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Theatrical Forms, Ideological Conflicts, and the Staging of Obi

John Fawcett's Obi; or, Three-Finger'd Jack in its various versions offers one way to gauge the response of English audiences to slavery and to those it oppressed. More particularly, Obi can reveal how difficult it was to find an appropriate form for bodying forth upon stage the horrors of slavery, as the genres and the institutional structure of the British theater worked to control a potentially radical message. The story of Jack Mansong, a slave in revolt, had the potential to bring a radically anti-slavery message to the stage. While the play's initial staging as a melodrama certainly did not embrace Mansong's revolt, various features of the pantomime did serve to give Mansong and the Afro-Caribbean culture he represented power on stage. Rewritten as a melodrama with spoken dialogue, the play might seem to have lost some its radical potential, but the great actor Ira Aldridge, through what Henry Louis Gates calls "signifyin[g]," managed to create in Jack one of the key theatrical images of a man of African descent.
August 2002

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Robinson, "Deforming Keats' 'Ode on a Grecian Urn'"

To deform a poem is to intervene significantly in the poem's physical structure (e.g. reading the poem backwards, reading only nouns) in order to highlight features of the poem not easily noticeable. With a famous poem like Keats's Ode on a Grecian Urn such an activity makes one realize how we too easily pre-read the poem. This essay appears in _Ode on a Grecian Urn: Hypercanonicity & Pedagogy_, a volume of _Romantic Circles Praxis Series_, prepared exclusively for Romantic Circles (http://www.rc.umd.edu/), University of Maryland.

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"Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" as an Ambient Poem; a Study of a Dialectical Image; with Some Remarks on Coleridge and Wordsworth

This essay is a testing ground for "ambience," exploring the role of space in poetics, ideology and theory, building on the conclusion to the book The Poetics of Spice. Though ecocriticism and ecological philosophy talk about environmental awareness and "interconnectedness," we may not be certain of what we mean by such terms. They should, for example, remind all literary scholars of the idea, and the ideology, of the aesthetic. By closely reading the famous poem "The Star" by Jane Taylor, this essay delineates some of the poetic forms involved in the inscription of environmental awareness, such as minimalism, and the foregrounding of what in structuralism is called the "contact" or medium of communication. The essay investigates the possibility of a "feminine" form of Romantic ecology in contradistinction to more masculinist versions. It uses Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida to counter the representation of ecological awareness in Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre. The essay discusses the work on culture and civilization by Geoffrey Hartman and Terry Eagleton to adumbrate the ways in which public space is evoked in environmental poetics. Walter Benjamin's notion of the "dialectical image" is employed to indicate the Janus-faced nature of the poetic and ideological fantasy of "ambience" (or "aura" in Benjamin). In considering William Wordsworth's sonnet "Composed upon Westminster Bridge" and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the essay investigates the virtues and vices of ambience, as opposed to a more Burkean, "maximalist" view of the natural world. The essay continues the line of thought explored in David Simpson's Wordsworth and the Figurings of the Real, especially the final section, "Societies of Figures."
November 2001

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Braider, "Unlearning the Sublime"

The essay argues that, if the sublime continues to fascinate scholars and philosophers long after the critical dismantling of its metaphysical underpinnings in Kant, Hegel, and Romanticism, it is because it has found a refuge in the topology of critical thought as such. The solution of the ongoing problem of the sublime accordingly lies in investigating the afterlife this topology grants not only the sublime itself but metaphysics even (if not especially) for writers like Benjamin, Derrida, Agamben, and Zizek committed to the skeptical and/or materialist deconstruction of the transcendental pretensions the sublime keeps alive. This essay appears in _The Sublime and Education_, a volume of _Romantic Circles Praxis Series_, prepared exclusively for Romantic Circles (http://www.rc.umd.edu/), University of Maryland.

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