Tag Archives: pastoral

Joseph Conrad – Nostromo (1904)


If Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness dramatize the difficulty of narrating a life, confronting that difficulty by dramatizing the various subjective, generic, historical conditions that frame our experience of the world, then Nostromo ups the ante, expanding the palate of narrators (13 main characters) and opening the stage to the history of a continent and the circuits of global trade. Nostromo is “constructed” in ways similar to Jim, but this novel is not so much interested in characterization, as it is interested in how the past becomes present, and the present becomes future, and how all the various characters deal with these historical becomings.

Conrad employs a basic rectangle of characters:

Nostromo   –   Decoud (loves Antonia)

Mr. Gould   –   Monygham (loves Mrs. Gould)

On the top, two men that are killed by the silver. On the bottom, two men who are able to resist that death. On the left, two idealists. On the right, two pragmatists. Acting outside of these rectangle, are the two women, Antonia and Mrs. Gould.

Nostromo the character is a composite of what other characters believe him to be. We see him consistently fail to live up to the idea of the hero–he is literally a “man of the people” to the degree that he becomes subject to the same temptations of the silver.

When the old Garibaldi soldier kills Nostromo (not knowing that he does it), Conrad is showing who the older foams of heroic revolution are not tenable under the new regime of global capitalism.

Discuss the difference between catching a moment out of the stream of time and Mrs. Gould’s beliefe that we need to see the past, present and future within every moment….this is a different way of seeing the relationship between particular events and history in general.

Rebecca West – The Return of the Soldier (1915)

Chris suffers from shell-shock and when he returns to his wife and cousin (Kitty and Jenny) he can can’t remember the last 15 years of his life. Instead, he is living as if he is still in love with the lower class Margaret with whom he had a brief but intense relationship before he met his wife. Him and Margaret reconnect, ecstatically, but eventually a psychoanalyst intervenes and they “cure” him (by reminding him of his son that died when a child), which entails both the re-shattering of his youthful dreams and his incipient return to Flanders.

Talk about how the war pentrates domestic space. Not unlike the domestic space described in David Jones In Parenthesis or in Cummings The Enormous Room. Talk about how Fussel recounts the forceful making of English gardens in the trenches, etc…flowers that do not have nutritive purpose…the desire to create a domestic sphere that is impervious to war finds expression in the mirror image: real domestic spaces that are penetrated.

Talk about memory and its relation to trauma. The curing of Chris consonant with the death of love–the death of the object of desire itself. Interpretation in some sense kills that third term (talk about Laplanche)

The world that we thought the war killed is in fact simple another reality that has replaced an existence that was someone even more ideal than the England we thought we had lost, etc.

Talk about Hardy in reverse. In Hardy, his attempt o get into the melancholic modd reveals the impossibility of telling the difference between his current state of loss and the the loss that was always-already a part of his relationship with his wife. here, when the soldier returns (no longer a cause for mourning), the two companions realize that they were only ever substitutes for a love that already been lost. This can in turn be connected to Joyce’s “The Dead.”

The end of Chris’s life is the last day he can remember. Link this to Bergsonian notions of time, memory and durée.

Rather than read the trauma as a stark break with a past life, we can fact read it as revealing a thread of loss that was otherwise repressed. Chris as a young man had a sense of the “imminence of the improbable,” which shell-shock in some ways allows to occur–namely the rebirth of a prehistory that was otherwise consigned to wither away.

