Travelling in the direction of mortality': Wandering the Topography of Wordsworthian Selfhood

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Title: Travelling in the direction of mortality': Wandering the Topography of Wordsworthian Selfhood
Author: Chernik, Aria Fortune
Advisors: Sharon Setzer, Committee Member
Thomas Lisk, Committee Member
John Morillo, Committee Chair
Abstract: One of the primary attributes of a wanderer, as one who is in constant motion, is that he or she is not beholden to traditional spatio-temporal constructs, and, thus, to traditional constructs of life and death. This thesis examines some of Wordsworth's seminal wanderer figures, such as the peripatetic speaker and his uncanny double, the Leech Gatherer, in 'Resolution and Independence' and the transcendent Wanderer in the first book of The Excursion, 'The Wanderer,' and investigates the way in which movement functions as an integral component of the phenomenological and ontological construction of Wordsworthian selfhood. In 'Resolution,' wandering allows the speaker to traverse the natural boundaries of his environment and arrive at a place of liminality where he encounters his spectral other, the Leech Gatherer. Applying Freud's theory of the uncanny, I reveal how the Leech Gatherer ameliorates the severe anxiety within the speaker about dying in 'despondency and madness' because of failed artistic accomplishment in a world of materiality, and thus never attaining literary fame, a kind of immortality after death. In contrast, while the Wanderer may certainly be characterized as an immortal figure, he achieves immortality not by negating the existence or permanence of death, but by perfecting a dynamic, relational selfhood that synthesizes the Kierkegaardian dialectic of selfhood. Under Kierkegaard's vision of selfhood, transcendence is achieved by constantly balancing the finite, temporal body and soul and the infinite, atemporal spirit. Wordsworth's wandering figures are not limited to poetic characters, however. Wandering is also an intrinsic element of some rhetorical tropes. Employing Paul de Man's analysis of the rhetorical figure of prosopopoeia as a figure propelled by 'the art of delicate transition,' this thesis unearths the way in which Wordsworth, in 'Essay upon Epitaphs,' portrays epitaph as an archetypical example of prosopopoeic transition. Indeed, in 'Essay,' Wordsworth writes extensively about the epitaphic function of granting a voice, and thus life, back to the dead and explains how, shrouded within the context of prosopopoeia and epitaph, a sepulchral monument is not a final resting place, but merely a platform from which the dead speak and through which they journey back.
Date: 2004-06-24
Degree: MA
Discipline: English

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