Tuesday, February 28, 2006


So, the guy who called me an atheist basically deconstructed in a coffee break during class, today. I think. Victory for the forces of religious oppression.

Also, my adviser sent me a note asking me to meet him on Thursday to "schedule the M.A. session," which means that he approved the paper that you guys read. So, soon I shall be called Master of Arts.

And, last, my dad sent me a photo of me dancing in my pajamas. I would show it to you, but I hear it's super secret.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Rain today, and Satan's pride

I started reading Paradise Lost, but, more importantly, it is raining. But some of you might be asking, what has Satan done lately? Well, first he raised his head, then he looked around. Then he stood up and walked off a lake of liquid fire to stand on a shore of solid fire, and then he, well, he called a meeting is what he did.
In other news, Fabrice Giger emailed me today and asked me to do a translation of a treatment. So, that's pretty cool. I will be doing that this week.

I'm thinking of drawing more often. I also want to start playing tennis more than once a week. Is this selfish of me? I'm afraid I don't even understand the question.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Well again.

So, I was terribly ill starting on like Wednesday of this week, and I finally am at full strength this morning. This blows, because I missed both Jake and Eddie being in LA, and I couldn't physically walk to two of my classes. But, now I am better. In the spirit of conformity, here are some of the results for googling "Jonathan looks like":

Jonathan looks like he is about to lose the game.

Jonathan looks like he's fallen.

Jonathan looks like Boris Karloff. (I think this was spelled with a 'v,' but I doubt anyone knows what Bulgarian accordion legend Boris Karlov really looked like.)

Jonathan looks like Doug Savant KC Sunshine.

Jonathan looks like a hot power bottom.

Jonathan looks like the Tungsten will do well in the business environment.

Jonathan looks like he might beat a few ppl up but only ppl who try to hurt u.

Jonathan looks like a little jamacan (sic) guy.

Jonathan looks like a man who has killed 12 people.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Post-Poker Night Update

So, played poker on Saturday night. It was the first time we had eight people at the table. It was crazy. It took me all of five hours to lose all ten of the dollars I took. Which is still a better entertainment value than a night at the movies. Yeah. I got beat hard. The Wild Turkey might have had something to do with it. But, trend-wise, I am also in the negative for all time.

In other news, it's Dad's birthday.

Happy Birthday, Dad.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Buena Vista

I was driving to work this evening, and I looked up to see actual clouds. Astounded at this sight, I realized that my leg has been hurting for like two days. I concluded that it would finally finally finally rain. As I was, by will alone, thus setting my mind in motion, I realized that I was running a red light. I made it to the other side of the intersection in one piece, only to realize that there were two cops pulling up alongside of me. The first cop pulls up even with my windows, looks over, and shakes his head at me before turning on his lights and peeling away to the right. His friend follows him. They were Irvine cops, so I can only assume someone saw a homeless person on a golf-course. I have no doubt that my crime was among the city's most heinous for the week.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

And because not all of you care...

Here is a nice picture for you to contemplate. "Contemplation" is actually a very funny word to do a google image search for. If you like this guy's work--and who could blame you?--you can purchase digital posters of that stuff online. I know that the prospect of digital wall hangings thrills some of you in ways you would never dare admit.

Because I have decided to post something every day.

Grad school is legitimately soul-wasting. I can feel flakes of my soul whittle off whenever I try to understand why I am being told to read Derrida.

So, on a grad school note, no word back on my MA draft yet. Because I feel like changing the pace from talking about my dream images of big SG's lingham, this is what the current draft looks like:

Fever of Itself:
Figurative Self-Generation in The Fall of Hyperion
By Jonathan Tanner

The Fall of Hyperion is, from a reader’s perspective and from the very moment of its title, in a strange relationship to its precedent, Hyperion. Keats began Hyperion by November of 1818, and abandoned it in early 1819.[1] It, together with the death of Keats’ brother Tom, ushers in what Walter Jackson Bate refers to as Keats’ “Fertile Year,”[2] a period that sees the production of The Eve of St. Agnes; Lamia; the odes Psyche, Nightingale, Melancholy, and Grecian Urn; The Fall of Hyperion; and To Autumn. The abandoned Hyperion was taken up again in the reconceived Fall in July or August of 1819, during a visit by Keats’ friend, Charles Brown, with whom Keats had agreed to write the verse tragedy Otho the Great.[3] Keats ends up abandoning the Hyperion project again in September of the same year.
In a letter to J.H. Reynolds dated the 21st of September, 1819, Keats gives the following reason for this abandonment, revealing the self-critical stance he held toward the project: “I have given up Hyperion—there were too many Miltonic inversions in it—Miltonic verse cannot be written but in an artful or rather artist’s humour.”[4] The apparently “artful” construction of the Hyperion project’s second installment (Keats would have abandoned the original poem eight months earlier) is criticized as overly poetic and unnatural. In a letter written over ten days, from September 17-27, (thus simultaneously with the letter to Reynolds), Keats claims that he prefers “the native music of [Chatterton’s language] to Milton’s cut by feet.”[5] Milton’s presence again stands in for the negative aspect of Poetry-as-Art, with versification opposed to the less-mechanical expression of natural language. Continuing his point by saying that “life for Milton would be death” to him, Keats makes clear what seems to be at stake in the abandonment of the Hyperion project: a turn toward a more natural approach to poetry. His examination of poetry is already at work in The Fall of Hyperion. The Fall is inherently an examination of all poetry because it relies on a central metaphor that calls not only its genre within which it is operating into question, but, through it, the genre of poetry. That central metaphor is given by Moneta at the beginning of Canto II, and it continues an interrogation of Hyperion that begins with its title.
Hyperion, an unfinished poem, was published with the subtitle, ‘A Fragment’ in the volume of poems put out by Taylor and Hessey in June of 1820.[6] The title The Fall of Hyperion not only suggests a re-centering of the poem on the tragic defeat of the titans, but, by way of the original text, also suggests a supplementary positioning in its echo of the original. Not only does The Fall already suffer, in its title, from the mediation of being a secondary text, but its own subtitle, ‘A Dream,’ relegates it to an even more obscure relation to its source. The poet-narrator’s movement from dream banquet to the vision of Saturn’s tomb to Moneta’s vision within that tomb re-casts the actual content of Hyperion in terms of the sequel. All of the new narrative motion of The Fall is used as a framing device for that content, pushing both poems into the almost irretrievable distance of a dream within a dream. This distance, however, is not solely the product of the supplemental nature of the sequel but is equally the product of the figurative nature of The Fall as a text. Textually, The Fall of Hyperion is figurative in that the whole work stands in a figurative relation to its source poem. Moneta’s metaphor is a figure for The Fall’s relation to Hyperion.
I use the term “figurative” as a hinge to suggest two distinct but related ideas that run through The Fall of Hyperion. First, The Fall is emblematic of what the Hyperion project could have been—the turning away from unnatural poetry toward something new. It is only or merely emblematic because Keats’ statements about his reasons for abandoning it show that, despite its obvious concern and vigilant self-criticism, The Fall fails, for Keats, to be completely representative of that potential. Second, The Fall figures Hyperion in a more metaphorical sense; it carries the substance of the original within it, as the poet-narrator of the second poem dreams the contents of the first. It may not be immediately evident that The Fall of Hyperion is figurative because it is in a particular figurative relationship, like that of metaphor, to the original, but this is one of the senses in which The Fall is a figurative text.
It could be said that The Fall is the vehicle for the tenor, Hyperion, but this would not be entirely accurate. The Fall, understood as “vehicle,” lends to Hyperion as “tenor” the qualities of a dream through framing the narrative and verse content of the original as a source within mediating layers of dream-visions. It would be difficult to point to any particular aspect of The Fall that comes to light as a result of this conception of a figurative relation between the texts. While the mechanical relationship vehicle-tenor does not seem to point to anything of immediate interest, it might be helpful to my illustration of the term “figurative” to say that, in the same terms, the examination of the “tension,” or points of dissimilarity, between the two works is what is at stake in this argument.[7] In a large sense, the relationship between the two is metaphorical in the etymological sense of a “carrying over” or a “transfer” of meaning from one work to another.
The Fall is, then, in some respect, the figure of the content of the originary poem. It constantly alludes to and repeats Hyperion, carrying over large portions of that text without ever managing to tell the same story. The meaning of Hyperion is transported in The Fall, which seems as much a metaphor for the narrative of Hyperion as Hyperion is a narrative. A brief look at a few attempts by critics to suggest readings of The Fall will allow us to see how important it is for critical projects concerning the two texts to address this figurative nature.
Paul de Man, early in The Resistance to Theory, follows the dream within a dream as far as the title and stops. The attempt to describe (or reduce to grammatical legibility) the figurative boundaries of any text is not feasible in his terms. He does not go to the text of The Fall of Hyperion, but stops at the impossibility of interpreting the genitive in the title—the encroachment of the rhetorical and figurative prevents reading any further. He asks whether the title should be read as
‘Hyperion’s Fall,’ the case story of the defeat of an older by a newer power, the very recognizable story from which Keats indeed started out but from which he increasingly stayed away, or as “Hyperion Falling,” the much less specific but more disquieting evocation of an actual process of falling, regardless of its beginning, its end, or the identity of the entity to whom it befalls to be falling?[8]

