Keats and Fancy, Lauterbach and Choice

From Stanley Plumly’s “Between Things: On The Ode,” an essay from Graywolf Press’s Radiant Lyre: Essays On Lyric Poetry (emphasis mine):

John Keats perfects the instrument of the ode and in doing so creates the modern lyric, the poem that both acts out and contemplates itself–“the form of lyric debate that moves actively toward drama,” as Walter Jackson Bate puts it in his great critical biography of Keats. By drama I think Bate means literally a form of theater–a soliloquy perhaps, but more likely an internal dialogue with self involving a third thing: a bird, a goddess, a Grecian urn–a distracting object*.    …

What happens in Keats is that he takes the assumed energy and capacity of the mind and heart of the classic ode and refocuses its appeal to structure, balance, and gesture toward something more like texture, compression, reiteration. Keats fills out–or fills in–density; he transcends structure through the senses. As if structure were invisible, “form transparent before its subject,” as Bate puts it. The length of the ode in Keats is in its depth, its richness, its thickness, its concentration. Keats, in his way, invents the vertical reading of poetry, its interiority of music and meditation. (114-115)

From a discussion of Coleridge on fancy from “The Introduction Of Fancy Into Hopkins’ Poetry” (emphasis mine):

Coleridge sets imagination and the human subject above fancy and the object in Chapter 13 of Biographia Literaria. While imagination concerns the active mind, will and reason to fuse the object, fancy concerns the fixity of the object and understanding:

‘Fancy, on the contrary, has no other counters to play with, but fixities and definites. The Fancy is indeed no other than a mode of Memory emancipated from the order of time and space; and blended with, and modified by that empirical phenomenon of the will, which we express by the word CHOICE‘. ( BL I 305)

Ann Lauterbach on art and choice:

All artworks are, at the most basic level, simply an accrual of relationships that are the result of choices: this, not that

When we are moved by an aesthetic object, a poem or a piece of music or a painting, we experience a dual gladness: that the artist has made these choices and, by extension and analogy, that we, too, are capable of making choices…

Art serves no practical purpose, but to engage with it fully is to acknowledge the (pleasurable, if often difficult) consequences of choice at the crux of human agency. I want to suggest that artworks can disrupt the degradation of choice as the site of, and synonymous with, commodification (consumer preference) and (re)align it with the rewards of independent determinations of value—processes of aesthetic discernment and critique seen as part of a continuum across individual, social, political terrain. Choice confined to the marketplace endangers the very core of participatory democratic processes. (7)


This is Chesterton, and I prefer these ideas to the ones in the response from Tolkien that also appears in the same blog entry. As odd as it may be to link Chesteron with M. John Harrison, this reminds me of “A Young Man’s Journey to Viriconium,” which I love. Anyway, emphases mine:

Herein is the whole secret of that eerie realism with which Dickens could always vitalize some dark or dull corner of London. There are details in the Dickens descriptions – a window, or a railing, or the keyhole of a door – which he endows with demoniac life. The things seem more actual than things really are. Indeed, that degree of realism does not exist in reality: it is the unbearable realism of a dream. And this kind of realism can only be gained by walking dreamily in a place; it cannot be gained by walking observantly. Dickens himself has given a perfect instance of how these nightmare minutiae grew upon him in his trance of abstraction. He mentions among the coffee-shops into which he crept in those wretched days one in St. Martin’s Lane, “of which I only recollect that it stood near the church, and that in the door there was an oval glass plate with ‘COFFEE ROOM’ painted on it, addressed towards the street. If I ever find myself in a very different kind of coffee-room now, but where there is such an inscription on glass, and read it backwards on the wrong side, MOOR EEFFOC (as I often used to do then in a dismal reverie), a shock goes through my blood.” That wild word, “Moor Eeffoc,” is the motto of all effective realism; it is the masterpiece of the good realistic principle – the principle that the most fantastic thing of all is often the precise fact. And that elvish kind of realism Dickens adopted everywhere. His world was alive with inanimate objects.

via The Blog of the American Chesterton Society: The “Mooreeffoc”