight groves/ […] Hide me from day’s garish eye” (132-141), reiterating the importance of melancholy, darkness and “dimm religious light” (160) in divine contemplation.  The narrator stands with the philosopher, Hermes, or opens up what is perhaps the divisions between the spheres of platonism, while hermetic correspondences introduce the explicitly demonic into the poem with the sympathies between elements and demons.  This demonic presence becomes pulled back into association with the moon and the feminine demonic with mention of Hecate/Luna/Diana “in her sweetest, saddest plight,/ Smoothing the rugged brow of night,/ While Cynthia checks her dragon yoke” (57-59).

Looking at these systems of occult correspondences, and the moon as a symbol of the feminine demonic, my paper will outline the connections between these “dark-veiled” goddesses and melancholia.  By investigating Milton’s sources—like Dionysius  the Areopagite, and Marsilio Ficino—I will compare Il Penseroso with Milton’s other works, including some of his prose works, like On the Harmony of the Spheres, evidencing that when Milton speaks of the moon goddess he is really pointing to her in all of her manifestations, even her most demonic: Hecate.

Anna Hetherington (Columbia University)

Titian’s Ultimate Poesia

The satyr who had lost to Leto’s son

The contest when he played Minerva’s pipe,

And paid the penalty. ‘No! no!’ he screamed,

‘Why tear me from myself?? Oh, I repent!

A pipe’s not worth the price!’ and as he screamed

Apollo stripped his skin; the whole of him

Was one huge wound, blood streaming everywhere,

Sinews laid bare, veins naked, quivering

And pulsing. You could count his twitching guts,

And the tissues as the light shone through his ribs.[1]

The Flaying of Marsyas is one of Titian’s final works. In both structure and content it is also one of his most personal. The mythological subject suggests that it may have been the last canvas in a series conceived for Philip II of Spain — paintings that Titian called his poesie. The subject of each originates in Ovid, but the pictorial telling of each story is Titian’s alone. In the case of the Marsyas, the traditional depiction of the rightful punishment of hubris — the mortal Marsyas challenged the god Apollo to a musical contest and lost based on the judgment of the Muses — in Titian’s rendering becomes a celebration of the artist. The vanquished satyr is presented frontally, in the manner of a martyred saint, and in the place of Apollo’s sisters we find a human judge, king Midas. The meditative figure of the king (appearing noble despite the ass’s ears that mark him as a fool), his brooding pose, and his pointed proximity to the artist’s signature imply a relationship to the painter that requires exploration. This melancholy character has often been seen as the artist’s self-portrait, an identification that brings to focus issues of loss and introspection brought to the fore so violently by the depicted myth itself.  Freud described melancholy as a mix of profound narcissism and sense of irrevocable loss of something from the past. In this sense of the word, the Renaissance itself may be defined as a melancholy period – simultaneously mourning for the loss of antiquity and celebrating its cultural superiority over the past, using artists as living proof of contemporary greatness. Through Titian’s Flaying of Marsyas, this paper will examine the pictorial and theoretical dimensions of the concept of melancholy as they were understood, expressed, and, most importantly, figured by the Renaissance artist.

The Poetics of Anti-Heroism (Seminar Room )

Dr Aaron Proctor (St Charles Community College)

The Visionary Bind: Paternal Desire and Melancholia in Shelley’s Uffizi Notes

Following the death of their son William, the now childless Shelleys relocated to Florence in the fall of 1819, succumbing to a prolonged period of growing marital alienation. The passion that had justified Percy’s abandonment of Harriet Westbrook had run its course, and Shelley again felt frustrated in the quest for his ideal other, his epipsyche. Responding to tragedy, Shelley’s melancholic isolation compelled him to seek libidinal objects.  A visit to the Uffizi Gallery soon after arriving in Florence inspired Shelley to produce notes on each sculpture, including his longest known commentary on the female form in response to the Venus Anadyomene as well as a commentary on Laocoön and His Sons that focuses on filial apprehensions of the father. Shelley represents each sculpture as a libidinal ideal, thereby generating two interrelated, precarious fantasies—benevolent father and soul mate. I argue that Shelley’s obsession with the epipsyche is symptomatic of a specific melancholia, one resulting from the appropriation of the potential of the paternal ideal by those who would put power into corrupt practice.  The poet sought this paternal ideal in his own father, the older poets Wordsworth and Southey, and Mary’s father, William Godwin, among others; Shelley’s impossible desire for union with a female other is symptomatic of the failure of the filial search, a search that actually discovers a threatening agency and a persistent melancholia. My interpretation of the Uffizi Notes produces a strategy for reading Prometheus Unbound, particularly in negotiating the contradictions of revolutionary desire in Shelley’s utopic imagination.  While the current critical consensus emphasizes Shelley’s skeptical attitude toward language, my understanding demonstrates that melancholia is the occasion for the ‘skeptical’ Shelley’s constant need to write himself into being.

Dr David Toh Kusi (Maroua University)

Inspiring Nightmares and Romantic Dreams: Yeats’s Perception of Natural Beauty

It can be asserted that much of Yeats’s poetry is highly personal, relating either to his Romantic, political or philosophical interest. While some aspects of his poetry deal with the intimacies of friendship or love, others reflect his changing attitude of mind or his highly original views on the nature of history and the destiny of man. Like some critics Paul Elmer More has found these poetic visions in Yeats’ poetry troubling, unwholesome and defeatist. More in particular had expected “to hear a voice of lamentation out of the Golden age” but as he states “what really came to my ears was more like an imitation of bewildered wailings of decadence” (152). As an extreme romantic however, Yeats needed a system of thought for his visions; and the bewildering nightmares he projected were not simply an imitation or the attitude of someone caught between bickering times and expressed the need to resuscitate a bygone past by exulting the Celtic twilight. More therefore might have misconstrued the ambiguous society against which Yeats was inspired to write poetry. He was faced with cruel realities which enacted the futility and the anarchy of modern times. Realising that the world was completely devoid of harmony or driving towards a terrible apocalypse as revealed in “The Second Coming”, he sought to rebuild it through the creative imagination in favour of Romantic dreams. His recourse to aesthetic qualities expressed through surviving customs, beliefs, holy places and the imagination are sometimes perilous but are possible means through which the poet sought to rescue humanity from the precarious modern impasse. The poet’s virtue of aesthetics here is justified by its poetic function because it touches on the human psyche in terms of the order of things apprehended in the human world.

Michael Heitkemper-Yates (University of Edinburgh)

Alienation and the Ironic Descent of the Antihero

As a dissimulative mode, narrative irony finds its resonance through reversal, its principal perspectives being those of subversion and contradiction, and its central character being the paradoxical figure of the antihero: a literary parasite feeding on the archetypal detritus of the romantic hero. By projecting the character of the antihero onto the archetypal pattern of the “monomyth,” Joseph Campbell’s cycle might be recast by narrative irony in the following terms: an antihero ventures forth from the common day world into a region of perplexity; confounding forces are there encountered and a decisive conflict consumes the antihero; the antihero either fails to return from this mysterious adventure (remaining socially alienated), or he returns empty handed, bringing back with him only the tortured memory of his descent into the darkness (returning to the world with a fractured sense of identity). This study begins by considering the pattern of the antihero’s “ironic descent” from the perspective of Hegel’s theory of spiritual alienation, as analysis of the protagonist’s alienation has specific bearing upon the comprehension of the antihero’s subversive, paradoxical nature. Through analysis of narrative irony as an inversion of romance and the application of alienation theory to an assessment of the narrative architecture of irony, this study derives the cyclical pattern of the antihero’s ironic descent. This study demonstrates that the pattern of ironic descent is a fundamental component of narrative irony and a definitive structural foundation for the characterization of the antihero. Through analysis of the antihero, the ternary structure of ironic descent (separation – alienation – irresolution) is traced through a variety of antiheroic figures. This study concludes that the narrative pattern of ironic descent not only provides a valuable framework for the analysis of the antihero, but also allows for a more specific understanding of the types of irony employed in Modernist fiction.

Urban Sensibility (Seminar Room )

Chair: TBA

Dr Vasilis Papageorgiou (Linneus University)

Ashbery, Melancholy, Euphoria

All of Ashbery’s works, even his essays in their own way, are addressed to a “you”. They bring this “you” in the “here” of the book and its immediate reader, in the presence of an affirming, and therefore euphoric, interaction. Within this interaction, Ashbery lets the intimacy of the voice (never exclusively his own and never the poem’s voice either, never only one voice) fill the “I”, the “you” and the space around them in all his collections of poems. It is a singular or a plural “I” that addresses a singular or a plural “you”, a melancholic, lost in the world “I” and an equally melancholic, equally lost “you”, which, however, in the flow of the poem succeeds in turning melancholy into euphoria, into an openness that turns its tragic awareness into affirmation.

Dr Tobias Menely (Miami University of Ohio)

Creaturely Melancholia and the Poet’s Task

In his study of the Trauerspiel, Walter Benjamin describes melancholy as “the most creaturely of the contemplative impulses.” A creature is determined and vulnerable, a being whose first cause is external to it and whose interests exceed its capacities of realization. Melancholy, Benjamin suggests, is the affective condition of the creature, weighed down by corporeal exposure but haunted by a residue of ideality, forever reflecting on its own finite boundedness within the “bare state of creation.” Drawing on Benjamin, I focus on the creaturely melancholy of William Cowper, who, I argue, alleviated his habitual depression not only in the pleasing labor of versification but also in the poetic expression of creaturely solidarity. “The only difference between” beasts and humans, Cowper claimed, is “that they know not the cause of their dejection, and we do; but for our humiliation, are equally at a loss to cure it.” Cowper associates sorrow with constraint, or “sad necessity.” Whether expressed in lyrical play or the lark’s song, happiness—which, in its relation to the happenstance of creaturely existence, is melancholy’s dialectical antithesis—is a moment of liberation from one’s own finitude. Such moments are necessarily communicative, for it is in the semiotic externalization of being, the mutual creation of a shared earthly existence, that melancholia’s mute inwardness is temporarily overcome. In 1773, after he was, in his words, “plunged into a melancholy that made [him] almost an infant,” Cowper began keeping hares. As he later explained in an “Epitaph on an Hare,” a commemoration of his “agreeable companion” the ever-surly Tiney: “he would oft beguile / My heart of thoughts that made it ache, / And force me to a smile.” Throughout The Task (1785), his immensely popular long georgic poem, Cowper records such sympathetic exchange, the transient but real consolation he finds in the joyous bark of a roving dog or in the avian “myriads, that in summer cheer / The hills and vallies with their ceaseless songs.” It is in this joining-together of creaturely being that Cowper understands his own poetic vocation: “I am recompensed, and deem not the toils / Of poetry lost, if verse of mine / May stand between an animal and woe.” The poet transcends his own sorrow, for a time, when he advocates on behalf of other creatures subject to the tyrannies of an earth-bound existence. As Benjamin writes, “The righteous man is the advocate for all creatures, and at the same time he is their highest embodiment.”