One implication of his discussion is that if the second text is, as he suggests at one point, really the story of the fall of Hyperion as text, then we begin at the level of not first, but second-order discourse, an issue we will address a little later. In broader terms, our difficulty in squeezing meaning from the distinctions between poet and dreamer or poem and dream in The Fall’s famous induction would, to follow de Man’s argument, be a part of the inherently indecipherable figurative nature of the text, and a manifestation of the impossibility for Keats as much as the reader of interpreting even the title. This is not entirely satisfying. We will explore further not only the central, figurative structure of the poem, but also the questions raised by the induction shortly.
De Man continues by saying that “one could hardly expect to find solace in this “fearful symmetry” between the author’s and the reader’s plight since, at this point, the symmetry is no longer a formal but an actual trap, and the question no longer “merely” theoretical.”[9] The result of his investigation for our present discussion is that even the “unfinished” nature of both texts becomes fraught with meaning—one more term in the chain of figures leading from Hyperion down into the dream.
While it is true that most critics concentrate on the relationship between the two poems and their unfinished nature, some do not. Grant F. Scott does not put the two fragments in some kind of developmental schema with regard to Keats or his poetic project, but treats them together, not as epic poems or even as poems but as ekphrases. The description of these two poems, not as belonging to one genre or another but as tropes writ large, manifests the idea of the figurative that much of the criticism skirts—addressing its relationship to pictorial or plastic representation. At the same time, Scott calls the two poems the “verbal representations of another verbal representation.” [10] This is an attempt at getting at the figuring that underlies The Fall and its relationship to Hyperion, one that manages to get to the text itself, but only by calling the poems by a different name—ekphrases and not poems. It is interesting to note, but only in terms of the generic problems of The Fall, which we will be an issue later, that Scott claims always to investigate the genre to which Keats’s ekphrastic poems belong before going on to discuss them as ekphrases. He does so for To Autumn—in his argument, the covert perfection of Keats’s ekphrastic technique—in the same chapter as his discussion of Hyperion and The Fall, but he fails to perform that kind of investigation for the Hyperion fragments.[11]
Terence Hoagwood, taking another approach, calls The Fall of Hyperion “a sequence of surrogates; a chain of figures; metaphors of metaphors; ultimately a dream within a dream.”[12] Hoagwood’s argument is that the figure of the fictive relationship of credit to any real value based on the means of production haunts The Fall. It is this disconnect between the fictive term and the absent substance it supposedly represents that is at the bottom of the dream within a dream.[13]
My argument concerning The Fall’s figurative underpinnings does not originate in paralysis before the title or the incomplete nature of The Fall or its predecessor. It instead stems from the fact that the poem has, inscribed within it, a central metaphor which marks the text as even more deeply mediated than its oneiric nature might suggest. This figurative center does indeed result in the poem’s appearance as a “chain of surrogates,” but, in order to understand The Fall’s slippery nature, we need to look at it textually, taking as granted the self-reflexivity that de Man’s reading of the title provides and the elusiveness that most critics perceive in The Fall’s constant motion from frame to narrative frame.
At the beginning of Canto II, Moneta tells the narrator:
Mortal, that thou mays’t understand aright,
I humanize my sayings to thine ear,
Making comparisons of earthly things;
Or thou might’st better listen to the wind,
Whose language is to thee a barren noise,
Though it blows legend-laden through the trees.

