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This essay examines W.G. Sebald’s relationship to the region of his birth, the Allgäu and explores its significance for his literary work. In his stories, he refers several times to his region of origin, to places and memories there, making his Allgäu past on the one hand a point of repulsion and on the other a reservoir of themes and images from which he draws for his prose. In this way, his “Heimat” (homeland) becomes literarily charged in a way that makes Sebald’s literary writings both fascinating and revelatory in terms of their poetics.
Chapter 5 considers ecphrasis less as an anxious competition between visual and verbal arts than as another form of sociable relations between persons and things. The chapter looks especially at collections by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (“Sonnets for Picture”) and the two women poet-lovers who wrote together as Michael Field, Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper (Sight and Song). Following the example of Keats, these poets used grammatical questions (whose ecphrastic uses go back to classical epigrams and idylls) to structure their encounters with works of visual art. Embodying vision in both conversational syntax and poetic (and sometimes typographic) form served their larger efforts to restructure social and sexual relations in the politically charged moment of 1848 (for Rossetti) and at the end of the century (for Michael Field). They sought to draw works of art out of commodity relations and into something that looked like conversation, repersonalizing and reimagining the forms of sociability in which objects and persons might participate.
Chapter 2 focuses on the idylls of Tennyson and Landor as they explored in verse the conversations of friendship, responding to the difficulties of social relations with other beings by figuring and configuring voices other than themselves to put them – and their readers -- in dialogue with one another. Romantic and Victorian poets turned to the example of the Hellenistic poet Theocritus, whose poetic fictions of conversation and song helped the later poets to imagine something like a Levinasian ethical social order amid political disorder. Following Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats, and Shelley, Tennyson’s English Idyls and Landor’s Hellenic Idylls took up the ethical and political challenges of conversing across deepening divisions they perceived around them, not only between persons but also between persons and the non-human natural world. Implicit in their efforts is an optimism that later poets, not least an older Tennyson, would find difficult to sustain.
What underlies the English rural idyll? This chapter explores the relationship between stratigraphy, economy, and sense of place, taking as its primary focus the chalk hills of South Cambridgeshire, the ‘great croprolite boom’, and the significance of cement production. Yet in exploring the way in which social and economic change delves into geological history, it challenges chronotopes that emphasise continuity and consonance within the landscape, focussing our attention instead on temporal disjuncture, displacement, and a geology in motion.
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