George Eliot – Silas Marner (1861)

PLOT: Silas Marner, a weaver living in Lantern Yard, is excommunicated after he is framed for robbery by one of the religious elders in his town, who eventually marries the woman Silas had been intending to marry. He leaves and goes to Raveloe, where he weaves on the outskirts of town, amassing a fair amount of gold in the process. Meanwhile, Godfrey Cass (son of Squire Cass) is in a monetary pickle after leading to his dissolute brother Dunsten. To get out of the bind, he lets Dunsten try to sell his horse, but he manages to kill it in the process. Desperate, he robs Silas Marner and goes out into the night. Silas comes home and is stricken with loss–his gold having been his sole comfort and companion. He goes into town, but the thief cannot be found. Meanwhile Godfrey sets about wooing Nancy, the town belle. There’s a big New Year’s party that’s interrupted when Silas comes to announce that a woman has collapsed outside and that a baby has crawled into his house, etc. The woman turns out to be Molly, Godfrey’s first wife that he has tried to hide. He is relieved, and deos not claim his child, who has telling golden hair. Silas raises Eppie. Sixteen years pass. Godfrey has married (no children) and Eppie has grown up. Godfrey finds the skeleton of his brother in the Stone Pits outside Silas’ house. The money is returned. Godfrey confesses all to Nancy, tries to go reclaim Eppie but she refuses. She marries a rustic boy from town named Aaron after her and Silas visit Lantern Yard and see that it has been replaced with a grim factory.

Written between Mill on the Floss and Romola, but it shares, strangely, many of the the mythical preoccupations of the latter historical novel. It is a short, concentrated portrait of rustic life, that is deliberately a-historical (as opposed to Middlemarch)

Gold: the golden coins get replaced by Eppie’s golden hair. The coins allowed him to withdraw from society, whereas Eppie forces him back into social “circulation.”  Connect to the “golden” water at the end of Mill on the Floss: the pastoral can only be accessed through the protocols of the aesthetic: in Silas Marner, deployed as myth and myth-making.

Myth: Not located in a particular time or space. Employs the “sixteen years pass” trope, recognizable from The Winter’s Tale, etc.

History: It consists of the breaking of brown pots and their reconstruction as memorials–c’est tout–or can consist of artistic intervention, plotting, etc (the novel as such). The intrusion of historical time at the end of the novel (factory churning out workers) stands in stark contrast to the de-historicized world of craft and agriculture (Eppie wants to be a gardener). Compare to the ending of Mill on the Floss.

Work: Silas’ work, the act of weaving, has meaning-making capacity. Talk about in terms of craft: Ruskin, William Morris, etc.

Double-plot: a paired down version of a device that will be exploited more fully in Daniel Deronda.

Repeated image of the rivulet: Silas’ mind is likened to a rivulet, which contracts and expands throughout. As Eppie grows up, his mind begins to unfold into things like memory and the social.

Catalepsy: why does Eliot need Silas to be cataleptic? Discuss as plot device.

Short-sighted: Silas is also literally short-sighted. Why these physical disabilities?


William Morris – News from Nowhere (1891)

Page numbers from Penguin (2004)

Sub-titled “An Epoch of Rest,” which is a polemic to keep in mind, since most of the novel describes scenes of labor.

A socialist fantasy that manages to combine Morris’ spiritual-romantic nostalgia for the Middle Ages with his radical political beliefs. William Guest, the main character, falls asleep one night and wakes up in the year 2102. He is led around the new England by Dick Hammond. He gets a long history lesson from “old Hammond.” He takes a boat trip up the Thames all the way to Oxford and beyond, to a harvest party. On the way, he meets Ellen, a fairy-like woman prone to making elegant political speeches. Ellen guesses Guest’s secret just before the final dinner. When Guest sits down, he realizes that no one recognizes him. Despondent, he walks back to town, sees an old, dying, ragged man and everything goes black. He wonders, Was it a vision or a dream?

The bulk of News from Nowhere is a thinly veiled didactic exposition on what socialism could/would enable. But the narrative frame should not be ignored. Morris has to work pretty hard to justify the first person–in short, there is a conflation of the first and third person:

But, says he, I think it would be better if I told them in the first person….which will indeed be the easier and more natural for me, since I understand the feelings and desires of the comrade of whom I am telling better than any one else in the world. (45)

This cumbersome “getting over into the I” is matched by the task of getting over into the future, one could say. The possibility of assuming the position of self-narrating narrator depends on a temporal problem, which gets staged towards the end of the novel:

