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The ecological thought—close reading, an endangered species

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Hi everyone.

You may be wondering what I'm going to do with these posts. Well—I decided before I started that I was going to experiment with this new medium by posting some close reading. And that I was going to write things that wouldn't be in any of my forthcoming books or essays.

So this is where you get it...

Close reading is itself an endangered species, as presses close their doors to books on literature. (UC press doesn't do it at all any more, for instance; and try getting a book on poetry or theory out there, esp. in the UK.) Close reading's environment is dying.

I think blogging provides an excellent habitat for close reading.

I was wondering how my assumption was working—my assumption that the blog medium itself, and the RC site in particular, would provide the necessary context for these organs without bodies...

The carbon-free medium is the carbon-free message

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Hi Everyone,

Click here for an account of a green videoconference I just did for ASLE UK (the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment). Science has just done a piece about it.

It seems so obvious that in the future we will need to reconfigure conferencing so that their dates overlap! That way keynote speakers can be shared by videoconference without wasting carbon.

Polycom is a pretty neat, cheap application on the new pcs that supports excellent videoconferencing (better than Skype).

Advantages: saving money, carbon; getting 1+n lots of feedback for the price of one; no jet lag.

Disadvantages: you don't get to visit the luxurious resorts at which literature conferences are so often held : ) And it may take you a little time to get up to speed with your audiences (no face to face chats in bars, etc.)—I found this highly workable, actually.

The ecological thought, part fifth

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Synethiaphobia: that's my Greek invention for “phobia of intimacy,” the basic feeling of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. “I fear thee ancient Mariner! / I fear thy skinny hand! (4.224–225). Nothing excites synethiaphobia more than the horrifying vulnerability of Life-in-Death. Coleridge hits the synethiaphobic bullseye in part 3.

Pleasingly, synethiaphobia contains the word ethos, which here implies being-with, ethics at the profoundest level.

The ecological thought is, I claim, anti-synethiaphobic. In Lévinas's language, not “allergic” to the other.

Synethiaphobia constructs boundaries between here and there, between inside and outside. Therefore, a non-synethiophobic (truly ecological) reality would not constitute a “world.” Yikes! For worlds have horizons, and thus a here and a there, an inside and an outside.

From this point of view, a lot of ecological ideology has basically been barking up the wrong tree, so to speak. (For simplicity's sake I'll abbreviate these forms of ideology as “environmentalism,” so be aware that this word has a special usage in my posts from now on.)

Now let's have a think about Life-in-Death, with Judith Butler. Butler makes a case for the beginnings of a queer theory of ecology, because she shows how gender performance produces an inside vs. an outside—and those terms are fundamental for thinking the environment (what's “around” us):

The boundary of the body as well as the distinction between internal and external is established through the ejection and transvaluation of something originally part of identity into a defiling otherness. As Iris Young has suggested in her use of Kristeva to understand sexism, homophobia, and racism, the repudiation of bodies for their sex, sexuality, and/or color is an “expulsion” followed by a “repulsion” that founds and consolidates culturally hegemonic identities along sex/race/sexuality axes of differentiation. Young's appropriation of Kristeva shows how the operation of repulsion can consolidate “identities” founded on the instituting of the “Other” or a set of Others through exclusion and domination. What constitutes through division the “inner” and “outer” worlds of the subject is a border and boundary tenuously sustained for the purposes of social regulation and control. The boundary between the inner and outer is confounded by those excremental passages in which the inner effectively becomes outer, and this excreting function becomes, as it were, the model by which other forms of identity-differentiation are accomplished … For inner and outer worlds to remain utterly distinct, the entire surface of the body would have to achieve an impossible impermeability. This sealing of its surfaces would constitute the seamless boundary of the subject; but this enclosure would invariably be exploded by precisely that excremental filth that it fears.

Judith Butler, Gender Trouble, in Vincent Leitch, ed., The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (New York and London: W.W. Norton, 2001), 2495.

Butler is talking about gender, but she might as well be talking about the environment. If we apply her argument to ecology, we notice two things. First, human society has defined itself by excluding dirt and pollution. In an age of ecological panic and scientifically measurable risk (Ulrich Beck's risk society), we find ourselves unable fully to endorse this exclusion, or even to believe in the world that the exclusion produces. This is literally to do with thinking about where you waste goes (excremental and otherwise).