Yasmine Shamma (Oxford University)

“Dead Radios Never Sent to Nicaragua”: Density, Death and Domesticity in New York Poetry
In the poetry of first and second generation New York Poets, stanzas take on the literal contours their etymologies suggest, and become particularly malleable linguistic rooms. My paper will pay attention to the rooms remembered in Alice Notley’s poetry. Her domestic situations receive repeated attention, especially as locales for mourning. Notley’s entire 1994 collection, Mysteries of Small Houses, stuffs traditional notions of poetic form with the economic realities of city life and mental resistance to notions of death. “There isn’t any room” as Notley insists “101”, a poem named after the apartment she and her former husband inhabited. Yet despite the lack of room, material objects receive more poetic treatment and attention than people do. As Notley traces the structure of her poem, apartment and personal situation through every object she can remember in the spaces, objects become locators and stanzas are shaped accordingly. I will look at a few of Notley’s poems in the context of poetry movements and urban theory discussions.  How do urban poets formally (through the means of seemingly informal poetry) respond to their situations by recreating them in poetry. My paper considers this formal response to environmental situations. While ecocriticsm has given attention to landscape in poetry, and earlier French theory to the subject of the city, the smallest unit of place—the room, or “stanza”—the “place one stands in,” has been curiously elided. My paper will dwell on this elision with respect to these poets who repeatedly make room for themselves through their poetry in New York.

3:30-4:00 Tea/Coffee ()

4:00-5:30 Parallel Session 4

Melancholia and Landscape (Seminar Room )


Nova Banton (Durham University)

Black Visions of the Sublime: John Clare and the Play of Eco-Ontological Melancholia

Behind the aesthetic veneer of Clare’s celebrated descriptive virtuosity, is a thwarted project of identification with place together with failed a sense of belonging within the existential ontological stream. Clare spent the majority of his poetic existence in paradoxical fashion as a poet of location being dislocated, as he continually sought for a sense of oikos and a place in the world. The topology and ecology of Helpston was so dear to Clare that he saw them as extensions of his own Being. They provided him with refuge from the isolation he felt from the locals of Helpston who saw him as a foolish anomaly, and from his feelings of alienation which energised his sense of estrangement and marginality when placed within the circle of his more luminous contemporaries. When they disappeared under the capitalist drive of enclosure, his familiarity with his local environs and his self as a whole became fragmented, and threatened to also disappear with the displacement of his beloved fields and streams. Northborough with its naked associations and empty references forced Clare firstly to reconceptualise the new world given to him and secondly, it declined him further into a melancholic and elegiac mode as the path back to his Eden closed forever. In a language of ‘forever green’, Clare laments becoming dispossessed of the cultural and geo-physical foundation from which his Being and voice was formed. If his lifelong melancholia is to be documented, the fecundity of looking for a correlation between his move to Northborough and the colonisation of alienating otherness that presented itself as a new reality will prove itself to be intellectually constructive. The paper will argue that Clare’s poetic documenting of the fragmentation of the self through a heightened existential consciousness, procures an ecology of loss that converges with a poetics of non-dwelling. With their Modernist concerns and Modernist tendencies, the poems selected for discussion will animate the convergence of melancholic stagnation in T.S.Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’ and ‘The Wasteland’ as Clare’s anticipation of Modernist ideologies culminates on a terrain where consciousness trades with haunting statements of ontological reifications.

Dr Sue Edney (Bath Spa University)

Arnold’s Kensington: Parklife “Amid the City’s Jar”

The trope of place and humankind’s place in the non-human environment is familiar to any reader of poetry: affective constructions of nature and dwelling are as diverse as the poems in which they appear. Examples of this use as a catalyst and a solace for the imagination include notable celebrators of the natural world like Wordsworth and John Clare. At length, in Wordsworth’s ‘Home at Grasmere’ or in the compressed observation of Clare’s sonnet ‘Emmonsails Heath in Winter’, for example, these poets explore boundaries of landscape, negotiation of limits, their dangers and pleasures and their effects on the interior mindscape. There are, however, a number of less well-known poems that attempt some similar reconciliation between absence, distance and an everyday compulsion for human and non-human nature to keep going. Matthew Arnold’s ‘Lines Written in Kensington Gardens’ is a poem that seems to struggle with mid-nineteenth century unease about the ‘past’ in pastoral while determinedly seeking a more comfortable presence even in the middle of London. Although a less obviously effective poem than the ones mentioned above, Arnold manages in these verses to encapsulate Victorian preoccupations with urban stress, alienation, bodily and mental health and social order. In this Arnold is dealing with themes more significantly explored by Tennyson, a poet whose melancholy influence Arnold tried to avoid, usually without success. Yet it is Tennyson who captured Victorian poetic anxiety and, arguably, turned it to cultural advantage, closely relating fluctuating social and scientific progress to the landscapes in which he lived. Using Arnold’s poem, I will examine the tensions increasingly felt by urban Victorians between human and non-human nature – their reduced capacity to deal with the enormity of technological advance, for example – and the effects on mid-Victorian poetic moods.

Dr Bernardino Nera (Liceo Classico)

The city as a place of “continual loss and change”: Liverpool and the Poetry Scene in the Sixties Contemporary urban landscape

Within the modernist vision, the city or metropolis, is the symbol of modernity itself and is the synonym of permanent crisis, since the dynamics of its life are mostly rooted on processes which gradually undermine all the traditional social orders and its ultimate principle is, above all, the change per se. Modernity is an age in which change is the foremost rule and everything solid vanishes in the air. It is the flow of instability of every form, of the fortuitous, of the volatile and the transitory, “the other side of the eternal and of the immutable.”1, according to Baudelaire. In the early Sixties, Liverpool became the heart of a mass youth socio-cultural  phenomenon that soon drew attention in Britain and then spread around the entire world: the birth of Pop Music through the Beatles, who were from the city itself. The intense visibility this event gave the city also attracted a multitude of young artists, self-styled or would-be musicians, poets and painters who were allured by the fervid artistic ferment in the air. Thus, Liverpool, temporarily became a rising star which quickly eclipsed the dominant cultural role of London and also witnessed the existence of a multifarious artistic ‘beat’ dimension within which there also emerged a poetry scene enlivened by the local poets Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten. The poets had a very strong and deep bond with the city, a sort of emotional addiction which revealed the profound love-hate relationship that seemed to exist at that time between them and Liverpool. It is possible to trace several references to the city, particularly in some of Henri’s poems. An often-quoted central city district is Liverpool 8, a “city within the city”, a bohemian microcosm for young artists attracted by the cultural energy and the artistic ferment gathering in Liverpool. Yet the area was also derelict and in ruins because many of its once-fashionable and magnificent, Georgian buildings were then decaying and run-down. In the text Poem for Liverpool 8, Henri polemically shows the irreparable damage that local builders, politicians and city planners, too, were causing to the image of Liverpool. According to the poet, the process of urban modernisation, redecoration and rebuilding in progress at the time aimed at destroying the truest, most original and vivid identity of the city, evoking an atmosphere that echoed T.S. Eliot’s dystopian urban images. This was done to create a new standardised image in keeping with the canons of city planning in the most advanced technological countries in the West. Operations of urban demolition and gutting were being carried out to make room for massive and palatial concrete shopping centres and city thoroughfares. Henri was much aware of the physical aspects of the city in relation with its culture and it is with a true feeling of loss of a cultural identity that he writes about the city changing appearances. The new housing estates and the new developments in the centre were wiping out for good all the scenes, situations, images, stories, characters, sounds and colours which connoted the most picturesque dimension of Liverpool. The poet’s passionate and strenuous defense of the city’s identity seems to imply as well the defeat of those values then under attack from homologation towards standardised (today we would say globalised) cultural values which the Western industrialised countries were absorbing to match and conform to the canonic American way of life. FinallyHenri expresses, again through his poetry, his feeling of nostalgia and a mournful, grieved sense of loss for a disappearing world he belonged to and was indissolubly linked to.

Poetry and the Body in Pain (Seminar Room )


Professor Meg Schoerke (San Fransisco University)

“Another Weeping Woman”:  Gender and the Articulation of Grief in Early Twentieth Century U.S.

The Modernist revolution in poetry gained momentum in part through changing attitudes towards how to express emotion in art.  Framing the Romantics and popular women poets as sentimental, Modernist male poets and critics, such as Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Irving Babbitt, and Edmund Wilson advocated for a poetry that articulated grief as universal, impersonal, and gender­less (or, at least, not female).    Modernist poets not only tried to avoid pathos at all costs, but wrote poems about the dangers of weeping.   But, because weeping was broadly associated in the literary culture of the United States with women poets, male Modernists often defined the boundaries of what they considered “proper lamentation” in poetry through severe criticism of women poets and equally severe depictions, in their poetry, of weeping women.  Elegiac poetry–that is, poetry which, in articulating grief, includes but is not limited to laments for the dead–became the ground upon which Modernists defined their aesthetic of restraint.  Because that definition depended, in part, on configuring displays of tears in poetry as “feminine” and control of emotion as “masculine,” the consequences for early twentieth century American women poets were severe.  Althou­gh the dilemma of how to voice grief unsentimentally was faced by all Modernist poets, the pressures upon women poets to implement the Modernist aesthetic in their elegiac poetry were intense, for they had not only to avoid spurious emotion, as did male poets, but also had to keep from becom­ing, to cite the title of a poem by Wallace Stevens, “anoth­er weeping wo­man.”  Along with analyzing examples of poetry and criticism from male Modernists who stigmatized open expressions of grief in poetry, I will argue that several female lyricists—Adelaide Crapsey, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Louise Bogan—wrote poems that both oppose excess emotion and, at the same time, advocate tears.

Isabelle Travis (University of Reading)

Apocalyptic Melancholia

Weldon Kees (1914-?1955) was an impressive polymath who came tantalizingly close to success in several creative domains but after decades of near-oblivion, it is now his poetry which forms the bedrock of his reputation. The bleakness of his subject matter has led to Donald Justice calling him ‘the bitterest poet in history.’ Written in anticipation of the Second World War, during its ravages and in the atomic dawn of the McCarthy years, Kees’ poetic world is one where the public realm can inexplicably and unstoppably encroach upon the private sphere. His speaker, so often alone, wanders with a defeated calmness through devastated settings; he is the ultimate outsider. The seeming synchronicity between internal and external landscapes does not bring a sense of harmony, but confronts the speaker with the knowledge that the self is not inviolate, autonomous or protected. Kees’ poetry bears out Kenneth Rexroth’s judgement: ‘Others have called themselves Apocalyptics, Kees lived in a permanent and hopeless apocalypse.’ The landscape of his poems is one of a terrifying, solitary present, with no past golden age in which one can find solace and no future to validate all ones struggles and sacrifices. He refuses the lure of redemptive narratives by keeping the cataclysm in media res with no definable cause, and thus, no imaginable solution. The apocalypse, traditionally, has brought revelation and renewal, albeit at the cost of massive destruction. Kees’ work repeatedly calls attention to the hopeless, non-redemptive devastation being wrought on a grand-scale by ‘death, and death again and all the wars to come.’ This paper explores Kees’ use of annihilated landscapes to reflect an apocalyptic melancholia.