I said, falteringly: ‘I was saying to myself, The past, the present? Should she not have said the contrast of the present and the future: of blind despair and hope?’ (222)

Guest is pulled between despair and hope, as “Nowhere” pulls between past and future. So at times he reminds other characters of a melancholic, “wanting to nurse a sham sorrow, like the ridiculous characters in some of those old queer novels” (217). This is precisely what Morris wants to refuse, and what makes this novel so different…almost not a novel. Do we contrast the present with the past (depressed 3rd person) or the present with the future (hopeful 1st person)? [still trying to work this out….] Perhaps this draws the difference between the creation of myth, or the telling of fictional history. The Golden Age becomes something to anticipate rather than long for. Thus the obvious pastoral nostalgia is paired with a practical politics and sustainable environmentalism.

Specific things to remember:

Art is called “work-pleasure.” It is, in short, consonant with modes of self-preservation and community. (160)

People don’t understand the idea of something’s value exceeding its use (81)…and, in line with Morris’ commitment to beautifying the everyday, there is a commitment to making basic things beautiful: clothing, tobacco pipes, etc. “You have added the utmost refinement of workmanship to the freedom of fancy and imagination” (201).

Children are educated in practical things. “Book-learning” is is casually taken up according to their interests. Contrast this utopian vision with Jude the Obscure. Morris’ portrait of Oxbridge dovetails with Hardy’s critique: the centers of learning are catering to an upper class intent on reproducing the relations of production. (103)

Morris is skeptical of technology and labor-sacing machines in general. He follows the Marxist critique: more extraction of labor, etc. Labor itself is glorified as and end in itself. “The reward for labor is life” (122).

As Guest journeys into the heart of England, his intellectual activity slowly gives way to instinctual desires…those things that have been suppressed or perverted by industrial capitalism.

The idea of the sojourner. There is a disturbing unremarkable quality to Guest’s entry and exit into “nowhere,” which could be read in terms of “open secrets.” The intrusion of the narrative voice that would narrate the perfection of the future is both acknowledge and not acknowledged. [work on this…]

W.H. Auden – Poems (1929-1948)

“It was Easter as I walked in the public gardens” (October 1929)

Nice analog to the image of Spring as it appears in Eliot (“April is the cruelest month…”). Here Easter is associated with a time of creation, finding altering lines for altering things…the tautological nature of verse is a theme that will run throughout Auden’s poetry (“Poetry makes nothing happen…”). He sees a man like the embryo of a chicken (cf. startling image in Prufrock that disrupts love song, here the elegy is interrupted by the presence of that which is to be mourned). This reminds him of the death that is necessary for this season. A weird line, but one that calls the bluff of war propaganda (connect with Wilfred Owen). The images of decline focus on Oxford (cf. Waugh and all the stuff on I.A. Richards, Quiller-Couch, Empson, etc.). Auden ratchets up the stasis of something like the Wasteland opening, with compressed, abstract gerunds:

Coming out of me living is always thinking,
Thinking changing and changing living,
And feeling as it was seeing.

This a doubled-edged move, as it equalizes the processes of living, thinking, changing, etc. How is anything new produced in this plane of equality? Auden begins to intimate a negative, regulative function for poetry (a poetry of resistance and durability). “Home, a place Where no tax is levied for being there.” His idealized utopia can only be articulated by way of comparison (connect to Auden’s exile, and also to Eliot’s Unreal). Auden’s poetics could be described: “It is time for the destruction of error.” His poetry wants to communicate, clearly. And such destruction includes “the death of the old gang,” which becomes a part of a seasonal metabolic process (imaged as grain…connect to the fields of wheat in “I walked out one evening”).

“As I walked out one evening” (November 1937)

A love poem. Told in ballad style: abcb. The “I” hears another “I” proclaim a love song under an arch of the railway. Already, that the folks on Bristol street are “fields of wheat” intimate that TIME’s scythe  will be making an appearance.  The clocks in the city say: “You cannot conquer time….Time watches from the shadow and coughs when you would kiss.” For Auden, this isn’t just the individual human aging, but the grand forces of time penetrating the everyday: “The glacier knocks in the cupboard.” Despite these realities the poem introduces a great theme of Auden’s: a commitment to the everyday despite its misery: “Life remains a blessing Although you cannot bless….You shall love your crooked neighbor with your crooked heart.”

