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Talking Guns at the Siege of Charleston

Date and Time: 
Thursday, May 5, 2016. 06:00 PM - 08:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Humanities Center Boardroom
Meeting Description: 
About the speaker:
Eliza Richards is an Associate Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at UNC-Chapel Hill. She teaches and writes about American literature and culture before 1900, with a particular emphasis on poetry. She is the author of Gender and the Poetics of Reception in Poe’s Circle (Cambridge 2004), and the editor of Emily Dickinson in Context (Cambridge 2013). She is currently completing a book on the relationship between poetry and violence during the U.S. Civil War. She was awarded a National Humanities Center Fellowship in 2010-2011 to work on this project. Richards has published widely on American poetry; her essays appear in ESQ, Arizona Quarterly, Victorian Poetry, the Cambridge Companion to Nineteenth-Century American Poetry, A Blackwell’s Companion to Emily Dickinson, The Cambridge History of American Poetry, and elsewhere.
 
Meeting description:
Professor Eliza Richards will be visiting the Poetics Workshop to discuss her book project on 19th century American poetry and the Civil War. Justin Tackett will serve as respondent. Please contact armend@stanford.edu for the pre-circulated chapter draft.
 
Of her project, professor Richards writes:
 
My current book project charts the transformations of American poetry, primarily in the North, over the course of the U.S. Civil War, which, I argue, are fueled by a symbiotic relationship between mass media and modern warfare. A syncretic conjunction of new technologies and catastrophic events stimulated the development of news into a central cultural force. Reacting to the ascendance of the news, poets articulated an urgent need to make their work not only relevant, but immediately responsive to current happenings. Civil War-era poets take on the task of imagining what correspondent mental states arise for readers upon receiving news from the war front: how to think and what to feel about the mass violence of modern warfare happening elsewhere, but brought close with new intensity via mass media networks. For the seminar, I’ve provided a draft of the fourth chapter of the book, “Talking Guns at the Siege of Charleston.” This chapter explores the exchange of killing words that accompanied the prolonged military engagement, focusing on the widespread poetic trope of the talking gun. In his groundbreaking study On War, Carl von Clausewitz insists that war is not a failure of political action, but an extension of it: it is “an instrument of policy.” “A continuation of political intercourse by other means,” fighting and killing carry out the ends of the state after linguistic negotiations fail. If war is “just another form of speech or writing,” poetry can put itself in service to the state in order to give words to that other form of speech. Talking gun poems operate at the logical end of these forms of language dedicated to sustaining war. Beyond offering ideological justifications of violence, they have only one thing to say: they speak death to the enemy. In this chapter I trace the escalation of violence via the intensification of the fantasy that poems can carry killing force. The concluding section turns to the work of poets who sought ethical alternatives to the war of words.

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