Elizabeth Bishop's Quest for the Ordinary

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Title: Elizabeth Bishop's Quest for the Ordinary
Author: Helm, Daniel Joseph
Advisors: Nick Halpern, Committee Chair
Thomas Lisk, Committee Member
Anne Baker, Committee Member
Abstract: Poetry by Elizabeth Bishop is filled with issues of domesticity and belonging, intimacy and loss, as well as transparent language and local scenes, all of which are types or expressions of ordinariness. Building from the philosophy of Wittgenstein, Stanley Cavell proposes that ordinariness — both ordinary language and everyday life — presents the greatest challenge to philosophical skepticism. To Cavell, skepticism threatens us with doubt and the inhumanity of disconnection from life and the world. In In Quest of the Ordinary, Cavell describes challenging the skeptical threat with the resettling of the everyday, a domestication of skepticism that makes life a livable place. Cavell's sense of a need for opposition to skepticism that makes life livable is confirmed by readers of Bishop who find her handling questions, doubts, and the frustration of loss in a way that seems manageable and a way that also emphasizes the significance of ordinariness. Cavell's work is an opportunity to characterize the recurring patterns and themes as well as the contrasts and the differences in Bishop's poems as a search for ordinariness. I claim that ordinariness in Bishop's poetry exists, as in Cavell, in dialogue with skepticism, so that Bishop's quest for the ordinary is a struggle to protect against as well as preserve skepticism. The quest, as both Cavell and Bishop depict it, is endless because ordinariness is elusive, but a struggle with and for ordinariness is appealing, both in Bishop's poetry and Cavell's philosophy, because it alternately allows hope and skepticism. Her poems are widely appreciated because, as Randall Jarrell said, they suggest —it is barely but perfectly possible— to live in the world.
Date: 2007-04-27
Degree: MA
Discipline: English
URI: http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/resolver/1840.16/1917

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