Reading with John Clare: Biopoetics, Sovereignty, Romanticism

Reading with John Clare: Biopoetics, Sovereignty, Romanticism

Sara Guyer
Sara Guyer
Brian McGrath
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Reading with John Clare: Biopoetics, Sovereignty, Romanticism
    Book Description:

    Reading with John Clare argues that at the heart of contemporary biopolitical thinking is an insistent repression of poetry. By returning to the moment at which biopolitics is said to emerge simultaneously with romanticism, this project renews our understanding of the operations of contemporary politics and its relation to aesthetics across two centuries. Guyer focuses on a single, exemplary case: the poetry and autobiographical writing of the British poet John Clare (1793-1864). Reading Clare in combination with contemporary theories of biopolitics, Guyer reinterprets romanticism's political legacies, specifically the belief that romanticism is a direct precursor to the violent nationalisms and redemptive environmentalisms of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Guyer offers an alternative account of many of romanticism's foundational concepts, like home, genius, creativity, and organicism. She shows that contemporary critical theories of biopolitics, despite repeatedly dismissing the aesthetic or poetic dimensions of power as a culpable ideology, emerge within the same rhetorical tradition as the romanticism they denounce. The book thus compels a rethinking of the biopolitical critique of poetry and an attendant reconsideration of romanticism and its concepts.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-6561-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction: The Life of Reading
    (pp. 1-10)

    In his last lecture of 1975–76, Michel Foucault focused on “power’s hold over life,” and in particular the emergence in the nineteenth century of sovereignty as a power over life, rather than death, sovereignty as “the right to make live and let die.”¹ As Foucault explains in theHistory of Sexuality, “The old power of death that symbolized sovereign power was now carefully supplanted by the administration of bodies and the calculated management of life,” two “techniques” that Foucault identifies not in philosophy but “in the form of concrete arrangements.”² Foucault’s insight has opened up the epoch of biopower,...

  5. 1. The Viability of Poetry
    (pp. 11-24)

    On December 28, 1841, John Clare became an inhabitant of the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, one of the genre of institutions that Michel Foucault identifies with the management and restoration of the population.¹ Clare wrote extensively while in the asylum, where he went largely unmonitored. While much of his poetry of this period (he was there until his death in 1864) has not been preserved, an undated lyric “To Mary” is one of the hundreds of poems that survive. Clare addresses the poem to a girl that he loved in childhood, but whose father intervened because he was convinced that...

  6. 2. The Origins and Ends of Poetic Genius
    (pp. 25-39)

    Throughout his life, readers considered John Clare a genius and in doing so established an understanding of poetry and of the poet (like that of human rights and the rights-bearing man) that originates in mere life. For example, in January 1822, an unsigned review of John Clare’sA Village Minstrel, possibly by Josiah Conder, opened with a description of Clare that turned out to anticipate his epitaph. The review begins: “It still holds true as ever, that a poet must be born a poet, he cannot grow into one.”¹ The review set out to explain that the organic ideology it...

  7. 3. Can the Poet Speak?
    (pp. 40-56)

    When John Ashbery received the Charles Eliot Norton Professorship of Poetry at Harvard in 1989 and was asked to deliver six public lectures, he used the occasion to reflect upon the “other traditions” that have informed his work. By “other traditions,” which is also the title of the published version of the lectures, Ashbery refers not only to an alternative canon but also, as he puts it, to one made up of the poets that he “reads habitually in order to get started; a poetic jump-start for times when the batteries have run down.”¹ First among these energizing, animating poets...

  8. 4. Inventions of Self-Identity
    (pp. 57-77)

    In 1841, John Clare invents the term “self-identity.” The context is an unlikely one: a fragmentary essay—or prose poem—in which he insists upon the moral necessity of self-recognition. Although Clare is virtually powerless in other domains, he discovers that he may be the only one capable of recognizing himself and of maintaining his place in the world. He thinks that self-recognition will ameliorate the risk of his disappearance or of his life becoming a form of social death. And so, at more or less the same moment that Francis Galton and Alphonse Bertillon develop biological profiling as a...

  9. 5. The Poetics of Homelessness
    (pp. 78-100)

    In “Relocating John Clare,” their introduction to the essay collectionJohn Clare in Context, Hugh Haughton and Adam Phillips suggest, arrestingly, that “two hundred years after Clare’s birth, Clare still speaks to us with something of the exemplary perplexity of the displaced person, of an exile within his own country.”¹ While Clare usually is considered to be a poet of local relevance and distinction—the poet of Helpston, Northamptonshire, or the Midland moors and fens—he appears here not as a “village minstrel,” to recall the title of his second volume of poetry, but as a “displaced person.” In marshaling...

  10. Coda: The Reading of Life
    (pp. 101-102)

    I end this story with Detroit, because this is where it began. It was there that I began to think about how John Clare’s poetry might help us to read about the quotidian forms of displacement in U.S. cities and suburbs, just as it might help us to think about radical homelessness or the emergence of biopoetics. In other words, I end it here in order to demonstrate what is at stake in this book. If these contemporary scenes seem to bear almost no resemblance to romantic disagreements about poetic genius or to the culmination of arguments about how to...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 103-116)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 117-124)
  13. Index
    (pp. 125-132)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 133-138)