Does Hardy’s poem affirm or contest the truth of this claim of Zizek’s? “all the effort to articulate the metaphorical meaning of the Titanic is nothing but an attempt to escape this terrifying impact of the Thing, an attempt to domesticate the Thing by reducing it to its symbolic status, by providing it with a meaning. We usually say that the fascinating presence of a Thing obscures its meaning; here, the opposite is true: the meaning obscures the terrifying impact of its presence.” Also consider Burke’s account of obscurity in relation to both this passage and the poem.
Would Burke agree with Zizek’s use of the word “tradition” in the following statement? “descriptivists emphasize the immanent, internal ‘intentional contents’ of a word, while antidescriptivists regard as decisive the external causal link, the way a word has been transmitted from subject to subject in a chain of tradition?” Zizek remarks that, as such, this tradition must be thought of as engendered by a (implicitly obscure, even magical) “primal baptism” (98-99). How does Zizek’s contrast of discriptivism and antidescriptivism relation to our discussion last week of the distinction between discursive and non-discursive persuasion in Austen and Burke? In other words is what Zizek calls the “dogmatic stupidity proper to the signifier as such” (103) akin to Austenian/Burkean inertia?
1. what does Thel’s motto mean?
One reading would be that it asserts a kind of environmentalism, that the mole knows about the pit better than the eagle because it’s the mole’s habitat. Another reading would be that the motto emphasizes diversity and relativism: that the pit also belongs to the eagle’s habitat (if only remotely) since the eagle hunts moles; thus the eagle and mole each have their own perspective and it’s impossible to say one is more correct, or that any single perspective can capture the whole truth.
Blake would certainly endorse (to a point) both of these readings, since as i emphasized last time his “Songs…” should be read as a collection of perspectives: the poems should be read with an eye not just to what they say but also to what they reveal about the perspective from which they’re written. Blake’s project as a whole can be seen as trying to awaken us to the “infinity in a grain of sand” NOT as the expression of an otherworldly god but as an aggregation of all the particular, worldly perspectives. (This would be Blake’s way out of the beautiful soul: recognizing god not in contrast to worldly existence but as the sum total of worldly existence).
According to Blake a key obstacle to such recognition is the division of body and soul, or material and mind, sensuality and spirit. The themes of hunting, sexuality and knowledge play crucial roles in the motto: as mentioned, eagle and mole aren’t just any two different perspectives; they also fall into the roles of hunter and hunted, and parallels are suggested with the way in which knowledge hunts objects to know, and male hunts female. But even the very binary of male and female, dividing sexuality between “rod” and “bowl,” arguably expresses a kind of domineering need to know, to capture things in binary categories. So while the poem proper of Thel seems to be about exploring the diversity of nature, do you notice themes of domination and predation (through knowledge and/or sexuality)?
2. Thel is like a despondent teenager; she’s the youngest of the “sunny flocks,” but separates from the happy group in order to seek “the secret air” and to “lament” “mortality” and “fading beauty.” Then Thel addresses “the life of this our spring,” and asks why we are “born but to smile and fall?” What can we gather about Thel from all the things she compares herself to in lines 8-11? why should being like these things make her want to die?
3. so why are the Lily/Cloud/Worm/Clod happy? according to each why should Thel be happy? what are Thel’s respective responses?
4. this poem seems conflicted: on the one hand it’s the most hippy-dippy, commune with nature, acid trip fantasy you could want; on the other hand though it’s also the opposite of this, since Thel cannot or will not commune. Is Thel an anti-hero for refusing (out of self-absorption, or excessive doubt, or fear, or…?) to embrace or surrender to the cycle of nature like the beings she encounters? or is she a hero for acknowledging rather than suppressing her questions and fear and feeling of alienation from nature?
5. what about you? would you see yourself more likely following the little nature beings or resisting like Thel?
6. Look at the illuminations; especially the title plate. If this is a poem about nature it’s also a poem about the personification of nature; is there something about confronting nature in personified form that prevents Thel from communing with/surrendering to it? is there a sense in which we need to personify nature in order to see it at all?
7. this relates to the sexual subtext of the poem. there’s obvious sexual imagery in the motto, and some people interpret Thel’s virginal fear of nature as a fear of sex; does that seem plausible to you?
8. how are the issues above reflected in the questions posed to Thel from her own grave (114-123)? Do these questions shed new light on the notion of the “pit” in the motto? on Thel’s anxieties about sex and death?
1. If as we saw in Chap. 10 the sheer physical presence of Darcy’s body was supposed to speak for itself in a special way, should we then read something special in the conspicuous absence of Wickham’s physical self from the Netherfield ball? Does Austen make his failure physically to show himself an index of something morally crucial?
2. Also in Chapter 18 Elizabeth and Darcy carry out a remarkable meta-conversation while dancing: a conversation about what they should be talking about while dancing. What are we to make of such ironic detachment in relation to Wickham’s analogous, literal self-distancing? Does Austen even underscore the parallel with Wickham by emphasizing that Elizabeth isn’t just ironically detached but absent minded, that she doesn’t know what she says, and that “her thoughts had wandered far from the subject” (64)?
3. In pointed contrast to this self-absenting, however, this chapter also involves two instances of apparently excessive self-presentation: Mr. Collins’s self-introduction to Darcy (“vexing” Elizabeth to see him “expose himself to such a man”) and Mary’s “exhibiting” and “display” (which leaves Elizabeth in “agonies.”) Austen seems to be emphasizing the importance of striking the right balance between too much and too little self-presentation but how is this balance defined?
4. Does anybody escape moral censure here? is Austen setting up a situation in which you’re doomed by showing too much and equally so by showing too little? in other words is the game of Austen’s fiction rigged? is it basically uncompromising satire in which that the only way not to lose is not to play but instead, like Darcy here, to be privileged to stand somehow aloof from it all? Is Austen building Darcy up not by saying anything good about him so much as by portraying everyone else so negatively that he seems good simply by virtue of being spared–or absented from–Austen’s withering satire?
5. How are we supposed to feel about Charlotte Lucas? are we to share Elizabeth’s contempt for choosing to marry without love?