Literature Review

My thesis will examine the work of William Godwin from the year 1793to1800.  The connection between Godwin’s political and fictional work will be the basis of my argument. My research will trace the development of Godwin’s philosophy within his literary works to show the struggles and limitations which arise from Godwin’s political ideals when evoked in his novels and/or plays. To this end, I will look at the first edition of Godwin’s political treatise An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness (Oxford UP, 2013), the second edition of Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (Gale, 2010) and the third edition of Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (Penguin, 1985). The core literary texts that will be included in this study are Caleb Williams (Oxford UP, 2009), St. Leon (Oxford UP, 1994), and Antonio (Pickering & Chatto, 2010). Although Godwin’s Enquirer (Andesite Press, 2015) is published in this period it will not be used as a core text. However, it will be used for further context and background research in relation to Godwin’s ideas.

The beginning of this timeframe (1793-1800) approximately aligns with Godwin’s first acquaintance with Mary Wollstonecraft. This period of seven years includes their close relationship up until the time of her death and the ensuing aftermath but prior to Godwin’s relationship with Jane Clairmont. The work of Godwin which falls before or after this stated period will not be dealt in my study. This period is important as it is subject to significant change in terms of Godwin’s life and work.

While Wollstonecraft is not the subject of my study, I will need to consider her and her ideas which certainly influenced Godwin and his work.  The works of Wollstonecraft relevant to my question include A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark (Penguin, 1987) and Posthumous Works (BiblioLife, 2008).  In Addition, Godwin’s Memoirs of the Author of the Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Constable, 1928) will be drawn upon to further understand his relationship with Wollstonecraft.

Articles which may be of relevance for secondary source material include “Godwin from “Metaphysician” to Novelist: “Political Justice”, “Caleb Williams”, and the Tension between Philosophical Argument and Narrative” (Chicago UP, 2000), “A Man of Feelings: William Godwin’s Romantic Embrace” (Taylor & Francis Ltd, 2005), “Of Caleb’s Guilt and Godwin’s Truth: Ideology and Ethics in Caleb Williams” (John Hopkins UP, 1993) and “William Godwin’s Foreign Language: Stories and Families in “Caleb Williams” and “Political Justice”” (Boston UP, 2000).

The first component of my research will involve placing Godwin’s works within his personal and historic context. I will draw upon Godwin’s personal letters from the beginning of 1793 to the end of 1800. This will entail a close reading of the relevant material in The Letters of William Godwin Vol. 1 178-1797 (Oxford UP, 2011) and The Letters of William Godwin Vol. 2 1798-1805 (Oxford UP, 2011). These letters will provide indispensable information on Godwin’s political and philosophic outlook and the operations of his social circle.  To further understand Godwin’s social context, I will the use the book Lives of the Great Romantics III vol. 1 (Pickering & Chatto, 1999), paying particular attention to chapter 6. “[Hazlitt, William], ‘William Godwin’, in the Spirit of the Age”, chapter 11. “[Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft], ‘Memoirs of William Godwin’”, Chapter 12. “Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, ‘Life of William Godwin’”, chapter 29. “Keegan Paul, Charles, William Godwin: His Friends and Contemporaries”.

After examining Godwin’s socio-historic context, I will examine to what extent Godwin’s political philosophy comes under scrutiny or is opposed by his fiction. This will involve a close reading of his political treatise and literary works aforementioned. The complex connection has been broached previously by scholars. Gary Kelly’s The English Jacobin Novel, 1780- 1805 (Oxford UP, 1976), Pamela Clemit’s The Godwinian Novel: the Rational Fictions of Godwin, Brockden Brow, Mary Shelley (Oxford UP, 1993), and Jon Klancher’s “Godwin and the Genre Reformers: On Necessity and Contingency in Romantic Narrative Theory”, in Romanticism, History and the Possibilities of Genre: Reforming Literature 1789-1837 (Cambridge UP, 1998) have all investigated this relationship with convincing arguments. By studying Godwin’s texts and supporting my findings with evidence from his personal and historical context, I hope to add to this research.

An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice was first published in 1793. Godwin continuously revised this text resulting in two further editions being published in the years 1796 and 1798. These editions lay the basis for the philosophic ideas evident in his literary works. In the aftermath of the French Revolution, anti-governmental sentiments were not uncommon. Godwin’s text views the government and the constitution as oppressive systems which stultified the progress of mankind through its limitations of private judgement. It is clear Godwin deems the political intrinsic to the ethical. The idea of political rights as moral duty is emphasised throughout this text. Governmental institutes would be rendered obsolete through the application of Godwin’s reason. Rational motivation would stem from Universal Benevolence and Impartiality producing self-governing individuals free from restrictive and corrupt systems of authority. This text is vital to understanding Godwin’s political and social outlook. The variations found in the revised editions are important for understanding Godwin’s developing philosophy.

Caleb Williams was published in 1794, the year after the first edition of Political Justice. The novel transforms aspects of Godwin’s political ideals rendering the fiction a sceptical mediation on the practical possibilities for social amelioration through reason. The character of Caleb is crucial as he serves as a measure for Godwin’s vision of political change during the 18th century. Godwin produced a text that exemplifies the political ideas of his theory but rather than provide a didactic narrative the novel creates issues for the ideals found in Political Justice. Godwin produced two endings for Caleb Williams. These endings have significantly different implications for Godwin’s political philosophy. The original manuscript ending will be compared with the published ending to evaluate these implications.

St. Leon was written in 1799. Godwin explores perfectibility and human progression through the themes of wealth, morality and domestic affections. St. Leon tests Godwin’s philosophical ideals through the tensions of private and public duty present in the novel. The novel deals with the issues of wealth, aristocratic systems and social inequality which are discussed in Political Justice. Rational ideals of Universal Benevolence and Impartiality are strained in St. Leon. The realisations in this novel can be traced back to the revisions made to the second and third editions of Political Justice.