Moneta’s metaphor [wind is legend-laden language] consists of the idea that her story, (and consequently) the narrator’s, and the reader’s, however it may drip with meaning, will be but ‘a barren noise,’ if the events and language are not humanized for the listener, or compared to earthly things. The events that must be compared in such a way are the events of the fragmentary Hyperion.
The text of The Fall of Hyperion, through the revelation of Moneta’s metaphor, becomes a comparison of the kind she mentions. Humanization is achieved in the second text through the introduction of the strong narrative subject and the narrative frame of the dream vision, allowing the barren noise of Hyperion to be available to the human ear. As Michael O’Neill puts it, The Fall of Hyperion “wants to tackle issues that lean profoundly on ‘earthly things’—the verb ‘humanize’ illuminates a central ambition of The Fall—yet the ‘barren noise’ of self-concern has its part to play in the poem’s chastened music.”[14]
“Self-concern” is apt, indeed, as the poem’s principal concern is how to be concerned with both Hyperion and itself. Large chunks of the Hyperion text are re-staged and re-used, but they are buried beneath three frames: the first frame is that of the dream-vision, the second is that of the dream within a dream, and the third is that of Moneta and her revelatory visions of the Titans.
If the text of Hyperion is dimly heard echoing through those layers of narrative structure, it is not perceived as clearly as those moments where the text echoes itself. The structure is suggestive of a self-conscious narrative, pursued at a surface level, certainly, but even lines of verse new to The Fall are echoed within its verses, as when the narrator describes “the tall shade veiled in drooping white.”[15] Compare “…that the breath/ Moved the thin linen folds that drooping hung/ About the golden censer from the hand/ Pendent” to “…that her breath/ Stirred the thin folds of gauze that drooping hung/ About a golden censer from her hand/ Pendent.”[16] These verses are less 30 lines apart, and they reflect one another strongly enough to suggest that the poem might be worrying about itself at least as much as about its purported content—the fall of Hyperion.
Indeed, O’Neill identifies this as the poem’s “essentially undignified, even shaming, theme: the ‘fever’ of self-consciousness, subjectivity, reflexiveness.”[17] Self-consciousness, reflexivity, and subjectivity are present even in the choice to make the poem’s voice that of the narrator who is engaged in writing the poem. Unlike Hyperion, the second poem is not presented as the fragment of a poetic construction, but as a tale related and written at the same time. It is, in a sense, a demonstration of poetry that writes itself, where artifice has become a concern of the poem and the narrator-poet alike.
Reflexivity is the engine that drives Moneta’s central metaphor. Though the reader knows that it is a dream from the very beginning—the signal of the subtitle being a major clue—
even the “Methought I stood” of line 19 which begins the first frame of the narration is patterned so as to signal the start of a dream-vision. Nancy Goslee notes in passing that the OED’s references for the word ‘methought,’ all occur in dream visions, going back to 1300 or 1400.[18] If the signaling of the sub-title and the genre-specific ‘methought’ were not enough to let the reader know that dreams were the matter, the dreaming narrator takes a drink of ‘transparent juice,’ which rapes “unwilling life away.”[19] That juice is said to be “parent of [the narrator’s] theme.”[20] The parent of the theme, on the one hand, is the tragic fall of Hyperion—and Keats’ failure to bring Hyperion into being, and, on the other, the dream that The Fall of Hyperion pretends to represent.
The idea that an element of that dream could generate the dream itself goes hand-in-hand with the pun on trans(parent), signaling the starkly plot-driven causality of drinking the draught in the first place and thereby reinforcing the problem of self-concern. Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion are the fever that inflicts the poem, just as Moneta’s visions, which are enwombed behind her hollow eyes, seem to be the cause of her withering away—the same sickness that has her “deathwards progressing/ To no death.”[21] The content of those visions is the content of Hyperion, the content that must be recuperated to write The Fall of Hyperion.
If we take as evidence that Hyperion opens in the shady vale of Saturn’s defeat and that the destination for the narrator-poet of The Fall is Moneta’s vision of that same vale, then the figure of the-poem-Hyperion as the legend to be interpreted, the absent/present heart at the center of The Fall (of Hyperion), can be analogized to a concept in Keats’s famous bit of marginalia to Paradise Lost: “There is a cool pleasure in the very sound of vale…It is a sort of delphic Abstraction, a beautiful thing made more beautiful by being reflected and put in a mist.”[22] The concept of a ‘beautiful thing made more beautiful by being reflected and put in a mist’ is central to The Fall of Hyperion. O’Neill suggests that this statement could be read as “an artful treatment of Saturn’s misery” in Hyperion.[23] It seems even more apt when used as a figure for The Fall as a whole, especially when we consider that the word ‘vale’ evokes the narrative setting of Hyperion’s text while ‘delphic’ evokes the cause of Hyperion’s fall, namely, his replacement by Apollo.
The beginning of Hyperion is built around the image of a “vale.” The poem opens “Deep in the shady sadness of a vale / Far sunken from the healthy breath of morn,” where Saturn lies defeated.[24] The Fall buries it within Moneta’s vision of the titans’ defeat. The narrator recounts:
No sooner had this conjuration passed
My devout lips, than side by side we stood
(Like a stunt bramble by a solemn pine)
Deep in the shady sadness of a vale,
Far sunken from the healthy breath of morn,
Far from the fiery noon and eve’s one star. [25]

The vale is the scene of representation. The stationing of a realmless, defeated Saturn takes place there, and the story proceeds from that inaugural gesture of defeat. At least, this is so in Hyperion. The use of the vale in The Fall of Hyperion is mediated, not just by the mirror reflections of the revealed vision within the dream within the dream-vision, but also by the syntax of the re-staged scene. In The Fall, the conjuration and the parenthetical simile are given equal importance to the vale. Soon after, this placement is echoed (or reflected again) with another use of the term, at lines 110-11: “No stir of life / Was in this shrouded vale.”
The vale has come to be shrouded as well as shady in fewer than twenty lines, obscuring the ostensible source of the narrative with a mist evoking both the menace of death and the “Shadows” that plague the narrator-poet’s conception of Poesy from the induction. The reflections grow mistier. The word ‘vale’ is used but once in Hyperion, and that in the first line. The vale is the setting from which the entire work of the first poem unfolds. The Fall of Hyperion makes use of the word four times. The first two have been mentioned.
In the third instance, the narrator, forced to watch the stillness of the scene for quite some time, confesses that “Oftentimes [he] prayed / Intense, that Death would take [him] from the Vale.”[26] The proximity of “death” to “vale” results in certain biblical resonances; the vale’s shrouded and shady nature elevates the “Vale” to the same status as “Death.” It seems compelling that the two words are set off textually through capitalization, although we can’t be sure how the printed poem would have looked at completion had it made it to publication in Keats’ lifetime.
Shortly after Moneta’s humanization speech at the beginning of Canto II, the final echo of the vale comes, as the narrator reveals another change of scene: “Now in clear light I stood / Relieved from the dusk vale.” The vale of Saturn’s failure is thrown back into obscurity, but it is suggestive that that this happens only after Moneta confesses her act of translation by metaphor. It is as if the narrator, warned about the mediated nature of Moneta’s revelations and distanced from the vale by Moneta’s act of removing them from the scene, is able to recognize the dimness of his vision. The light that casts the “Shadows of melodious utterance” seems at the beginning to be the light that throws the vale into shade. The shade becomes a shroud, and the shroud is revealed to show Death. When the mediated nature of Moneta’s presentation of Hyperion’s content is revealed by way of the metaphor at the beginning of Canto II, the sourceless light emanating from the original text dims to twilight, while the light of the more immediate dream grows brighter.
It is important to note that the space to which the two retreat is that of the chastisement of poets and all the “dreamer tribe,” another critical space. The move out from the frame of the narrative proper and back to the frame of the dream within the dream is not an escape toward immediacy, then, but a turn back inward to the place of the narrator-poet’s debate about poetry.
It seems, having considered this movement, that an inability to escape the reflexive inward-turning of the poem that is to be compared to earthly things is what prevents The Fall of Hyperion from becoming more than barren noise. This is not by way of saying that the whole thing has deconstructed itself, or that some sort of straying away from any possible meaning has led the whole project into aporia. Nor am I suggesting that the text is dialectical after a Romantic Ironic model like McGann’s—it does not create and de-create itself by unwittingly carrying the seeds of its own destruction.[27] What happens in The Fall of Hyperion is more intentional than the first allows room for, and it is less eager than the second requires, more plagued by doubt.
Even before entering the meaning of the figurative Fall, the narrative that has been carried over from Hyperion, the reader is confronted with an induction to the poem that deliberately frames the whole effort in terms of doubt and self-reflexivity. An examination of that induction will help us to find out what is at stake in the nature of the text and how the narrator-poet comes to understand his function as simultaneously that of the poet and the critic, thus forcing the poem to overlap both the genre of poetry and the genre of criticism.

The Falling Sickness: Genre Trouble

The first eighteen lines of The Fall of Hyperion present a narrator-poet concerned with what distinguishes a poet from a fanatic or a savage:

Fanatics have their dreams, wherewith they weave
A paradise for a sect; the savage too
From forth the loftiest fashion of his sleep
Guesses at Heaven; pity these have not
Traced upon vellum or wild Indian leaf
The Shadows of melodious utterance. [28]

It seems at first that the simple distinction to be made between poets and the other two categories is that of writing.[29] But Keats elaborates:

But bare of laurel they live, dream, and die;
For Poesy alone can tell her dreams,
With the fine spell of words alone can save
Imagination from the sable charm
And dumb enchantment.[30]

