«A Dissertation by SARAH ELIZABETH HART Submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies of Texas A&M University in partial fulfillment of the requirements ...»
Hopkins speaks to the "deeply ambivalent" emotional effects of "This Living Hand" by emphasizing the simultaneously painful and pleasurable ways that the poem grips the reader's attention. Hopkins suggests, "It is difficult for the reader to turn his eyes away from the hand he imagines to be in front of him, although he knows that the hand is not there. By the same token, it is difficult to turn his eyes away from the words on the page, since it is those eyes, in the act of reading, that give them life" (B. Hopkins 37). The poem invites such focused attention both through its terrifyingly visceral diction and through the importance it places on "the act of reading" (B. Hopkins 37). When the act of reading is framed as a life-sustaining act, it may feel even more pleasurable, perhaps in part because, from this view, the act of reading reminds us that it exercises our ability "to be able," our ability to sustain personal relationships (Levinas, "Time" 42). This emphasis may make the reading experience more pleasurable (B. Hopkins 37).
Keats places great urgency on the act of reading since, as Hopkins explains, it is "the act of giving life to (almost literally, 'grasping') the writing (the hand) in front of" the reader—"only the reader's reading... provides [the speaker] with a 'voice'" (37).
The reader is positioned not only as one who survives the speaker, but also as one who is capable of resuscitating, reviving the speaker. The poem's image of "the transfusion of 'blood'" portrays reading as a matter of life and death (B. Hopkins 37). From a Levinasian perspective, sustaining the other, protecting her from death, is one of the most ethical uses of our ability "to be able" ("Time" 42). In protecting the other, we exercise our human agency, our ability "to be able" in a way that preserves both our personal relationship to the other and the other's ability "to be able" as well, so that she might continue making personal relationships (Levinas, "Time" 42). Keats's reader may find pleasure in exercising her human agency in such a life-sustaining way, reaffirming the speaker's presence, as well as her own vitality, in the face of death.
The dialogic situation of Keats's poem reflects the situation of Levinasian responsibility, which, according to Levinas, "is what is meant by dialogue" ("Martin Buber" 67). Part of the pleasure that Keats's poem may afford its reader is the pleasure of fulfilling, at least symbolically, her capacity for Levinasian responsibility. In Burkeian terms, the "formal aspects of" Keats's poem "exercise formal potentialities of the reader"—her capacity for Levinasian responsibility (Counter-Statement 142). We may find pleasure in reading Keats's poem because our acts of reading repeat or reflect our "formal potentialities" for responsibility (Counter-Statement 142). Indeed, especially because the poem also strongly aims to evoke fear in the reader, it seems to emphasize formal, aesthetic pleasure like that which Aristotle claims we find in imitation. As Hopkins notes, however, the poem's "aesthetic pleasure... is somehow inseparable from aesthetic pain," especially since Keats's speaker prioritizes his own consolation above the listener's, even at the price of the listener's peace of mind (38). The deferred consolation Keats offers his reader, however, emphasizes the pleasure of actualizing one's capacity for Levinasian responsibility—even in the midst of fear and mourning.
Such responsible, dialogic consolation, therefore, seems to deflect ethical concerns about compensatory consolation that ends mourning.
Keats's Anti-Elegy The ambiguous emotional effects and emphasis on Levinasian responsibility in Keats's poem seem to result, in part, from the poem's anti-elegiac conventions. First, the poem invites the reader to mourn before the appropriate time, before the speaker has actually died. This preemptive mourning, like the "belatedness" Spargo emphasizes, positions the reader as a mourner who is "out of step with the rhythm of his society," someone who does not cooperate in the conventions of appropriate mourning (Ethics 129). In the situation of Keats's poem, this non-cooperative mourning positions the reader as a Levinasian subject capable of self-sacrifice, which, paradoxically, contributes to the pleasure that the poem may afford its reader. Second, we may view this Levinasian subjectivity as effected in part by the speaker's "failed intimacy" with the listener—the utter absence of care he seems to feel for the listener (Spargo, Ethics 129).
