This set of chapters includes some of the most pivotal of the novel. One sign of this is that Austen’s narrator starts rendering some pretty broad and conclusive judgments: the narrator sticks her/his neck out in other words, committing to certain value judgments rather than continuing to stand sardonically aloof making wry comments on characters’ and society’s follies. These judgments pertain to the difference between what makes for good and bad personal character, especially a good and bad spouse, and what counts as genuine and false aesthetic taste and cultivation.
1. So we learn in Chap. 43 that Mr. Bennet is guilty of serious “impropriety” (155) as a husband. This could come as a surprise since his perspective seems so close to that of Elizabeth and the narrator (for instance on p. 124, upon first learning from Colonel Fitzwilliam about Darcy’s insulting maneuvers against her family on Bingley’s behalf, Elizabeth exclaims that nothing “could be urged against my father, who though with some peculiarities, has abilities which Mr. Darcy himself need not disdain, and respectability which he will probably never reach”). So what impropriety does she discover in her father and why does she only discover it now and not earlier? have Elizabeth and the narrator also been guilty of the same impropriety?
2. Chapter 43 may be the most important of the novel. The crucial events recounted here all have to do with Elizabeth’s aesthetic cultivation, the training or (in the more judgmental, normative terms of the novel) growth and ripening of Elizabeth’s taste. The key objects she learns to appreciate in new ways are the estate of Pemberley and the person of Darcy. So two questions: i) what are the values that in each or both cases are newly revealed to her? ii) what or who mediates the revelation (consider for instance the role of art (architecture, furniture and above all painting), “nature,” and Mrs. Reynolds)?
3. How do you explain the alternation of Darcy’s character at Pemberly? To what extent is it not an alteration in Darcy at all but in how Elizabeth views him?
4. This chapter ends with Elizabeth preoccupied with this alteration in Darcy “but above all with his wishing her to be acquainted with his sister.” Is this not bizarre? Why does the sister’s importance exceed his? (is she secretly in love with the sister or something?)
5. Two crucial themes to consider: i) officers: what could Austen be suggested about the military, about society generally, and about love, by making Lydia infatuated with anybody in uniform? (consider Georgiana’s mocking comment: “Pray Miss Eliza, are not the militia removed from Meryton? They must be a great loss to your family” (174); ii) perversion: the theme of perversion explicitly crops up in many key places which suggests that Austen may implicitly be making a broader point about it: the fact that Darcy arrives at Pemberley while Elizabeth is there is called perverse (163); Elizabeth acknowledges Darcy’s love for her only insofar as it counteracts first his supposed contempt for her and then her expressed contempt for him; Georgiana perversely compels Darcy to praise Elizabeth (176).
6. “Though they could not all talk, they could all eat” (174). Discuss.
Please be sure to read this!!! It is particularly clear and accessible and covers many of the key issues we’ve been dealing with.
Solitary confinement is akin to the experience of the Guantanamo Bay or death row prisoners we discussed last class: in Kermode’s words, time that doesn’t progress towards any end is empty, and “without the sense of passing time one is virtually ceasing to live, one loses contact with reality.” But Kermode argues that the novel Solitary Confinement demonstrates that this loss actually opens up possibilities for profound, autonomous self-creation, for “inventing” fictions of time. The prisoner’s fictions are instructive for all of us moderns who, according to Kermode (echoing Benjamin), face an essentially contingent, empty temporal reality: “Time cannot be faced as coarse and actual, as a repository of the contingent; one humanizes it by fictions of orderly succession and end” (160); it is “essential…’to have a boundary which would make time finite and comprehensible’….essential, whether one’s poverty is real or figurative; tracts of time unpunctuated by meaning derived from the end are not to be borne.” (162).
1. Why does Kermode characterize Solitary Confinement as “post-tragic”? what does the following mean? “Down on the bedrock, life becomes a love affair of the mind, and reality merely the eternally mysterious beloved.” Likewise from this perspective Burney discovers that “the quality of an action” is determined by by the volition that preceded it but retrospectively as a matter of reflective consciousness (158); do you agree?
2. Why does Kermode claim “ethical solutions are aesthetic” (160)? why is the problem of “imagining a relation between the time of a life and the time of a world” (166) so important and why has modernity made it particularly, perhaps even impossibly, difficult? A central thesis of Kermode’s is in fact that straightforward solutions to this problem have become unsatisfactory; we require difficulty somehow: “fictions too easy we call ‘escapist;’ we want them not only to console but to make discoveries of the hard truth here and now….We do not feel they are doing this if we cannot…hear the discoveries of dissonance, the word set against the word” (179). What does it mean to only find satisfaction in dissonance, a word that is somehow at odds with itself?