It is somewhat clear that two distinctions mark poetry as different from dream that are quite separate from poetry’s written quality. The first is “telling” and the second, recognition.
In the first instance, it is the act of utterance which is poetry, “for Poesy alone can tell her dreams.” This seems contradictory at first, until we notice that what is traced upon vellum is not the poetry itself, but merely the “Shadows of melodious utterance.” Utterance is somewhat recombined with writing in the pun on the word “spell,” but further emphasis is placed on the act of speech in the lines that follow: “Who alive can say,/ ‘Thou art no Poet—mayst not tell thy dreams?’/ Since every man whose soul is not a clod/ Hath visions, and would speak, if he had loved, / And been well nurtured in his mother tongue.”[31] More layers of conditional mediation are placed between man and poet. Love is needed, and nurturing in the mother tongue, whatever that entails.
In the second instance, however, ‘Poesy’ is equated either with ‘laurel’ or with the tracings of the ‘Shadows of melodious utterance.’ ‘Laurel’ seems to mean the crown of Poesy which comes from recognition. If this is so, the lines that follow indicate not a pure self-recognition in the mode of the narrative portion of the poem, but a recognition of, by, or in history:
Whether the dream now purposed to rehearse
Be poet’s or fanatic’s will be known
When this warm scribe my hand is in the grave.[32]

This is the common reading, and is certainly reasonable. But what is at stake in the test of time seems not to be whether what is being written will be recognized by history as poetry or not, but as either the dream of a poet or of a fanatic. There is yet another layer of mediation between the poet and the Poesy.
To put it another way, it is not necessarily that the worth or historical interest of the work will be determined by/is related to time or history outside the poem, but that the kind of dream the poem turns out to be will be so determined or understood. If it seems clear enough that poetry is meant to be a kind of dream that somehow manages to become poetry where others fail, then the warm scribe’s cold test is about, precisely, whether what is being written is poetry per se or whether it is what poetry is being distinguished from.
The last three lines of the induction are engaged in a critical act; they call the genre of the work into question. Paul Hamilton states the problem in both historical and critical terms, saying that “if the poem will only be recognizable as poetry by a later age, it is not poetry, now.”[33] The central question of Hamilton’s “now,” as it relates to the test of the warm scribe, is the problem of Keats’ “when.” The time when it “will be known” becomes any time after the moment when the “when” is uttered. It is, thus, a problem of continued deferral, as each utterance pushes that time into the future.
The incomplete nature of the poem and the self-critical look at the test itself conspire to forbid us to say that the moment of testing is, so to speak, at hand. Exactly what kind of History can be contained in something forever in the future of the moment of its reading is, it would seem, unknowable. Moreover, if it is ‘not poetry’ now, that is to say, at the moment of writing, or at any moment at which the text is engaged, then it would be difficult to call it anything but writing about poetry. If “not poetry,” then criticism. It is engaged in second-order discourse.
Under the terms of my argument, a poet may be said to be engaged in writing first-order discourse when he writes a poem. At the same time, a critic writing about a poem is writing second-order discourse. One produces poetry, the other describes poetry and produces criticism. The moment when a poem becomes critical of its own project, or self-critical, it is no longer strictly first-order discourse, but partially second-order discourse.[34] A level of abstraction exists between the two orders that puts pressure on the text. The poem becoming both poem and criticism of its poetic project does one of two things: it either forces the critic up a level of abstraction automatically or forces the critic to share the same critical space with the poet. The mediations and negotiations of layers of abstraction in some cases force strange effects, as the connection to the first order of discourse and the primary text become ever more attenuated.
The narrator who begins in this manner stands in a different place than the narrator of Hyperion; he stands in a particularly critical relationship to the text and to the act of narrating/composing the text. Hyperion unfolds and remains unquestioned in its happening by the narrator. The Fall of Hyperion is related from a human perspective, namely that of doubt. Some have suggested that that doubt is doubt about history or the specific place or status of the poet as it relates to history, but, certainly, in this instance, it is doubt about what it is that is being written, and what it means to write it.
In a discussion of the German romantics, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy demonstrate that this tendency toward critical discourse is by no means unique to Keats. Criticism was viewed by the German romantics as being instrumental in the constitution of literature in a fundamental way.[35] A narrator-poet engaged in a project of criticism would be in some measure constituting the grounds against which his poem would be read both as poetry and criticism. In this manner, such a poet-critic would have concerns beyond the bounds of his poem that put pressure on both the text being written and the reader. A narrator-poet who seeks to combine such disparate elements into the work he is himself engaged in writing is caught in a auto-poetic process that threatens to exceed him.
Jerome McGann, while talking about Moneta’s tragic understanding of the events of Hyperion in his The Romantic Ideology, makes the point that “the Romantic Imagination does not save, it offers…a tragic understanding…The judgment which it passes on the world is therefore always justified—if it is to be justified at all—by the depth of the poetry’s self-criticism.” [36] That this is necessarily the case is clear from the way the Romantics put the individual subject at the “determining center of the world.”[37] If this is an attempt at a first principle, it should be applicable here.
Certainly, the poet-narrator is the determining center of the world of The Fall, much more so than in Hyperion, and certainly, in this case, the depth of the self-criticism is not lacking. It is the tragic understanding of the self-critical role of the narrator-poet in The Fall that separates it from its predecessor. The tragic understanding in The Fall, by these terms, would be an understanding of the impossibility of a poetry-criticism that founds itself as it is written. It seems to be saying that the preceding fragment was a piece of a conjectured artifact—this poem that followed it does not have such grandiose claims.[38] Its title told of the first poem’s failure, and its induction, justifiably unable even to be certain of its genre, proleptically doubted its own success.
Nancy Goslee sees the shift from the first Hyperion fragment to the second as being one from the statuesque, ekphrastic, Miltonic voice of the Hyperion to the picturesque or pictorial “Romantic” vision of The Fall. The development of the poems, as she sees them, can be situated along the lines of the history of Romantic aesthetic theories and within the debates concerning Schlegel’s or Hazlitt’s belief in the inferiority of the plastic arts to a Romantic picturesque vision. Goslee seems to do more than this, however, treating Hyperion almost as if it were sculpture and analyzing The Fall in scenes corresponding to the tableaux as if it were the presentation of a series of paintings.[39]
These kinds of re-positionings, the kinds of generic tools that critics bring to bear on the text raises the question: what is the genre of the piece? Is it a poem? Is it something else? It is perhaps no surprise that genre should trouble the poem. Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy suggest that the project of Keats’ German romantic counterparts was, in a certain sense, to produce something new, called ‘literature,’ “beyond the divisions of classical (or modern) poetics and capable of resolving the inherent (“generic”) divisions of the written thing.”[40] The necessity of getting beyond traditional or modern poetics in order even to describe the project in which the German romantics were engaged seems to have its reflection in the narrator-poet’s predicament. The test of the warm hand, considered in that light, is a way to escape beyond those inherent generic divisions—and the responsibility of creating something ‘new’— by the expedient of time and the continuous motion of time beyond the reach of the narrator-poet. The inability of the narrator-poet, however, to transcend in such a way is already doubly foretold—in Keats’ inability to describe the birth of the “modern consciousness”[41] that Apollo might have represented in Hyperion—and in the fragmentary nature of both poems.
The attempt to describe The Fall of Hyperion in terms of generic delimitations forces us to consider the implications of the poem’s figurative generation on a wider scale. As Goslee puts it, Keats “chooses a conceptually detached intellectual and analytical frame” which “he uses…to question not only the conventional modes of dream vision, but poetry as a whole.”[42] Putting an ample distance between “dream-vision” and “poetry” sets up distinctions for Goslee that reflect Keats’s divisions between “dreamer” and “poet,” but the questioning of poetry as a whole, is, broadly taken, the questioning of literature as a whole. Thus, the genre of The Fall of Hyperion is something like the genre of the “literary work,” as conceived in the opening remarks of the Strasbourg Colloquium on Genre—that is to say, the self-reflexive and self-instituting genre that entails its own rules of production and its own theory—the genre of self-generation.[43] The Fall falls into just such a category.