Antonio was written sporadically from the year 1797 to1800. The reception of the play was poor. Modern critics are also divided in opinion. Although this is the case, the play deals with Godwinian themes that resonant with his philosophy. The play is set in Spain during the Italian Wars. The historical context of the play is not dealt with to any great degree rather it is notions of corruption and honour which are foregrounded. These themes are also evident in St. Leon.

I will attempt to prove my argument through methods of close and comparative reading. To access the various materials I will use UCC library, my own library, online databases such as JSTOR, and UCD and Trinity College libraries in Dublin, which I will access with my ALCID card.

 

Bibliography-

 

Clemit, Pamela. The Godwinian Novel: the Rational Fictions of Godwin, Brockden Brow, Mary Shelley. Oxford: Oxford UP. 1993. Print.

Clemit, Pamela. ed. The Letters of William Godwin Vol. 1, 1778-1787. Oxford: Oxford UP. 2011. Print.

Clemit, Pamela. ed. The Letters of William Godwin Vol. 1, 1798-1805. Oxford: Oxford UP. 2011. Print.

Clemit, Pamela. ed. Lives of the Great Romantics III Vol. 1, Godwin. London: Pickering & Chatto. 1999. Print.

Edward, Gavin. “William Godwin’s Foreign Language: Stories and Families in “Caleb Williams” and “Political Justice” in Studies in Romanticism, Vol. 39, No. 4 (2000): 533-551. Print.

Godwin, William. An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness. Oxford: Oxford UP. 2013. Print.

Godwin, William. Caleb Williams. Oxford: Oxford UP. 2009. Print.

Godwin, William. Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on Modern Morals and Happiness. London: Penguin. 1985. Print.

Godwin, William. Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on Modern Morals and Happiness. Michigan: Gale. 2010. Print.

Godwin, William. Memoirs of the Author of the Vindication of the Rights of Woman. London: Constable. 1928. Print.

Godwin, William. St. Leon. Oxford: Oxford UP. 1994. Print.

Godwin, William. The Enquirer. New York: Andesite Press. 2015. Print.

Handwerk, Gary. “Of Caleb’s Guilt and Godwin’s Truth: Ideology and Ethics in Caleb Williams” in ELH Vol. 60, No. 4 (1993): 939-960.

Kelly, Gary. The English Jacobin Novel, 1780- 1805. Oxford: Oxford UP. 1976. Print.

O’ Shaughnessy, David. The Plays of William Godwin. London: Pickering & Chatto. 2010. Print.

Radcliffe, Evan. “Godwin from “Metaphysician” to Novelist: “Political Justice”, “Caleb Williams”, and the Tension between Philosophical Argument and Narrative” in Modern Philology Vol. 97, No.4 (2000): 528-553.

Rajan, Tilottama & Wright, Julia. M. eds. Romanticism, History and the Possibilities of Genre: Reforming Literature 1789-1837. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 1998. Print.

Ward, Ian. “A Man of Feelings: William Godwin’s Romantic Embrace” in Law and Literature Vol. 17, No. 1 (2005): 21-46. Print.

Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark. London: Penguin. 1987. Print.

Wollstonecraft, Mary. Posthumous Works. South Carolina: BiblioLife. 2008. Print.

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MA Blog Portfolio

punctuation image for blog

To blog or not to blog that is the question…..

As part of my MA we were asked to set up a blog. I love to write but generally keep my thoughts and ideas on scrap paper and away from the eyes of others. I am delighted that my MA rid me of these insecure habits and allowed my writing to become more polished and more public.

The criterion for the blog was simple. Write roughly 800 words per month. This was not hard to understand but as the class progressed and words like widgets and embedded links started to fill the air I began to think it was not as simple as writing or should I say typing. I am highly familiar with the good ole Microsoft Word but the connectivity of the medium of the blog was daunting and unfamiliar. The multi-media potential offered in a blog was generally unknown to my skill set. In saying this, I listened intently and with a few tech savvy comrades around me I quickly got the gist of the whole thing. What I found fascinating was the diversity and multiplicity of the blogs on the internet. This helped me realise that people broadcast their opinions and insights freely without the crippling fear of others. I found it hard to press the publish button when I completed a piece but now I know it is an irrational fear which can be easily ignored when you are writing about topics that are important to you.

As part of the module we had to attend at least two research seminars in the academic year and subsequently write about them. This was a very board objective. This allowed one to write in a review like manner or take inspiration from the seminar to spark ideas upon a certain topic. There was no shortage of seminars throughout the academic year. I attended the majority of these talks but wrote in relation to the ones that aligned with my own literary interests. My first post was written after a seminar which was given on Frank O’ Connor by Professor Nicholas Allen on the 12th of October 2016. This talk was very much connected to my home of Cork City. Professor Nicholas Allen spoke of the relevance Cork’s context in the various works of Frank O’ Connor.

“After this wonderful lecture I began to think about the momentary instances we, as inhabitants of the city, experience at the heart of the harbour and how in today’s political climate the notion of island isolation, and how the sea still can prove a facet of mental distancing as much a geographical feature, may still be present.”

 

Blog review 1422-P-Stopford-Crosshaven

Here is the poem that introduced me to the world of internet blogging:

 

Follow a river, you come to the sea;

as you go- meandering the sinuous land-

water sloshing in the oral sounds.

Bound by sensation-

reminded of the free and the open.

Forget your small rock?

Forget existence itself-

barter alone and bark at a wall-

Masts raised high while docklands swarm,

Beneath a rare gold sun all kinds keeping warm.

No person an island;

whether conscious or under.

Removed neighbours in antique sleep,

Matter of different minds plague at the cracks of battered national heels.

Wake up! to the inevitable,

Wake up! to your shores.

The first and last neutrality-

waves beckon at your doors.

As for Ourselves,

we could not afford those thoughts.

To never hold histories prominence,

never a sceptre in our hands;

We know of the fertile beams,

the passive glimmer on the ocean,

we know as we wandered free and open.

