Latest Additions

These are the articles recently published. Original replies, which can start off a debate, are listed with their abstracts. Please note that responding articles do not have separate abstracts.



Community and Conflict: A Practitioner’s Perspective on Verse Drama

Richard O' Brien, Connotations, Vol. 27 (ongoing): 120-54.


When I started writing plays in iambic pentameter, my self-interrogations inevitably returned to questions of politics, ethics and power. There has undeniably been a historical association between verse drama and elitism. Anthony Easthope sees iambic pentameter as the voice of ‘solid institutional continuity’ — a ‘hegemonic form’ implicitly confirming cultural norms. In Sara Ahmed’s terms, a contemporary verse play by a white, male, middle-class subject risks being solely ‘citational-relational’ to other such plays and subjects. What, then, is my own complicity in choosing these particular formal restrictions? In what ways can my chosen way of writing — structured, metred verse — engage with power without merely endorsing or replicating it?

In this paper, I will argue for how the pentameter form can allow for and facilitate a challenge to such positions. The inherent polyphony of a playscript challenges the singular: although in metrical terms, everyone is speaking the same language, the creation of a shared baseline permits individuality and resistance to stand out more starkly in variation. As such, shared-metre verse worlds have served me as an appropriate canvas to explore shifting tensions between the community and the individual, who might appear as a rebel against unquestioned institutional norms or as a threatening outsider to a self-sustaining system. I argue that by writing characters who follow or subvert metre — who are in or out of line — or who steal lines from others, I can stage conflicts over authority, control, freedom and restraint at the microcosmic level of the line.


Faulkner and Race

Arthur Kinney, Connotations, Vol. 27 (ongoing): 106-19.


Faulkner’s decision to follow the advice of Sherwood Anderson and write about his homeland necessitated examining, recording and preserving the American South with Mississippi, where he was born and bred, as representative. The first work, Flags in the Dust, depicted his own great-grandfather’s family. Race was incidental and superficial in the scene comparing black men to mules, though inferior in temperament, and in the sketchy portrait of Elnora, barely suggestive and never interpreted.  This example is extended in The Sound and the Fury where Dilsey seems to play a salvational role but, closely examined, is little more than a stereotype of the beloved mammy. Joe Christmas in Light in August is enigmatic; yet he does not ever know his true bloodline. 

Faulkner’s inescapable need to get past white stereotypes is recorded in Quentin Compson’s final self-confrontation. A year later Elwood Higginbottom was the victim of the last ritual lynching in Mississippi–Faulkner did not see it on the outskirts of Oxford in the black section of Four Corners but his nephew did. Forced in his complete picture of Yoknapatawpha-Lafayette counties, Faulkner necessarily kept returning to the portrayal of blacks.  It was, in the end, his direct confrontation and inclusion of the Elwood Higganbottom’s lynching that he entered not only the circumstances but the minds of black life. When returning to it in Go Down, Moses he rearranged chronology to make it more distant but not less powerful.  This displays most effectively the integrity of his life-long project and prepares for the later and last writings concentrated on civil rights and social justice.


Irreconcilable (Dis)continuity: De Doctrina Christiana and Milton1)

Filippo Falcone, Connotations, Vol. 27 (ongoing): 78-105.


The vast majority of Milton scholars today holds to Milton’s authorship of the seventeenth-century Latin treatise of divinity known as De Doctrina Christiana. This conviction has hardly been shaken since the publication of Campbell, Corns, Hale and Tweedie’s Milton and the Manuscript of De Doctrina Christiana (2007). Campbell, Corns, Hale, and Tweedie’s work can be seen as the climax of a debate on the authorship of the treatise that was first stirred by William B. Hunter’s “The Provenance of the Christian Doctrine” in 1992. The present article identifies elements of discontinuity between Milton’s undisputed corpus and De Doctrina Christiana that raise considerable doubt as to the attribution of the treatise to Milton or its place in Milton’s production and consequent bearing on Milton’s major poems. Such elements are either pointed out here for the first time or presented for the first time in an orderly fashion so as to dispute the majority view.


Why Does Jig Smile? Readings of “Hills Like White Elephants”

Daniel Avitzour, Connotations, Vol. 27 (ongoing): 48-77.


The ending of Hemingway’s 1927 story, “Hills Like White Elephants” was interpreted for decades in one way: the female protagonist surrenders to her partner’s wishes that she undergo abortion. Around 1980, new readings of the story’s ending story began to appear. This article proposes a system for classifying the professional readings.

In addition, two groups of ordinary readers were asked to express their opinions. One group of participants was exposed to the professionals’ interpretations and the other was not.

