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D’Amico, MD, PhD 8:00 am ADT:for M1 disease Intermittent or Continuous Speaker:
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We investigated whether the within-language variation could be explained by an individual speaker’s expertise in manner.
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Towards an Urban Sublime: Expressing the Inexpressible in Urban Romantic Poetry As the industrial revolution brought about the rapid urbanization of cities throughout Europe, writers who were previously concerned with the aesthetics of nature and the countryside found themselves grappling with an entirely new set of poetic and philosophical concerns. The teeming crowds, towering structures and spectacular sights that they encountered in the novel environment of the city incited in them feelings of overwhelming terror and awe akin to those typically associated with the romantic “sublime.” However, as we look more closely at the cityfocused works of poets like Baillie, Wordsworth and Hood, we begin to see that there is a fundamental difference between the “natural” sublime of earlier romantic poetry and the “urban” sublime of the city poem. Whereas the poet’s sublime experience in nature is typically associated with some sort of catharsis or transcendence, forcing man to come to terms with the limitations of his own humanity, the urban sublime instead incites a feelings of wonder and disgust at the incredible potential of that humanity itself, or—as Anne Janowitz put it in her essay The Artifactual Sublime —it forces man to confront “the self as if it were not the self; to experience the madeness of the human world as if it were different stuff than the labour of persons.” While it is true that, as Janowitz notes, this “misrecognition” of the sublime object often resulted in the experience of “romantic alienation,” I argue that the use of sublime language and natural imagery also acted as a sort of coping mechanism for their writers. Through the experience of the “urban” sublime is of course intrinsically linked to feelings of terror and isolation, the fact that these poets were describing particularly urban experiences in terms of something formerly associated with nature helped them to bridge the gap between the urban world and the natural one. This technique, therefore, served the dual purpose of expressing the unfamiliarity of this new landscape and familiarizing it, allowing these poets to discover, as Wordsworth put it, that the underlying “spirit of Nature” was still upon them, even in this “vast receptacle.” In Thomas Hood’s delightfully erratic Moral Reflections on the Cross of Saint Paul’s , we find a perfect example of the struggle many poets faced to familiarize the sublimely overwhelming urban environment. Hood’s speaker—who is presumably a tourist visiting London for the first time—is hilariously unable to produce any original or insightful “reflections” about the complex cityscape he sees spread out before him, and resorts instead to stringing together a bizarre collection of references and metaphors that don’t seem to fit together into a cohesive vision. The speaker’s numerous allusions to “classic” works of literature suggest that he feels a longing to express the “profound” nature of the landscape he is viewing, but even these references come off as disjointed and confused. In the poem’s first stanza, the speaker compares the ball of Saint Paul’s cathedral to Mount Olympus, the home of the gods in Greek mythology. He then immediately moves on to reference a figure from Roman mythology, when he proclaims that he is sitting “Among the gods, by Jupiter!” The speaker’s thoughts turn again towards the literary in the third stanza, when—looking down at the city crowds beneath him—the speaker feels the need to question the nature of man. “What is life?” He asks himself, and answers with an apparent reference to a now cliche line from William Shakespeare's As You Like it : “And what is life? And all its ages— / There’s seven stages!” Before he is able to offer any sort of “real” philosophical inquiry into what he means by this, however, the speaker distracts himself by naming off the seven neighborhoods of London, and never returns to the subject. While this random misfiring of halfbaked references helps develop the speaker’s delightfully zany personality, it also gestures at the bewilderment he feels upon taking in the sprawling landscape of London from above. Though the speaker cannot adequately express the profound emotional impact of this landscape in his own words—and it is clear that he does not have the educational background to substantiate even an insightful literary comparison—he still feels the urge to grasp for images and analogies that he associates with grandiosity and power. This attempt—and failure—to express the inexpressible is a common struggle in the literature of the sublime, and in Joanna Baillie’s poem London —which was written around the same time as Hood’s piece—we are introduced to yet another speaker who cannot quite find the right words to describe the overwhelming urban landscape. The difference here is that Baillie’s speaker is more familiar with the concept of the natural sublime, and