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Great Companions : Keston Sutherland on William Wordsworth

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The talk will be about the meaning of revisions. I will ask what tests of principle and feeling might have been involved in the labour of subtle adjustments to the prosody and diction of The Prelude over the period of more than 50 years during which Wordsworth rewrote that poem. Could it make sense to think of revisions as protests? Are revisions always reforms of a poem, or are they sometimes revolutions in it? The standard story is that the young revolutionary of Lyrical Ballads and the unpublished Letter to the Bishop of Lllandaff stagnated into the old reactionary of The Excursion and the fluffing of Lord Lonsdale, and that, measured against the 1799 and 1805 versions, the 1850 version of The Prelude presents a catalogue of the mortifications of idealism and of miserable moral contractions into uprightness. There is enough truth in that story. But I will ask whether we might make use of another story to think about the labour of sceptical thinking and feeling that moved the text from one shape into another. What might it mean for our understanding of Wordsworth's whole history of thinking about revolution if we could conceptualise his decision not to allow the poem to be published until after his death -- and the compulsive practice of rewriting to which it bound him -- as a kind of "subjectively infinite" work? I will try to bring Wordsworth's politics and his art into a provisional and uneasy relation with Hegel's contemporaneous thinking about "subjective infinity".
Hopefully it won't be anything like so dusty as that quick paragraph threatens. I'll hand out copies of pages from the manuscripts and together we can explore particular revisions and their significance.
Keston Sutherland
Sunday, November 24, 2013 - 19:00
BAY AREA PUBLIC SCHOOL -- 2141 Broadway, Oakland more
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