Anne Keniston (University of Nevada)

Melancholia Compressed:  Toward a Postwar Poetics of Belatedness

Melancholia is a central feature of twentieth-century Anglo-American poetry.  This claim is central to Jahan Ramazani’s 1994 The Poetry of Mourning: The Modern Elegy from Hardy to Heaney, which argues that modern poetry is fundamentally elegiac and that modern elegies insist not on the resolution of grief (what Freud called “mourning” and what an earlier scholar, Peter Sacks, insisted was a necessary component of all elegies) but rather on melancholia, associated by Freud with incomplete or unsatisfactory mourning, with a stubborn clinging to the dead, and with the turning of grief back onto the mourner. Even difficult poems, Ramazani’s lucid readings confirm, express their authors’ grief and rage. My paper builds on Ramazani’s interest in the postwar poetics of loss, but it questions his assumption that postwar poems are concerned primarily with affect. Rather, many postwar American poems, I argue, employ a highly compressed rhetoric of melancholic grief, hopelessness, and frustration to raise questions about the nature of poetic representation itself. I identify in these poems a recurrent thematics of belatedness—an insistence on the condition of having come too late to intervene in events (both public and private) whose outcome is already proleptically known.  It is no coincidence that the term “belatedness”  is central to trauma theory’s discussion of the actual experiences of trauma victims.  But postwar poems go further:  they convert the thematics of belatedness into a poetics. Through a melancholic discourse of belatedness, postwar poems express their failure to be immediate, authentic, and representational; they often allude to but do not represent “real” events and emotions, which they depict as occluded, inaccessible, and fragmentary. As such, they affirm something quite different from Ramazani’s model:  poems are removed from verisimilitude, caught in a figurativeness that draws attention to the gap between language and experience. My paper elaborates these ideas via discussion of poems written in response to public and political events of the last decade by Louise Glück, Robert Hass, and others.

Melancholia and Postcoloniality (Seminar )


Dr Katy Massey (Newcastle University)

Jackie Kay and the Melancholia of Unbelonging

This paper uses a reading of the poetry of Jackie Kay, particularly her two autobiographical collections: The Adoption Papers (1991) and Life Mask (2005), to propose that Kay’s work articulates a subject-position where ideas of cultural and racial belonging are in a state of continual re-creation. This leads to a particular condition of unbelonging a state which, though a site of creative production, is not without its problematic aspects. This paper proposes that Kay’s unbelonging demands that her poetry articulates a continual and continuous renegotiation of her subject position. It is a process which allows her to hold a multiplicity of positions, and resists the necessity for any fixed notion of belonging. In these two collection, Kay takes as her subject matter the complexities of relationships – familial, romantic and those that exist only in fantasy.  In them she traces her own trans-racial adoption by a white Scottish couple in infancy, her complex network of loyalties and identifications (i.e. Scottish, gay, female, non-white) and meeting her Nigerian birth father for the first time. In this paper, Kay’s work is examined within the context of the normalisation of intimate relations between the so-called indigenous ‘white’ population, and non-white post-war migrants to this territory and their children. This normalisation has correlated with the demise of the essentialised black subject (prompted by the work of Stuart Hall, Robert Young, Paul Gilroy and Kobena Mercer during the 1980s and 1990s) which as a result destabilised racialised certainties about what can be known of an individual’s personal patterns of identifications and belonging. In addition, Laura Moss (2003) and Shirley Anne Tate (2005) have posited the notion of  ‘everyday hybridity’ and ‘the hybridity of the everyday’, within literary studies and social science respectively, as analytical structures which allow for attachments between individuals who may belong to different titular ‘races’ to be examined and accounted for. Using these ideas, this paper explores Kay’s poetry as a site of creative responses to these processes, a location which has similarities to Gloria Anzaldúa’s borderlands of identification (1987).

Floriana Marinzuli (University of La Sapienza)

“I want our own country”: Translating Nostalgia as Loss in Carol Ann Duffy’s The Other Country

‘I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.

I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.’

From One Art, Elizabeth Bishop

Poets have constantly dealt with the concept of loss in a multiplicity of aspects. Deryn Rees-Jones claims that writing poems is always a negotiation of loss, where the poet must cope with the absence of presence, bound to operate within the past. It is an illusory attempt to capture a precise moment, feeling or just an image. Similarly to the translating process, the act of making poetry  must face the loss of something, often an originary perception, which is translated into “words like fossils/ trapped in the roof of the mouth,/ forgotten, half-forgotten, half-/ recalled, the tongue dreaming/ it can trace their shape” (C.A.Duffy, M-m-memory, 1990) According to Paul Valéry, if the originary perception, as it is perceived, is the only one to live the present, then  «thoughts, feelings and images are constantly, in some way, a production of absent things.» Hence, when translating the past, the poet always works through the filter of memory with its uplifting and sinking power. Overall the poetic production of Carol Ann Duffy often deals with memory, childhood and the past in a striving attempt to translate into words the recollection of bygone events and emotions. In particular nostalgia, which could be described as a state of melancholia, pervades the collection The Other Country (1990). The process of nostalgic remembering offers the reader a whole of personal and collective memories set in an idealized past ‘foreign’ country, where the idea of translation recalls its very first meaning, as given by the OED,[2] of transferring, carrying over from one place to another as well as from a past to a present condition, from infancy to  adulthood. The aim of this paper is therefore to broadly investigate the notion of translation in its metaphorical meanings of cultural transformation, transcoding and migration in relation to the state of nostalgia in The Other Country.

Naomi Banks Marklew (Durham University)

“As yet his tomb is corpseless”: Pre-emptive mourning in the poetry of Medbh McGuckian

Elegy might be described as the literary site of collision between life and death.  It is the genre of poetry traditionally approached as a means of processing grief and achieving consolation, and thereby providing a space in which the ‘work of mourning’ might be performed.  Freud’s distinction between healthy mourning processes and melancholic grief in his essay ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ has provided a framework though which theorists have been able to trace the conventions of elegy.  Peter Sacks’s The English Elegy applies psychoanalytic theory to the genre of elegy, examining the work of poets ranging from Spenser to Yeats.  Jahan Ramazani, whose work Poetry of Mourning continues on from Sacks’s in making readings of twentieth-century elegy, suggests that contemporary poets are not able to find the same consolation as their predecessors: ‘At its best, the modern elegy offers not a guide to “successful” mourning but a spur to rethinking the vexed experience of grief in the modern world’.  While Sacks and Ramazani explore ways in which elegy has engaged with ideas of mourning and melancholia in mourning the deaths of both public and private figures, their work might be extended to consider a further aspect of loss. The focus of this paper will be an investigation into the poetic representation of a stage in the grieving process which is not widely covered in studies of poetic mourning: pre-emptive grief.  A number of Medbh McGuckian’s poems display an idiosyncratic development of the genre of elegy, as the poet writes poems mourning the immanent deaths of her parents.  The paper will explore ways in which a sense of anticipated bereavement might fit into traditional definitions of mourning and melancholia, and how this complex psychological response is worked through in a selection of Medbh McGuckian’s pre-death elegies.

Dr. Anindya Raychaudhuri (University of Cardiff)

“Friends from an earlier life”: Radical Possibilities of Nostalgic Melancholy in Poems of the 1947 Indian Partition

Few events in the history of the Indian subcontinent have had as traumatic a legacy as the Partition of 1947, when the end of British rule led to the division of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan. The resulting violence led to the death of an estimated 2 million people while a further 12 million people were displaced from their ancestral homes and forced into exile.

This paper will examine poetic responses to the trauma of Partition, and will consider both poetry written at the time and since. I will examine works in Bengali, Urdu and English, by such poets as Agha Shahid Ali, Jibanananda Das, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and Achintya Kumar Sengupta. I will examine how poets deal with the memory of the violence and the resulting legacy of dislocation and alienation. Using Freud’s contention[3] that  in melancholy “the object has not perhaps actually died, but has been lost as an object of love”[4], I will analyse how melancholy works in these poems as manifestation of a yearning for a lost loved land. Borrowing from Sigmund Freud, Walter Benjamin and Giorgio Agamben’s work on the melancholy, I will examine the possibilities of poetic melancholy as a tool in order to respond to and negotiate the enforced and violent change in identities that Partition precipitated.

In the process, I will make a case for the radical potential of what might be called nostalgic melancholy. I argue that in these cases poetic melancholy can be read as a corrective to the imperialist act of Partition, as well as a gesture which defies the nationalist appropriation of history by the independent, postcolonial states. I will analyse how poets from both countries have tried, through their writing, to question the very legitimacy of the border that divides them.

5:30-7:00 Parallel Session 4

Interdisciplinary Approaches


Dr Maria-Eirini Panagiotidou (University of Nottingham)

A Cognitive Poetic Approach to Melancholy

Cognitive Poetics approaches literary texts based on principles of cognitive psychology, cognitive linguistics and stylistics in order to provide insights into the ways cognitive mechanisms influence the literary experience. Recent developments in the field have been directed towards providing more rigorous accounts of how emotions are manifested in texts and how readers can become emotionally involved with a piece of literature. This paper will explore how melancholy is mediated in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73, Arnold’s Dover Beach and Bogan’s Medusa and will identify the common patterns that persist throughout poetic history. The analysis will be based on notions from cognitive grammar and gestalt psychology. Cognitive grammar will allow us to look closely at grammatical relationships and determine how these mediate the sense of dimness and inactivity prominent in melancholic poems. On the other hand, gestalt psychology has provided cognitive poetics with the notion of attractors, that is elements characterised by a unified and coherent identity capable of capturing one’s attention. My argument is that in poetic texts where melancholy predominates readers have difficulties in locating good attractors. The three poems work mainly by exploiting attractors in various dimensions, such as brightness, proximity, activeness and agency. However, their prominent feature is the lack of good attractors creating thus a feeling of disorientation and melancholy.