This "failed intimacy" seems to make the speaker's threat all the more fearsome for his listener (Spargo, Ethics 129). However, this "failed intimacy" may greatly differ from the kind Spargo has in mind, which affirms that ant-elegiac mourning may take many forms, some of which may even be unexpected (Ethics 129).
Finally, while the speaker's "wish for reciprocity" from his listener, who he expects to return his gift-poem with the gift of her own life, may seem far from "ambivalent," we may locate ambivalence in his listener, whom may feel fear, pain, and pleasure about sacrificing her life for the speaker (Spargo, Ethics 129). Reciprocity between the speaker and the listener also seems reduced by its deferral across the division between life and death, a division that implies an even greater mutual absence than a letter that connects two living people. Keats's poem demonstrates how aggression, fear, pain, and pleasure may all coincide in poetic responses to loss. Mournful motives that underlie both elegiac and anti-elegiac conventions may be expressed in a variety of emotions, experiences, and dialogues. When we attend more carefully to these diverse expressions of loss and mourning, we may more fully fulfill our own capacities for Levinasian responsibility toward others.
Lyric Responsibility Levinas identifies responsibility with dialogue when he claims, "Responsibility, in the etymological sense of the term, not the mere exchange of words, is what is meant by dialogue" ("Martin Buber" 66-67). His identification of these words emphasizes their shared connection to the concepts of "answerability" and of response, which the OED defines as an "[a]nswer or reply given in speech or writing" ("Response"). The verb form, respond, means "to reciprocate; to repeat" ("Respond"). Levinas directs our attention to the concepts of reciprocity and repetition that lie at the heart of responsibility—that inform its meaning as "duty" or "obligation" ("Responsibility"). The prefix re- connotes repetition in its "general" meaning of "'back'" or "'again'" ("Re-"). So, to respond, to be responsible to someone, and/or to be in dialogue with someone all entail a situation of communication that involves both repeating similar ideas or common ground and preserving each person's individual differences. Repetition in difference, theme in variation—responsibility involves attending to the other's differences while still finding a common ground for connection. As Levinas explains in Martin Buber's terms, the other is one to whom I speak, not something about which I speak ("Martin Buber" 64). In rhetorical terms, the other is my audience, and in order to respond responsibly to her, I must preserve her ability to respond to me. Responsibility is also an obligation to preserve the possibility of dialogue with the other, to preserve the possibility of connecting with the other—which requires utmost attention to the other's differences, although we may never fully understand them.
Rhetoric seems important to such communicative or dialogic responsibility in that rhetoric involves focusing on one's audience. The audience is key to Aristotle's discussion of rhetoric, which he defines as "an ability, in each [particular] case, to see the available means of persuasion" (On Rhetoric 37). Although Aristotle distinguishes a specific "species" of rhetoric as persuasion effected "through the hearers when they are led to feel emotion [pathos] by the speech," the concept of an audience is always implied by the very idea of persuasion, which involves changing someone's opinion about a topic (Aristotle, On Rhetoric 38-39). For contemporary rhetoricians, persuasion may also be closely connected to Cicero's concept of moving an audience, as M. Jimmie Killingsworth explains in his treatment of appeals in modern rhetorical situations (2).
Moving an audience seems equally significant in lyric poetry, although the emphasis may be more on moving an audience toward a particular emotional or imaginative experience rather than toward a political opinion or action.
Evoking emotion is a primary aim of poetry, according to Kenneth Burke, who explains, "The artist begins with his emotion," and then "translates this emotion into a mechanism for arousing emotions in others..." (Counter-Statement 55). Burke explains how art in general, and poetry specifically, "translates" the poet's personal emotion/experience into a form that creates a connection between the artist/poet and her audience (Counter-Statement 55). Poetry is "a conversion of one's mood into a relationship" with one's audience (Burke, Counter-Statement 56). For Burke, poetry is a form of self-expression through which a poet may "utter" her "emotions" in a way that "provoke[s] emotions in others" (Counter-Statement 53). For example, Dickinson's "After great pain" and Frost's "Desert Places" each depict a personal emotional experience in terms that invite the reader to identify or connect with certain aspects of those experiences. We may learn something about the poet-speakers' emotions and, perhaps, something about our own emotional experiences by identifying with certain aspects of the emotions they express. Because self-expressions like Dickinson's and Frost's communicate individuals' differences—differences that make dialogue possible— self-expression seems as essential to Levinasian responsibility as attending to the other.
