Feed on

Goya's Yard with LunaticsThis is not fully flushed out, of course (hence it’s on the blog and not the thesis of a paper), but I promised this blog would be a place of interconnectivity between my various classes this semester, and I am about to keep that promise in a big way.  I have been meditating extensively on the role of madness or insanity in literature.  It seems a central theme from Shakespeare to Ginsberg, and beyond.  Obviously, scientific knowledge and social attitudes have changed over the centuries, but madness continues to appear as a meta-metaphor in poetry everywhere.  I have broken down Madness’ functions as metaphors into three general categories:

  1. Madness as preferable to sanity because it provides a relief from suffering through an absence of clarity about one’s surroundings.
  2. Madness as preferable to sanity because it provides a higher understanding that is misunderstood by the “sane” populace at large.
  3. Madness as the privelege of the artist/poet.

In sifting these theories out, I have been turning to the text, obviously, but also to the web for general cultural thoughts on what madness is and how it functions in society, or not.  I found a website dedicated to Mark Twain quotes about madness, complete with a picture of the novelist looking a little crazed himself.

I heart Audre Lorde.

Here is a recording, on my personal blog, of myself reading a pair of Audre Lorde poems entitled “Memorial.”


No, no, no, no! Come, let’s away to prison:
We two alone will sing like birds i’ the cage:
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down,
And ask of thee forgiveness: so we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too,
Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out;
And take upon’s the mystery of things,
As if we were God’s spies: and we’ll wear out,
In a wall’d prison, packs and sects of great ones,
That ebb and flow by the moon.
(spoken by King Lear, act 5.3, ll.8-18)

In all of the horrific gore of Act V, I find this short speech of Lear’s beautiful, poignant, hopeful, and yet, in light of the final events, heart-wrenching. He constructs a kind of parallel, almost pastoral, scene of paradise in which Cordelia can forgive him and Lear can bless her marriage and life, in turn. This seems to me, to echo the feelings of anyone going through an extremely tragic crisis in their life; if you are in despair, then you wish to have that someone who is loyal and loving protected, with you, shielded from the outside world. And, in this case, kept safe from the viscousness and unpredictability that is court life.

I think this is one of the most beautiful, dreamlike, speeches in the entire play. And little sparks of light are hard to come by, as we know.

So, I was having a conversation with my boyfriend today about a new compact synthesizer that he is coveting, and I suddenly realized that he has thousands and thousands of dollars worth of music equipment… It costs that much in equipment to MAKE music. Weird? What does it cost me to write? A couple of bucks for pen and paper, access to a PC (which are public many places now)? And, visual arts…If you paint, you know that painting supplies are expensive. Especially quality oil paints and brushes. And yet…these seem to be more popular arts than poetry, in particular. Poetry, and writing, has on one level escaped commodification…
And, technological advancement (which has served to make music more expensive an endeavor, and fine art less expensive an endeavor, in many respects…)

(And I
sometimes write
my poetry on napkins
at stoplights.)

What of it?
I don’t know.

fall break, what a hoax!

I always plan absurdly to accomplish great feats over any “break” in the semester…read scores of books, write a new poetic portfolio, okay maybe I am exaggerating…but IT’S JUST A LONG WEEKEND! Minus the travel days, for me, it’s just a weekend at home. Very unproductive. When I don’t have so many things to do, I will read these books, as they look tantalizing…


(fyi: these aren’t my real glasses, but a girl can dream–right?)

So, I have (yet another) project on my plate, that has not yet made its way into this blog-space. That would be my role as Dr. Mehdi Aminrazavi’s research assistant and copy-editor. The book he (we?) are working on is tentatively titled “American Literature and Sufism.” The book is actually a collection of essays by promonant scholars in the areas of English literature (specifically the Transcendentalist Poets, but stretching from Milton to the present…), and Islamic mysticism. My role is to proofread, standardize, edit the content. And fact check it. Oh, and create the table of contents, contributors bibliographies, glossary of terms, etcetera. Am I excited? You BETCHA! Only at the “Ireland of Public Universities”* would I even be handed such an opportunity as an undergrad. And Dr. A is such a wonderful person to work with–animated, kind, passionate and excitable about his projects.
Here is a Rumi poem because I just can’t stand not to share it:

In your light I learn how to love.
In your beauty, how to make poems.

