Reading by Fractions: Some of Robert Lowell’s Sonnets
Many of the ways in which the study of literature has conceived, defended and marketed itself over the last 20 years or so have been more or less explicitly “ethical”. Literature, in such a context, is fundamentally entangled with questions of right or wrong, can do us good (in a suitably complicated post-poststructuralist way), or, at least, can help us do the theoretical work of meta-ethics or moral philosophy. Poetry, particularly modern poetry, has often seemed much less amenable to this kind of approach than prose fiction. This paper considers some texts that might seem particularly unaccommodating – five of Robert Lowell’s sonnets “about” his daughter and ex-wife – and seeks to bring out some of their provocative ethical potential, particularly in relation to questions of quantification and commensurability.
PhD, University College London, 1994. Worked at during the 90s at universities in England, Poland, USA and Wales. At Aarhus since 1998. Professor of Literatures in English since Nov. 2008. Books: Authorship, Ethics and the Reader: Blake, Dickens, Joyce (Macmillan, 1997); Literature, Identity and the English Channel (Palgrave, 2002); articles in journals such as Discourse, Dickens Quarterly, Film-Philosophy, European Journal of English Studies. Current projects include a book on literature, ethics and quantification.