Cherry Smith (University of Greenwich)

The Noisy Body: a performance poetics on hypochondria

This short paper (of 12 minutes) and performance (of 8 minutes) looks at how medical and psychoanalytic discourses around hypochondria can be re-envisaged as a poetic-performative text.  If hypochondria, the imagined and/or imaginary disease relies on the diseased imagination, can a poetic-performative text be read as an adaptation of the symptomatic imagination? Using research by Steven Connor, Darian Leader and Julia Borossa, I will argue that hypochondria itself is the mind’s way of adapting the gap between the imagination and the body and the terrifying lack of knowledge latent in that gap.  As the hypochondriac can only voice difficult emotions through the anticipatory fear of illness or an imagined condition, I will explore ‘health anxiety’ which was once seen as akin to melancholia, as an adaptation that voices the subjectivity of the body and the anxiety and despair caused by the opaqueness of human flesh.  Hypochondria attunes the sufferer to perceive and interpret ‘body noise’ in a heightened way, until only by being ill do they how they are and who they are.  If ‘stubborn interruption’ is a condition of the contemporary and subjectivity that is constantly queried and undermined a condition of postmodernity, then, in some respects, the hypochondriac can be seen as defining the experience of the body in modern culture. My poetic-performative text will become a further adaptation and embodiment, through language and performance, of what medical discourse fails to articulate.  It will use the visual work of Portuguese photographer Helena Almeida and Japanese painter Tomoo Gikito to counterpoint the self-separation that can result in fortress hypochondria, leading to self-barricading and auto-empathy.

Mirela Sual Strugaj (Independent)

Melancholia—Psychology vs. Poetry

In the brave, wild, post-postpositivist world melancholia takes a rather somber, neglected and forlorn place. Even if one might think this were the place for melancholia to justly belong, it isn’t; nowaday’s melancholia is derelict and depressed, for it has been scientifically dissected; for, as absurd as it might be, such an ephemerically fascinating thing as melancholia can be converted into a solid state for the purpose of being cut to pieces, for the greater knowledge of science and for the greater good of the mankind. This paper will explore the tension between melancholia as an aestethic emotion and its present accounts as a psychiatric and personality disorder entailing a broad array of symptoms and descriptions ranging from extreme forms of clinical depression to mental derangement and modern angst as a purely psychological condition. On the other side of the string, melancholia as the dim muse of poetry seems to be a myth relegated to the realm of fables. Its complexity, the fact that it is fascinating in itself, does not sound plausible. For melancholia has been associated for far too much, far too hard and far for too long a time with depression and with the extreme features thereof. Through an account of my dual experience as a psychologist engaging in positive psychotherapy and as a poet owing far more than a precious little to melancholia as my (and most certainly Kierkegaard’s) ‘most intimate confidant‘, I will try to argue that the distinctive features of the latter, its particular nature greatly and ultimately differentiate it from depression or any known form of psychological disorder. My paper will juxtapose ten selected poems from Albanian authors with related notes and observations from my therapy sessions, so as to pit melancholy vs. symptoms of actual psychological disorders under therapy in an effort to mark a clean cut between melancholia and its accounts as depression.

Melancholia, Genre, Forms and Media


Dr Vidyan Ravinthiran (Oxford University)

‘Rather A Bad Stretch’: The Poetics of Elizabeth Bishop’s Letter Prose

My paper provides a way of getting inside and talking about the melancholy beauty of Elizabeth Bishop’s epistolary prose. Bishop herself made the case while teaching at Harvard for seeing letters as ‘an art form, or something’; I glance briefly at the numerous critics who have tried to follow her lead – Thomas Travisano, Langdon Hammer, Zachariah Pickard, Victoria Harrison, Nicola Deane, Tom Paulin and Jonathan Ellis – and ask what it would mean to pay more than lip-service to her provocation. Can we actually formally analyse letters as closely as we do poems? I take an Empsonian ‘complex word’ approach, tracking the word ‘stretch’ through Bishop’s letter-prose, making the case for formal appreciation of those passages centred around this unhappy signifier. Connecting Bishop’s letters with her verse, I relate her conception of the positive or negative ‘stretch’ to a female tradition encompassing Woolf and Dorothy Richardson; while subtly gendered, it also resonates with a conception of time and creativity inflected by the democratic optimism of Walt Whitman. Drawing particularly on Bishop’s letters to Robert Lowell, I relate her ‘bad stretches’ of inertia and alcoholism to his own model of manic-depressive composition, while arguing that long ‘stretches’ of her letter prose don’t just provide us with insights into her unhappy personal life – they also evolve a genuine literary complexity of their own.

Dr Will Slocombe (University of Aberystwyth)

Writing Madness: Poetry, Prose, and Personality Disorders

This 20-minute paper/reading examines how metafictional tropes can be used to represent the “state of mind” of those suffering from personality disorders, particularly Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). It outlines the writing of a metafictional biography, Bordering on Bedlam, on William Ross Tuchet (1821-1893), an inmate of Bethlem Royal Hospital and Broadmoor, and his role as a link between nineteenth-century arguments on “moral insanity” and contemporary debates on personality disorders and BPD. Whilst there is a long tradition of poetry and madness, the need to produce a mixed-genre metafiction—incorporating poetry, prose, and graphic art, alongside intrageneric forms and tropes such as academic criticism, stylistic allusion, reportage, diegesis/eisegesis/exegesis, and a blend of various different discourses (legal, historical, psychiatric, psychological, and literary)—to represent BPD is vital. It not only allows such disparate discourses to be compiled, but also links into Patricia Waugh’s definition of metafiction as “both a response and a contribution to an even more thoroughgoing sense that reality or history are provisional: no longer a world of eternal verities but a series of constructions, artifices, impermanent structures” (Metafiction, 6). Using such ideas, the “borderline” is played out in terms of both form and content, with the idea being that only such forms can enable us to reveal what is “essentially” such an unstable condition. In this sense, the self-reflexivity and “cognitive dissonance” exhibited by BPD sufferers, and the very difficulty in defining the Disorder, finds a literary reflection in metafictions; the production of a metafiction on this topic allows readers to clearly observe the act of being turned against oneself, a feeling of unreality, suicidal ideation, and “emptiness” that characterises the Disorder.

Dr Amy Holdsworth (University of Glasgow)

Hauntings and Reflections: Poetry on Television

Through the television work of the poet Simon Armitage this paper will begin to explore the presentation of poetry on British television and consider how it might enable us to think more closely about the relationship between words and images, the poetics of television and popular cultural forms of melancholia. Armitage’s collaborations with Century Films and the director Brian Hill have produced a series of evocative and highly-acclaimed documentaries. Saturday Night (BBC2, 1996) and Drinking for England (BBC, 1998) set the celebratory and sobering experiences of revellers and drinkers to poetry. In the documentary musicals Feltham Sings (Ch4, 2002) and Songbirds (Ch4, 2005) life in a young-offenders institute and a women’s prison were explored through poetry and song, and more recently, The Not Dead (Ch4, 2007) was built around the experiences of war of surviving soldiers. These innovative films have been applauded as powerful and moving pieces of television – and it is as television that I want to investigate their forms of resonance and intensity. Considering the use of rhymes and refrains, part and whole I hope to expand on my work on televisual forms of memory and nostalgia to question how poetry operates on television as a form of reflection and as an experience of haunting. Within the remit of this indisciplinary conference I will offer some thought on how the rhythms, forms and experiences of poetry might offer us a way of thinking about the rhythms, forms and experiences of television.

Poetry of Melancholia and the Classroom

Antonella Castelvedere (University of Essex)

Tendereness and Sacredness: A Postmodern Melancholia

My paper proposes a reading of ‘melancholia’ in postmodern terms by suggesting its emergence from the combination of ‘tenderness’ and ‘sacredness’. This approach draws on my research on the concept and experience of tenderness (Zartheit and Zärtlichkeit) in the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke from The Book of Hours to the Duino Elegies. My analysis of the role of the adjective ‘tender’ (zart) in Rilke’s early devotional poetry detects a yearning for sensual/sacred experiences which suggests a melancholia of tender feeling in the individual consecration to a quasi-divine love. Tenderness develops from an individual to a collective type of affection in the later philosophical poetry. Melancholia acquires the status of a tender fraternity in a collective consecration to mysterious life forces that turn the living into survivors. Alongside the observation of the different scenarios produced by the interplay of tenderness and sacredness in Rilke’s poetry, it is possible to denote modern and postmodern forms of melancholia: on the one hand, nostalgia, decadence, memory and loss, and on the other, terror, spectral survival, the messianic and the gift. A secret rupture, never appropriable or controllable, is always already inscribed in the experience of tenderness as the movement towards the disruption of the social bond, and the ultimate thrust towards death (Kant, Nietzsche, Levinas), but this paper recognises the role it plays in a postmodern melancholia as the manifestation of a type of collective affection that protects itself from immunity by means of self-sacrifice in the prospect of spectral survival (Derrida). The paper looks at the potential implications of the development of collective melancholia for the reading, writing and teaching of poetry today.

Douglas Phillips (Hill-Murray School)

A Gift Called the Blues: Medicinal Melancholy and the Teaching of Dark Poems

Hector, teacher of aspirant Oxbridgers in Alan Bennett’s play The History Boys (2004), lovingly instructs his flustered young charges in the medicinal value of melancholic poems, suggesting that a deep familiarity with the likes of Hardy or Larkin or Stevie Smith offers at once an antidote against future grief, but also, and perhaps more importantly, consolation for their own inevitable dying. “We’re making your deathbeds here, boys,” he tells them. With some apprehension I find myself each year making a similar case to my own students, a sizeable group of generally ambitious juniors and seniors at a college preparatory school in St. Paul, Minnesota where, in keeping with schools across the United States, rates of depression and anxiety disorders are on the rise. Given our raincloud curriculum of unremittingly dark works—Hamlet, Frankenstein, 1984, The Scarlet Letter, The Catcher in the Rye—alongside a complementary shot of sometimes sunny but mostly sobering dark poems, it has occurred to me on more than one occasion to ask whether what I teach is tantamount to providing a kind of therapy toward well-being or providing those who are already tilting toward despair with a length of rope and, for good measure, a loaded gun. Drawing on recent studies by Eric Wilson (Against Happiness), William Giraldi (“Let There Be Darkness: In Defense of Depressing Literature”), Darian Leader (The New Black: Mourning, Melancholia and Depression), Gary Greenberg (Manufacturing Depression: The Secret History of a Modern Disease), and others, I will, in this paper, make a case for the former (believing, with Keats, “how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a Soul”) while addressing also the serious prospect of the latter (that depressing poems might indeed make young people depressed). In all, I hope to raise pertinent questions—and discussion—regarding the effects, however healthful or deleterious, of melancholic poetry on young minds.