Or thou might’st better listen to the wind
The figurative nature of The Fall and the self-critical stance of its narrator-poet echo each other in Moneta’s metaphor. Moneta describes the figurative wind (for the wind which is the vehicle for the metaphor is itself an absent term) of Canto II as “legend-laden.”[44] The word legend combines within it the two conditions to ‘Poesy’ set forth in the induction: telling and recognition. The legend-laden wind is at once sound to be heard—the melodious utterance of Poesy—but not understood, and a sign to be read, as the humanizing of the scenes entail a possibility of interpretation. The interpretations of Moneta’s translation and the narrator-poet’s understanding of the comparison are like the traced Shadows that plague the distinction of Poesy from Dream. A ‘legend’ is both heard and read, as the legend near a work of art in a museum or as the key to unlocking the arcane symbology of an ancient map.[45]
The word ‘legend’ also contains the denotation of a story grown larger in the telling—which certainly speaks to the burden of Hyperion’s antecedent relationship to The Fall—and a figure who receives recognition for great deeds, recognition very much like the laurel which sometimes distinguishes the poet. The word ‘legend,’ then, seems to echo the generic trouble of the text, as it, too, presents a number of possibilities of reading, and it is placed at the center of the comparison to ‘earthly things’ which sits at the heart of the text’s figurative nature. Genre and figure become fevers of each other, and it is the difficulty of reading these figures methodologically and textually which put both the narrator-poet and the reader-critic into, as Paul de Man put it, such “fearful symmetry.”
It is not merely circumstance which brings the induction of The Fall and Moneta’s humanizing metaphor together. Keats does it himself in yet another letter written during the same period in September. In the letter to Woodhouse dated 21, 22 September 1819, Keats writes part of the induction out, breaking off at what we have as line eleven, “And dumb enchantment—.”[46] What is remarkable about the letter as it relates to my argument is that Keats has written across these lines of poetry, at ninety degrees[47], the following: “My Poetry will never be fit for any thing it does n’t cover its ground well—You see he she is off her guard and does n’t move a peg though Prose is coming up in an awkward style enough—Now a blow in the spondee will finish her—But let it get over this line of circumvallation if it can. These are unpleasant Phrase[s.]”[48] Here, Keats narrows the gap between the Keats as author and the narrator-poet of The Fall of Hyperion.
The mock-criticism of his poetry on the grounds that it fails to react to lines written at cross-purposes elevates the order of his circumvallation automatically. The pun on “covering ground well” does not entirely cover the self-critical tone of “My poetry will never be fit for any thing” though it is easy to read in a humorous spirit. Here, Keats, and not the narrator-poet, assumes the comic mantle of self-commentator, thus becoming a part of the second-order discourse defined above. He pushes this further, however, when he describes the “style” of his prose in the same half-humorous way.[49] Keats has simultaneously become the author of the narrator-poet, the Critic of his own Poetry, and the Critic of his Criticism. In much the way the narrator-poet of The Fall of Hyperion pushes the level of critical response until it becomes but a reflection of a reflection, a figure of a figure, a dream within a dream, Keats has, through his letters, placed even more abstraction on the shoulders of the textual critics of The Fall. Ultimately, Keats abandons his authority and leaves the induction to its own devices, saying, “But let it get over this line of circumvallation if it can.” The The Fall of Hyperion needs no warm hand to guide it—for, fragmentary as the poem is, the self-reflexive, figurative nature of its verse has succeeded in creating a literary space of self-generation where Poesy can tell her dreams alone.
[1] Stillinger gives October, 1818 as a possible window for the beginning of composition in John Keats: Complete Poems. John Mee (John Keats: Selected Letters) suggests November, while Walter Jackson Bate’s biography points to mid-September.
[2] Walter Jackson Bate, John Keats (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1963) pg. 562.
[3] Bate, pg. 564-5.
[4] John Keats, Selected Letters, eds. Robert Gittings and Jon Mee, (Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 2002), pg. 272.
[5] Letters, pg. 303.
[6] John Keats, Complete Poems, ed. Jack Stillinger (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1972) pg. 488.
[7] The terms “vehicle,” “tenor,” “ground,” and “tension” are I.A. Richards’, cf. Richards, The Philosophy of Rhetoric (1936).
[8] Paul de Man, The Resistance to Theory (Minneapolis: The U of Minnesota P, 1986) pg. 16.
[9] Ibid. 17.
[10] Grant F. Scott, The Sculpted Word: Keats, Ekphrasis, and the Visual Arts (Hanover: The UP of New England, 1994), 156.
[11] Scott, pg. 164 and following.
[12] Terence Allan Hoagwood, ‘Keats, fictionality, and finance: The Fall of Hyperion,’ in Nicholas Roe ed., Keats and History (Cambridge: The U of Cambridge Press, 1995) pg. 131.
[13] Hoagwood, 127.
[14] Michael O’Neill, ‘‘When this warm scribe my hand’: Writing and History in Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion’ in KAH, pg. 149
[15] The Fall of Hyperion Canto I, 194
[16] The Fall, Canto I, 195-198 and 217-220, respectively.
[17] O’Neill, pg. 149.
[18] Nancy Moore Goslee, Uriel’s Eye (Tuscaloosa: The U of Alabama P, 1985), pg 220n.
[19] The Fall, Canto I, 51.
[20] --, Canto I, 46.
[21]--, Canto I, 260-261.
[22] Taken from “Keats’s Marginalia to Paradise Lost,’ in E. Cook (ed.), John Keats, Oxford Authors Series, (Oxford and New York: 1990), 338.
[23] O’Neill, pg. 155.
[24] Hyperion, Book I, 1-2.
[25] The Fall of Hyperion, Canto I, 91-96.
[26] Ibid. 397-8.
[27] Anne Mellor, English Romantic Irony, (Cambridge, MA: 1980), 5.
[28] The Fall, Canto I, 1-6.
[29] It does not seem to me immediately clear why one would lump everyone into Poets and Other guys. Keats does not exactly do this. Is it the same, for example, to weave a Paradise for a sect and to guess at Heaven? One would seem to be fabricating a reward in the one case, and blindly attempting to describe an actual place in the other.
[30] The Fall, Canto I, 7-11.
[31] Ibid. 11-15. “Every man whose soul is not a clod” is problematic because of the way it appears to be an inverse echo of Ode to a Nightingale’s sixth stanza: “Now more than ever seems it rich to die…/To thy high requiem become a sod.”
[32] Ibid. 16-18.
[33] Paul Hamilton ‘Keats and Critique,’ in Marjorie Levinson et al., Rethinking Historicism: Critical Readings in Romantic History (Oxford and New York: 1987), pg. 136.
[34] If it is difficult to imagine a poem that does not somewhat inhabit such a self-critical moment, that is, so to speak, purely first-order discourse, then allow me to suggest that, for the purposes of this argument, pastoral poetry does not typically engage in the kind of self-questioning to which I am referring. At the same time, Spenser’s Shephearde’s Calendar would be an example of hybrid first- and second-order poems within an understanding of the pastoral.
[35] Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy, The Literary Absolute (New York: SUNY Press, 1988), chapters 3 &4.
[36] Jerome J. McGann, The Romantic Ideology (Chicago: The U of Chicago P, 1983), pg. 132.
[37] Ibid.
[38] McGann, talking about Swingle, asks the question, “Can the mind in fact establish a relationship with something eternal?” (64) This question seems suggestive of what might be at stake in the different approaches to the two fragments.
[39] Goslee, chapters 3-4.
[40] Absolute, pg. 11.
[41] Bate, 564.
[42] Goslee, 102.
[43] J. Chartin, S. Weber, J. Nancy, P. Lacoue-Labarthe, “Pour situer le colloque ‘LE GENRE,’” Glyph 7 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1980), pg. 236.
[44] The Fall, Canto II, 6.
[45] I know I did not think of this second denotation on my own, but for the life of me I cannot find what suggested it. The context of museums makes me suspect Grant F. Scott.
[46] Letters, pgs. 273-278.
[47] Ibid. 411n.
[48] Ibid. 276.
[49] This could—if stretched—perhaps be applied to his handwriting—but seems to be commenting on the Prose itself, which gets equal status with Poetry in terms of capitalization. Certainly, identifying the writing as circumvallation could play either way, as commentary in the act of writing in which he was engaged or as an engagement with the material nature of orthography. Either way it would still constitute a higher order of discourse than just Poetry or
just Prose.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Guttenberg Bible

