«A Dissertation by SARAH ELIZABETH HART Submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies of Texas A&M University in partial fulfillment of the requirements ...»
The implicit way that Hopkins evokes dialogue in "Spring and Fall" seems to parallel the implicit nature of Levinasian responsibility—a capacity for relating to others that underlies, precedes, makes possible all of our narcissistic tendencies. For Levinas, responsibility is the primary capacity of the human subject, a capacity that makes possible "the affective as such," creates the possibility for emotion under girded by one's fear for her own death ("Dying For" 216). Responsibility, Levinas emphasizes, is prior to all intention and conscious action; it "goes against intentionality, such that responsibility for others could never mean altruistic will, instinct of 'natural benevolence,' or love" because I am responsible prior to my ability to intend, to act intentionally, or even to care ("Substitution" 99, 101). Hopkins likewise hints that dialogic relations may underlie our conscious, emotional experiences. For example, the narrator does not seem to recognize consciously that he may be connected to Margaret through their shared attitudes of grief; Hopkins leaves it to his reader to recognize the possibility of identifying the narrator and Margaret. Hopkins's indirect, implicit means of evoking dialogic relations seems to echo Levinas's argument that our capacity for responsibility underlies our conscious thoughts and emotions.
Levinas helps us recognize that Hopkins's dialogic effects describe the ethical nature of personhood, albeit in terms that are not overtly religious. Hopkins seems to agree with Levinas that personhood centers on loss, although he seems to fall short of affirming responsibility as the defining mark of personhood. Hopkins treats mourning itself synecdochally, as if mourning reflects the essential "blight" of humankind— separation through mortality and narcissism (14). In this respect, for Hopkins mourning illustrates that personhood is defined by separation and loss. Mourning also seems to be an attitude essential to personhood for Levinas, for whom "mourning... functions... as an internal rhetoric of his discourse as well as a sign of rhetorical imperatives denoting and inflecting his description of ethics" (Spargo, Vigilant Memory 32). Mourning, for Levinas, implies one's ethical attitude toward the potential injustice in the other's death, and therefore mourning expresses the essentially ethical nature of personhood. Although mourning illustrates how personhood is constituted by responses to loss and injustice for both Levinas and Hopkins, the ethical nature of that loss may be more strongly Christian for Hopkins, since in the Judeo-Christian tradition, mortality and separation were invoked through humankind's fall from grace to which Goldengrove seems to allude.
Levinas, on the other hand, does not tie the subject's responsibility to the other directly to humankind's fall from grace.
Together, Hopkins and Levinas demonstrate how Burke's description of identification functions on an ethical level. Burke observes that two people who are identified with each other "are both joined and separate, at once distinct substance[s] and consubstantial with one another" (RM 21). For Levinas, because we are separate from the other and therefore risk lethally harming her, we are born into responsibility for her.
A person's separation from the other compels the responsibility that binds her to the other and, in doing so, gives rise to her personhood. Hopkins demonstrates how dialogue can create emotional connections that coexist with separation; although the narrator and Margaret do not seem to connect to each other directly in the poem, their shared attitudes of grief provide a common ground by which the reader may identify them. Such fundamental, rhetorical connections, motivated by loss and separation, seem essential to both Hopkins's and Levinas's definitions of personhood.
Conclusion Projections of loss—and death—onto nature in these lyrics are the same kind of projection that creates personhood in Doss's example of the Columbine shooting. For example, Zanis, the carpenter, seems to have, in a sense, projected personhood onto the killers by including them in his memorial for all those who had died, acknowledging them as members of a his own human community through his act of responsibility that recognizes their otherness. Such projection may also convey personhood to mourners like Zanis, Margaret, and Frost's speaker, as Levinas suggests. Frost's speaker and Margaret seem to create their own personhood in the process of projecting it onto nature, organizing their sense of self even in the act of projection, which may also be an act that distances them from their own self-hoods. Perhaps Margaret's and Frost's speaker's projections cast too wide a net for personhood as they verge on personifying nature and thereby threaten its singularity. On the other hand, their poems may convey their creative responses to nature in Attridge's sense—their poems may affirm some of nature's singularities, like the specific leaves that die in Hopkins's poem. These contrasting ethical possibilities may coexist, confronting readers with ambiguity.
Such ambiguity may exist between carpenter Greg Zanis's inclusive memorial of the Columbine tragedy and Brian Rohrbough's divisive response that excluded the killers. Zanis's response aims to affirm connection with other people. His act of memorializing the killers implies that he felt responsible for preserving connection even in the face of the division and loss that the killers perpetrated. On the other hand, Rohrbough felt compelled to cut off the killers from the community and its public memorials even after their deaths, suggesting that he found the idea or memory of the killers dangerous and threatening to the community. These opposite responses to the killers' deaths present us with ambiguity not unlike the implications of Frost's and Hopkins's poems for ethics. Although the Columbine mourners responded differently to tragic loss, their methods of mourning imply their attitudes about what does and does not count as a valuable life and thereby rhetorically shape their communities and their own identities. Like Margaret and Frost's speaker, these mourners may have constructed versions of their own personhoods through their responses to the lives lost at Columbine.
The ambiguity that surrounds these real and poetic responses to loss may reveal our epistemological limit. Such ambiguity suggests that ethical certainty about such situations is enigmatic, if not altogether elusive. By confronting us with the loss of certainty and knowledge, such ambiguity may thereby impinge on our ability "to be able," confronting us, however indirectly, with our own deaths (Levinas, "Time" 42).
Levinas, Hopkins, Frost, and Burke all affirm the preservation of dialogue as a vital way of responding to such loss.
