Professor Eric Falci and the Science of the Lyric
Sarah’s hunch about the course turned out to be accurate. As Professor Falci’s syllabus and lectures lived up to the course description and ranged widely across poets and critical texts, Sarah found new delights in and new insights into literature that she had never expected. One of her favorite parts of the course was re-reading Dickinson, since, she said, she hadn’t enjoyed her poetry very much when she had read it in high school for the first time. When Professor Falci assigned Virginia Jackson’s book Dickinson’s Misery along with the poetry, Sarah saw how one could read history back into the lyric form, which had seemed, at first glance, to be outside of time. Sarah’s interest in the argument that Jackson makes about the Dickinson’s fascicles — small, hand-tied volumes in which Dickinson bound her poetry — led her to write an essay on a Dickinson website which contextualizes the poetry with their manuscript versions.
fun it could be to watch people try and figure out how to make meaning out of theoretical or poetic opacity.
Sarah also said she enjoyed reading Marianne Moore’s poem “The Fish” along with the linguist Roman Jakobson’s famous essay “Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances,” which uses research into aphasia to present a theory of language on the basis of to two fundamental functions of metaphor and metonymy. To her surprise, her roommate was reading the same essay for an Anthropology course. The coincidence sparked some interesting conversations as the two compared their professors’ different uses of Jakobson’s theory. This cross-over with science — along with her own interest in medicine and chemistry — led Sarah to write her final paper on the prevalence of chemical metaphors in some of the poetry and theory she had read over the semester. She was particularly intrigued by T.S. Eliot’s metaphor of the catalyst in his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” and the imagery of “precipitates” that cultural theorist Theodor Adorno has used in his work. What is the bridge, she wondered, between science and literature that our current organization of knowledge obscures?
For that matter, as this blog has been wondering over the past few weeks, what is the bridge between literature and the “real world” that we sometimes forget to notice? After Professor Falci’s course, it seems as if Sarah is in prime position to give that question some very interesting, and perhaps unexpected, answers.
But we are also interested in your thoughts on the issue; feel free to leave a response!