No, that's not a typo. Let me explain. I had this dream where I was at the cabin, and I heard someone humming really loudly. I picked up a book that was sitting on the nightstand near me to throw at that person. I realized that the book was the Bible and that the person humming was Steve Guttenberg. He was outside the window, in only a beach towel, humming obnoxiously. I lean out the window. He looks at me and lifts up his towel to reveal his penis. He then proceeds to tie it into an elaborate series of balloon animals, and his final trick is to shape it into an approximation of the caduceus. I then threw the Bible and told him to shut up. He let go of his towel and yelled, "I'll be famous one day!"

Monday, February 13, 2006

Some sort of nexus...

So, this week, I'm out tutoring one of my kids at a coffee shop near where I live. I'm wearing a hat that says "Evil" in a pink, gothic font. The word is accented in rhinestones. It is a Disneyland hat. My student is writing a paper where he must compare the Epic of Gilgamesh to Bruce Campell vs. Army of Darkness by way of the monomyth structure. As he says the word, Army of Darkness, this guy walks up and says, "What are you guys doing?" I say, "We're writing an essay." "For what?" he asks. "For English," my pupil responds. He says, "Oh. Do you know what these are?" He points to his arms, where he seems to have been cutting himself with a sharp implement in some sort of pattern. I say, "No." He says, "This is the left hand of Moses, and this is the right hand of Aaron." I say, "Oh. Really?" His hebrew sucks, then. He says, "Yeah, they're forbidden." "Forbidden by whom?" I ask. Really. I talk that way to strangers that make me nervous. "By god," he says. Blank looks from both of us. He says, "Okay. Nevermind, just you were wearing that 'Evil' hat." "Oh, right," I say. "It's supposed to be ironic. I bought it at Disneyland." "Oh," he says, lighting a cigarette. "Nevermind." Then he leaves.

True story.

Saturday, February 11, 2006


I know I shouldn't be as bummed about this whole Order of the Phoenix rumor situation...but I am. For those of you who do not know, Gary Oldman still has not been given a contract for Harry Potter 5, even though photography has begun.

What will happen?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Considering the Lobster; Monster Ballads

Thanks to Edward's heads-up, I realized there was a new book of DFW essays out. I've been reading that today. I also realized that for some reason, there was no link to his particular blog over there on the right. I have remedied that.

On another, unrelated note, I am sure you have all seen the ads for the re-issue of the Monster Ballads Comp. The other day, on my way to watch some Deadwood, I suddenly fell victim to the image of a Hannah-Barbera-style cartoon vampire singing "Is this Blood that I'm Stealin'" to the tune of the (looking left, looking right) Whitesnake song. You know which one.

This made me laugh very hard. So, I wanted to challenge you, Fickle Readers, to create more Monster Ballads. Using, of course, only the finest of hard rock ballads and the most easily recognizable monsters. This is not limited to your Frankenstein/Wolfman genre, but it could be. Especial love goes to those who can do this without forcing. And Adam M., nothing on Rubberneck is about the Universal Monsters.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

"If I haver, I know I'm gonna be I'm gonna be the man who's havering to you."

"So I have been hearing second-hand stories about there being someone in a seminar with me who had been making "ignorant" and "anti-religious" comments in lecture. This was from a friend of mine who has recently begun hanging out with the person making these claims. The friend kept questioning me as to what the nature of those comments had been and the atmosphere of the class. I told that friend, jokingly, that since I couldn't remember anyone with even remotely an anti-religious tone (it's a class on Milton), it was probably me. I mentioned that I was one of the only people that ever responds (in an unusually large class) and most of the questions I respond to are of the nature "What meter is this in?" In other words, factual questions. Break time comes, today, and someone comes back in with a cup of coffee from this place on campus that I haven't gone to, yet. I ask if the place takes cards. He says, do you need to borrow money, too? I say, no, I just want to know if that place takes cards because I might go there sometime for lunch. I never carry cash. He says in this extremely put-upon tone, look, a dollar's not a big deal--I'm generous even with atheists. I say, did you just call me an atheist? He said, well, you are. I said, no, actually, I'm not. He said, well, you have a tendency to say things about faith that make me a little bit uncomfortable. As if everyone's beliefs across the board can be measured against his comfort level. I say, Oh, okay, well, I'm sorry. I say, it wasn't my intent to make anyone uncomfortable. He says, in an extremely bitchy voice while narrowing his eyes at me: Good to know. I say, whatever, let me know if I say anything that makes you feel uncomfortable--just point it out to me. I'm pissed, now, though, because of the tone and the way this guy's looking at me. So, now, I, being me, try to ease the tension by saying--"Just for the record, I'm not an atheist. I am totally convinced there's a god, and I think he is a dick." Classic Dan Tanner move that doesn't help anything. And then I chuckle. Class starts back up, and about fifteen minutes later, I look over at this guy's notes--because he writes with this old fashioned fountain pen that's really nice, and it's fun to watch the ink run all over and get all over his fingers--and see that he has written, "I believe in God. He is a jerk," with the tag "--so said the atheist." Not only was I misquoted, I was then labeled with the thing that started the whole thing. I was angered beyond all reason. I mean, to a point that I haven't been for actions directed against me in, say, 4 good years. The misquote and the assumption just about drove me out of my skull. I don't know why, but I guess it's because part of me made the connection that I was probably the one this guy thought was making ignorant comments. And I can't do anything about it, because it's none of my business what he writes in his notes upside down and across the table three spots down. I'm sorry if describing the function of mirror neurons to the class made you feel "uncomfortable" about your faith, guy. If you like to be comfortable, you should find people that care whether your comfort level is being stepped on in the course of reading a canonical poem. If you like to be comfortable, you shouldn't take a class at one of the most skeptical universities in North America. If you like to be comfortable, you shouldn't be in grad school. And you sure as hell shouldn't be in a room with me--especially now that I know that I make you uncomfortable. If you like to be comfortable, you should get comfortable with discomfort or your snarky notes will be a very cold kind of comfort at the end of the day." --so said the atheist.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Crown of the Blemish

So, a couple of people came over to watch the Superbowl. Sterling did not make it because he was defeated by Trafick, a new, gritty Marvel superhero whose powers include the ability to make you sit still in the middle of a freeway for indefinite periods of time.

After the game, Mike A.D. and I went to Corona del Mar--which as the more language savvy amongst you know is Spanish for the Corona of the Sea--where there was a bonfire until about eleven at night. It was fun. I was the fire-tender. At one point, I was called upon to help a middle-aged woman light her fire. That is not a euphemism. I got it lit and returned to the root beer and cookie feast that we were engaged in.

To my surprise, people were fascinated by the fact that I a) would help a stranger or b) could get that stranger's fire lit better than she could.