Epideictic Poetry in Our Day Less than one month after 9/11, Dinitia Smith of The New York Times writes, "In the weeks since the terrorist attacks, people have been consoling themselves—and one another—with poetry in an almost unprecedented way," a claim supported by her descriptions of the many of poems and verses accompanying photos of victims at Ground Zero, in makeshift memorials all around New York City, and even in emails among friends and family. According to Ellen Louise Hart, Emily Dickinson's lyric that begins "After great pain, a formal feeling comes—" repeatedly served as a source for post-9/11 consolation: Cartoonist Lynda Barry drew her September comic strip around Dickinson's lyric, and, for its fall 2001 advisory publication, the Dickinson Homestead included the same poem accompanied by a note to readers conveying its "hope that Dickinson's poems speak to you in your efforts to cope, to remember, to recover" in the wake of September 11th (71-72). Such communal reliance on poetry during times of mourning is not new. Jeffrey Walker indicates that poetry and epigrams mediated public responses to loss even in ancient Hellenic culture. In his Rhetoric and Poetry in Antiquity, Walker explains how epigrammatic poetry on Attic and Spartan graves appeals to an audience's common knowledge that "the mortality of human beings is pitiable"—a public appeal that serves as a "means of reaffirming... an audience's valuehierarchies and its sense of self-identity" (253, 255). Such affirmation may be a source of consolation in the face of death—yet, as Walker emphasizes, it is also a kind of epideictic argument.
For Walker, epideictic discourse, whether prose or verse, "cultivates the basic codes of value and belief by which a society or culture lives" and "shapes... the 'deep' commitments and presuppositions" that produce and affirm community (9). His definition is based in part on Aristotle's definition of epideictic discourse as a rhetorical genre that focuses on praise and blame, targets an audience of "observer[s]," not judges, and is more concerned with "the present" than with the past or the future (Aristotle, On Rhetoric 48). In antiquity, epideictic rhetoric differed from pragmatic genres like forensic and deliberative rhetoric because epideictic discourse, a more "amorphous" genre, was "performed at festivals and ceremonial or symposiastic occasions"—i.e.
public, communal events (Walker 7). Such events were characterized by poetic discourses that were "rhythmically structured, tropologically figured... chanted, or sung with stylized intonation and/or gestures," and that demonstrated "equivalent...
phrases of similar length and structure" (Walker 11). These poetic qualities contributed to epideictic's "felt 'presence' and memorability" (Walker 11). Indeed Walker argues that "what comes to be called the art of rhetoric... in fact originates... from an expansion
of the poetic/epideictic realm" (18). In fact, the Greek word poiêsis preceded rhêtorikê:
The term "poiêsis," connoting "doing" or "making" emerged from "aoidê," meaning "song," in the fifth century B.C., whereas the terms "rhêtor" and "technê rhêtorikê" did not arise until "the late fifth and early fourth centuries B.C." (Walker 19, 26).
Epideictic is both poetic and ceremonial. George A. Kennedy explains that, in Aristotle's day, epideictic speech belonged to ceremonious events like funerals, and thus this category "needs to be generalized to include the rituals, performances, and occasional rhetoric found in cultures all over the world," especially "lyric poetry in the form of odes and sonnets celebrating an occasion..." (88). Epideictic's "occasional" quality lends this genre an inherent exigence, making epideictic an essentially responsive genre in that it by definition responds to an occasion, event, or ceremony. This exigence also gives poetic epideictic a rhetorical purpose of "increase[ing] adherence to an accepted value" (Kennedy 88). Because epideictic rhetoric responds to a specific occasion or event by affirming "value," it seems like a very natural kind of rhetorical response to events like 9/11. The elegy itself is a genre that likewise has an inherent exigence since it by definition responds to loss. Writers and readers of both elegiac poetry and epideictic rhetoric are thus positioned by the genre they engage with as respondents (more so than as arguers or as instigators, although they may well inhabit these positions too). In light of this historical context, we may view Americans' public, poetic responses to the 9/11 catastrophe as functioning epideictically and elegiacally, not unlike the epideictic uses of poetry in antiquity.
To view modern poems like Dickinson's "After great pain," Frost's "Desert Places," and Richard Wilbur's "Boy at the Window" as full-fledged epideictic rhetoric, however, is to qualify Walker's final claims about the "limited" degree of contemporary poetry's rhetorical nature (329). Walker traces the history of contemporary poetry to the grammatical tradition rooted in late antiquity, promoted by figures like Augustine and Sidney, and extended through the Enlightenment (311, 329). This grammatical tradition divorces both poetry and rhetoric "from notions of argumentation or 'reason,'" diminishing poetry to mere mimetic expression and rhetoric to style (Walker 329). In the wake of this tradition, Walker finds the rhetoric of contemporary poetry lacking a "capacity for speaking across boundaries persuasively or for mounting a culturally significant epideictic eloquence that does more than simply reconfirm the group's existing pieties and hierarchies of value" (330). Although Walker recognizes this community-affirming effect of contemporary poetry as merely "a minor kind of epideictic," this "minor" effect seems invaluable to writers and readers mourning personal and communal losses like 9/11 (330). The book in which Ellen Louise Hart's essay appears, Wider than the Sky: Essays and Meditations on the Healing Power of Emily Dickinson, includes sundry scholarly essays, personal narratives, and short meditations written by diverse Dickinson readers, all of whom have found consolation in her poetry when faced with various kinds of loss and trauma. These responses affirm that Dickinson's poems appeal to—and persuade—readers across vast boundaries of time and personal experience. This kind of epideictic persuasion seems especially valuable in situations of loss.