From Around 1948: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Global Transformation, edited by Leela Gandhi and Deborah Nelson (Summer 2014)Download
Robert Browning’s music poems invite thorough prosodic analysis, on account of their steady and articulate reference to music theory and its technical terms of art. They richly reward such analysis, moreover, on account of their often intricate performance of verse analogues to the musical forms they discuss, and thereby of the ideas about love and death, meaning and vacancy, to which a strongly engaged experience of music gives rise in the minds of Browning’s imagined speakers. In the somber “A Toccata of Galuppi’s” and the hectic “Master Hugues of Saxe-Gotha” (both 1855) rhythm’s feisty, doomed resistance to the demands of an inflexible meter stages the human condition of real freedom under no less real constraint, within a space of performative interpretation that is observant and creative at once. An approach that embraces the rigidity of traditional accentual-syllabic prosody serves particularly well to bring out in detail the way this poet’s versification enacted allegories of reading.
What one sees in professors, repeatedly, is exactly the manner that anyone would adopt after a couple of sad evenings sidelined under the crepe-paper streamers in the gym, sitting on a folding chair while everyone else danced.” These lines, from historian Patricia Limerick, illuminate the psychological imaginary behind the critique of academic style. But what if the psychically wounded wallflowers actually love what they do? What does a theory of academic writing look like, if it begins from the notion that such writing is often (not always!) inspiring, amazing, or beautiful? What happens if we theorize a practice of writing that imagines it as a practice of sustained weakness, connection, and care?
The climate crisis leads us to think of our times as characterized by the enjambment, as it were, of the syntactic orders of three very different kinds of histories that are "normally" separated by issues of scale, causation, discontinuous archives, and methods of research: natural histories of the earth systems, the history of life on this planet including that of humanity as a dominant species, and the much more short-term and recent history of industrial civilization or capitalism. This essay seeks to develop the above proposition by examining certain "rifts" in contemporary policy, scientific, and activist literature on Climate Change