C. E. J. Simons (ICU)

“Not Waving but Drowning”: Suicidal English Poets and Poetry Writing in Contemporary Japan

Teaching the work of depressed or suicidal English poets in a society with high rates of depression and suicide can have tragic consequences.  Romanticizing poets who struggled with isolation and depression can amplify these tendencies in Japanese undergraduates.  However, taught in conjunction with writing classes which allow students to express culturally unacceptable negative emotions, the ‘poetry of melancholia’ provides Japanese students with psychological tools to identify and deal with problems of depression and suicide. This interdisciplinary paper examines the problems of teaching the ‘poetry of melancholia’ to Japanese undergraduates; it also considers the potential of using literature and poetry writing classes to deal with issues of isolation, depression, and suicide among these students. The paper begins with an overview of sociological problems among Japanese youth, including self-isolation—引き籠り (hikikomori)—depression, eating disorders, and suicide.  This background introduces statistics on these issues and discusses their cultural context, as well as related issues of modernity, gender, and sexuality. The paper then addresses the problems of teaching the ‘poetry of melancholia’ in the cultural context of contemporary Japan.  It examines a number of ‘melancholy’ poems, and identifies the problems associated with teaching these poems to Japanese students.  The paper will give examples from poetry including the Anglo-Saxon ‘The Wanderer’ and Beowulf, Milton’s Il Penseroso, and the work of Eliot, Stevie Smith, Plath and Berryman. The final section of the paper discusses using English poetry, and poetry writing classes, to help Japanese undergraduates deal with issues of isolation, depression, and suicide.  The paper suggests that using English poetry to provide Japanese students with a non-Japanese cultural environment allows them to express opinions and feelings which benefit their psychological well-being.  Teaching the poetry of depressed or suicidal English poets in Japan presents serious challenges, but also opportunities to fight depression and suicide among Japanese students.

Saturday 9th July 2011

9:00-9:30 Tea/Coffee (Crush Hall)

9:30-11:00 Parallel Session 5

Literary Afterlives (Seminar )


Dr Natalie Pollard (University of Cape Town)

“Perfected with some pain”: Vicious Reception and Lyric Affect

Contemporary poets often depict themselves as physically arrested by negative reception, as struck dumb, shocked, muted. This paper explores how the politics of reception is played out on the body in contemporary British poetry, particularly focusing on the deployment of negative affect in Don Paterson, W.S. Graham, J.H. Prynne and Geoffrey Hill. I consider a range of poems that dwell on publishing and marketing worries, which flag up the impact that critical responses from editors, funding bodies and audiences have on the literary text, and which portray the poem as suffering or mutilated object in response. First, the paper examines critical aggression as a surprising and bold means of striking the poet (and poem), rendering him temporarily silenced or pained: in such work, it is as if a physical blow has been inflicted on the artwork: a rude shock, violent, accosting, berating. I turn next to poetry’s ability to create peculiarly arresting moments of lyric beauty and intense vigour from this verbal violation; especially in authorial depictions of the poem as a victimised body. Finally, the paper considers poetry’s ability to respond ingeniously in turn to vicious attacks or imagined provocation – attending to how writers may be creatively inspired by the urge to inflict suffering on savage readerly and critical bodies.

Dr Gabrielle Carey (University of Technology, Sydney)

The Life and Work of Randolph Stow

Novelist and poet Randolph Stow was one of Australia’s most significant writers of the twentieth century. He died in May 2010 in Harwich England, where he had resided since the mid 1960s. Stow has often been compared to Patrick White but has had comparatively little critical attention or public acclaim. This is partly due to his withdrawal from public life and a predisposition to silence, a consequence perhaps of what he described as ‘a vile melancholy’, which he believed he had inherited and referred to as ‘the curse of the Stows’. This paper will give an overview of an important but neglected writer with a focus on how Stow’s melancholy manifested in his work, in particular his poetry.

Personal and Political


Dr Amy Muse (University of St. Thomas)

The Best Lack All Conviction and Need Melancholic Poetry

As Byron commemorated his thirty-sixth birthday in Missolonghi could he have had any idea of the impact his death would have on the success of the revolution he supported? He felt melancholic, unloved, in need of a reason to continue pressing on to the thirty-seventh year. “On This Day I Complete my Thirty-Sixth Year,” composed at that moment, sounds like a martial poem—if I cannot live a lover, let me die a soldier—but I’d like to work with it as a poem of generative melancholy.  Byron’s letters and journals reveal his keen awareness of the complications of the situation; the poetry is an act of language that pulls him toward action. In 2007, when American poet Kathleen Norris was touring in promotion of her book Acedia and Me, the mood among the left wing of the public was despondent: involved in two wars against our will, everyone felt protested-out, exhausted. We were experiencing, Norris observed, acedia: a loss of will, a hopelessness that paralyzed us to action. In 2011 that mood has returned with a vengeance. What we need is melancholia: a deep reflectiveness that is rejuvenating. Put medicinally, if acedia is the dry cough, melancholy is the productive cough that moves us back toward health. What we need is the generative melancholia that poetry can produce—a deep infusion of language to raise us from the dead.  For, as Norris writes, poetry can offer “a remedy for the human tendency to take refuge in indifference.” This paper will put into conversation two initially disparate situations: Byron’s dying wishes in the Greek War of Independence with contemporary American political acedia, to raise discussion about the intertwinings of personal and political melancholy and explore the power of poetry as a form for generative melancholy.

Clara Dawson (Durham University)

The melancholic speaker in Tennyson’s “Maud”

The changing attitudes of the nineteenth century towards melancholia are illustrated in an article by Amariah Brigham in the American Journal of Insanity in 1844, where he writes that “characters such as King Lear or Macbeth, or even Hamlet and Jaques, ‘may be found in every large Asylum’”.[5] The confining of iconic literary figures to an asylum, even in conjecture, reflects the way in which literary melancholy or madness no longer conferred the same authority it had once had for early modern writers. The association between these literary characters famous for the extremity of their emotions, and their possible incarceration reflects a nineteenth-century trend documented by Foucault, amongst others, which separated the mentally ill irrevocably from the rest of society.  In this paper, I wish to argue that Tennyson’s Maud responds powerfully to an audience which no longer believes in the authority of the melancholic poet. The speaker’s mental disintegration plays out against a backdrop of alienation from a society which refuses to accept, or even listen to, the expressions of his deep melancholy as anything other than madness. The controversy and debate which ensued when the poem was published, and the widespread condemnation of the poem’s protagonist, illustrate not only the conflicted attitudes towards melancholia and madness in the nineteenth century, but the perceived threat to the status of poetry as a cultural medium. I will argue that Maud diagnoses the conditions of its own reception, and laments the narrowing of possibilities for the poet as melancholy outsider.

Katharina Lempe (Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg)

Commissioned Grief – Royal Elegies by the English Poets Laureate

This paper deals with the seemingly paradox connection of the very private state of grief and the public office of poet laureate. It compares the mechanisms and masks of impersonalised grief applied by poet laureates’ elegies and shows the development they have gone through in the last four centuries. Since 1668 the job description of a poet laureate includes as his or her main duty to “write verse on royal occasions”, celebrate the monarch and consolidate or optimise their standing in the public opinion. In case of a death in the royal family, an elegy or eulogy is expected. The strictly structured form of lyric lamentation – for example the elegiac distich, a certain convention of imagery and phrases – allowed for the poem to convey emotional content without actually being personal. Much like the Persian tradition of professional wailers the author’s point of view of their lamented subject was irrelevant. Some situations, for example the mental illness of King George III., called for a great amount of sensitiveness to please the court and still deliver a plausible text which Robert Southey mastered in his extraordinary poem “A Vision of Judgement”. Today, however, the poet laureate is entitled to a certain amount of mild criticism of his royal subject, as can be seen in Andrew Motion’s elegy on Princess Margaret “The Younger Sister” (2002). In a wide stretch from Dryden’s “Elegy on the Death of King Charles II” to Robert Southey, to Alfred Austin’s elegy for Queen Victoria and Andrew Motion’s respective elegies for Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother this paper discusses the different poetic conventions of commissioned elegy.

The Politics of Melancholia


Damian Shaw (University of Macau)

Mild, melancholy and sedate he stands”:  Melancholy and the Poetry of Slavery

In The Melancholy of Race Anne Anlin Cheng defines racial melancholia as something that ‘has always existed for raced subjects both as sign of rejection and as a psychic strategy in response to that rejection’ (2000, 20). Her book considers how the marginalised subject goes from ‘being a subject of grief to being a subject of grievance’, that is, from suffering to speaking out. This process might be particularly applicable to ex-slaves. My paper analyses a representative sample of anti-slavery poetry from both sides of the Atlantic according to location (Britain/America), race (Black/White) and gender (Male/Female). The first step is to compare and contrast the differing representations (signs) of the melancholic subject par excellence, the African slave, according to the above mentioned categories, and then the proposed strategies for coping with the melancholy situation (from suicide and apathy to revolt). After this, important questions to be considered are: the extent to which depictions of the melancholic slave in terms of affect such as despair, grief, suffering and sadness were conditioned by wider racial stereotyping and the broader agenda of the anti-slavery societies, and: the way in which the various groups above used these portrayals of the melancholic subject to advocate different strategies of resistance to the institution of slavery, from suicide to rebellion. As Cheng claims: ‘we hardly know how to confront the psychical imprints of racial grief except through either neglect or sentimentalization’ (6). Did the portrayal of slavery promote a sentimentalised view of melancholy which served to pacify and domesticate the enslaved subject? Did black authors offer any more robust or aggressive strategies to combat the institution of slavery as a result of racial melancholia? Again, as Cheng notes, ‘Freudian melancholia is anything but mild!’ (8).

Dr Oksung Kang (Dongseo University)

A Radical Voice in the Antislavery Poetry of Helen Maria Williams and Amelia Opie

This study aims at examining the anti-slavery poetry written by the early 19th-century women poets. Based on their own moral sensibility and Christian belief of non-Anglican Church, they strongly advocated abolitionism. joining anti-slavery groups. However, their writings have been ignored for a long time, overpowered by ‘major’ male writers of Romanticism. Thus this study tries to shed light on these women poet’s melancholy and ideas. The study will discuss why the anti-slavery discourse was an important issue among the women writers. The French Revolution which emphasized equality of humankind had strong impact on them. Mary Wollstonecraft and Helen Maria Williams experienced the Revolution in France and put their experiences into the writing advocating the rights of women and the socially weak people. Women poets’ attack upon the slavery is further developed in poets such as Anna Barbauld, Helen Maria Williams and Amelia Opie. Romantic women writers’ anti-slavery poetry contains a distinctive voice different from that of male writers. Recognizing their socially inferior status to men’s, these women writers sought to correct the discrimination against them. Their concern about the socially oppressed people can be understood in this context. Though silenced as a radical voice and ignored as minor writers for a long time, women writers of the 19th century provide valuable assets to Romanticism as a newly found voice resisting the social ills and upholding the silent others in society.

Dr Tatjana Bijelić (University of Banja Luka)

Exile and Melancholia in Postwar Poetry in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Focusing on contemporary poetry written and published in Bosnia and Herzegovina after the 1990s war, the paper deals with the relation between the notions of exile and melancholia employed in a number of personal poems on loss. Particular attention will be paid to the poets’ treatment of their war and postwar experiences of lost homes, forced uprootedness, and non-belonging. Questioning how age and gender influence the treatment of melancholia in exile, the author will explore the positions and strategies of each considered poet, trying to account for assumed differences in their poetic expressions. Aware of the fact that the postwar poets are emerging enraged at past and present ideologies that have stolen their rights and freedoms, repressing their identities and limiting interactions, the paper will also tackle the relationship between melancholia and irony as a survival strategy.