Secondly, and perhaps even more disturbingly (because we're now talking about ideological fantasy, and its grip on social reality), this exclusion of pollution also goes for our performance/construction of “Nature” itself. Nature is defined as pristine, wild, immediate, pure—and masculine...yes that's right! Nature is not Woman! (More on this soon.)

In order to have subjects and objects, you have to have abjects to vomit, to spit, to excrete. Butler is using Julia Kristeva's psychoanalytic theory of abjection, expounded in Powers of Horror.

Any theory of the environment that claims to subvert the subject–object distinction, if it doesn't address the issue of the abject, will become simply an idealized or “new and improved” brand of Nature, which already excludes the abject.

Therefore, while we “clean up” the planet, theory should be doing precisely the opposite: lingering with defilement and pollution.

This is basically the idea of “dark ecology,” something I explore differently in Chapter 3 of Ecology without Nature.

The ecological thought and queer theory are intimate. It is not that ecological thinking would benefit from an injection of queer theory from the “outside.” It's that, fully and properly, the ecological thought is queer theory: queer ecology.

In turn, queer theory—and queerness, for that matter—is not an ephiphenomenal blip on the most recent page of human cultural history. Nor is it a late addition to 4.5 billion years of evolution. A quick read of The Origin of Species and even more so, The Descent of Man, will convince you that life forms themselves are queer all the way down. Then if you really want to whack-a-mole the idea that humans have genders, but animals just have “sex,” there's no need to read Donna Haraway's work on primates (though it would help). You can pick up a copy of almost anything Richard Dawkins has done. It's probably bad taste in some circles to say you've been reading Richard Dawkins but there you go, I'm a bad taste sort of a guy.

Just describing my summer reading...continental philosophy and hardcore reductionist empiricism! What a combination! Darwin is beautifully written and very easy—he designed the books to be sold in railway stations. If you really want a deconstructive good time, take a look at Dawkins's The Extended Phenotype. It will change your sense of reality. You will no longer be able to hold holistic concepts such as “world” and “ecosystem” and you will come away with a refreshed sense of how life forms are planet Earth and how almost everything you experience is the phenomenal display of the genetic code (you think genes stop at the boundaries of the flesh?).

You want anti-essentialist performativity? Just read Darwin. Then to cap it off, study DNA—if you like, all life forms (phenotypes) are performances of DNA (the genotype). This isn't like phenotext and genotext (Kristeva)—it is phenotext and genotext! Because genotext consists of the social and biological (and Kristeva adds “ecological”) forces that determine the text—which, at a certain level, is DNA itself. This includes the phenomena of sexual display, the engine of sexual selection. Sexual display, as opposed to the “survival of the fittest” (a phrase anxiously inserted into Darwin's text at the behest of Wallace, who wasn't too keen on the idea of non-utilitarian notions of evolution), accounts for a whole lot of why life forms look and act the way they do. There is no good reason for my skin color and reddish facial hair—it's just that a few million years ago, someone thought it was sexy. It's likely that a whole lot of how our reality looks (from houses to Coca Cola bottles) has to do with sexuality (well, duh), which has to do with performativity. No, I'm not citing Freud or Butler. I'm paraphrasing Darwin.

DNA itself is of course a text—in the strong poststructuralist sense. My uncle recently retired from his biochemistry research job. One of his discoveries was about ERV-3. (You can find it in Virology 196 at or PubMed if your university has that database). Your DNA contains 98% chimp DNA (we know that), 35% daffodil DNA (Wordsworth eat your heart out), and on and on—but it doesn't stop there. The DNA also contains viral and plasmid insertions so that it's impossible, even at that level, to identify which part of the code is “host” and which part is “parasite” (paging Hillis Miller...). ERV-3, otherwise known as Endogenous Retrovirus 3, does interesting things. For one, it appears to code for a protein that enhances the immunosuppressive properties of the placental barrier. So it appears that you are reading this because a virus in your genes helped your mom's placenta to operate properly. What an amazing mixture of boundaries, insides, outsides, and permeabilities, all the way down...

