Steve Newman, Temple University
I have designed this dialogue as a multi-linked site organized around a constellation of topoi, each with its own icon. In addition to concretizing the dialogue's overarching theme of "the commonplace," this plan serves a couple of other purposes. The first is flexibility, giving the reader the option of moving straight through the interview or jumping from site to site (cite to cite). This approach also seeks to mirror the associational method of Professor Christensen's work: On the first page of his first book, he acknowledges his faith that by "relatively necessary train of associations, one could get from the Preface of Observations on Man to a conclusion on Coleridge's prose." My hope is that this dialogue can give a similar sense of movement, somewhere between the necessity of deduction and the happy surprise of good conversation. The text itself is a substantially revised transcript of a dialogue that took place in June of 1999.
I would like to thank the group of graduate students at the University of Maryland-College Park and Johns Hopkins who gave me feedback on these questions, especially Anne Frey and Daniela Garofalo; Keely McCarthy; Elizabeth Leatherbury, for photographing the Getty Museum; for tireless help with design, Mike Duvall and especially Lisa Marie Rhody; Neil Fraistat and Orrin Wang for commissioning the interview; and, of course, Professor Christensen, for agreeing to be interviewed--S. N.
commonplace (n.): With the ancient rhetoricians: A passage of general application, such as may serve as the basic of an argument.— Oxford English Dictionary
Even though the commonplace is something we’ve all heard before, there is nothing nostalgic about its assertion; the commonplace is not a recollection that belongs to Byron, whether house or heart, but an address that finds its respondent in anyone who claims the right to answer. . . .words that matter inevitably, though not invariably, words that matter for each man and woman, though not for all humanity.—Jerome Christensen, Lord Byron’s Strength