An explanation of these surveys’ results seems to require three subjective criteria for evaluating a reading: simplicity, plausibility and morality. Simplicity concerns the relationship between the text and the fictional world created by the reader. Plausibility has to do with the verisimilitude of the fictional world created by the reader, as judged by the reader’s extra-textual knowledge. Morality is the extent to which the reading renders the story compatible with the reader’s values.


“[M]emories and similes laid side by side”: The Paratactic Poetics of Alice Oswald’s Memorial2)

Lena Linne, Connotations, Vol. 27 (ongoing): 19-47.


Alice Oswald’s Memorial (2011) is an adaptation of the Iliad that leaves out the narrative passages and the speeches made by the characters. What remains of Homer’s epic are merely two of its elements: the epic similes and the brief sketches or obituaries that Homer provides of the men fallen in battle. In giving us the Iliad without its plot, Oswald clearly imposes a limitation upon herself. However, she considers this limitation a liberation. She calls Memorial an “excavation” of the Iliad (as if Homer’s poem were buried under its plot); she also suggests that Memorial “will have its own coherence as a series of memories and similes laid side by side: an antiphonal account of man in his world.”

The new coherence suggested by Oswald relies on the recontextualisation of the similes, whose meaning is changed as they are removed from their original context, often that of a victorious soldier preparing for battle, and attached to an obituary, i.e. to a defeated victim. Homer’s similes easily adapt to such recontextualisations because of their elaborate structure; the new context means that a different aspect of this structure is emphasised. In a simile about a predator chasing its prey, for instance, the emphasis shifts from the former to the latter.

The new coherence of the similes is also informed by Oswald’s poetics, which can be inferred from her comments on Memorial but also from self-reflexive passages in the poem itself. These poetics are paratactic. Sentences or episodes are not tributary elements in a unified whole but juxtaposed in a non-hierarchical way. Likewise, similes are not subordinate to obituaries; they do not illustrate them but respond to them. The two elements are placed “side by side,” in a balanced, antiphonal manner. This means that, in Memorial, the analogies between a simile and its context are not signposted as they are in the Iliad; they are often opaque and hidden away in puns, posing a considerable challenge to the reader. Moreover, the analogies are frequently accompanied by striking contrasts. Death is counterbalanced with survival, the grim world of the battlefield with natural or domestic worlds in which life-sustaining routines prevail.


Self-Imposed Fetters: The Productivity of Formal and Thematic Restrictions

Matthias Bauer, Connotations, Vol. 27 (ongoing): 1-18.


From July 30 to August 3, 2017, the 14th International Connotations Symposium took place at Mülheim an der Ruhr in Germany. Its topic, “Self-Imposed Fetters: The Productivity of Formal and Thematic Restrictions,” will now become the theme of a special section in the journal. Beginning with this issue, a selection of essays based on the talks given at the conference, as well as responses and other contributions to the subject, will be published in our peer-reviewed, open-access format.

The theme is typical of the Connotations agenda in that it combines a specific theoretical or poetological concept with aspects of style and form. As distinct from a number of earlier topics, however, it focuses on the field of poetic production. In the following, I will explain what has given rise to discussing “Self-Imposed Fetters” by considering three sonnets that reflect on the restriction imposed by their own form. I will then distinguish three areas in which restrictions deliberately chosen by writers become productive, a process that will be explored in greater detail by the articles and responses to be published in this special section. As a last step, the most tentative of the three, I will consider what sort of literary production is paradoxically unleashed by the imposition of fetters and if there are any rules governing this process.


“In Another Light”: New Intertexts for David Dabydeen’s “Turner”

Carl Plasa, Connotations, Vol. 26: 163-203.


As its “Preface” states, David Dabydeen’s “Turner” (1994) takes its inspiration from Joseph Mallord William Turner’s Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhon Coming On (1840), more commonly known as The Slave Ship. Dabydeen’s reading of Turner’s celebrated painting (and of Ruskin’s famous commentary on it) has been widely debated by critics, but, as this essay demonstrates, “Turner” has an intertextual life that extends far beyond The Slave Ship and the Ruskinian response to it. The essay develops this argument, in the first instance, by showing how Ruskin’s influence on Dabydeen’s poem is traceable not only to his enraptured account of The Slave Ship but also other parts of the chapter, in Modern Painters, vol. 1 (1843), which that account rounds off. As the essay goes on to show, it is not just that these elements of Ruskin’s chapter have been all but overlooked by intertextual analyses of “Turner” but that two other works have been similarly neglected: Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1606) and Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987). These texts demand our attention as still more significant sources for Dabydeen’s poem and contribute much to a new understanding of its disturbing imaginative vision.