DNA has no flavor. There is no human-flavored DNA. There is no daffodil-flavored DNA. There is also no male-flavored DNA.

Deconstruction and queer theory have nothing to fear from biology—come on in, the water's lovely!

So I guess what I'm saying is that queerness is installed in reality at the ontic level, at the level of substance. It's not a sheer style of higher primate phenotypes, primates who are at the tip of a tiny arm growing out of one of the spokes on the wheel of life, which is mostly made up of “asexual” bacteria and amoebae. Any claim that nonhumans have “natural” binary sex is editing out about almost every single life form.

So how are we to read Coleridge in light of all this? Or is he just a historical artifact now, interesting in his wrongness? Is there any utopian energy still bound up in the text of The Rime? I believe there is, and that this energy has to do with intimacy, and the fear of intimacy, with other life forms, with life forms as other. (That includes you.) This “other“ is decisively not an object, but a subject—though this word may be inadequate to describe the depths of the “person.”

We could debate whether or not Coleridge is depicting a world, whose world it is, whether it's coherent, etc. But I don't think these questions are as powerful as the one that still seems to beckon from our own political future. This is the question of how to be-with the other life forms on this Earth.

If the terms of the debate are about whose “world” it is anyway, then I can't get involved, because to do so would be to accept the terms—that we are living within worlds or systems that are bounded by horizons, holistically integrated, etc. Otherwise the poem becomes an interesting relic from an age when those thoughts could still be held without bad faith. Which is okay. Perhaps then I would interpret the poem as a good example of how not to do the ecological thought. But I think the poem speaks to us now, about things we are only just beginning to think.

“The Night-mare Life-in-Death was she” (3.193). An interesting syntactical inversion of “It is an Ancient Mariner” (1.1). While the Mariner's existence precedes his identity (so to speak), here we have the reverse. It is as if the Mariner's fantasy about Life-in-Death impedes her existence. Synethiaphobia gets in the way of intimacy. The Mariner sees her as fantasy realized, as a horrifying creature from his inner space. Woe betide anyone who appears to externalize someone's fantasy. In this mode, love is always mortifying. Life-in-Death is a “Nightmare”—a horse that rides the night. (Another animal motif—a dream-horse, a horse-dream.) She's a Spenserian allegorical figure, a cipher. She appears only to incarnate the Mariner's deepest fears and wishes. Notice the tense change: “Who thicks man's blood with cold” (3.194) The Mariner forgets that he is telling a tale, so “ghastly” is the fantasy that sill seems to stick to him, as intimately as his “skinny hand, so brown” (4.228).

Can we, dare we, read against the grain here, against the overwhelming tide of fantasy and identification? Can we push back through identity to sheer existence? To intimacy with this strangest of strangers?


The ecological thought—mission statement

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Hi Everyone.

Very kindly, Ron asked me to post a synopsis of my doings here. Writing it was very helpful.

I'm quite jazzed from having just come out of a theory class where I was teaching Althusser, so you may recognize some things Lacanian in here. But I hope I've made the language fairly obvious.

It was one of those happy classes when you allow yourself to think, hey, this critique thing might just be possible...

If you still want to find out more, go to my blog Ecology without Nature.

Here we go:

The ecological thought—mission statement
Timothy Morton

Think of a Rorschach blot: as well as looking like a cloud or a person, it is just a meaningless stain. Aside from content and form, texts are blobs of others' enjoyment, literally—they are made of ink—and less literally, but still fantasy is a part of reality. Therefore reading is fundamentally coexistence with others. To read a poem is a political act, a nonviolent one. At the very least, there is an appreciation, with no particular reason, of another's enjoyment. I would argue that (at least closely analytical) reading goes beyond mere toleration, towards a more difficult, disturbing, and potentially traumatic encounter with enjoyment—which is always “of the other,” even when it's your own.

Reading a text is a profoundly ecological act, because ecology, at bottom, is coexistence (with others, of course), which implies interdependence. What I call the ecological thought is the thinking of this coexistence and interdependence to the fullest possible extent of which we are capable. If we are going to make it through the next few decades, we will have explored deeply the implications of coexistence.

