Reviews

Andrew Bennett. Wordsworth Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. ISBN: 978-0521874199. Price: US$101[Notice]

  • Ihsen Hachaichi

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  • Ihsen Hachaichi
    Université de Montréal

Wordsworth Writing concentrates on the domesticity of Wordsworth’s topos. Writing strategies, graphological, grammatological, and semantic aspects are the book’s subject matter. Delineating the accord, relation, and affect between the poet and his text, Andrew Bennett re-evaluates the allegiance between orality and writing, and sheds light on Wordsworth’s interiorized technique or practice of “composing in his head” (24). Though he is moderate on the claim that Wordsworth always composes with pen and paper and asserts that the authentic poetic authority in Wordsworth is non-inscriptional and aural, he denounces the inconsistencies and inaccuracies of a logocentric reading of Wordsworth, which gives speech pre-eminence over writing. Bennett believes that the strength of Wordsworth’s poetry consists in its being incipiently a mode of composition in the head, a non-scriptural presencing of the sounds and images that gradually and unconsciously exert an influence on poetic consciousness. The mind acts as a repository for emotions and a distiller of poetic thought and, once substantiated, the emotions are transcribed in words. The interim increases the “worth of words” and widens the aural and visual spectrum of the scene actually experienced. Bennett dismantles therefore the absolute and determinable “phonocentric myth” (57) of Wordsworthian composition because the ensuing stage of writing is also important. In the first three chapters, Bennett exposes the different dimensions of the physical and mental act of writing. He illustrates the poet’s self-internalized angst of grappling with the inadequacy of the present moment to deliver the magnitude of the experience of sense perception. The originality of these expository chapters falls on Bennett’s treatment of autobiography and self-inscription as means to communicate the simultaneously apocalyptic and frazzled emotion that comes on Wordsworth, at once demanding interpretation and baffling it. There is an essential resistance to writing because the self privileges reflecting on itself. Reflective consciousness is sustained by the inner voices and becomes reflexive in the moment of writing. The readerly introspection and self-presence (phenomenological being in the present and present need to recall a past mode of being) become temporal issues difficult to handle because of this double consciousness. To convincingly argue for a perception of the idiosyncratic two-process strategy of writing in Wordsworth (reflection and reflexivity), Bennett mobilizes historicist approaches of different kinds (literary history, cultural history, genealogies of knowledge) and, where necessary, resorts to the disciplines of close reading and rhetorical analysis to single out the perspectives in Wordsworth’s poetry that specifically serve his purpose. He enriches his study with an array of critical and theoretical readings of phenomenology, post-structuralism, and deconstruction at times to reinforce views that orality and writing are equally important, and other times to refute the facile and clichéd idea that writing naturally comprises the specificities of the all-encompassing act of composition. His treatment of “Tintern Abbey” especially rejuvenates and redoubles the appreciation of the underscored issue of physical and topographical revisitation. Wordsworth revisits the physical spot and the discursive space because he means to gain a sense of composure, to recover from the former intemperate act of sensual consummation. The immediacy systematically suggested by the physical act of writing on the spot is a sanctioned form of preserving the import of the emotion, a labour Wordsworth dispenses with. “Tintern Abbey” is the example of rural pedestrianism and the illustration of what Bennett calls “composition” in contrast to other poems where “perambulatory obstruction” produces writing. In the fifth chapter, Bennett maintains that Wordsworth is passionate about poetry because it is a confessional discourse resulting from a lavish and unrestrained expense of emotions. He pinpoints the dynamic nature of Wordsworth’s engagement with his text founded on the poet’s own conviction ...

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