Tennyson’s “Tithonus” and the Revision of Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey”

Jayne Thomas, Connotations, Vol. 26: 141-162.


This article reexamines Wordsworth’s influence in Tennyson’s 1860 dramatic monologue, “Tithonus.” Tennyson’s poem sounds with well-tracked Wordsworthian echoes and allusions, many of which allude directly to “Tintern Abbey” (1798); critics have pointed out, for instance, how “Tithonus” replicates “Tintern Abbey”’s narrative of returning, of the self reencountering itself in time. But the poem also resonates with inadvertent or unconscious “echoes” to Wordsworth, which rework the connection between memory and nature that underpins the narrative of return in “Tintern Abbey.” Using the term “echo” itself as its methodology, the article reveals how “Tithonus” contains more echoes to Wordsworth than previously recognised, echoes that enable Tennyson to revise, rather than simply to refashion, Wordsworth’s poetic trope. The article goes on to examine how the revisionary process at work in the poem is linked to the form of the monologue, which is already establishing a difference from Wordsworth in its rejection of Romantic universal subjectivity and its adoption of a fictional and performative persona; in reworking Wordsworth’s interaction between mind and nature, “Tithonus” is thus consolidating a new poetic alongside revising a somewhat anachronistic poetic trope. However, as the article will also show “Tithonus” comes to rely on the broken fragments of the same Wordsworthian narrative it has itself dismantled.


The Equanimity of Influence: Milton and Wordsworth

Stephen M. Fallon, Connotations, Vol. 26: 126-140.


By characterizing the relation of Wordsworth to Milton as one of “equanimity of influence,” this essay suggests that in The Prelude Wordsworth is in a dialogue with Milton’s Paradise Lost that is both profound and notably free of anxiety. Wordsworth has here, that is to say, left behind much of the anxiety that marks the Prospectus to the 1814 edition The Recluse, a poem dating from the turn of the nineteenth century. There Wordsworth both boasts that The Recluse, by plumbing the depths of the “Mind of Man,” will have more profound effects of awe and fear than Milton’s poem, which navigates “Chaos” and “The darkest pit of lowest Erebus,” and worries that in describing the “lowly matter” of “the Mind and Man / Contemplating” he might be seen as engaging in “labour useless.” The dialogue with Milton here is uneasy and defensive. Milton’s influence on Wordsworth’s poetic project in The Prelude, on the other hand, was no longer marked by defensiveness, despite the fact that Wordsworth was still in competition with Milton. The astonishing equanimity in the face of sorrows and adversity achieved by the narrator of Paradise Lost is the deepest legacy Milton left to his successor. What Wordsworth gains from Milton in much of his best poetry a deep balance of joy and sorrow, a mental poise Wordsworth himself describes in same Prospectus as “feelings of delight … with no unpleasing sadness mixed.” The essay follows Milton’s presence in the 1805 Prelude in three increasingly significant steps, 1) as the source of frequent allusion, 2) as a model of epic ambition, and 3) as one who has achieved and modeled the equable mind that is one of the central achievements of the Prelude.


“When Contemplation like the Night-Calm Felt”: Religious Considerations in Poetic Texts by Shakespeare, Milton, and Wordsworth

Henry Weinfield, Connotations, Vol. 26: 115-125.


This essay discusses the influence of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 15 (“When I consider everything that grows”) on Milton’s Sonnet 19 (“When I consider how my light is spent”), and the way in which both poems enter into the philosophical opening to Book 5 of Wordsworth’s Prelude (“When Contemplation, like the night-calm felt”). The essay uncovers the presence of Ecclesiastes in Shakespeare’s sonnet, arguing that if there is a God in Shakespeare’s vision he is a hidden and impersonal deity. The religious landscape of Milton’s sonnet is, on the surface, diametrically opposed to Shakespeare’s because Milton God is a personalized deity with whom the poet enters into dialectical relations. I argue, however, that the repetition of Shakespeare’s opening phrase in Milton’s sonnet suggests that Milton is seeking to evade Shakespeare’s vision. In considering Wordsworth’s text, the essay seeks to triangulate (and therefore complicate) what begins as a binary analysis. In Wordsworth’s pantheistic perspective, the mediating presence of Shakespeare and Milton is explicit, and though Wordsworth is writing in blank verse he retains the when / then structure that Shakespeare adopts and Milton subtly evades. All three poetic texts contemplate the future—of man and of his works—from different but related religious perspectives, and the essay concludes by seeking to offer a succinct articulation of those differences.