Some of these implications are highly disturbing to “environmentalist” ideology: that we are not living in a “world”; that there is no Nature; that holism is untenable; that personhood is a form of artificial intelligence; that ecology is queer down to the genomic level, and so on. These highly counterintuitive conclusions are forced on us by the ecological thought itself, which is thinking coexistence, coexistence as thinking.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge's famous poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is about reading as coexistence beyond mere toleration. On many levels, it presents ecological coexistence as a theme. At its most profound, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner forces us to coexist with coexistence itself, with the meaningless distortion of the real. It is a poem whose reading helps us to think the ecological thought. My blogging here is a contribution to this project. I am finishing a book called The Ecological Thought in which I explore these issues in a different way.

The ecological thought—a ghastly fugue

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Hi, hey, hulloo, hello, and hail...

Kurt Fosso's recent posting got me thinking about the gloss of the Rime. There may be several ways of reading Coleridge's frequent glosses and frames. There's the possibility of a sort of “naive-sophisticated” frame—maybe we should call it Level 1—where the frame says, in effect, “What you are about to read is made up.” (This may be Mike Wiley's hypothesis about the raven poem—hi Mike!) Then there's a Level 2 frame, which uses the effect of Level 1 in a paradoxical way, to disinhibit the reader: “Don't worry, this is just a fiction.” Then I guess there's Level 3, where Levels 1 and 2 are used to create an “impossible” subject position that combines utter literalness and aesthetic distance. Level 3 frames are popular in horror movies, where the director or other spokesperson says “Warning! This is going to be horrific,” and then it is. This seems to combine Level 2 and Level 1 frames. Something like Level 2 (if not 3) happens in “Kubla Khan” when STC says “Don't worry, this isn't really a poem, just a psychological curiosity, a sort of brain scan.” Weave a circle round the poem thrice, as it were...

Question: are animals and irony always on opposite poles? Wouldn't this reproduce the human–nonhuman boundary? Animals = authenticity, irony = humanity...?

I'm not sure exactly how the gloss works yet regarding our ecological theme, but I have some ideas, thanks to Kurt, which I'll try to post.

On the subject of animal-poems, animal-as-poem, etc., there's Ted Hughes's “The Thought-Fox,” which makes a big deal of this metaphor. Heideggerian readers can knock themselves out on line 1: “I imagine this midnight moment's forest.”

I started another blog dealing with philosophical, scientific, political, and aesthetic issues on ecology. It's called Ecology without Nature. All comers welcome. It features a link to a talk I gave recently on cognition and poetry (and their environmental implications).

As I thought about where we are with this reading of Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, I started to think about the poem's use of the word “ghastly.”

Here's our dictionary again:

OED “ghastly,” a. 1. a. In early use: Causing terror, terrible (obs.). In mod. use (cf. 2): Suggestive of the kind of horror evoked by the sight of death or carnage; horrible, frightful, shocking.
b. colloq. Said hyperbolically of persons or things objectionable on various grounds: Shocking, ‘frightful’.
2. a. (Influenced by GHOST: cf. quot. 1711.) Like a spectre, or a dead body; death-like, pale, wan. Of light: Lurid.
b. of a smile, a grin. [Hello, I say to myself...]
c. said of immaterial things.
3. Full of fear, inspired by fear. Obs.

If ecology doesn't speak about ghosts, it loses a crucial dimension of reality. The psychic dimension is not an optional component.

If at bottom the ecological thought is the (traumatic) encounter with the strange stranger, then ecology is uncanny all the way down. This intuition is confirmed by a brief study of Freud's essay “The Uncanny,” in which he makes potent references to experiences of being in an environment—lost in winding streets, lost in a forest. (Robert Smith eat your heart out.)

Where Coleridge's poem reaches its most “supernatural,” in its excess over the natural, is precisely where we find the ecological. Recursively, the Mariner talks of his telling:

“Oh shrieve me, shrieve me, holy man!”
The Hermit crossed his brow.
“Say quick,” quoth he, “I bid thee say—
What manner of man art thou?”

Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched
With a woful agony,
Which forced me to begin my tale;
And then it left me free.

Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns:
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns.

I pass, like night, from land to land;
I have strange power of speech;
That moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me:
To him my tale I teach.
(Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, 7.574–590)

It is precisely when the Mariner talks of his uncanny compulsion to repeat that we glimpse the ecological dimension of his tale's very form. This form comes again and again, like a viral code. Isn't that the disturbing thing about nature—that it keeps on going, and going, and going, like the Energizer Bunny?

