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Zero Ecology: A Study of British Romantic Poetry

  • Author(s): Kang, Christopher Taekwan
  • Advisor(s): Christensen, Jerome
  • et al.
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Abstract

This dissertation proposes what I am calling a zero ecology. Through a reading of four British Romantic poets—John Clare, William Wordsworth, William Blake, and Charlotte Smith—I argue that these writers refuse to permanently fix personhood, poetry, or place as the irrevocable center in a field, but instead temporarily locate each in a “vanishing point” position. Because each “vanishing point” concedes and defers to another “vanishing point,” a perpetually emergent, rotating latticework of relations emerges. These writers, therefore, assert a dynamic orientation between word and world that allows for moments of subjectivity without generating an overall anthropocentric view of the environment. My first chapter establishes the foundations for a zero ecology by questioning the critical impulse to center a biographically driven conception of John Clare that systemizes a reading across his poems yet collapses Clare against a landscape to impose a peculiar anthropocentricity. My second chapter asserts that William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” contorts a field of vision and problematizes the act of self-reflection through excessive deictic gestures, thereby pursuing an ontological inquiry of the self, the text, and the environment. My third chapter disputes critical conceptions that William Blake dismisses and reviles the natural world by exploring how his attentiveness to the concept of infinity and his excessive deployment of anthropomorphization generates oscillating conceptual interrelations between humans and nonhumans. Lastly, my fourth chapter explores how Charlotte Smith’s Elegiac Sonnets interrogates absences in an environment with communicative presences that actively pursue questions of identity and nature that were once exiled to the periphery. By asserting that no single point of orientation can claim mastery over other points of orientation, namely a zero ecology that is fundamentally “pointless,” these four poets present urgent engagements with the environment and radically disrupt any reification of poem, place, or personhood.

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This item is under embargo until June 7, 2025.