10-11 Keynote 4

Professor Susan Wolfson (Princeton University)

Chair: Dr Kyriaki Hadjiafxendi

Title and abstract

11:00-11:30 Tea/Coffee

11:30-1:00 Parallel Session 5

Dispositional Perspectives


Dr Karin Preuss (Johann Wolfgang Goethe University)

An Inquiry into the Aesthetics of Melancholy and Music

If music generates melancholy this is not necessarily an unpleasant experience of the senses. In As you like it (II, 5) Shakespeare depicts the melancholic character Jacques, who is excited about a musical recital: “More, I prithee, more. I can suck melancholy out of a song, as a weasel sucks eggs.” This kind of melancholy, which is engendered by music, can be examined within the fashionable and yet ironic context of “the joy of grief.” The relationship of music and melancholy within the philosophy of aesthetics is a rather complex one: Thus possessing a melancholic quality, music as the purest form of art can offer consolation, cure and relief of the melancholic disposition, removing the feeling of sadness by activating the sanguinarian temperaments because of its vitality and force. The harmony of music should therefore restore the order of feelings and bring about the balance of the mind to the melancholic. The purpose of my paper is to give a detailed study of the dialectic discrepancy that exists between the utopian and the sceptical approaches to German Romantic aesthetics within the cultural- historical frame from Wackenroder to Adorno.

The crucial concepts of an aesthetics of melancholy and music will be analysed from a variety of angles, these include:

  • Suffering as a fountain of the Arts     
  • Dissonance and Sense ; E.T.A. Hoffmann
  • Suffering and Salvation;  Arthur Schopenhauer
  • Tragedy and Decadence; Friedrich Nietzsche
  • Critique and Dialectics; Theodor W. Adorno

Dr Maryam Farahani (Liverpool University)

Yousef o Zoleikha Revived in West-östlicher Divan: The Poetic Case of Cyclothymia in Goethe’s Adaptation

Despite extensive psychological contributions to detailed categorisation of affective disorders since the second half of the eighteenth century, literary definition(s) of melancholia today compared to previous centuries are surprisingly far less accurate. Critics have particularly missed investigating the Oriental exposition(s) of melancholia in poetry. In this paper, I explore what melancholia is not by identifying the poetic case of cyclothymia, aiming to clarify the most common literary misunderstanding of melancholia. To what extent is the melancholic expression in poetry different from the cyclothymic? And what does the Oriental exposition of melancholia offer our modern literary critics? Reading Suleika’s adaptation in West-östlicher Divan (1819) against her portrayal in Yousef o Zoleikha (1483), I discuss differences between melancholia and cyclothymia beyond the Occident-Orient encounter of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) and Nourodin Abdorahman Jami (1414-92). Melancholia, known, by Persians as Malikholia, has a long history that should be traced in Ibn Sina’s Canon of Medicine (1025). Drawing on definitions of melancholia by Ibn Sina and Jami’s versification, I turn to social psychology of cyclothymia, presenting a cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural clarification of melancholia, albeit its gendered attributes. In so doing, first I reflect on the psychology of cyclothymia and studies of Goethe by Sanna Litti (2006), Ulrich Stadler (2008), and Ernst Kretschmer (1931), in addition to psychological perspectives of cyclothymia by Ferederick Goodwin & Kay Jamison (2007) and Thaddeus Weckowicz & Helen Liebel-Weckowicz (1990) among others. Second, by offering an elaborate comparison of Zoleikha in Jami and Goethe, I further discuss the portrayal of masculine cyclothymia, which has been claimed as melancholia during the past decades. Finally, I extend this study to Goethe’s ‘Wonne der Wehmut’ (1775), outlining major characteristics of poetic Cyclothymia as distinguished from Melancholia.

Kate Holterhooff (Carnegie Mellon University)

Aesthetic Modernity and the Elgin Marbles

In this essay I argue the arrival of the Elgin Marbles in London was invaluable to precipitating the end of what Gillen D’Arcy Wood has termed antiquarian melancholia. Using Habermas’s concept of aesthetic modernity from “Modernity— An Incomplete Project” (1981) I argue the Elgin Marbles forced viewers to confront the impossibility of a singular classical ideal of natural beauty, and the necessity of a range of inclusive and polyvalent aesthetic truths. The Elgin Marbles suggested that the Hellenic ideal of beauty no longer answered to modern nineteenth century taste, and aesthetic modernity required that the ancients be cast off entirely or at least dialectically subsumed. The Elgin Marbles offer a watershed moment of opposition between the ancients and moderns in England by framing history in terms of eternal biological truths. Scottish anatomist Sir Charles Bell argued in his Expression: Its Anatomy and Philosophy (1806) that the ancient marbles were as much a boon for science as for art in their exemplification of anatomy. Using knowledge gleaned from scientific advances especially in the dissecting room, Bell achieved greater comprehension, and thereby control, over Greek classicism’s historical art monopoly. Bell uses this knowledge to counsel melancholic British artists like John Keats in “On Seeing the Elgin Marbles” (1817), and the young men mentioned in William Hazlitt’s “English Students at Rome,” not to sorrow over their inability to reenact the golden age of Greece, but rather to use his Expression, a respectful appreciation of the ancients, and anatomical study to portray new art inspired by, and thus comparable to, the Hellenes. I then explore this modern aesthetic as postclassical, or “Romantic Classicism” as represented by contemporary journals like Annals of the Fine Arts (1816-20), in the reception of William Lawrence’s Lectures on Physiology, Zoology and the Natural History of Man (1822) and the spectacle of the Hottentot Venus, begun in 1810.

The Romantic Poetess Tradition


Helen Luu (Royal Military College of Canada)

Over His Dead Body: Mourning and   Melancholia in Felicia Hemans’s Records of Woman

Throughout Felicia Hemans’s best-known, best-selling, and most personal volume of poetry, Records of Woman (1828), the scene of mourning is compulsively repeated: eight of the collection’s nineteen poems feature a scene in which a woman clasps to her breast a dying or dead male body; three others imagine the death of their female protagonists; two more, the death of daughters; and the final three memorialize historical and literary women while investigating the forms and process of memorialisation itself.  Taken together, this repetition of these various scenes of mourning has been interpreted as a personal repetition compulsion: Hemans’s compulsive re-enactment of her own scene of watching and mourning at her mother’s deathbed (Feldman xxii) or her reworking of her husband’s desertion (Clarke 80); as ideological critique: Hemans’s interrogation of the connections between domestic happiness and military glory (Lootens 3); and as a movement from one to the other: Hemans’s attempt “to universalize the values of sacrifice and endurance evidenced in her life” (Curran 191).  Focusing solely on the most persistent scene, that of a woman clasping a dead or dying male body, this paper will explore the ways in which its gender reversal not only challenges the common cultural and aesthetic connection between death and femininity that the collection itself also upholds elsewhere, but also how it defies our existing explanations of the role of gender in representations of death (e.g. the various arguments offered by Elisabeth Bronfen).  By tracing the processes of identification, introjection, incorporation, and cross-gender doubling in Records of Woman, I will argue that at work in the collection’s repetition of this particular scene of mourning is not simply the work of mourning but also the workings of melancholia.  In particular, I will examine how the repetition of this scene and its gender reversals maps the melancholic structure of gender identity.

Dr Young Ok-An (University of St. Thomas),

“With all [her] melancholy sounds”: the Poetics of Felicia Hemans

As her contemporary reviewers and present-day critics (McGann, Wolfson) note, “female melancholy” is Felicia Hemans’s acknowledged mode— the female counterpart to Byron’s gloom. Hemans saturates her poetry with melancholic motifs (death, absence, loss, darkness, shadows) and makes explicit references to “melancholy” winds, waves, sea, music, knowledge, intelligence, and so on. The mechanics and rhetoric of melancholia permeate her poetry, as she imbues it with sorrows, sighs, laments, tears, weeping, gushes, and delirium. These bodily signs, while signaling an excessive and irrational mode, work precisely as vehicles for generating poetry, and further, to comment on the deprived cultural condition of her representational struggle. This paper explores Hemans’s poetics and meta-poetics of melancholy, through examining her poetic language as both generative–or performative (generating discourse on mourning)—and meta-poetical (commenting on the poetic production as mourning). Freud’s Mourning and Melancholia suggests—through the figure of Hamlet—how the “blessed lack or holy curse” of melancholy bestows on the mourner a “keener eye for the truth.” Hemans anticipates this insight: she elevates the “keen eye” to “prophetic majesty” (“Night-scene in Genoa”). Through her various speakers, Hemans asks how she can see beyond the surface and find the “strange” words to “unlock” or “unbound” the inner struggles of the melancholic subject: . If representation itself is implicated in melancholia (Judith Butler, Gender Trouble), Hemans articulates the problem of reading and knowing one’s own feelings, correlating it with reading and knowing the secret of the gloomy heart—whether the matter involves the conflicts of the self, or family, love, or even of the national and international affairs. Troping bodily sensations as the mechanics of melancholic mode, Hemans presents her representational struggle. Suggesting that the deep despair of loss cannot be understood or represented through rational language and typifying the Romantic notion of harmony with nature, her avowed mode of expression foregrounds her “direct communication” with nature, unfettered by social and linguistic constraints. Rather than a filtered, analytical language, she insists on myths, similes, natural sceneries, and bodily speech, evoking something “half-forgotten” or lost. Yet, such troping itself suggests her awareness of poetic mediation. Isobel Armstrong argues in “The Gush of the Feminine” that Hemans’s “cloying flow,” just like that of Anna Barbauld, is a fallacy. I suggest that this melancholic “gush” (along with sigh or lament) is a sign of a double poetic movement: both generative and meta-poetical (“The Lyre’s Lament”; “The Treasures of the Deep”; and “A Spirit’s Return”)

Dr Julie Watt (Independent)

The Greatest Misery-Possible Principle: The Poetry of Letitia Elizabeth Landon

Subverting the Greatest Happiness Principle of contemporary Utilitarians, a nineteenth century reviewer said of one of Letitia Landon’s works that it was written on “the greatest misery-possible principle”. Landon, known to her readers by her initials LEL, was the best selling female poet of the Regency period – best selling because she knew and wrote for her market, necessarily so, for, after her father died, her family relied on her earning power. In self-confident, ebullient Regency Britain, the melancholy poetry of sensibility sold well: LEL’s public loved her fashionably long, doom-laden, erotic verse narratives which invariably end gloomily ever after, death lingering gravely in the background. LEL’s contemporaries, assuming that she wrote from her breaking heart, were always surprised on meeting her that this sparky, witty, cheerful woman was nothing like the melancholic poetry she purveyed. Today we can still sense her lively ironic wit as revealed in her private correspondence which was not, of course, then for public consumption. However, when she died suddenly in a castle in West Africa, comparatively young, apparently of poison (but probably accidentally, or of natural causes), the racist, sexist British press, delighted to have bad news about the demise of a celebrity, spun tales of suicide and murder – tales turned into further melancholic memorials to LEL and her lonely faraway death by such poets as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Christina Rossetti. They are tales still repeated unquestioningly today by otherwise serious academic literary critics, despite strong contrary commonsense evidence. It does not seem to have occurred to anyone, then or now, that the stories they wove or weave about LEL’s death are actually the plots of her own melancholic work superimposed on her biography.