Yet what we habitually call “nature” seems to be sandwiched between a bottom level that is pure automatic self-replication (the genome); and a top level that is also curiously repetitive—the psychic. It is as if when we speak of “nature” we edit out these viral levels. Both levels are “ghastly,” since this word names both flesh and immaterial things. This ghastliness is both alive and dead at once—I'm tempted to say undead. A “ghastly” light is lurid—death-colored and wan, or glowing with too much life.

The tale itself is a “selfish meme” that takes over the poor body of the Mariner. Isn't that the minimum definition of a psyche—an alien force that possesses us, makes us do its bidding? Isn't the psyche itself a kind of partial object that takes the body over and dominates it?

And isn't this the truth of the “selfish gene,” too—that life forms and their environments (which they co-create and co-sustain) are basically vehicles for gene propagation? So from the gene's and from the psyche's points of view, we are the same—we are zombies, living dead.

So the tale, portrayed here as a kind of vomit that grips the Mariner from the inside until he ejects it—or even as viral DNA whose vector is the Mariner's speech—marvelously combines both genomic and “memetic” levels.

This would be true of the title of the tale itself. “Rime” is rhyme, and hoar-frost (OED, “rime,” n1.1, n.2.a.). Like rime, viruses are basically gigantic, monstrous crystals. The moon in the sky in part 4 “bemocked the sultry main / Like April hoar-frost spread” (4.267–268). It is as if, like a crystal, the viral structure appears to repeat at different levels of the text.

(Actually, “rime” n.3 is Old English for number, or reckoning. We are dealing with iteration, with mathematical structures—crystals and rhymes, and viruses. And thus with the possibility of iterations that don't stop—with infinity. See the Infinite Interlude.)

A “ghastly” tale indeed (7.584), a tale of animated bodies, a “ghastly crew” (5.340). These are not souls that consist of some ethereal substance from beyond “this side” of reality. Instead, we witness souls as ghasts, as specters—as a disturbing distortion of this side itself. The “Christian soul” which the sailors perversely impute to the Albatross is the second of these “ghasts”—the first being the Mariner himself.

Wordsworth criticized the poem for having a wholly passive protagonist. Yet it is this very passivity that shows us the zero degree of ecological being, which is irreducibly a being-with. And a bisection of living tissue by these monstrous, replicating hosts—genome and psyche.

The ghastly intimate, yet external—extimate—quality of the tale appears in the face of Life-in-Death, “that woman” from the “spectre-bark” (3.189, 3.202). She emerges from a distance, not out of a beyond, for she exists on this side of reality. That's what's so disturbing about her. As the Mariner watches the “speck” of the “spectre” ship growing ever closer, it's like looking down a microscope at an “animalcule” that gets ever bigger as the magnification increases; peering with irresistible fascination at a squirming life form, its cilia wafting “Like restless gossameres” (3.184). The death ship is already within the Mariner's field of vision. It does not appear out of nowhere, but is simply there when the Mariner looks westwards. There like he is: “It is an ancient Mariner” (1.1).

On one level, then, the “spectre” ship and its crew are the gaze of science, looking back at us from the point of view of the object of science itself. This code becomes very explicit in Frankenstein. It's not the content, but the authoritarian coldness, of scientific discourse, which the ecological thought must melt. Life-in-Death “thicks man's blood with cold” (3.194).

Life in Death

Life-in-Death is not a figure of horrifying power, but of horrifying vulnerability. She is both psyche, pure appearance—red lips, yellow locks and all—and infected flesh—“Her skin was white as leprosy” (3.192)—naturally we expect skin as white as snow, or something. She is an animated doll, and fantasy realized in the external realm, a nightmare. It would not be hard to dismiss her as a misogynistic cartoon of Phallic Woman.

Yet this dismissal would miss her vulnerability, her passivity (yes, her cartoon-like, puppet-like appearance), which is precisely what is so disturbing about her. After all, she is casting dice for the souls of the crew, which implies that she might lose. Life-in-Death is a bacterial Cinderella, and isn't Cinderella's passivity also what disturbs?Like the Mariner himself, then, whom the Wedding Guest starts to dread with his “skinny hand” and deathly appearance (4.224–227).