However many times Troop 22 took away my Fireman's Chit, they always gave it back. Always. Why? Because there is probably not anything I do so well as I burn things. Whether or not my dissociation from that body left me with a whole and intact Fireman's Chit, I re-earned it, spiritually, last night.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

For K--

So, instead of finishing up my new Keats draft, I was obliged to work on a presentation for my Mallarme' class. Mallarme' just might be the most difficult thing I have ever read. Any given poem ranks up there. I come out of that class, and I think, "Holy crap. Reading is hard." That's how hard it is.

So, I was nervous about my presentation, which was supposed to be on this poem called Le Sonneur--or, The Bell-ringer. But it went fine.

Anyway. I thought to post it here. On the one hand, I'm going to post it just to see whether you guys appreciate this kind of thing--I know most of you don't ever see me in "trying-to-be-a-scholar" mode--and, on the other, because one of the last IMversations I had with Kendall--maybe fifth-to-last--I was trying to walk him through my way of reading a poem. That poem was Keats' ode on melancholy. I've been thinking about Keats a lot, so I thought of that conversation, and how it didn't really go very far. I think that's because I had to go to work. Anyway, this presentation is more or less written conversationally and at the same time as I did my reading, so you can see how my process goes, Kendall, if you're still interested.

Before we start, know that this shit is hard, and the final, or definitive version of Le Sonneur was too tough for me to attack head on. I came at it from behind, with the first published version of the text, one written almost a quarter century before the final version--the idea being that I could maybe jiggle something out with the differences between them.

So, this is the text of the first, 1862 version in French:

Le Sonneur (1862)

Cependant que la cloche enivre sa voix claire
De l’air plein de rosée et du matin,
Et fait à la faucheuse entonner, pour lui plaire,
Un Angelus qui sent la lavande et le thym ;

Le sonneur essoufflé, qu’un cierge pâle éclaire,
Chevauchant tristement en geignant du latin,
Sur la pierre qui tend la corde séculaire,
N’entend descendre à lui qu’un tintement lointain,

Je suis cet homme. Hélas ! dans ardeur peureuse,
J’ai beau broyer le câble à sonner l’idéal,
Depuis que le Mal trône en mon cœur lilial

La Voix ne me vient plus que par bribes et creuse.
--Si bien qu’un jour, après avoir en vain tiré,
Ô Satan, j’ôterai la pierre et me pendrai !

And these, here, are two of the strongest possible readings of these lines in English (translations are for meaning, not for aesthetics--so no calling me to task):

While the bell intoxicates its clear voice
With the young, dew-filled air of the morning,
And makes the harvest-girl sing, to please it,
An Angelus that smells of lavender and thyme;

The breathless bell-ringer, illuminated by a pale candle,
Sadly riding, while grumbling some Latin,
The stone that tenders the centenary chord,
Hears nothing descend to him but a faraway ringing.

I am this man. Alas! In my fearful ardor,
I have crushed the cable that sounds the ideal,
Since Evil sits enthroned in my lily-white heart,

The Voice no longer comes to me except by morsels and void.
--So well that one day, after having pulled in vain,
O Satan, I will lift the stone and hang myself!

[While the bell makes known its ecstatic state with its clear voice,
Filled with dew and young from the air of the morning,
And makes the reaper begin to sing (and set the tone) to please it
A prayer that smells of lavender and thyme;]

[The stalled (unable to continue his progression) bell-ringer, made to understand by a pale candle,
Sadly superimposing himself while muttering a prayer
On the stone which tenders the centenary chord,
Only a faraway ringing descends to his ears.]

[I am this man. Alas! In my ardor,
I did well to break the cable to sound the ideal,
Since Evil sits in honor in my blameless heart,]

[The Voice no longer comes to me except in morsels, digging.
--So well that one day, after having abused the situation (your patience) in vain,
O Satan, I will cast off the stone and hang myself!]

Obviously, these are lego readings. Match as you want to. And never assume they are the only ways the lines can be read. Mallarme' was smarter than me--so just know there's more in there.

Here, in case you are wondering, is the text of the Angelus in Latin and English, courtesy of wikipedia:

Latin text of the Angelus:
V/. Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariæ,R/. Et concepit de Spiritu Sancto.
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus.Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostræ. Amen.
V/. "Ecce Ancilla Domini."R/. "Fiat mihi secundum Verbum tuum."
Ave Maria, gratia plena...
V/. Et Verbum caro factum est.R/. Et habitavit in nobis.
Ave Maria, gratia plena...
V/. Ora pro nobis, Sancta Dei Genetrix.R/. Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.
Oremus: Gratiam tuam quæsumus, Domine, mentibus nostris infunde; ut qui, angelo nuntiante, Christi Filii tui Incarnationem cognovimus, per passionem eius et crucem, ad resurrectionis gloriam perducamur. Per eumdem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

English text of the Angelus:
V/. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary,R/. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
V/. "Behold the handmaid of the Lord."R/. "Be it done unto me according to your Word."
Hail Mary, full of grace...
V/. And the Word was made flesh,R/. And dwelt among us.
Hail Mary, full of grace...
V/. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God.R/. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray: Pour forth, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy Grace into our hearts; that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by his passion and cross, be brought to the glory of His resurrection, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Okay. Sorry for the long build-up to what will assuredly be a let-down. My 15 minute oral presentation (if you care about references, just ask me):

Formally, Le Sonneur is a sonnet. It is divided into two quatrains and two tercets, corresponding to an octet and a sextet, respectively. The versification is Alexandrine. First, an overall look at the narrative of the poem as it appears in the 1862 version.

In it, a bell rings out in the morning air, and causes a harvest girl (perhaps in the middle of harvesting lavender and thyme) to sing the Angelus, which when it is capitalized refers to the Catholic prayer by the same name. As the bell rings out, we move to the bell-ringer, who is breathless—perhaps from climbing a bell-tower, perhaps from ringing the bell, perhaps for some other reason—lit by the pale light of a candle, sitting astride the stone that tautens and holds the rope leading up to the bell. The sound of the ringing bell is distant as it descends to him. Up until the first word of the first tercet we are in an impersonal descriptive mode.

At that moment, the “je” of the poem makes itself known, with the speaker claiming identity with the bell-ringer. After an interjection expressing lament, the voice claims that in a fearful ardor, it has in some way broken the cable that sounds the Ideal. It is easy to jump into an allegorical mode, here, since the word “ideal” is so open to polysemy. But since there has been only one rope or cable in the poem, the one that leads to the bell, it might behoove us to take some advice from Ellen S. Burt, or from Paul de Man’s Lyric and Modernity, and stay with the symbolic reading for a moment, supposing that ‘ideal’ and ‘bell’ have here become the same thing. The poetic voice continues, saying that ever since Evil has been in a place of honor in the heart of the speaker, the Voice, or—again, staying within the symbolic—the sound of the bell from the first quatrain only comes in morsels, and when it does, it is empty. The speaker then says that one day, after having pulled in vain—that is to say, having pulled without hearing the voice of the bell at all—he will remove the stone and hang himself. In doing so, he invokes Satan, revealed to be the addressee of the sonnet.

