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Imperial Affliction

Eighteenth-Century British Poets and Their Twentieth-Century Lives

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Thomas Simmons

«In many ways», Robert J.C. Young writes, «colonization from the very first carried with it the seeds of its own destruction.» Imperial Affliction examines some ways in which Young’s observation could be applied to problems of subjectivity and influence within the colonizing nations themselves, particularly eighteenth-century Britain. How might these «seeds of destruction» manifest themselves as problems of identity? How might the very selves with greatest access to self-affirmation – the idea of the empire, the idea of British citizenry, the idea of the British self – actually find themselves vulnerable, confused, or damaged?
Using multiple forms of postcolonial critique, this book turns back to salient eighteenth-century British lives and work for a different kind of enlightenment. Among its central subjects are the elusive subjectivity of William Collins; the exilic religious experience of William Cowper and its multiple readings in the twentieth century by a self-fashioned exilic, Donald Davie; the «missed encounter» between Christopher Smart and Samuel Johnson, and the ways in which that problem was re-inscribed in the work of W. Jackson Bate and Lionel Trilling; the problem of imperial fixity in James Cook’s journals with a view to Gray’s «Elegy» and Goldsmith’s «Deserted Village»; and the problem of purity as a paradoxically privileged and exilic force in the work of John Newton and Christopher Smart. In these explorations, this book illustrates both an expanded view of eighteenth-century colonial liabilities and a new emphasis on postcolonial critique as a means of exploring the fissures always present in imperial ambition.
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Thomas Simmons

A poet’s œuvre is typically studied as an arc from the first work to the last work, including everything in between as a manifestation of some advance or reversal. What if the primary relationship in a poet’s œuvre is actually between the first and last text, with those two texts sharing a compelling private language? What if, read separately from the other work, the first and last books reveal some new phenomenon about both the struggles and the achievement of the poet?
Drawing on phenomenological and intertextual theories from Ladislaus Boros, Julia Kristeva, Theodor Adorno, and Peter Galison, Poets’ First and Last Books in Dialogue examines the relevant texts of Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, Anne Sexton, Thom Gunn, Sylvia Plath, and Ted Hughes. In each of these poets’ first books, Thomas Simmons examines both the evidence of some new phenomenon and a limit or unsolved problem that finds its resolution only in a specific conversation with the final text. By placing the texts in dialogue, Simmons unveils a new internal language in the work of these groundbreaking poets. The character of this illumination expands in a coda on Robert Pinsky, whose career is particularly marked by what neurologist Antonio Damasio calls the moment of «stepping into the light.»
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Thomas Simmons

Obscenity and Disruption in the Poetry of Dylan Krieger is the first full-length study of the radical poetry of Baton Rouge-based poet Dylan Krieger. Wickedly smart, iconoclastic, daring in their critiques of religion and contemporary culture, Krieger’s poems rank with Allen Ginsberg’s and Adrienne Rich’s as the most provocative and avant-garde of any recent generation. With its debt to third-wave feminism and the "Gurlesque," Krieger’s work nevertheless moves outward and backward across the landmines of sexual precocity and religious fundamentalism and across the entire western project of epistemology as Krieger came to understand it at the University of Notre Dame. Though this book necessarily stays close to Krieger’s specific poems, it follows her lead in stretching her cultural, sexual, and religious furies to their apotheosis in a manifesto of liberation.