Life-in-Death is a being from our inner space, yet also from external, extra-psychic space. It is as if the poem is daring us to eject her, to vomit at the sight of her. She is no petrifying Medusa.

Life-in-Death's very face appears eaten away by disease. Not that we know for sure that the face is indeed diseased. Very skillfully, and economically, Coleridge superimposes pure feminine appearance (“As white as”) and the self-replicating, asexual subroutines of deadly infection (“As white as leprosy”). Above all, Life-in-Death is a face, a face in all its terrifying carnality. This is the face of undead life, of life as undead. The face of a psyche, and the face of viral replication. Not a cute Disney “animal” face. A strange stranger face.

What a gift this face is for the ecological thought!

Can we possibly listen to this face, talk with it, coexist with it? In a softer key, part 4 encourages us to think about lingering with disgusting beings. Can we linger here, at the palpitating heart of the nightmare?

What we need to examine is the pornographic “cold” with which Life-in-Death “thicks man's blood” (3.194)—it is precisely the reaction of the masculine subject to this exposed, vulnerable being that is the problem. This is a poem about phobia and intimacy, intimacy-phobia.

The ecological thought consists in a progressive coming to terms with abjection, disgust and grief. And with the zero degree of life as monstrous, random replication.

In fact, rather wonderfully, the theoretical framework of the ecological thought replicates the “top” and “bottom” levels of “life”—the viral and the psychic. It's a strange brew of life sciences and Lévinas, Dawkins and Derrida.

With its witches' oils (part 2) and its water snakes (part 4), the Rime approaches, then backs away from, the frontal horror of Life-in-Death. Let's linger with her face some more, in the next installment. For the encounter with the strange stranger is exactly this encounter with a nightmarish, inconsistent, incomplete being that gives the lie to metaphysical terms such as “organism,” “life form,” “mind,” and “person.”

The ecological thought, part second

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At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God's name.

(Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, 1.63–66)

Hi again. So here we have the fateful bird, emerging from the ice and fog, from the intense, oppressive atmosphere of sheer existence. Lévinas calls this “the element.” One is immersed in it.

The ice and fog already imply coexistence of some kind. Beyond the sort of “world” that Heidegger is after, I think. Something less “handy,” less to do with a horizon of meaning (you can't see through all that fog in any case). The ecological thought tries to think “below” Heidegger. Heidegger is where more ecological criticism bottoms out. He's the favorite of Deep Ecology because of this. We must engage with Heidegger rather than flee, otherwise we leave things like “world“ intact—things that I claim are part of the problem. Have a read of what Slavoj Zizek says:

“what we need is an ecology without nature: the ultimate obstacle to protecting nature is the very notion of nature we rely on” (In Defense of Lost Causes, p. 445 (in a chapter on nature, in a section called “Ecology against Nature”).

The idea of being immersed in a “lifeworld” is an ideological obstacle to thinking ecologically, which is, I claim, at its most fundamental level, a radical intimacy with other beings. I discuss this in Ecology without Nature.

So here comes the Albatross, “Thorough” the fog—right the way through it, to here, to this side, as it were. Up close and personal. It does not come from some beyond “outside” the fog. It comes from within the fog. It comes from within existence itself.

Infinity it not “over there” in some beyond. It is right here, even in the fog itself. It's one of those entities we are becoming more and more familiar with as part of the humiliation of ecology, the humiliation that brings us closer to the Earth (and literally earth). Marx, Freud, and Darwin all humiliate human beings by decentering their place. The fog stands for what I call “material infinity”—things that are profoundly hard to grasp that are on this side of reality.

In many ways, abstract infinity is easier than say 4.5 billion (the age of the Earth in years). Try to visualize 4.5 billion of anything. Life on Earth presents us with this “very large finitude.” Now put a face on life forms. Assume that they are subjects, people like you and me (or at least, bad imitations of them, like you and me). This is infinity on this side of reality. Abstract void is easier to handle than the void of another person.