she uses the language associated with it to explore the ways that the experience of urban sublime is both related to and separate from the experience of the sublime in nature. The poem’s initial description of the city—in which we find the city viewed again from above, from the hills of Hampstead “through the clear air”—presents the urban space as a rather innocuous, almost quaint vision. The London skyline seems to the speaker a “goodly sight,” and its structures are rendered in relation to familiar human figures. The spires of St. Paul’s cathedral flank the structure “in kindred grace, like twain of sisters dear,” the “ridgy roofs” of the city’s buildings sit amicably “side by side.” The entire vision is “softly tinted” by the distance of the viewer, _____. However, as the air begins to grow denser, and “moistened winds” prevail, the city’s landscape transfigures into something far more menacing. The “thin soft haze” of the poem’s first section becomes a “grand panoply of smoke arrayed,” and the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral—which is now surrounded not by quaint spires, but by “heavy” clouds that sail around its imposing dome—seems “a curtain gloom / Connecting heaven and earth,—a threatening sign of doom.” The shifting weather strips the humanity from the city’s landscape, and the language of the speaker quickly shifts to the language that references the natural sublime. The combination of almost ethereal However, this use of sublime language also allows the speaker to articulate the differences between the urban world and the natural one. Though the speaker seems compelled to compare the structure to prodigious natural figures (she states that the cathedral “might some lofty alpine peak be deemed”) it becomes apparent that these metaphors are not quite sufficient to describe the sight she is witnessing. Because its form reveals “man’s artful structure,” (and by extension the “artful structure” of man’s society), the cathedral cannot be viewed as totally natural. Instead, it is referred to as “more than natural,” and seems to transcend the boundaries of both humanity and nature as it first “connects heaven and hearth” and then, a few lines later seems “far removed from Earth.” This somewhat confused description demonstrates the speaker’s complex feelings about the urban landscape. Though she knows one thing for certain about this cathedral—“She is sublime”—the speaker cannot quite find the language she needs to describe the sense of the particularly “urban” sublime she is experiencing. She knows the cathedral is a product of mankind, and that the power that it is imbued with is intrinsically linked with the oppressive church that it represents and the often corrupt society that it is a part of. Part of the reason that the church looks seems to her so terrifying is certainly the fact that entering the streets of the city means succumbing to the dominance of the church, the government, and society as a whole. Language has always failed to fully express the sublime experience, however, and the speaker’s attempts to conflate the urban sublime of the city with the natural sublime simply demonstrates a desire to give a recognizable form to the terror she is experiencing—in order to truly become what Lyotard calls an “expressive witness to the inexpressible,” the speaker must carry thought and rationality to their logical conclusions, and for a romantic poet the world can best be rationalized and understood in terms of the rural. In contrast to Hood’s speaker, whose manic metaphorhopping was a symptom of a mind unprepared to grapple with the urban landscape’s complexities, Baillie’s speaker logically considers the unfamiliar in terms of her own experience, and makes the urban feel, in a way, like an extension of nature. This blending of the natural and the urban is epitomized in the final portion of Baillie’s poem, when the viewpoint shifts to the perspective of a “distant traveller.” From afar, this traveller is able to view the London in its entirety, and finds himself awestruck by the stars in the “luminous canopy” above the city that seem to be “cast up from myriads of lamps that shine / Along her streets in many a starry line.” The “flood of human life in motion” creates a noise that sounds to the traveller like the “voice of a tempestuous ocean,” and he finds his soul filled with a “sad but pleasing awe” upon hearing it. These magnificent sights, which seem at once human and natural, express the rich suggest that the city is capable of igniting in the human soul the same complex emotions that a sublime natural splendor might. Wordsworth took this idea to its ultimate conclusion as he navigated the bacchanalian chaos that is St. Bartholomew’s fair at the conclusion of The Prelude, Book Seven. In Wordsworth’s poem, we are not viewing London from above, but from the very trenches of the city, and the sublimity he is experiencing comes not from the contemplation of the urban
Adam Beck, PIA, Executive Director, Smart Cities Council Australia New Zealand Speaker:
A point of personal privilege may interrupt the speaker only on grounds of audibility or other circumstances preventing participation in debate.
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