 

Although the blog was intended as a research journal it was not merely reduced to this. As many of the student and I did not settle upon a thesis idea when the blogging begun, it was up to each of us to find things of interest which could inspire one to write. Therefore when Bob Dylan received the Noble Prize for literature I would have been ashamed not to have mentioned it on this new platform. I wrote about two things that have filled my life with enjoyment and meaning; Literature and Dylan. 

 

dylan.jpg      BoundForGlory

 

At the beginning of the academic year I had a very different thesis idea. This explains the basis of my third post on Mind Over Manacles (a play on Blake’s ‘mind-forg’d manacles’ in his poem “London”) which relates to the idea of literature as an institute. The institutionalisation of things like art and philosophy was extremely fascinating. I never thought deeply that these cultural components were even susceptible to institutionalisation.  Our first module in the Modernities MA was called Theories of Modernity. By learning about various concepts that formulate the basis for modern sociological, philosophical and artistic theories, we were introduced to Jürgen Habermas a leading intellectual across multiple fields. The idea of spheres being professionalised and therefore isolated from public discussion was reiterated by Habermas which prompted my ideas upon literature as an institute. Through these ruminations I was directed toward Jacques Derrida’s work on the topic. I thought this was the beginning of my thesis, and it was in a way but my actual idea was not yet realised.

 

“Derrida believes the segregation of art and theory is ‘the grimace of a good taste naive enough to believe that one [art] can efface the labour of theory” (Bennington  and Derrida 1993: 63).

 

By setting up a blog the urge to write intensifies. Thus it helped in guiding my ideas as it is an active record of one’s academic interests. My literary interests go hand in hand with philosophic interests. The texts I am drawn to are generally an inter-mixture of the elements that precede literature and philosophy. As this seems to be my literary inclination, I was delighted to find while attending the Shakespeare Masterclass organised by Dr. Edel Semple that philosophic ideas were foregrounded in the talk. UCC welcomed Professor Goran Stanivukovic to talk about Friendship in Shakespeare. My ears pricked up on hearing the quotes from ancient philosophers in regards ideas on friendship. As the talk came to an end, I could not shake from my mind the Neoplatonic concepts discussed. Due to these incessant ponderings I decided to read more on the philosophic ideas stemming from the revival of Plato.

 

The-Creation-of-Adam-1512-Michelangelo

 

In my undergrad I took equal credits consisting of English and Art History. Due to this I knew of Neoplatonic thought within the visual arts but was not overly familiar with its doctrine. On recalling the concepts from my undergrad art lectures, I immediately thought of Michelangelo Buonarroti. I first became acquainted with this philosophy through the High Renaissance master. Therefore, I began to read Michelangelo’s poetry for which he is less acclaimed and in doing so, I discovered that the wealth of Neoplatonic ideas found within his painting and sculpture was also present within his poetry. I could not help but write about it as it drew together so many of my interests.

 

The concept of friendship in the early modern period is easily taken up into the cannon of platonic love due to the similarities we find in notions of divinity, purity and unification. The resurgence of the Neoplatonic teachings, especially in Italy, can be tied to the popularity of Humanism. Humanism inspected through today’s perspective is resonant of what we now term the Liberal Arts. Humanism consisted of rhetoric, moral philosophy, history and poetry (K.R. Bartlett, The Civilisation of the Italian Renaissance, 71.).

 

Throughout the academic year, I mauled over many ideas and concepts which may have been useful to my prospective thesis. As month grew into month, I found myself fascinated by ideas pertaining to political correctness and free speech. The latter of the two echoes a notion of the enlightenment and thus it continued to hold my attention. As democracy is first and foremost an institute in contemporary society, I began to think about the ethical basis of free speech and the implications and limitations of this notion. Unbeknownst to myself I was slowly constructing the parameters of my present thesis. Concepts of reason and sensibility are instrumental in advocating unhindered and uncoerced speech. The spheres of public and private are elemental in considering the boundaries of this idea.

 

  “Though we live in a democratic state it does not mean protection for unlimited expression, democracy and free speech are not synonymous terms, and one does not wholly include the other. The problematic nature of freely wielded opinions is that they are never neutral. This is not to say that the status quo opinion should be swallowed blindly or that opinions of insidious nature should be tolerated. On the contrary, opinions are there to be challenged if you have a basis to challenge them. Notions of free speech and expression have been topical even since the ancient world.”

 

The boundaries of accepted expression captivated my interests. I decided to study the origins of these ideas and was drawn to Milton’s famous Areopagitica which deals with the notions of free speech and liberty. I found the text to be of contemporary relevance in the current political climate. After reading more on the notions of free speech and expression, I realised the ambiguity of the debates surrounding the issue and found that an answer to what is acceptable to say or what is not is ultimately mutable. Coincidentally there was a discussion on RTE that was debating these ideas around the time of this research and so I thought it fit to examine the legal parameters and contemporary philosophy surrounding this area.

 

“In my opinion, the liberty of thought and discussion must be made priority in both the private and the public sphere. “I am offended” is not an argument. The public domain cannot deal with private opinions unless those who hold them are free to verbalise them. Unfortunately, people see this as a potential deluge for hateful incitement; whether in regards race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, political outlook, and the list cascades off the writer’s desk. The issue with personal opinions are that they are held in exactly that fashion, personal. People find anything that goes drastically against their own opinion discomforting. For this reason boundaries are always imposed on one’s speech but there is a distinction that must be made between the freedom to speak and free speech. The first is essentially private and the latter is essentially public. Thus, it is context and intention that outline the resemblance of the notion of free speech and expression.”

 

The complexity of the topic lead me to William Godwin. I found his ideas pertinent to this issue and began to read his work in depth. Many of the issues I came across still hold sway and resonated with present day politics. Godwin granted me some solace to the social and culture regressions which have reappeared in current Western civilisation. As Enlightenment notions have been discarded in the mind of today’s society, it only proves that a resurgence of these ideas should be desired.