Lyric poetry, therefore, seems as relevant to understanding Levinasian responsibility as rhetoric insofar as it expresses personal emotional experiences. Lyric poetry certainly expresses personal emotional experiences in its elegiac (and anti-elegiac) modes.
Keats and Donne both illustrate instances of responsibility in their poems, albeit they do so in different ways. Donne displays a kind of structural reciprocity in his image of the two compasses, one of which "leans and hearkens after" the first, only moving "if th' other do" (31, 28). The compasses' cooperative movement to make a "circle just" conveys a sense of response (Donne 35). The first compass "in the center sit[s]" while "the other far doth roam," maintaining its own integrity while still responding to the second compass's motions (Donne 29-30). These structural connections are in keeping with Matthias Bauer's reading of Donne's emphasis on "language itself" as the poem's "theme," although I emphasize the rhetorical implications of Bauer's formalist approach.
Bauer analyzes the etymology of valediction, demonstrating that, due to the origin valere's definition of "to mean, signify," the title is as much about language as about the separation of two people (101). Through these dual implications, Donne invites readers to view separation between people—such as the separation between the speaker and listener, between Donne himself and his reader—as a problem that can be both exacerbated and solved through language. Graham Roebuck historicizes the lack of sensuality in Donne's "anti-imagery," explaining that, contrary to "modern," and especially "Romantic," thought in which the senses "underwrote the modern project of knowing the material world as truth," Donne frames "the senses" as "an inferior order of reality" lacking the "higher perception" found "in sacred love and in wisdom" (144-45).
Thus Donne seems to engage non-physical ways that people may be connected with each other—such as through language and rhetorical identification.
We may view Donne's emphasis on structural relationships as coinciding with Levinas's emphasis on the structural nature of responsibility—its pre-affective, prevolitional, pre-conscious status as a capacity that may be realized, personified through our actions and emotions. Donne seems to suggest that the speaker's relationship with his speaker exceeds, or precedes, emotion and the senses, and, therefore, their relationship is more enduring. This representation of the speaker-listener relationship may appeal to the value that Donne's reader places on connections with others. Donne's appeal seems to turn on his reader's hope that personal relationships can endure beyond capricious emotions, beyond physical separation, and, perhaps, beyond death itself.
Much like Donne insists that the speaker-listener relationship will endure despite physical separation, Keats likewise insists that his speaker will remain partially connected to the listener despite his death. In "This Living Hand," the listener cannot escape her connection with the speaker, who threatens to "haunt" her even after his death (4). The speaker claims that the listener will be connected to him no matter how much she wishes to be separated from him, no matter how much suffering his presence causes her. Only sacrificing her own life so that "red life might stream again" in the speaker's "veins" will allow her "conscience" to be "calmed;" the suffering that speaker causes her cannot be relieved by physical separation or death but rather only by self-sacrifice (Keats 6-7).
Keats, like Donne, echoes Levinas's sense that the self is connected to the other prior to and beyond all desire, emotion, or choice. Keats, however, emphasizes how impotent desire for disconnection is in actually sundering the self-other relationship, while Donne indicates that desire and emotion do not the kind of structural, nonaffective relationship that connects his speaker and listener across physical separation.
Unlike Donne, Keats illustrates the sacrificial, traumatic, and mournful element so definitive of Levinas's account of responsibility to and for the other. The terrifying aspect of Levinasian responsibility is that the self is responsible to the other even for her own life; responsibility for the other may demand giving up one's own life. Keats also illustrates, however, that the calm conscience or peace of mind that accompanies fulfilling one's responsibility for the other may be even greater than one's fear of death.
Keats illustrates a range of emotions that may accompany Levinasian responsibility, emotions that coincide with the emotional imagery Levinas's uses to describe the trauma into which the responsible subject is born.