Modernist Aesthetics


Dr Lucie Boukalova (University of South Bohemia)

“Let’s prop his lids / p’r’aps he’ll see a bit”:   Towards the Post-Tiresian Gest

In my essay, I deal with the topic of fragmentation and decline of a coherently perceived subject in modernist poetry. I seek and suggest some of its main sources and follow vital transformations which this persisting characteristic underwent in hands of two neo-modernist poets emerging with very clear and strong voices in the north-west territory in post-WWII Britain. I claim that this newly-discovered and re-appropriated poetic subject, this stable reflecting and expressive consciousness, appear at the moment when the poets identify themselves with their territory, with its geo-cultural context. From T.S. Eliot’s Waste Land to David Jones’s Anathémata and Basil Bunting’s Briggflatts, we can trace an evident progress from the fatigue and impotence of Tiresias, the aged observer of the cultural collapse, to active manifestation of a creative locale-bound self. Even though, as I emphasize, both Jones and Bunting shared Eliot’s creed of poet’s impersonality and “continual self-sacrifice”, the regional locus of their sequences offered a steady correlative and corrective to this poetics of “ego absconditus”. Even though Jones claimed that “the workman must be dead to himself while engaged upon the work” and Bunting believed that “things once made must stand free of their makers,” they were never haunted – as Eliot was in his transatlantic melancholia – by the specter of “elsewhere community” (Kenner). They created comfortably grounded within their geo-cultural periphery. They might have been born in “a half savage country out of date” (Pound) yet they spoke boldly from these margins. Further in my essay I analyze the multiple and layered evidence of the exciting returning presence of the reflecting and creative subject. It is no coincidence that both poems represent, at least in one dimension, an account of homecoming. Where Eliot only hears Phlebas drowning, Jones and Bunting celebrate the recovered forms of their home art – the panoramic spectacle of Welsh terrain or the redeeming toil of Northern masonry. The pronominal trace of the first person singular becomes stabilized (after the fractured Tiresian “I”) and signalizes the involved presence of the poet – emotional, visionary and creative (“TESTE DAVID CVM SIBYLLA”). The sphere of the subject is delimited and anchored by not only the strongly empirical nature of the two poems (esp. in Bunting), but also for example by the dialectal speech signals. In Jones’s and Bunting’s works, the creed of impersonality and withdrawal, as professed by Eliot, finds a new mode – the deep involvement and personal authority combined with relative anonymity and communal appeal of true regional bards. Their voices sing the conviction that poetry should be seen as “a kind of anamnesis, i.e. an affective recalling, of something loved” (Jones). Thus a celebratory recreation, not a melancholic one.

Danielle Tran (Royal Holloway)

Social and Personal Melancholy in T. S. Eliot

Michael Levenson, author of A Genealogy of Modernism argues that within ‘The Waste Land’, T.S. Eliot creates a ‘moment of stasis in order to unify the modernist mind through the creation of a legitimate third term which is neither egoist nor absolutist’.  For Levenson, Eliot’s poem resolves the incoherence of the modernist movement through the creation of a unifying stasis. In opposition to Levenson, I believe The Waste Land is more a commentary on the incoherence of social modernity than an attempt to unify the modernist mind. By focusing upon the
differing perspectives concerning the poem’s ongoing contradictions between movement and stasis, which I believe act to create various halts in time, I will draw attention to a spectrum of views on the stagnation of society during post-war London.
That corpse you planted last year in your garden, Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year? Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?  The plant is here portrayed as a ‘corpse’, and the impossibility of a lifeless entity producing life contradicts the advancement of spring, creating a temporal contradiction. Harriet Davidson comments that the oppositions in vocabulary create a lack of clarity which acts to present a world defined by the absence of a central stabilising force. As a result, the lack of social coherence has become the characterizing aspect of the waste land, making it increasingly difficult for its inhabitants to break this ongoing stasis. I.A. Richards similarly interprets this section of the poem as ‘a speciment of the rather
withered pleasantry in which contemporary culture has culminated and beyond which it finds much difficulty in passing’.  The repeated questioning of the speaker could thus be interpreted as an anxious attempt to hasten the movement of time. As what is worse then movement or reversion is the thought of continually being suspended in time. The speaker thus finds the temporal contradiction frustratingly unproductive as it prevents him from escaping the absence which defines his social existence.

Avishek Parui (Durham University)

“My self-possession gutters; we are really in the dark”: Melancholia and the Spectres of 20th Century Modernity in Eliot’s early poetry

Variously interpreted as pathological lack, erotic excess, feminized interiority and masculine contemplation, melancholia has almost always been associated with an aberration that can include insight as well as the inhibitive knowledge of its futility. The study of Hamlet through the various ages and schools of reading is a testimony to the fascination melancholia has had over the interpretative imagination. It is of little surprise that melancholia has often been most appropriately voiced, among all genres of literary expression, in the body of poetry; through the tissues of linguistic excesses.  In my paper, I argue that melancholia in the early poetry of Eliot is a condition that throbs through the Turgenevian “Superfluous Man” as well as the Baudelairean flâneur. I read the movement of melancholia in poems such as “The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock”, “Portrait of a Lady”, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night”, “Preludes” and finally The Waste Land both as a nervous and decadent erotic condition characteristic of 20th century cultural modernity as well as a nostalgic looking back at a strategically romanticized totality. The early poetry of Eliot, with its “throwness of being” becoming a nervous condition, presents the dark underbelly of the 20th century European metropolis, reflected in spiritual stasis and mechanical automatism alike. An important aspect of this account of melancholia engages with its socio-political determinants and, in particular, with the work of a study of Georg Simmel, his Metropolis and Mental Life, Walter Benjamin and his Arcades Project, more specifically, to his analysis of “Boredom”.  I am particularly interested in reading The Waste Land by connecting the dark deathlessness of its myths with the anxious desire to consume and be consumed in an era of endless mechanical reproduction and reification. The melancholia that broods over such condition, I argue, works both as a counter-cognitive construct as well as the fault-lines for epiphanic excesses along the shadow of the First World War.

1:00-2:00 Buffet Lunch (Crush Hall)

2:00-3:00 Plenary Panel

Professor Ron Levao (Rutgers University)

Correspondent: Professor John Drakakis


3:00-3:30 Tea/Coffee ()

3:30-5:00 Parallel Session

Melancholia and Mourning

Rebecca Mills (Exeter University)

“Brain-map Still Dark-Patched”: Melancholic Mindscapes in Ted Hughes’s Birthday Letters

According to Freud, both the mourner and the melancholic resist any “active effort that is not connected with thoughts of the dead”—the hundred-odd poems of Birthday Letters certainly do so. Multiple records survive of Plath’s emotional and psychological struggles with herself and others, while the difficulties of her marriage to Hughes and her melancholic mourning for her father have also undergone critical and biographical analysis. I will argue that in Birthday Letters, Hughes reifies his own melancholic mourning for Plath, as well as his sense of her troubled experiences and memories, as the physical setting of the poems. I will show that the landscapes of the poems are imprinted with specific melancholic traits such as overwhelming fear and sadness along with disproportionate anxiety, agitation and obsessive single-mindedness, and the self-loathing and reproach discerned in the condition by Freud, as if Hughes has superimposed the mental map of his melancholic mourning upon the physical geographies of their marriage. Cambridge, Spain, France, America and Devon are all saturated with the sadness and self-reproach of hindsight—as mindscapes they are intensely melancholic. Hughes also locates Plath’s poetic drive within dark spaces, emphasising a connection between artistic genius and melancholy that has been observed for centuries. To conclude, I will demonstrate that landscape in Birthday Letters goes beyond recording the conflicts of the Plath-Hughes connection to reflect the anxieties and traumas of the 20th century. I not only intend to use place and landscape to explore the double melancholy of Letters, but also to situate the collection within a mode of writing using exterior environment to mirror interior turmoil. This will both provide further insight into the link between melancholy and landscape, as well as the role landscape plays in memory and mourning.

Amanda Lim (University of Alberta)

“He refuses to be cooked in my transactional order”: The Melancholic Elusiveness of Elegy and History in Anne Carson’s Nox

This paper explores the intersection of melancholia, poetics, and history in Anne Carson’s 2010 book, Nox.  Carson pays tribute to her older brother, Michael, who ran away as a young man and whose death was unknown to her until much later. She relates history to elegy in the book, suggesting that the process of mourning is at the core of both.  While melancholia may be seen as a disorder and a private problem, Carson contextualizes melancholia as both an essential facet of, and consequence of, the historical and social relationships that connect us to each other and to the world.  At the centre of melancholia is, Carson suggests, both the desire to “make sense” of our surroundings and our relationships, and the realization that this desire will ultimately remain unfulfilled.  Nox is actually a single long manuscript folded accordion-style, and it consists largely of fragments of texts and photographs.  The book’s opening piece is the Roman poet Gaius Valerius Catullus’s poem, “Catullus 101.”  As an elegy for Catullus’s brother, it forms an intellectual, literary, and emotional intertext with the rest of Nox.  Carson spends much of Nox translating “Catullus 101” word by word, and the rest of it giving an account of Greek literary history and her reflections on Michael.  Melancholia is involved in the stitching together of numerous stories, facts, anecdotes, and memories that frequently do not cohere neatly.  As such, both the elegy and the historical account are genres that elude certainty and demand constant questioning and revision. Connecting the personal intensity and affect of the elegy with the broad public scope of history, Carson suggests that melancholia is important both as a mode of self-reflection and knowledge-seeking and as an ethical consideration of alterity.

Dr Adam Crothers (University of Cambridge)

“Nae elegy but och”: Mourning, melancholia, Michael Donaghy

The poetic elegy does not merely grieve. It mourns. Whatever ‘personal’ information a reader might feel she gleans from the poem, the preceding act of publication inevitably renders the poem private no longer. Angela Leighton, in her book On Form, suggests that rather than achieving resolution through the publicising of grief, many recent elegies have been ‘melancholic and comfortless’: in their melancholia, the absence that prompts them is not readily identifiable and externalised, can be addressed but never redressed. ‘Rather than

a work of mourning […] elegy might be defined as a work of losing, in which language replicates the loss that gives rise to it.’ There are problems here, problems that I will confront in this paper, providing close readings of elegies written for the poet Michael Donaghy by Don Paterson, Robin Robertson, Simon Armitage, Paul Farley, and Leighton herself. Leighton’s line on elegy is that it is a ‘form’ defined not by received structure but by content, the form an artfully hollow, dead thing appropriate to the physical and psychological subject matter; this  accepts one version of the formalist view of the interpenetration of form and content, but does not quite allow for another version, one in which form might perpetually complicate and ironies the content to which it corresponds. Formal properties such as rhyme and lineation, I will demonstrate, do not exclusively re-enact and reinforce the ‘prose sense’ of the poems under consideration. Nor, for that matter, can they be said neatly to offer comfort or balance by imposing formal order upon psychological disorder. Poetic form does not always tell us what we want to hear, or let us say what we want to say; the difficulty that arises is constructive, and the resulting negotiations are the test of a poem and of a poet.