 

I still think there is room for our perfectibility, though this is not to say there is an end in this pursuit. It is one that will always remain and need attention. There is no characteristic of man , which seems at present at least so eminently to distinguish him, or to be of so much importance in every branch of moral science, as his perfectibility (Godwin 33).

 

As I saw undeniable relevance in Godwin’s ideas I began to formulate my thesis idea. The combination of political philosophy and literature seemed to sit well with me thus Godwin’s work was an apt subject of study.   Therefore when we were assigned the task of editing Wikipedia I knew I had to pay homage to his work by adding information about him and his ideas.

 

As a student of English and a dedicated Romantic, I took to editing the page on William Godwin. This process was a helpful research tool as I learned how to deliver information concisely and objectively. It was interesting to see what facets of his work and life were given ample attention and which aspects were in need of additional content.

 

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As part of this experience, we also we required to live tweet the event. It was pretty cool and wholly new! I thoroughly enjoyed adding to my field of interest. The vast amount of information online now had a tiny contribution from myself and admittedly I felt quite chuffed.

If learning how to edit Wikipedia was not exciting enough, another event that was held in relation to this module was Textualities 2017. This event stands out in my mind as it was the first time giving a presentation in a formal setting and the work was all your own. It was a wonderful day of fascinating research topics. Noted as the biggest day on the MA calendar, it was an experience that gave invaluable insight and allowed me to require many skills which I did not have previously.

DSC_0537 C

 

Prior to the conference, we were all assigned tasks to help organise the event. I was placed on the tech team though admittedly I have a slight aversion to gadgets and computers. This opportunity allowed me to swipe away those silly fears and gave me the chance to appropriate new skills. Myself and fellow student, Anne Curran, took charge of setting up the room and setting up each presentation.

 

My presentation looked at the work of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft in terms of reason and sensibility.

 

I introduced some of the core texts which will be used throughout my research. These include: William Godwin’s An Enquiry Concerning political Justice and Its Influence for general Virtue and Happiness and Caleb Williams or Things as They Are and Wollstonecraft’s The Vindication of the Rights of Woman and Letters Written in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. 

 

As I deem Romanticism to be my main field of interest, I am more often then not drawn to texts from the early modern period of the Renaissance and even medieval English. The poets I generally study require one to learn about the precursory poets of the romantic tradition. My literary interests fall between the time periods of the MA courses offered at UCC but as Romanticism is held under the Modernities MA it was certain I was to do this course as opposed to the Medieval to Renaissance MA which is also taught in my university. This does not mean my interests in the texts that predate my course do not receive my attention.

 

For the last six years UCC has held a series of Dante Lectures. These lectures are organised by the Italian department at UCC. On January 24th Dr. Tristan Kay from the University of Bristol gave a talk on “Eros, Salvation and Vernacular Poetry in Dante”. I enjoy reading Dante and see him as a precursor for many of the English Romantic poets. For this reason, these lectures were highly valuable to my own literary interests. The focus of Dr. Tristan Kay’s lecture was particularly fascinating as it dealt with love and salvation in Dante’s historical context and how through the utilisation of Italian, as opposed to Latin, he manipulated his native tongue to his own poetic ends.

Portrait_de_Dante

 

Being at University allows one to explore many avenues. The range of lectures given to the public and various talks given by the various departments at UCC provide a fruitful array of disciplines for one to investigate. Lectures organised by one department can be of importance to your own work and interest. The Dante lectures are a case in point.

 

My latest blog post, and the final one which will be assessed and included under this module deals with William Godwin’s political treatise An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its General Virtue and Happiness I thought it was important to explain my interest in his work and also to highlight the significance of his political ideals.

 

godwin pic for blog

 

Godwin is hailed as the father of philosophical anarchism. He deemed that any governing body limits the potential perfectibility of mankind. This meant that Reason was displaced within the institutional walls of parliament and therefore it was an ossifying force for one’s own capacity to judge. He viewed institutions as illegitimate and as a hindrance to progression. Ideology ensues rather private judgement; recourse to one’s rational mind is opposed by descriptive modes of thought . Therefore, institutional thinking replaces rational contemplation and deliberation. Godwin saw the solution of this in re-orientating Reason so it resided within the heart of the individual. This may sound abstract and undoubtedly highly romantic  but the application of this idea would yield societal benevolence and  compassion. In turn, it would uphold Godwin’s idea of private judgement. Such assertions can be validated under Godwin’s concept of perfectibility. Only free actions has moral value.

 

By writing the blog on Godwin I realised my own perspective on issues of institutionalisation, rational argument, and sensibility. My research has grown and I believe the blog allowed for the construction and recognition of my academic inclinations. As a record for one’s ideas and interests it was a useful and beneficial process. Although I’ve recounted my blogs in linear chronological order, the process of writing each piece was not of the same accord. Inspiration may reside in unlikely places and it takes time to construct ideas and finished pieces of writing. I hope to continue blogging as I found it highly enjoyable and productive.

 

Works Cited

Bartlett, K.R. The Civilisation of the Italian Renaissance, D. C. Heath and Company, Toronto, 1992. Print.

Bennington, Geoffrey & Derrida, Jacques. Jacques Derrida, University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1993. Print.

Godwin, William., An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2013. Print.