If, moving quickly, we outline an underlying progression in the poem, we can see that the first quatrain shows us a pastoral scene, with a girl working in the fields hearing the sound of a church bell that calls her to a morning prayer. The second quatrain is one of enclosure. The bell-ringer’s difficulty in drawing breath is indicative that he does not smell the lavender and the thyme that mix with the voice of the bell and the song of the girl. The “dew,” playing on “pink” in the first quatrain, and the use of “clear” and “air” as well as the presence of “morning” give a sense of the burgeoning light of dawn, and all of this is contrasted to the pale candle that lights the bell-ringer’s quatrain. Youthful song in prayer and the clear ringing of the bell are answered with grumbling and muttering in Latin. (Do the harvest-girl and the bell-ringer speak the same prayer?) The loud voice of the bell is muffled for the bell-ringer, either because it must descend through a tower of stone (if he rings his bell from the bottom of the bell-tower) to reach his ears, or because he has grown deaf, like Quasimodo, through proximity to the noise. In either case, the sense of enclosure is more present. The underlying progression in the octet, then, is one from exterior to interior, from openness to enclosure, from a mélange and intoxication (enivrement) of the senses to their flattening and dulling. At the sextet, another move becomes apparent: the movement from the concrete world to the abstract. Rapidly, Ardor, fear, the ideal, evil, Satan, and future action replace description and present action. The movement away from the scene of morning is finalized in a future suicide. (Another way to regard the shift could be from the explicitly symbolic (i.e., if we read lavender and thyme as symbolic of the sensuousness of Poetry, for example) to the allegorical (i.e., if we read the lily as the stand in for Christ, or purity even without a motivating connection).

The identification of the voice of the poem (I will call him the narrator-poet) with the bell-ringer provides a logical place to read a passage from the symbolic (or representational) to the allegorical (or emblematic) within the poem, since it is a definite break. There are two possibilities for reading, “Je suis cet homme,” here: A = A, or A @ B. That is to say, either the narrator-poet is the bell-ringer, in the tautological sense, and the thoughts of the sextet are the thoughts he has as he rings the bell in the second quatrain or at any other time for which the second quatrain stands, OR the narrator-poet is the bell-ringer by metaphor, that is to say the narrator-poet is like the bell-ringer. Either there is complete identification, or there is only partial identification which allows for a widening of the gap between the word and the representation, a place where we could suppose the production of excess meaning. For if the narrator-poet is like the bell-ringer we must complete the comparison ourselves, and determine the ground of the comparison and the tension, or dissimilarities, that such a comparison would imply.

A move like this allows us at long last to attack the word “ideal” in more of an allegorical mode. If, through comparison, the narrator-poet has grown more and more insensible to the clear voice of the ideal-as-bell that speaks in the first quatrain, that is, deaf to the voice of the ideal-as-pastoral-poetry, deaf to the mixture of the senses, deaf to the future promise that poems invoking morning typically suggest, even so, he is still able to employ that voice. He did, after all, write the verses that contain the ideal to which it points.

The narrator-poet shows us, however, that in his fearful ardor he has “broyer le câble à sonner l’idéal.” While remaining in the symbolic mode, the mode of correspondence between the thing and what it represents, we were forced to read this as something like, “broken the cable that sounds the bell.” That would be a reading that leaves us, appropriately, with a length of broken cable, which is ideal for hanging. However, in a passage from the symbolic to the allegorical, it is not stretching too far to say that the poet has crushed or ground the cable to sound the ideal, suggesting that it is the act of sounding the ideal that breaks the connection to it. The narrator-poet’s sense of the ideal is broken by his attempts to employ it in writing.

This process is enacted by the poem itself. The ideal’s presence in the first quatrain is what sheds light on the cost to the narrator-poet in the second. He has become breathless—in the sense of winded. He is unable to draw breath, let alone to sing as does the girl at harvest—but he is breathless also in the sense of stalled, or unable to follow a rhythm of progression, the other definition of essoufflé. The act of writing poetry—ringing the bell—daily has resulted in the stagnation of the narrator-poet’s progression and leads to the belief that one day he will be unable to hear poetry’s voice at all. The mere exercise of that which is sensible in the presentation of the sensuous is desensitizing. Another way to look at this is as the hollowing out of language. The use of language itself grows dimmer and dimmer to the narrator-poet’s ear by the end of the octet. The use of language renders one deaf to its Voice. This leads to thoughts of suicide.

As the rope is still present in the final word however, as the thing from which the hanged man hangs, the chord that links the narrator-poet and the ideal is not at all ground to pieces or broken or crushed: it merely undergoes changes. As Blanchot suggests Mallarmé to be first of all a poet of changes, it might benefit us to follow such a line of thought.

First, that cable is the unseen rope that rings the bell in the first line. Next, it is the centenary chord that, in a representational mode, supports the bell’s weight and keeps it from ringing in the wind. At the same time, it is also the centenary rope tendered by the rock, allegorically, of St. Peter. The Rock that tenders the chord is the Catholic Church, as well as a stone. The rope, then, could simply be the belt that cinches the monk’s habit—if, like Marchal, we read the bell-ringer to be the mauvais moine—or it could be the representation of the Church’s function as marker of continuity between past and present. Séculaire means many centuries old, and the Angelus is the prayer that marks the passage of the day, as it has for centuries. In the first tercet, the rope becomes le corde sensible that is the vulnerable link between the narrator-poet and the peak of his art, and, in the last one, it has become the rope around the neck of the hanged man. The last line would seem to reinforce the reading of the rock as Catholic Church, as the church hath ever fixed its canon ‘gainst self-slaughter. It would be, effectively, a casting off the burden of the Church’s laws in committing the sin of suicide.

The movement from pastoral to suicidal is not a straight-forward progression however, and may, in some measure, be ironic. Death is not absent from the first quatrain. It is present in the form of La Faucheuse, the reaper. The reaper intones (fait à la facheuse entonner) the poem in the choral sense, from within the heart of the ideal situation of the first quatrain; it comes at the beginning to set the tone for the poem. Obviously, if the reaper’s presence isn’t enough, the harvest also takes place in preparation for winter. The “Angelus” is an important word as well for the structure and meaning of the poem. “Angelus” refers to the prayer, but the “angelus” is also the ringing of the bell that precedes the prayer or calls it forth from the listener.

The text of the Angelus-as-prayer affirms the declaration of the angel to Mary, and her conception by the Holy Spirit, and requests intercession on behalf of the speaker. The Hail Mary occurs within the Angelus three times, just as the voice of the bell is heard in the first line, in the eighth line, and, mutely, as the future incarnation of the Voice in the thirteenth line, when the bell-ringer will, one day, have pulled in vain. The Angelus recalls not only the conception of Christ, but also the passion of the cross, the death of Christ, and the resurrection in its final supplication for the redemption of the speakers. The effect, then, of the repetition of the Angelus first clearly, then faintly as from a distance, and finally in a prophetic mode of future silence is a wasting away of hope and a foreshortening of the time until the hanging day that seems to ironically parallel the Ave Maria’s in hora mortis nostræ.

Le Sonneur as an apostrophe to Satan, then, acts parodically, but not in a simple mode, as mockery, for the faint possibility of redemption is inscribed within the poem as the presence of recurring presence of the Angelus always repeats the call for redemption. I say it is not simply a parody, also, because the “clear voice” in which the narrator-poet calls on Satan in the last line will be as effectively cut off from speech as the sound of the bell when the rope that at one time sounded the “ideal” strangles the narrator-poet or breaks his neck. Even the Satanic mode—the so called “simplistic” Satanism that Marchal thinks is borrowed from Baudelaire—is defeated by time. It will be time that executes the final transformation hidden in the poem. The bell-ringer will hang himself on the rope that sounds the bell, and in doing so, will sound the bell again. The moment of death will cause a re-sounding of the bell, and the narrator-poet will find the ideal again. The sense remains, however, that this is not victory, as the narrator-poet will be beyond hearing its clear voice. The poetry of Le Sonneur as it exists in its first version, then, is a poetry that uses itself up through expression, that enacts its own disparition, and that falls continually from song into silence.