“Musée des Beaux Arts” (December 1938)

Auden is looking at the Icarus painting by Breughel and thinking about how great human suffering is just one small part of a larger world of daily activity. Most often, people don’t recognize the great tragedies [Connect with Lukács].

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window
or just walking dully along.

Note the long prosaic line, characteristic of Auden’s expository predilections (at times). He writes in all sorts of styles, not because he wants to idealize a past, or transmit the impulse of the past (Pound); rather, all these styles are simply tools available for the master craftsman (like Pound in this way). The diminution of the tragic can be read as a critique of Yeats. “Terrible beauty” and the slouching “rough beast” get transformed into a “miraculous birth” that no one registers, and others would prefer not to happen. A horse scratches its butt on a tree [think of this poem as a combination of Easter 1916 and Crazy Jane put together (house of excrement, etc.)]. The legs of Icarus are imaged as “white legs” in “green water,” a sort of generic abstraction of colors devoid of meaning, a flat, uncreative phenomenology.

“In Memory of W.B. Yeats” (January 1939)

Against the pathetic fallacy (cf. Browning on “Porphyria’s Lover” ?? and Ruskin, of course). In short, Yeats dies and it we know it was a cold day, not because of poetry or other forms of representation, but because of instruments like barometers and thermometers that can measure tese objectie conditions. [Interesting to talk about in term sof the scientific metaphors of Eliot, Woolf, etc.]

O all the instruments agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Auden imagines Yeats as his words become digested by his admirers (modified in the guts of the living)…in connection to Pound’s worries over Gaudier-Brezka’s relation to posterity. Yeats, in short, has nto changed much with his poetry; he hasn’t solved the epistemological problems staged in the wasteland [And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom]. The second section slides into pretty strict hexameter, a dramatic shift from the prosodic lines of the opening stanzas. Auden does say that poetry makes nothing happen, but, instead, “it survives In the valley of its saying where executives Would never want to tamper….it survives, A way of happening, a mouth.”  Poetry as RESISTANCE. Talk about in terms of Schiller and Bergson and Arendt.


“In Praise of  Limestone” (1948)

Good example of Auden’s syllabic structuring: 13 syllables, with varying accentual patterns. Lots of enjambment, little rhyme, making this poem very expository. Can be read as a pastoral of sorts, but one that does not place a golden landscape in a receding, hazy past: “examine this region of short distances and definite places.” He is talking about the Mediterranean, the limestone is built up over time, organically, and dissolves quickly because of the calcium deposits. This transience, fluidity, carelessness is contrasted to the Northern cities of England and Germany, associated with destruction and violence:

…accustomed to a stone that responds,
They have never had to veil their faces in awe
Of a crater whose blazing fury could not be fixed.

The theme of sculpture is also played throughout, with reference to Greek sculptures, that somehow mock the poet that confines himself to the “antimythological” tautologies of Auden’s earlier poems, which is associated here with scientist dissecting Nature’s remotest aspects (a Romantic turn?). The religious turn in the end seeks to sublimate God within a realistic vision–sorta like Kafka’s “there is hope, but not for us.” The murmuring of the underground streams picks up the murmuring river at the end of “I walked out on evening.” displacing even more the “stream” of creativity that somehow remains constant (but inaccessible).

Martin Heidegger – Letter on Humanism (1947)

Page numbers are from Basic Writings (Harper, 2008)

An answer to the question: Comment redonner un sens au mot “Humansime?” Heidegger will question from the start whether we should maintain the word at all. He begins by explicating, more clearly than usual, the relationship between thinking and being. Thinking is an action. The essence of action is accomplishment of what already exists (not cause-effect) as unfolding. Thinking “accomplishes” the relationship between Being and man, because in thinking, Being comes to language. “Language is the house of being.” For thinking to be real thinking, it must stay in its “element,” and its element is Being.  The quiet power of the possible is Being itself: “to enable something here means to preserve its essence, to maintain it in its element” (220).Ok, so maintaining thinking within being preserves thinking as potential.if it goes out of its element (i.e., into the public realm), it becomes mere techne.