Murray, Rebecca. “Food for Thought. Poetic inspiration following the Frank O’ Connor lecture”. in Mind Over Manacles, WordPress, 13 Oct. 2016, https://mindovermanacles.wordpress.com/2016/10/13/food-for-thought-poetic-inspiration-following-the-frank-o-connor-lecture/

Murray, Rebecca. “I always said Bob Dylan was a poet”. in Mind Over Manacles, WordPress, 13 Oct. 2016, https://mindovermanacles.wordpress.com/2016/10/13/i-always-said-bob-dylan-was-a-poet/

Murray, Rebecca. “What is Literature?”. in Mind Over Manacles, WordPress, 29 Oct. 2016, https://mindovermanacles.wordpress.com/2016/10/29/what-is-literature/

Murray, Rebecca. “Neoplatonic Thought and The Poetry of Michelangelo”. in Mind Over Manacles, 17 Nov. 2016, https://mindovermanacles.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/neoplatonic-thought-and-the-poetry-of-michelangelo/

Murray, Rebecca. “Where is the line? Or should there even be one?”. in Mind Over Manacles, WordPress, 18 Jan. 2017, https://mindovermanacles.wordpress.com/2017/01/18/where-is-the-line-or-should-there-even-be-one/

Murray, Rebecca. “We Need To Talk About Trump”. in Mind Over Manacles, WordPress, 27 Jan. 2017, https://mindovermanacles.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/we-need-to-talk-about-trump/

Murray, Rebecca. “#editwikilit”. in Mind Over Manacles, WordPress, 12 Feb. 2017, https://mindovermanacles.wordpress.com/2017/02/12/editwikilit/

Murray, Rebecca. “Textualities 2017”. in Mind Over Manacles, WordPress, 17 Mar. 2017, https://mindovermanacles.wordpress.com/2017/03/17/textualities-2017/

Murray, Rebecca. “Francesca and Paolo- Literature’s Fancy”. in Mind Over Manacles, WordPress, 23 Mar. 2017, https://mindovermanacles.wordpress.com/2017/03/23/francesca-and-paolo-literatures-fancy/

Murray, Rebecca. “Why Godwin Matters”. in Mind Over Manacles, WordPress, 25 Mar. 2017, https://mindovermanacles.wordpress.com/2017/03/25/why-godwin-matters/

 

Why Godwin Matters

godwin pic for blog

William Godwin ceased to live in the year 1836 but his ideas did not perished with him. Time, the ever malleable  and  corrosive force, has made vast changes to societal ideals and values. As time marches on, some ideas are forgot and some are reshaped but their essence still remains. Godwin’s ideas fall into the latter category and duly so. These remnants are still of importance when considering contemporary civilisation. Godwin as a political philosopher conceived of ideas that to this day hold sway. Today’s politics is languishing under different turmoils but similar injustices .

I have for a long time been sceptical of any argument that holds Reason as a faculty of no more claim than others in the human arsenal. The primitive and emotive side of human behaviour I have always overlooked when contemplating any sociopolitical writings. I thought these kind of motivators redundant to modern society. A sort of paradox takes place where one reasons out Sensibility for pure Reason. Now I rebuke my own argument. However, Godwin never gave into the senses. Although daily life challenged his ideas ceaselessly, Godwin upheld Reason as the faculty of emancipation till his death.

Reason is not enthroned within an untouchable platform but is among a throng of other actors; we are equally of an emotive constitution. Ironically, I have wanted to overlook this due to what I see now as fervid passion and championing of rational discourse and reasoned argument. I believe Godwin experienced similar turmoil. Reducing the capacity of Reason to an equal among its’ sibling faculties produces immense complexity but truth must be upheld over falsehoods and a want for solipsistic comfort. Ultimately, to find happiness and compassion it must be exercised. You must try to understand people in a rational manner but also in a irrational manner. Unfortunately, we are the thesis and antithesis; a synthesis of oppositionals. The mind boggling issue in regards Sensibility and Reason is that they both contain the capacity to harm but simultaneously contain the capacity to do extraordinary good.

Godwin is hailed as the father of philosophical anarchism. He deemed that any governing body limits the potential perfectibility of mankind. This meant that Reason was displaced within the institutional walls of parliament and therefore it was an ossifying force for one’s own capacity to judge. He viewed institutions as illegitimate and as a hindrance to progression. Ideology ensues rather private judgement; recourse to one’s rational mind is opposed by descriptive modes of thought . Therefore, institutional thinking replaces rational contemplation and deliberation. Godwin saw the solution of this in re-orientating Reason so it resided within the heart of the individual. This may sound abstract and undoubtedly highly romantic  but the application of this idea would yield societal benevolence and  compassion. In turn, it would uphold Godwin’s idea of private judgement. Such assertions can be validated under Godwin’s concept of perfectibility. Only free actions has moral value.

Enlightenment perspectives on Reason would appear stratified, moving from rejection to purity. Unbeknownst to Godwin, his fervent pursuit of pure Reason sees his ideas turn back on themselves at points in his argument. His philosophy upholds well under scrutiny but what is fascinating is that his novels fight against his own ideas continuously. If philosophy is a vehicle for idealistic perfectibility of man then his novels were a vehicle to explore the depravities of man. In my opinion no capitulation is made upon the vital ideas of his philosophy in the crossover of these modes of writing but rather it is an inauguration of emotive capacities that reshape the philosophy. Hazlitt once remarked that Godwin’s one failure was in conceiving too highly of his fellow creatures. In this vein, I do understand Hazlitt to infer that we are too against Reason in our nature to implement a sort self-censorship of our “lower” facilities. For the likes of Hume, Reason critiqued nature and was master of enslaved passions. There are varying opinions stemming from the Enlightenment in relation to the idea of pure Reason. The differentiating factor appears to lie in whether one sees Reason as an emancipating force or a crippling force which recasts everyone as an automaton.

In Godwin’s philosophy, my insight has slowly gained clarity to the objectives we must all keep. Godwin writes in the third edition (1798) of Political Justice; “A disposition to promote the benefit of another, my child, my friend, my relation, or my fellow being, is one of the passions; understanding by the term passion a permanent and habitual tendency towards a certain course of action” (379). With Reason residing in man’s own heart, a state of sympathy and understanding would be produced by each person ad a state of impartiality would occur. This idea of Godwin’s was first regarded by myself as a naive and fundamentally idealistic rendering of man’s capabilities. His contemporary Hazlitt had an opinion equivocal to my own. Fortunately, it can be said that optimists always encounter a cynic with which they must contend. Godwin’s philosophy upon absorption can bolster ethical potential, one which could be implemented in our everyday lives. Although impartiality may be impossible to uphold in each context, the universal benevolence of such an idea can be useful in prompting a more compassionate individual.