3. When Kermode says that “your own death lies hidden from you” (161) is this a way of speaking of Zizek’s “second death”? Is Kermode’s coarse, contingent, empty reality akin to the Lacanian Real?
4. What does Kermode mean by calling Burney’s “upper class English” status (and in particular education) “relevant” to his literary achievement? do you detect a vestige here of Austenian/Burkean defense of English aristocracy?
1. Comment on the (Kierkegaardian? Keatsian?) function of echoing in “There was a Boy.”
2. Do you agree with Kermode that “Resolution and Independence” “is not about the leech gatherer at all”? Why does Kermode say that this poem “has an end which could pass as the end of a simpler, even of a bad poem; but here it is a fake, a cheat in the plotting….[I]ts true end is the proof that from time to time, as now, we are by our own spirits deified; peculiar grace is the property not so much of grave livers, as of poems.” (171)?
Like the Kermode I also think this short essay of de Quincey’s offers a relatively accessible yet profound account of crucial issues.
In the second paragraph what example does de Quincey use to illustrate his argument about the limits of the understanding? Do you find it persuasive? How does this relate to his argument about the function of the knocking at the gate in “Macbeth”?
1. In his letter of Nov. 22, 1817 (to Bailey) Keats says that men of genius have an effect like a chemical reaction on the minds of others “but they have not any individuality, any determined character.” What could it mean to exercise power but lack “a proper self”? How does this relate to the famous line from this letter: “The imagination may be compared to Adam’s dream: he awoke and found it truth”? Does the following passage, which seems to anticipate what Kierkegaard discussed in terms of “echoing the infinite,” help answer the foregoing questions? “…imagination and its empyreal reflection is the same as human life and its spiritual repetition.” How do you interpret Keats’s example of the memory of a singer?
2. In his Dec. 28, 1817 letter (to G. and T. Keats) Keats articulates his famous notion of ‘negative capability;’ how does it relate to the above questions?
3. What is Keats’s criticism of the “egotistical sublime” he associates with Wordsworth in the Oct. 27, 1818 letter (to Woodhouse)? In this letter Keats also says that the true (i.e., negatively capable) poet is a chameleon, and yet, as such, “the most unpoetical of anything in existence.” What can this mean? Consider the fact that he explains this by referring to an experience of being at a party or seeing a nursery of children, activities that don’t seem to involve poetry per se at all.
4. A common feature of the Elgin Marbles sonnet and the Ode on a Grecian Urn is that both develop in a direction of increasing abstraction: all the emotional intensity of the sick eagle looking at the sky, and lovers about to kiss, gives way to the formal, conceptual abstractions of a magnitude and its shadow, and the equation of truth and beauty as “all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.” What does this development from sensuous and emotional intensity to formal abstraction mean? Does it suggest a narrative development of some kind?
This essay addresses the change effected by modernity: a kind of aesthetic spectatorship becomes impossible in the modern context: “what used to be called art begins at a distance of two meters from the body;” “no one dreams any longer of the blue flower.” Technology Benjamin suggests has rendered this model of aesthetic spectatorship obsolete, but in the process “consigns the outer edge of things to a long farewell.” He claims that the object of modern art and dreams alike has become precisely this obsolescent outer edge of things, the point that is most “threadbare and timeworn,” like banknotes that have lost their value. The object of modern art is kitsch according to Benjamin for the same reason that the catalyst for Proust’s massive novel is a ‘petit madeleine’: if the world is totally reified, technologically super-saturated with instrumental purpose, then chance and obsolescence, the loss of meaning and purpose, become the precondition of art. Like a child’s gnarly old teddy-bear, it is precisely kitsch’s dispensability, being “worn through with habit,” that can expose us to a kind of strangeness, an aesthetic opacity, and enable a new kind of “surrealist” enchantment. The very valuelessness of obsolete banknotes exposes us to their aesthetic properties in a way that is preempted in valid currency. This is what Keats called the orphaned status of the Grecian Urn, and it’s crucial to Keats’s poem that the urn that inspired it, the “Portland Vase,” was already by Keats’s time the inspiration of many more or less kitschy knock-offs.