The Intimacy of Infrastructure: Teaching Wordsworth with Bataille

This essay outlines how one might lead a discussion of William Wordsworth’s sonnet “Steamboats, Viaducts, and Railways” (1833) in relation to Georges Bataille’s chapter “The Rise of Industry” from his Theory of Religion (1973). Such a pairing would attune the classroom conversation to questions of intimacy as they arise in the poem and in Bataille, and can show students how to read a poem for more than its apparent argument. The combination of Wordsworth and Bataille can show students how capitalist ideology generates its own internal resistance, how British Romantic writing can construe subjectivity as an injury, how poetry speaks through its formal procedures, and how theory interacts with literary texts ambiguously, in ways that go beyond serving as a metaphorical lens.