Godwin is always conscious of the selfishness that pervades society. Our very systems of governance promotes it. Positive Law produces a selfish propensity in man due to the consideration of the objective which strives to put a successful end to a struggle. Therefore, the conformity of the means to this end loses its reasonable principle entirely. Positive law creates a possessive nature in society. Ultimately, one must own something to enjoy any security. This produces a ruthless mechanism in man’s operations. Godwin writes in the first edition (1793) of Political Justice that our ‘established system of property directs it into the channel of the acquisition of wealth. The ostentation of the rich perpetually goads the spectator to the desire of opulence. Wealth, by the sentiments of servility and dependence it produces, makes the rich man stand stand forward as the only object of general esteem and deference…..To acquire wealth and to display it, is therefore the universal passion. The whole structure of human society is made a system of the narrowest selfishness’ (421).

Godwin saw conversation as the sign of progression; a peaceful means of resolving issues. Unfortunately, communication is still encroached upon by violent means when reasoned argument seeks to ameliorate a dispute. Is this a manifestation of our lack of compassion toward one another? Or is it our failings in Reason? Parliamentary and diplomatic discourse can slip into a discussion of generalities rather than particulars resulting in assemblies which overlook the crucial facets of various issues. In Godwin’s opinion the most beneficial conversation takes place between an imitate group as he sees this producing the most unreserved and didactic form of communication. This form of conservation seeks to aligns both Reason and Sensibility at the fore of our interactions- neglecting neither in favour of a saturated other. Conversation unloads the mind, creates understanding, engenders thought and knowledge which undeniably bears virtue and good resolution.

Godwin’s philosophy grew and developed but at its roots it essentially expounds two principles which are still of relevance for people today: it is each individual’s duty to produce as much happiness in the world as he is able, and that each person must be guided in acting by the exercise of his private judgement, albeit informed by public discussion. His ideas promote critical thinking and compassion. It is these ntoins that have grown sickly and weak in the late capitalist economy of present day. A pathology of our system is that we reason out the priorities in the grips of that system rather than in the company of compassion. If Reason still resides in institutions, we must slowly take it back. Compassion still resides with us, it evades institutionalisation, therefore it ripe for cultivation and distribution.

Works Cited

Godwin, William., ed. M. Philp., An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Oxford University Press, 2013. (First Edition)

Godwin, William., ed. I. Kramnick., Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Penguin Books Ltd., London, 1985. (Third Edition)

Francesca and Paolo- Literature’s Fancy

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Dante Alighieri

For the last six years UCC has held a series of Dante Lectures. These lectures are organised by the Italian department at UCC. On January 24th Dr. Tristan Kay from the University of Bristol gave a talk on “Eros, Salvation and Vernacular Poetry in Dante”. I enjoy reading Dante and see him as a precursor for many of the English Romantic poets. For this reason, these lectures were highly valuable to my own literary interests. The focus of Dr. Tristan Kay’s lecture was particularly fascinating as it dealt with love and salvation in Dante’s historical context and how through the utilisation of Italian, as opposed to Latin, he manipulated his native tongue to his own poetic ends.

Rhyming is relatively easy to produce in Italian due to the suffixes in the language. Although Italian is conducive to rhyme, Dante is nevertheless highly inventive with his rhyme in The Divine Comedy. Torquato Tasso, the 16th century Italian poet, might be the only writer to reach the levels of innovative rhyming once produced by Dante but this is subject to opinion. Dante’s vernacular had no strict standard. Similar to Shakespeare, Dante took linguistic liberties with his language. Rhyme is not a mere technique, it is also integral to convey character and spontaneity of narrative within the work.

For all the complexities within Dante’s poetry it is not surprising that tensions arise when attempts to translate his work are made. The terza rima is virtually impossible to replicate in English. Due to this many translators produce a prose style translation as opposed to the classical terza rima rhyme sequence. This preference of prose style in Dante translations means an immense proportion of the poetic effect is lost. Cary and Longfellow are examples of beautiful translations in blank verse but the Miltonic presence is felt in both their pieces.It must be acknowledged that translations are subject to the time in which they were produced.The blank verse approach does not flow with the idiomatic beauty of the rhythmic Italian of Dante’s original text. Dorothy L. Sayers and Barbara Reynolds produced a translation which keeps the terza rima but this requires the bending of a phrase here and there.

For any reader of Dante the names Francesca and Paolo are immediately recognised. In Canto V of Inferno the hopeless souls that were once consumed by desire are presented in pathetic anguish. This is one of the most famous scenes in The Divine Comedy. In this canto Dante depicts the line between love and lust more convincingly than any contemporary moralist or theologian. The gossamer thread that separates love from lust can be wholly invisible to those filled with desire. Dante achieves in relating the tenuousness of this fatal line.

Reading Dante in English is problematic. As a champion of his native language it is certain that the intricacies of Dante’s Italian is paramount to the meaning of his work. Much of the brilliance of the text is lost in English renditions.The pace of the terza rima is substantially diminished when changed to English and many of the Italian words are elemental in regards interpretation. These factors can radically alter a reading of Dante’s work. Due to the issues that arise from the translation of the text, the scene with Francesca and Paolo must be reconsidered. The fine line of love and lust is analogous to the fine line between one translation and the next; terms in close association do not ensure that the meaning of one term wholly explains the other. Therefore translations that bend toward eloquence of poetic structure or toward close translation to convey message will irrefutably recast the canto of lustful sin.

