Poet-Farmers and Problems of Agriculture and Aesthetics
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Scottish Literature; British Romanticism; Literature and Science; Literature and the Environment
In this dissertation, I investigate the ways in which cookbooks published in Britain between 1660 and 1760 helped to shape conceptions of physical and aesthetic taste. I propose that in the early and mid-eighteenth century aesthetics and cookery were neither parallel phenomena nor completely distinct from each other, but public discourses that intersected and changed over time. These intersections helped to define many of the modern notions of subjectivity, professionalism, and disciplinarity with which we are familiar today. The central works I consider are the cookbooks of Hannah Woolley, Mary Kettilby, Hannah Glasse, Ann Cook, and Martha Bradley. Examined within the background of an expanding print culture, these texts show that cookery was a multifaceted and critical form of writing. Following Jürgen Habermas' theory of the conceptual zones of the eighteenth-century, I argue that cookbooks were crucially and self-consciously aware of the porous nature of the intimate, private, and public spheres in which they circulated and that this awareness determined the way cookbooks constructed and critiqued ideas of taste. Female cookery authors were engaged with similar concerns around tasting, judgment, and subjectivity as philosophers like Locke, Shaftesbury, Hume, and Kames. I begin with the origins of the printed cookbook, demonstrating how early examples of the genre looked back to an embedded and indistinct domestic realm, while at the same time anticipating the public private division reinforced by print. I then uncover the ways in which female cookery book authors, unlike their male contemporaries, took up empiricist philosophy in order to construct taste as a sensory experience of judging subjects, before examining how this construction of taste was interpreted as transgressing boundaries of gender and privacy. In my final chapter, I show how taste transforms from an embodied, local phenomenon, to one that is public and critically engaged, and ultimately how taste in cookery is disciplined out of the public sphere, becoming linked only with the reproduction of food.
Writing in an era of apocalyptic speculations and millenarian hopes, the Romantic poet and visionary William Blake made frequent and idiosyncratic use of eschatological themes and imagery throughout his poetry and art. While critics have long recognized the centrality of apocalyptic themes to Blake’s work, opinion has been largely divided as to the precise nature of Blakean apocalypticism. Critical attempts to address the complexities of Blakean apocalypticism have frequently been unable to reconcile Blake's celebration of the polysemous, indeterminate nature of reality with his triumphant vision of divine unity. In this essay, I argue that Blake's eschatological aspirations are realized precisely through his embrace of multiplicity and his resistance to totalizing systems of normative authority. Drawing on the work of Blake critic Angela Esterhammer, I contend that Blake’s apocalyptic writing is performative, in that it attempts to linguistically create the eschatological state it ostensibly describes. The goal of this Blakean eschatological performative is to radically transform the state of epistemological, social, and political closure which Blake characterizes as the post-lapsarian condition. Blake’s apocalyptic writing deconstructs the tendency of eschatological speech to calcify into a reinforcement of conventional social structures, while modelling a speech-community in which the fundamental legitimacy of all other subjects is a foundational and inalienable principle. This community, called by Blake “Jersualem,” is based on an embrace of the Other in which their ineluctable alterity paradoxically forms the basis of a more expansive personal identity. Following Judith Butler’s work on the insurrectionary potential of performatives, I argue that this Jerusalem community has potent political ramifications, as it enables disempowered, marginalized voices to resist hegemonic power-structures and lay claim to an agency denied to them by society-at-large.
With the publication of the Enquiry Concerning Political Justice in 1793, William Godwin arrested the attention of the English reading public. His call for an anarchist politics rooted in individual reason and divorced from all forms of political institution, cooperation, and tradition reoriented the terms of political debate and had a powerful (if short lived) influence on contemporary radicals, poets, and artists. But Godwin’s strict intellectual commitment to individualism and private judgment has often obscured the importance of the concept of friendship in his writing. As opposed to marriage or other conventional forms of social relation, friendship figures in Political Justice as a bond of rational sincerity, which provides the social basis for the dissemination of truth and for the spread of progressive justice. The fundamental role of this concept in his ethical and political thought is pronounced in his first three published novels, Caleb Williams: or, Things as they Are; St. Leon: A Tale of the Sixteenth Century; and Fleetwood: The New Man of Feeling. This thesis explores the ways in which the narrative dimension of friendship in these novels brings to light certain tensions and paradoxes implicit in the conceptual structure of Political Justice. Against those critics who have read Godwin’s fiction as representing a turn away from his earlier political commitments, I argue that friendship continues to function in these texts as a crucial site of political communication and action. Godwin’s attention to the relationship between friendship and narrative furnishes his political thought with increasing temporal, economic, and anthropological complexity.