My second annual Poetic Faith seminar—a “virtual” seminar that involves me reading a bunch of books and essays that fuel my ongoing research interests—got a bit sidelined this summer. Something about a biking accident and winding up with my arm in a cast halfway through, then moving to Worcester, MA for a year of research. The hand has healed well, my work has been progressing, and I’m now at a point where another intensive round of reading is what I’m most in need of, so: cue the third Poetic Faith seminar!
This one borrows generously from this summer’s reading list, and it adds a few new directions. One is research on the gift. Anthropologists, and to a lesser extent, economists have been fascinated by how gifts work and why for most of the last century—are they an exception to the market? an alternative market? an engine for the market? what happens when a gift stops circulating, e.g., when someone actually keeps it? Philosophers have engaged the implications of these questions as well, perhaps most famously Jacques Derrida in his late work The Gift of Death. So yes, I’m planning to read a Derrida book!
I’ve also added several books that have helped define what literary critics now call the “post-critical turn,” with Rita Felski as an obvious choice with her The Limits of Critique, as well as less-obvious choices like Amy Hollwood’s work on self-annihilation and Emily Wood’s work on reading and mastery.
One book that’s very tough for me to persuasively classify among my readings, but that I’ve wanted to tackle for a while, is John Henry Newman’s Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (it’s usually called just “Grammar of Assent,” but not all library catalogs will get that). This is just about the only book-length treatment I’ve been able to find that tries to get at the questions, how does one come to believe, and what’s going on when you do? If anyone knows more recent treatments of these questions, I’d love to hear them, but in the meantime I’m looking forward to diving deep with a writer whose biography has enough echoes in my own life to be something of a kindred spirit. We’ll see how we do together on this journey.
I’m planning to blog my thoughts a couple of times a week for the next three weeks (this is a slightly truncated seminar, owing to travel scheduling and the weight of books). I hope you’ll follow along on this journey, and share your own thoughts as it goes.
- Why Study Emily Dickinson at a Time Like This? (audio lecture)
- What I Did This Summer: A Report from Rare Book School