Translations of The Divine Comedy are plentiful. This is useful for bounteous interpretation but which is more accurate and how are our piteous lovers affected by these varying translations? The terzina shapes the poem’s syntax. Dante’s sentences are complex- there is a strong emphasis, not only in the connection between sentences, but also within a single sentence. Thus translations of the text either lose poetic effect or lose meaning depending on whether the translator opts to give one precedence over the other.

In Canto V of Inferno, the figures of Francesca and Paolo appear to be joined together in death. In The Divine Comedy the pilgrim Dante calls to them as they ride the black wind of hell; the punishment on offer in the second circle. In Cary’s version the pilgrim pronounces; ‘O wearied spirits, come, and hold discourse/ With us, if by none else restrained.’ (Inferno V, 79-80). From this projection, we can surmise that the spirits travel together in the bleak gale. This is not the case for the other figures that are represented. Some critics have proposed that Francesca and Paolo are the only spirits to be joined in this way in the second circle. The pace of the terza rima is highly effective in this canto when read in Italian. The speed of the language conjures the ferocity and fluidity of the spiraling wind that whisks the spirits around in an infinite storm.

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William Blake, The Circle of the Lustful: Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta (The Lover’s Whirlwind), 1827, pen, ink and watercolour.

Regarding translation, other versions of The Divine Comedy supplement ‘spirits’ for ‘souls’. This does not modify the meaning in any gross manner but there are points in the translations where the advocating of one verb over another effects the message of Dante’s work. Line 83 of the canto can be seen to use ‘will’ or ‘wish’ in varying translations. This changes  the way in which the reader potentially perceives of the love/lust dilemma. It is certain that Francesca and Paolo committed adulterous acts due to their very presence in hell but the level of control they had in resisting these acts is subject to a translator’s alteration.  The Italian verb ‘volere’ means to want or to wish. By applying the ‘will’ instead of ‘wish’ the relation of sinner to sin is presented very differently.

Issues continuously arise with the Italian verbs and the English translations. For example, the verb ‘venire’ and the verb ‘andare’. These verbs both represent movement. ‘Andare’ more specifically means movement toward a place. When conversing with someone and you use this verb, you indicate that the person you are speaking to is not included in your movement. In contrast, the verb ‘venire’ means a movement towards a place where the person to whom you are speaking is located. This is important for Francesca and Paolo. Dante’s use of ‘venire’ signifies the emotional undertone which in colloquial Italian can mean to go to where the heart lies.

Dante’s intent is obstructed by the translator’s choice. More ambiguity is seen in line 92. Dante writes: ‘il nostro mal perverso’. This has been translated in many ways but the decisive difference can be seen in the application of evil instead of ill or ill instead of evil. This maybe be a small change but this supplementation is pivotal to one’s interpretation and potentially effects the level of sympathy evoked in the reader and effects how we view Dante pilgrim’s perception of the lovers.

Again ambiguity is seen in the level of helplessness is conveyed depending on the edition one chooses to read. Dante writes; ‘mentre che ‘l vento, come fa, ci tace’. Cary’s translation upholds that Dante’s sentence says: ‘Freely with thee discourse, while e’er the wind,/ As now, is mute.’ (V, 95-96). In this version it is implied that the wind has ceased and this gives Francesca the opportunity to communicate with Dante. This opportunistic element is non existent in other versions. In Bergin’s version the same line reads: ‘For such sort time as we may have release/ From violence of the blast which slackens now.’ (V, 93-94). This conveys a sense of authority from a godly presence. The winds were halted by the omnipotent one who’s name is not to be uttered in hell. There is a stark difference in the forcefulness of these sentences when contrasted.

Continuously in the canto Dante uses verbs which have an aggressive tone. In Cary’s version of it reads: ‘How him love thralled’ (V, 125). The language used elicit ideas of slavery. The figure of Lancelot is morally and mentally enslaved by his desire. The verb connotes a more abstract feeling of moral tension but the verb Dante uses is in the original text means ‘to tighten’. Dante writes: ‘come amor lo strinse’. The unconjugated form of ‘strinse’ is ‘Stringere’. The literal meaning of ‘strinse’ is ‘he clutched’.This is an example of eloquence over meaning. By translating ‘clutch’ to ‘thralled’, the meaning and the imagery that are summoned to the reader’s mind are reshaped depending on the style or intent of the translator. In this example, it is clear that the level of perceived control is reshaped by the English translation. By using ‘thralled’, Cary defines the sins of Lancelot in terms of mental abstractions, he is presented as morally and mentally ensnared. In contrast, Dante uses a verb of a physical nature. This conjures ideas of physical embrace; grasping and squeezing. In doing so, Dante presents us with an overtly sensual atmosphere. This feeling is seen in Cary’s overall translation but not to the same degree.

Variations across the translated text are prolific. Although translation can make a text more accessible to a far greater number of people, when it deals with a work like Dante’s Commedia its language is very important and therefore the original is always more beautiful and faithful to Dante’s message. Dante was writing to produce a epic poem but also to worship God. Thus message is vital and anything lost in translation will modify the reading of this text. The message and the mellifluous utterances when reading in English do not do adequate justice to Dante’s original work.

 

 

Textualities 2017

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The Textualities Conference for UCC MA students took place on the 10th of March 2017. It was a platform for passionate students and budding academics to showcase their work. It was an event marked on each student’s calendar since last September. Many of us were anxious at the prospect of giving a talk based on our own research and field of interest but also wholly looking forward to the experience. Casting my mind back to when we first learnt of the event, it seems impossible that it has came and went so quickly.

The day was filled with various panels comprised of three to four students. Each presentation was roughly seven minutes and was to adhere to the pecha kucha format which designates twenty seconds for each slide. This was a wonderful way to advance my presentation skills and ensured a lively presentation. Seven minutes may sound like a speck of time but when it is your first experience of such an environment it can still produce a feeling of apprehension muddled with a sense of excitement. Fortunately we all kept our breakfast down and the day turned out to be thoroughly enjoyable. I was happy with my own presentation and was delighted that everyone performed as marvellously as they did. There was great ideas and insight in each presentation and a wealth of variety in regard topics.

