Session 7A: New Boots, New Bodies

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7A. New Boots, New Bodies

Marc Redfield (Claremont Graduate): "Harold Bloom's Body"
James Allard (Waterloo): "'Mortal, Immortal': Embodying Keats"
Paul Youngquist (Penn State): "Byron's New Boot: Poetry, Politics and the Prosthetic Body"

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"Mortal, Immortal': Embodying Keats"
James Allard
University of Waterloo

This paper seeks to begin to articulate what I call (after Steven Bruhm's "Gothic Body") the "Romantic Body": a "new" body that becomes the site of a peculiarly Romantic struggle between a finite corporeality, as discussed in medical discourse of the period, and an infinite imagination, as discussed by may of the poets of the period--in this case, Keats. After a brief discussion of the various types of discourses Keats employed to detail his conception of "body," I offer a reading of Keats's long poem Endymion, focusing on the pervasive but problematic representations of Endymion's body (or bodies) in and around the text.

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"Byron's New Boot: Poetry, Politics and the Prosthetic Body"
Paul Youngquist
Penn State
. . . what if what is proper to humankind were to be
inhabited by the inhuman?
--Lyotard
Byron is, in Lyotard's sense, an artist of the inhuman. His poetry confronts an otherness that inhabits the human body--or better, the otherness of the body to its social evaluations. Byron's politics arise in large part from his allegiance to this difference, and I will argue that they have their beginnings in his boots. Byron was born with a club foot--a fact usually dismissed as little more than an occasion for overcoming adversity. But it put him in close proximity to both the body's materiality and its social appropriations. In 1799, upon returning to London for the first time since birth, the young Byron had his foot examined by a who's who of modern medicine: John Hunter, author of Observations on Certain Parts of the Animal Oeconomy (1786), Matthew Baillie, author of The Morbid Anatomy of Some of the Most Important Parts of the Human Body (1797), and Thomas Sheldrake, author of A Practical Essay on the Club Foot, and Other Distortions in the Legs and Feet of Children (1798). These famous doctors all conceded that little could be done to correct a deformity that might have been cured by the use of special braces throughout childhood. Dr. Baillie records the upshot: "Mr. Sheldrake . . . attended Lord B. and made him some instruments for his foot which were continued in use for a short Time but were afterwards given up for a Boot which he constructed for him" (Marchand, Byron, i, 54). Byron's new boot, I will argue, puts his body on a different footing from most people's. His prosthesis, in other words, alters his stance, his sense of human embodiment. Drawing upon Foucault's cartography of "discipline" in post-revolutionary European culture, I will suggest that Byron's prosthetic embodiment challenges both the consensus of contemporary medicine that the body is developing organic whole and the characteristically romantic humanism grounded therein. Such ideals are for Byron disciplinary fictions. His boot produces another kind of body, a prosthetic body irreducible to organism and inhabited by the inhuman. It materializes a monstrous flesh, subject to deformity but susceptible to change.

Byron's republicanism arises out of this new, prosthetic body. The odd logic of the prosthesis reveals seeming unities to be artificially produced; the human body is not a natural organism but a prosthetic effect. Little wonder, then, that Byron mocks the conservative politics of Wordsworth and Coleridge. Their ostensible humanism occludes such effects in the name Nature, Mind, and Imagination. Byron's poetry counters these ideals and the imperialism they serve in several ways. It participates in a cultural economy of prosthetics that challenges the ideal of an organic body by insisting upon the primacy of warfare in contemporary British society. It advances a politics of monstrosity grounded in material embodiment by celebrating the deeds of Napoleon, "the monster of Corsica." It exposes the ideals of medicine and literature as disciplinary fictions by dramatizing their effects upon the material body. I shall briefly address each of these moves, the first by discussing the medical treatment of war wounds, the second by examining the Napoleon's representation in nationalist broadsides, and the third by interpreting Byron's late play, The Deformed Transformed (1824), as an allegory of political dis-embodiment. In each instance Byron includes the prosthetic in his measure of humankind, raising the possibility of a new body for humankind, a prosthetic body inhabited by the inhuman.

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Last updated June 1, 1999
by Kathleen McConnell