Now Heidegger dives into this element via the notions of CARE and EK-SISTENCE, both which characterize the ways in which man “stands-out” into the truth of being,  an ecstatic quality that differentiates him from animals and all other things. Man sustains Da-sein in that he takes the Da, the clearing of Being, into care (231). That is, Dasein’s positionedness in a world becomes an element with the care-structure that determines worldly relations. I’m not totally sure how this connects with the discourse of proximity, but I’m pretty sure that this clearing is space in which man becomes being’s neighbor, as Heidegger will famously write (245). Man is “more” than merely human, to the degree that more is not additive, but more “originally”:

Man, as the existing counter-throw of being, is more animal rationale precisely to the extent that he is less bound up with man conceived from subjectivity. Man is not the lord of beings. Man is the shepherd of Being. Man loses nothing in this “less”; rather, he gains in that he attains the truth of Being. He gains the essential poverty of the shepherd, whose dignity consists in being called by Being into the preservation of Being’s truth. (245)

Ok, this links up in all sort of interesting ways to Levinas’s notion of proximity. Determining the difference should take place via temporality (time of death v. time of the other). Heidegger is basically trying to articulate the essence of the human as neither the liberal subject nor the public man. “Humanism” should be thought in terms of nearness to being.

Heidegger believes that thinking in this manner–not overcoming but “climbing down” from the heights of metaphysics to the “nearest nearest”–is the “recollection of Being,” which exists before thought divides into practical and theoretical spheres. “Such thinking has no result. It has no effect. it satisfies its essence in that it is” (259). However, this mode of thought, that which attends itself to the clearing of Being (not solely to man as the ego cogito), as surpassing all praxis:

Thinking towers above action and production, not through the grandeur of its achievement and not as consequence of its effect, but through the humbleness of its inconsequential accomplishment. (262)

Indeed, the problem according to Heidegger is “quantitative.” We need to recognize the inconsequentiality of our “accomplishment” (as the unfolding of what already is) and the limits of philosophical thought: “less philosophy, but more attentiveness in thinking; less literature, but more cultivation of the letter” (265).



Christina Rossetti – “Goblin Market” (1875)

Tells the story of two sisters, the elder Lizzie and the younger Laura. Laura is tempted by the Goblin’s trying to sell her a bunch of exotic fruits. Lizzie holds her back but can only do so for a little while. Laura sells her hair for some fruits, but then cannot quench her appetite and the goblins disappear. She pines away. The goblins return but only Lizzie can hear or see them. To help her sister, she tries to buy some fruit, but the Goblins will only sell it to her if she eats it. They try to force-feed hear and the smashed fruits gets all over her face. They return her penny and she goes to let Laura lick her face. But the taste is bitter. She flies into convulsions and almost dies. But she recovers. Surprise! Both sisters eventually marry, bearing their own “fruit,” to whom they tell the story of the nasty goblin merchants.

Rossetti is obviously worried about the market. Part of the problem is that it is impossible merely to taste–since taste is always already implicated in a cycle of appetite that cannot be quenched on the terms set by the market. Laura becomes listless, yes, but also voracious. Can think of this as a rewriting of the Lotos-Eaters. While males can taste the pleasures of the market and afford to not work, women, in order to taste those pleasures, must bear the burden of labor that is the precondition of something like the male aesthetic dimension.

The eating of fruit as violation of the aesthetic dimension.

Contrasting figures of Eve and Mary. How does Rossetti solve the antinomy of female sexuality: portrayed as always-already fallen but require to be completely pure nevertheless. How does this connect with the discourse of the secret and with purity and virginity more broadly (in Hardy, Brontës, etc.)