Prior to the conference, we were all assigned tasks to help organise the event. I was placed on the tech team though admittedly I have a slight aversion to gadgets and computers. This opportunity allowed me to swipe away those silly fears and gave me the chance to appropriate new skills. Myself and fellow student, Anne Curran, took charge of setting up the room and setting up each presentation. We gathered the urls, as some opted to use prezi or emaze, and powerpoints from each student so the hand over from speaker to speaker went smoothly. We were also assigned the task of photographing the group and thankfully we all looked dapper. Everything went according to plan. The projector did explode and there wasn’t a freak power cut. All incidents I hoped would not happen did not happen. I deem that a tech success in my book.

The day progressed without a hitch. We were all instructed to live tweet the event which lead to many boasting the abilities of their classmates and rightly so. From grail quests to John B. Keane, it was an information packed day of fabulous thesis topics. My presentation dealt with the work of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. I spoke of the transition from Reason to Sensibility which I believe evident in Godwin’s work and to what extent Wollstonecraft influenced this change. I introduced some of the core texts which will be used throughout my research. These include: William Godwin’s An Enquiry Concerning political Justice and Its Influence for general Virtue and Happiness and Caleb Williams or Things as They Are and Wollstonecraft’s The Vindication of the Rights of Woman and Letters Written in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. 

After the presentation each student took questions from the audience. This might be nerve wrecking but each of us managed well. The questions supplied new perspectives and considerations that may be useful for later research. There was also welcomed suggests from lecturers and students to help stark further ruminations on one’s thesis proposal. It was an interactive and productive atmosphere throughout the day.

We were lucky to have such great support throughout the day. We received help and encouragement from Dr. Donna Alexander and Dr. Anne Etienne in preparing for the event. This helpful nature at UCC cannot be quarantined to the conference day. Nearing the end of the taught section of the MA, I can say for certain that help was always at hand throughout the year from all the lecturers at UCC. The feeling is always friendly and constructive which makes the entire MA experience a treat. I hope my disposition is as cheery when my thesis is printed and bound.

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#editwikilit

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Hesitant feelings were first produced when I heard my MA group and I had to edit the famous encyclopedia. On the 8th of February I participated in what was termed an Editathon which was supervised by Dr. Donna Alexander. Editing Wikipedia for the first time was slightly daunting.

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I cannot explain this irrationality but for some reason the task had me anxious. Fortunately, my hesitations were quickly swept away as I begun to edit. As part of a class assignment, we were asked to make an account on Wikipedia and become editors and contributors. It was quite exciting and satisfactory to add to Wikipedia. Though this site is mentioned in hushed and cautious tones within the college walls, it is a brilliantly informative access point which  allows millions of people to explore a seemingly infinite number of things.

As a student of English and a dedicated Romantic, I took to editing the page on William Godwin. This process was a helpful research tool as I learned how to deliver information concisely and objectively. It was interesting to see what facets of his work and life were given ample attention and which aspects were in need of additional content.

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The Wikipedia site makes editing a breeze and as I am a tech deficient book nerd I appreciated that immensely. You could even deem it rather FUN. After assembling the resources I needed to make changes to the site-mainly books-I logged into my account and clicked edit. Suddenly squiggly lines pop up under odd names and concepts similar to a word document. I felt a small amount of responsibility thinking that at some point someone will read my minor edits and hopefully gain insight into an unexplored topic. It was a nice thought.

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On reflection, this experience was truly invigorating as it portrayed a living interest in the arts. As I looked around the lecture room, students were enthusiastically adding to and improving topics which strike passion into their lives. In a tech savvy age, it is important to circulate information in a clear and accurate manner thus giving more people the potential to love the things you love and learn more about Literature and its vital contribution and presence it still has today in society.

We Need To Talk About Trump

Just about a week into his office Donald Trump has already made decisions that fright a rational mind. From the Orwellian term ‘alternative facts’, to torture methods and the disgrace of managing relations with Mexico, this man has set the doomsday clock ahead thirty seconds. It is now roughly two and a half minutes til doomsday if we consider the symbolic clock which was set forward yesterday by a scientific journal, “Bulletin of Atomic Scientists”, Laurence Krauss being there to shift the ominous minute hand.  

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Hiroshima Atomic Strike, 6th of August 1945.

It makes one utterly despondent to think we still could revert to measures so extreme that there is scarcely words to describe the magnitude of destruction we humans are capable of producing. Still in our infancy, mankind is encountering a major change in direction once again. I cannot tell whether we move backward or if this is a moment of stasis or maybe progression of world so diverse is even a possibility anymore. The hope for a bettering of humanity’s conscious seems so idealistic it is now a laughable notion but such pessimism ossifies passion, hope and a want to improve.

In 1968, Paris witnessed a student revolt which was unprecedented. During this protest a wall was painted with a paradoxical message: “soyez realiste demandez l’impossible” or “Be realistic, demand the impossible”. All things in the world are capable of disrupting one’s mental faculties when we pause for a moment of reflection. I still think there is room for our perfectibility, though this is not to say there is an end in this pursuit. It is one that will always remain and need attention. There is no characteristic of man , which seems at present at least so eminently to distinguish him, or to be of so much importance in every branch of moral science, as his perfectibility (Godwin 33).

Let us not revert back to failed methods or corrupting ideologies and narrow ways of perceiving your fellow beings. When improvements are made let us uphold them. Such rhetoric as “fight fire with fire” and “they do not respect us” to name but two examples of Trump’s aggressive and irrational approach to politics, provide worrying insights for what is to come from his time in office. A protectionist agenda and a Xenophobic mentality is wrought with incompatibility in today’s internationally reliant nations.

In the name of journalism Christopher Hitchens attempted waterboarding. I do think if Trump experienced this he would change his opinion on torture methods.

Works Cited

Godwin, William., An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2013. Print.