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The Calamity FormOn Poetry and Social Life$
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Anahid Nersessian

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226701288

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226701455.001.0001

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Wordsworth’s Obscurity

Wordsworth’s Obscurity

Chapter:
(p.57) 2 Wordsworth’s Obscurity
Source:
The Calamity Form
Author(s):

Anahid Nersessian

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226701455.003.0003

In his 1961 essay, “Resistance and Difficulty,” J. H. Prynne writes that it is through poetic “sources” of difficulty “that we derive our most powerful and sustaining sense of the world, in all its complex variousness.” This chapter argues that Wordsworth’s own dealings with poetic difficulty or obscuritas figure this variousness as a block to representing history as a process of cause and effect, or as an engine of progressive change. Through intensely focused readings of Wordsworth’s poems, in particular “Michael" and The Prelude, the chapter shows obscurity as a trope of ontological recession that challenges the idea that the contents of history are, in the provocative words of Georgi Plekhanov, always “distinguished by...marked solidity.” In the midst of industrial calamity and rural impoverishment, or what Dorothy Wordsworth refers to as “the alteration in times,” obscurity—or, to invoke its philosophical analogue, vagueness—becomes a way of making materially present the losses that would otherwise register as simple absence or negation.

Keywords:   obscurity, vagueness, William Wordsworth, The Prelude, historical materialism

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