You dance inside my chest,
where no one sees you,

but sometimes I do,
and that sight becomes this art.


So, in order to prepare the first couple of chapters, I not only had to read up on Sufism (my previous exposure was almost entirely limited to the mystical poet, Rumi), but I also had to peruse some transcendentalist works I have not looked at in a couple of years. Oh, and reread chunks of The Anatomy of Criticism by Northrop Frye, of which I found this bit thought-provoking:

“…in the anagogic phase, literature imitates the total dream of man, and so imitates the thought of a human mind which is at the circumference and not at the center of its reality[…]When we pass into anagogy, nature becomes, not the container, but the thing contained, and the archetypal universal symbols, the city, the garden, the quest, the marriage, are no longer the desirable forms that man constructs inside nature, but are themselves the forms of nature.”
– N. Frye

It all makes me think of something Prof. Emerson said to me in her office today:

What we do is dangerous.
(and what we do is poetry.)

*One of Dr. Campbell’s many metaphors to connote just how scrappy, underrated, overacheiving, and brilliant UMW is. We are punching way above our weight. ;o)

What if:

To imbibe things with meaning is to make them incomprehensible?


To really get the poetry is to make one unable to speak?

(the picture is a lithograph created by William Frederick Yeames in 1888. For more information on the source, click here.)

What does it mean to feel something inexpressible?

Cordelia’s profession that she has “nothing” to say to her father’s request that she prove her own love for him comes so early in the play, and creates the conditions for all of the unfolding tragic action to come. It is, no doubt, meta-commentary on language and literature, by Shakespeare. Cordelia feels a love so strong for her father that it cannot be expressed. What does this mean? On the one hand, it seems that the implications of Cordelia’s behavior are that strong feelings actually put us completely within ourselves, they are in a way, isolating. It seems counterintuitive, to say the least, but language is the primary means of our intellectual communication. When we feel strongly, we are shut-up inside our hearts, and our minds are blocked. We experience at once an isolation of self in the inability to communicate, and a division of self, heart vs. head.

Cordelia cannot speak, and will not speak, for fear that it will confound her meaning. She loves her father purely, and cannot make use of language with the same precision. Rather she tells him:

Good my lord,
You have begot me, bred me, loved me; I
Return those duties back as are right fit,
Obey you, love you, and most honor you.
(act 1.1, ll.95-98)

that her actions, not her words, testify to her steadfast and pure devotion. In this case, Cordelia maintains that to say nothing, is to say everything. The most interesting element is King Lear’s misinterpretation of Cordelia’s insistence on silence. In his own vein, and perhaps insecure, wish for flattery, he perceives Cordelia’s silence as an inadequacy. The demand for proof of a partner, or child’s, love and devotion signals a kiss-of-death to that relationship oftentimes. To demand the unnecessary and inexpressible is to condemn the other to failure, especially in the case of earnestness, which may sound like “nothing”–a lack of feeling.

Let us not forget, that it is the King of France who appreciates Cordelia’s sincerity, in a poignant and beautiful speech:

Fairest Cordelia, that art most rich, being poor;
Most choice, forsaken; and most loved, despised!
Thee and thy virtues here I seize upon:
Be it lawful I take up what’s cast away…
(act1.1, ll.252-55)

So that, as of now, Cordelia is not fated to complete unhappiness. Though she is shunned by her father, and sent away from her homeland, she finds love and acceptance, and becomes Queen of all of France.

mad tom of bedlam

I will preserve myself; and am bethought
To take the basest and most poorest shape…

…Poor Turlygod! Poor Tom!
That’s something yet! Edgar I nothing am.
(act 2.3, ll.6-7, 20-21)

my personal response to “mad tom of bedlam”–> a song, of the same title, by the wonderful contemporary folk singer Jolie Holland.


Since WordPress doesn’t allow direct imbedding of imeem audio files, here is the link to the song.

two from the vaults.

(Milton owns a beach-side motel.)
(broken spirit?)

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