Thursday, 09 November 2006

Close-Reading Exercise: A Good Bad Reading of Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn," Part IV [Being the fourth installment of my insanely close reading of Keats "Ode on a Grecian Urn." You can find the first here, the second here, the third here.] I concluded my analysis of the third stanza by crying "uncle" when I reached the last three lines. The main reason? I couldn't parse the grammar and didn't want to look the fool. Not that I need to parse it to understand what Keats says there—only that when you break out the spelunking gear and start exploring, things don't look like the maps say they should. This tunnel here should delve into the deeps but shoots "far above" instead (28). That one there should plunge you into icy waters but leaves you with "a burning forehead, and a parching tongue" (30). You can hear the echo of "your leaves" (22) in "that leaves" (29) but your once "mad" echolocation" skillz" have diminished with disuse. So complain about those last three lines until you whine your parched throat raw, it will do you no good. If only you had friends ... The fourth stanza, however, I can handle. It opens with that trope I should've christened something clever already. Sadly, "the trope of evocative ignorance" tops my shortlist. But I've got my best people working 'round the clock, and they're bound to come up with some witty thing sooner or later. Better sooner—but I digress. I need to stop naming stuff and start describing it. Only, what is there to say about those opening lines that I haven't said about its predecessors? Quite a bit, actually, but in keeping with the idea that readings should be coherent, I'm disinclined to mention them. I still may, but I want to focus on ignorance. The speaker, you'll remember, has no idea who the people depicted on the urn are—yet in the fourth stanza, he describes the coming sacrifice in such a way as to betray either insincerity or stunning unawareness. "What men or gods are these?" (8). Never mind! No longer an issue! These twits ain't gods. They're men. On the one hand, the speaker's supposition seems sound—sacrifices are made to gods, not by them. On the other, why is that necessarily the case? I can imagine a polytheistic religion in which lesser gods sacrifice specimens from their lowing, mewling or mooing flocks to appease their superiors. The speaker doesn't even consider this possibility, as he uses this portion of the frieze to jump from what is represented to what is entailed by that representation. This imaginative induction moves the "Ode" outside the tradition of ekphrasis and into a speculative mode empowered by the speaker's ignorance. In the first three stanzas, the speaker engaged in crypto-speculation—his professions of ignorance notwithstanding, he appeared to be describing the events depicted on the urn, appeared to know what he was talking about. In the fourth stanza, he exploits this impression to describe events not depicted on the urn with the same "authority" with which he described the ones...
Acephalous: Proudly Empowering Plagiarists and/or Making Dreams Come True Since 1949 A reader currently teaching "Ode on a Grecian Urn" emails: Scott, Hi! I'm one of those "deep lurkers" who doesn't even respond to direct requests, but I had to send this to you. Call me a voyeur if you will. [Voyeur! — The Management] For the past week I've been cribbing lectures notes from your discussion of Keats because I knew I was teaching it this Monday. To make a long story short, at the University of [Anonymous Readers], we have to do these weekly writing assignments in introductory courses like the one I'm teaching. This week mine was about Keats. Imagine my surprise when I found these sentences in student's response: Since it can't speak for itself, the speaker must impute meaning to the urn. So any interpretation teeters on the critic's evaluation of his honesty. In most criticism, this evaluation occurs covertly, by attributing the speaker's words to Keats or an analogue thereof. They take plagiarism too seriously here, so I didn't want to report the poor kid, but he kept denying it. I had the same sentences printed out in my notes and everything. I wanted to show it to him and tell him "Look, I know where you got that from because it's where I got it from." I didn't. Eventually he said a friend of his sent some comments to him that he thought were so smart he kept them in his paper. He wanted to know whether acknowledging his friend's help in the next paper would get him off the hook. I told him he would be fine so long as he admitted where he got those sentences from. Finally he confessed that his fraternity brothers told him that if they use Google Blog Search to find ideas, no one will ever find out because they don't include those results on Google or Which means you're empowering plagiarists everywhere! I love you, Scott, but you are now officially part of the problem. With the permission of its author, I forwarded this to a friend of mine. He said: Admit it, you're like one of those porn stars who loves the thought of all those guys getting busy on their bad selves. The only question is, what do you say when the camera stops rolling? Do you turn the cameraman and complain that $400 isn't worth all the shit you have to put up with. I have absolutely no idea what he's talking about. Not that I'm changing the subject—even though I am and at twice the speed of type no less—but the nice young lady who sent the original email loved the thought of my publishing it (and my friend's response) here. She said it would be "a dream come true" to appear on this site. Not only do I empower plagiarists, I now make dreams come true. So if you have dreams that can be fulfilled by an appearance on this site, don't hesitate to write. Unlike others who shall remain nameless,...

Become a Fan

Recent Comments