Melancholia and Psychoanalysis


Jennifer Reek (Glasgow University)

Death into Life: the Inspirational Effects of Mourning and Melancholia on the Poetics of Yves Bonnefoy and Hélène Cixous

“See, you’re separated from yourself now,

Always this same cry, but you do not hear it,

Are you dying, you who have no anguish now,

Are you lost, you who seek after nothing?”[6]

Yves Bonnefoy in these evocative lines offers an intriguing point of departure for this conference’s and this paper’s attempt to extend the horizons of our understanding of melancholia. He composed them for his second collection of poems, Yesterday’s Wilderness Kingdom, during a time he has referred to as his “darkest seasons.”[7] Yet out of this melancholic loss and disintegration, Bonnefoy undergoes a transformation into new creativity and fruitfulness. Hélène Cixous also experienced periods of melancholia that had transformative effects on her work. Hers came most dramatically in the shock of her father’s death when she experienced in mourning a surprising liberation into a life of writing. As literary critic, the writers she chooses to read, who she claims “save” her creatively, are those she calls in her book Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing descenders, explorers of the lowest and deepest.”[8] This paper will place these two French poets/critics in conversation through a focused reading of the two aforementioned works. I will examine melancholia in the poetry of Bonnefoy, whom I will view as a “descender”, through Cixous’s exploratory approach to writing as a process demanding experiences of death and depth. Thus, I hope to join Bonnefoy and Cixous, however tentatively and vicariously, in exploring “the lowest and deepest,” the space of melancholia these two thinkers reveal to be not only painful but also potentially redemptive and inspiring.

Karen Devlin (University of Hull)

Elizabeth Siddal and Dante Gabriel Rossetti: ‘Dim Phantoms of an Unknown Ill’

Julia Kristeva declares that ‘Melancholy is amorous passion’s sombre lining’. This paper will investigate Kristeva’s interpretation of melancholy through an examination of the artistic afterlife of Elizabeth Siddal, poet, artist and muse to Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Dead at the age of thirty two from a laudanum overdose, Elizabeth Siddal continued to haunt the work of her husband for many years. However, the ghost that haunted Rossetti was not the revenant of his lost wife, but an image of perfection which he conjured up and endlessly replicated in his art; ‘Not as she is, but as she fills his dream’, wrote his sister, Christina in her poem ‘In An Artist’s Studio’ (1890). Indeed, Siddal’s afterlife also became the afterlife of her husband as he succumbed to the melancholia which had afflicted him for most of his adult life. ‘He feeds upon her face by day and night’, wrote Christina Rossetti, inadvertently acknowledging the Narcissism that lurked behind her brother’s melancholia. Kristeva contends that ‘depression is the hidden face of Narcissus, the face that is to bear him away to death’. Rossetti’s narcissism was transmuted into the repeated reproduction of an idealised representation of his dead wife and of their complex and troubled relationship, of which his wife once wrote: ‘thou art like the poisonous tree/That stole my life away’. As Rossetti drifted further from reality, he too became ghostlike; he haunted his dead wife, forbidding her to rest, resurrecting her time and time again and even exhuming her corpse to wrest his poems from her coffin.  Mired in the narcissistic self-absorption of his own misery, Rossetti condemned himself and his absent wife to an afterlife of recurring haunting and return.

Dr S. A. Gambaudo (University of Durham)

Janet Frame’s Faces in the Water

My paper seeks to emphasise how Janet Frame successfully proposes a socialising vision of melancholic performance in Faces in the Water (Frame, 1961). The novel was written after Frame’s own experience of psychiatric treatment and fictionalises the experience of internment. Through the central character (Istina) Janet Frame shows the relationship between psychiatric narratives of sanity and the ‘crazy making’ effect embedded in these narratives. She pitches Istina’s narrative as an objective record of events she (Frame) personally witnessed. The novel becomes a vehicle through which the author proposes a critique of the psychiatric, psychoanalytic and more widely of the social constraints that underlie sane behaviour. In the novel, the narrator attempts to make herself sane by complying with injunctions to present her self a certain way. Yet, compliance necessitates the loss of other experiences and the more Istina tries to comply, the more insane she becomes. Through Istina’s process, Frame paints a picture of sane behaviour in terms of an unending grieving process.  But, while narratives of sanity are depicted as necessarily enmeshed with insane (melancholic) performance, for Frame insanity does not lie in the melancholia that enables sane performance. Instead, insane performance lies in the denial of the melancholia in the sane individual and its concomitant recasting as insane behaviour. Faces in the Water offers a powerful critique of traditional (psychiatric/psychoanalytic) narratives of sanity, in particular those aimed at curtailing Istina’s melancholia. Frame achieves this by parodying the traditional view on melancholia (Freud) and at the same time proposes that giving literary attention to the melancholic object (that is objects that connote unending loss) as resistance against what constrains the individual. Melancholic experience is then offered as opposition against the requirement ‘to lose loss’ and a form of social gesture.

Melancholia and the gothic


Laura Kremmel (Lehigh University)

Loved to Death: Melancholia as a Form of Vampirism

Melancholy has long been associated with vampirism, especially in recent novels of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries in which the text follows the inner turmoil of the vampire as he or she deals with death without the ability to die.  This project, however, seeks to explore the larger, more complex association between melancholy and vampirism by focusing on the vampiric characteristics of the human melancholic.  In order to do this, I explore a number of texts that do not feature actual vampire characters, assessing the effects of Freud’s melancholia in these characters and folding those effects next to the effects of vampirism in canonical vampire tales. This presentation explores the basic ability of melancholia to prolong the life of a dead loved one.  Rather than grieving for the dead and releasing her, the melancholic creates a tomb within himself in which he preserves his lost lover in an undead space.  The melancholic essentially takes on the role of the vampire, instilling his or her lost love object with eternal life through psychological consumption to an almost physical degree.  This creates an extended interaction between the living and the dead: in some cases, particularly in queer literature, this is the only possible method of interaction, thus allowing for a love between two people that would, otherwise, be forbidden.  In addition to creating that space within the psyche, the melancholic will often seek interaction with the dead through the act of writing. The melancholic’s relationship with speech is as complicated as his relationship with his dead lover and he, therefore, finds the same methods of containment and preservation through the use of writing.  Included are such texts as Mary Shelley’s Mathilda, Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, and Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood as well as several early vampire texts.

Sara-Patricia Wasson (Edinburgh Napier University)

“Crying with Phantom Tongue”:  the Politics of Lamentation in Mervyn Peake’s Wartime Poetry

Recent studies of nation and memory propose a new ethics of mourning in which normative mourning – working through grief, accepting loss, and ultimately finding solace – is increasingly seen as ethically suspect.  The challenges normative mourning poses to progressive politics are twofold. First, mourners’ acceptance can allow the state to elide the suffering ensuing from war; second, rituals of collective normative mourning often elide the deaths of the marginalized, even recuperating mass deaths into narratives of national triumph.  This paper examines how the dead were built into a narrative of British national heroism, and then shows how the wartime poetry of Mervyn Peake resists that labour. Peake’s verse resists the temptation to build the dead into heroic narrative of national triumph. His verse presents the home-front city as a site of death and calamity; the very buildings themselves are flayed bodies, ‘half masonry, half pain’. Peake’s verse arguably stages melancholia: his poem ‘Craters’, for example, depicts the bereaved as occupied by the ghostly voices of the dead, ‘crying with phantom tongue’. Peake’s war poetry can be read as a catalogue of necessary violence done to the deceptive simplicities of narrative form. Indeed, his poem ‘Victims’ presents story as itself cruel: ‘In twisting flames their twisting bodies blackened, / For History, that witless chronicler / Continued writing his long manuscript’. Peake’s war lyrics exemplify subjective fracture, incompletion, and anguish – indeed, the Gothic can be defined in terms of these formal qualities. As such, these texts of wartime Gothic are not only of historical interest, but also of profound contemporary value in that they present alternative ways to respond to collective agony.

Dr Angelica Michelis (Manchester Metropolitan University)

“We’ll eat you up –  we love you so”: Love as melancholic encryptment in Carol Ann Duffy’s Rapture

This paper intends to explore the relationship between love poetry and concepts of melancholia as developed by Sigmund Freud, Melanie Klein, Julia Kristeva, Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok, and Judith Butler by focusing on Carol Ann Duffy’s volume Rapture published in 2005. I will be particularly interested in the link between love and what might be termed ‘melancholic consumption’ by reading the latter in its specific relationship to eating and the process of digestion. In contrast to mourning, melancholia as a response to loss refuses to let go of the subject, the lost object continues to exist as a process of slowly eating up the melancholic and his/her clearly defined borders of identity. The loss of love is thus experienced both, as abandonment and invasion and, paradoxically, often imagined as deficiency and enrichment at the same time. Duffy’s collection Rapture documents and dissects the course of a love affair from the point of view of a deeply melancholic persona and pays painstaking attention to love as a process of forceful invasion in which the self is transformed into a site defined by exteriority and alienation. By drawing on theories of melancholia and their intrinsic link to the process of consumption, I want to suggest that poetic discourses of love and its loss show some significant and illuminating connections to the processes of eating and digestion and by doing so allow us to re-read poetic presentations of melancholia in closer relation to corporeality.

[1] Ovid, Metamorphoses, translated by A.D. Melville. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986, pg 133 (VI, 384-393).

[2] ‘Transference; removal or conveyance from one person, place, or condition to another’.

[3] Freud, Sigmund. “Mourning and Melancholia”. The Standard Edition of the complete works of Sigmund Freud. Trans: James Strachy. London, Hogarth Press: Institute of Psycho-analysis, 1953-1974. Vol. 14, pp. 243-258.

[4] Freud, p. 245

[5] Ekbert Faas Retreat into the Mind: Victorian Poetry and the Rise of Psychiatry (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988) 9.

[6] Yves Bonnefoy, “Threats of the Witness,” in Yesterday’s Wilderness Kingdom, trans. Anthony Rudolf (London: MPT Books, 2000), 18.

[7] John E. Jackson, Foreward to Yves Bonnefoy, Yesterday’s Wilderness Kingdom, trans. Anthony Rudolf (London: MPT Books, 2000), 5.

[8] Hélène Cixous, Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing, trans. Sarah Cornell and Susan Sellers (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 5.

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