This is the Albatross, the face of the fog, existence as a person (beyond “personification”), approaching us in our vulnerability. “Thorough the fog it came”—like “Out of the sea came he” (Coleridge's description of the sun). Suddenly it's there, still an “it” in the grammar, but also a “he” or a “she”—a person. There's no in-between moment when the Alabtross is far away, then kind of close, then... (This will affect our reading of another figure emerging from the distance, the Death Ship of Part 3).

Coleridge is great for thinking the scary environment of now. This environment is nothing other than life forms themselves.

Stay tuned, close readers!

Romantic Circles Poets on Poets on CBS Weekend Roundup

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Two brief clips from Romantic Circles' Poets on Poets series will be included in today's broadcast of the CBS Weekend Roundup radio program, contrasting our recording of "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" by poet Charles North with the rap version performed by the creation of the tourism board, "MC Nuts," a Lake District Red Squirrel.

The May 4, 2007 show can be accessed at the CBS Weekend Roundup podcast page or can be downloaded directly at:

Our segment is in the last story of the day, beginning at about 36:40 into the broadcast.

You can find all of Romantic Circles' audio resources here:

--The Romantic Circles Editors

Coleridge Portraits online

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Portraits of Coleridge Exhibition - 14 October to 31 December 2005

The Friends of Coleridge Website is currently hosting a small virtual exhibition of Coleridge portraits which are on temporary virtual loan by kind permission of the National Portrait Gallery, Dove Cottage, and Jesus College Cambridge.

The interesting feature is an arrangement showing the original 1804 Northcote portrait alongside two other versions of it.

Paul Cheshire
Friends of Coleridge Website

Steve Jones on NPR

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Scott Simon interviewed Romantic Circle's own Steve Jones this morning on NPR about Byron's The Corsair, which made publishing history this week in 1814 by selling out its entire run of 10,000 copies on the first day of publication.

For more about Byron's poem and for a recording of the interview, visit

Blake Archive: Divine Comedy illustrations

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The William Blake Archive is pleased to announce the publication of electronic editions of Blake's water color and engraved illustrations to Dante's Divine Comedy. Along with the illustrations to Edward Young's Night Thoughts, the poetry of Thomas Gray, and John Milton's poems, the Dante series of 102 water colors are among Blake's most important series of illustrations to another poet. Although he engraved only 7 of the designs from the water color series, these plates show that Blake continued innovative work as a line engraver into the final days of his life. The water colors can be found in the Archive by moving through the following categories: Works in the Archive, Non-Illuminated Materials, Drawings and Paintings, and Water Color Drawings. The engravings can be found by moving through the following categories: Works in the Archive, Non-Illuminated Materials, Separate Prints and Prints in Series, Plates Designed and Engraved by Blake.

The water colors were commissioned by John Linnell, the chief patron of Blake's final years. Although Linnell did not begin to pay for the designs until December 1825, at the rate of about 1 pound a week, Blake probably began work on the drawings by the fall of 1824. They were left at Blake's death in 1827 in various stages of completion, ranging from pencil sketches to highly finished water colors. Most show an expressive freedom in the handling of color washes far greater than Blake's earlier water colors. In 1826, Blake began to engrave large plates based on 7 of the designs; these were also left incomplete at his death. Like Blake's Job engravings, the Dante plates are pure line engravings without preliminary etching. The water colors remained in Linnell's collection and estate until their sale at auction in 1918. Through a scheme organized by the National Arts-Collections Fund, they were dispersed among 7 participating
institutions: Ashmolean Museum (3 designs), Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery (6 designs), British Museum (13 designs), Fogg Art Museum (23 designs) National Gallery of Victoria (36 designs), Royal Institution of Cornwall (1 design), and Tate Collection (20 designs). The engravings, first printed for sale in 1838, are reproduced from a set in the collection of Robert N. Essick.

We have also taken this opportunity to publish four more Collection Lists:Ashmolean Museum, J. Paul Getty Museum, Royal Institution of Cornwall, and Tate Collection. The last in this group is one of the largest and finest gatherings of Blake's drawings, water colors, and paintings. These lists can be found, along with the eighteen others previously published, under Resources for Further Research on the Archive's main Table of Contents (Home Page).

Morris Eaves, Robert N. Essick, and Joseph Viscomi, editors
Andrea Laue, technical editor
The William Blake Archive