Author Archives: Kate Eickmeyer

Book Objects and Book Traces

I am a scourge and tyrant to my books. I immediately break their spines, annotate and underline the hell out of them, and even freely write notes in them about unrelated things, hoping they will help me recall more of my thought processes later. If my house caught on fire, I would try to rescue my copy of Moby Dick, which I’ve had since high school and have read four times. The book is a palimpsest of my intellectual development, with four sets of notes reflecting my priorities, literary and otherwise, at each given moment; it even has bizarre notes from friends, rather like Ruthie Whitehead’s ugly hand. I doubt it will ever wind up in a library, digitalization or none, but I treasure it, along with the thought that someone might excavate it from my tomb in 1,000 years and wonder what I meant by “whiteness=vacancy of form–>all soul!**”

To see my printed books sitting on their shelf, snug among each other’s battered spines and dated color schemes, is somehow to dwell in their company. I prefer the word “packrat” to “hoarder.” The books say what they say, day after day, night after night; the face of each page protrudes into space independently, requiring no mouse-clicking or wand-waving to reveal its contents. Of course, you still have to pull the book off the shelf and open it to read it, and most of mine have sat unopened for years. But their physical presence helps preserve their contents in my mind, especially given all the thought I’ve given to their organization. I often wonder if Henry Miller is happy wedged between Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac, and if Nabakov, Kafka and Camus are squabbling with each other on their common shelf. I love my Kindle, but I don’t worry about these things with my Kindle elibrary.

Some of the benefits of reading traditional print books are probably nothing more than pure association. The look and feel of a traditional printed book reminds me of a fruitful process I’ve enjoyed since early childhood (as Andrew Stauffer discusses in his WTJU interview), and which I associate with distinct moments when my own cognitive capacity has seemed to leap forwards. Interacting with physical ink on paper activates my synapses in ways that reading on a screen doesn’t. Whatever the reason, I worry that special ink-and-paper phenomenon will just disappear in a post-book world. I also associate reading on a screen with skimming and trying to collect a maximum volume of ideas and information without ever lingering over any given text. When we read something online, the next text, the next tangential rabbit hole, or or whatever, is only a click away. The problem isn’t that we’re tempted by distraction, but that we feel obligated to vacuum up all of the information in the entire world all of the time. There is so much content literally right in front of us, it feels indulgent and inefficient to spend too much time digesting any single text’s meaning on the screen; at the very least, it causes a serious case of FOMO.

In my own experience, my longest intellectual strides—the moments when I’ve suddenly managed to comprehend or express something significantly more complex than I could before—have arisen while looking at ink on paper, without links or tabs poking out at me. But I also appreciate having immediate access to so many more sources via digital research than we had ten years ago, and my research is much richer for it. Book Traces’ best-of-both-worlds approach of preserving the physical texts without opposing their digital availability seems incredibly reasonable to me. I hope to stumble across some treasures in the NYPL to contribute.

Annotated Bibliography: Approaches to Trance and Altered Consciousness

By: Kate Eickmeyer

The following are some articles I looked at over the weekend while considering whether to develop one of my old papers into an abstract for the upcoming GC ESA conference on trance. These sources vary in topic as a result of considering a few different papers; they are loosely connected in terms of trance, altered consciousness, and the spiritual/”oceanic” vs. the psychoanalytic/rational as states of trance. I’ve essentially treated this as a list for my own reference for future projects, so apologies for some utilitarian shorthand and the wide scope.

Bloom, Harold, Ed. Romanticism and Consciousness: Essays in Criticism. New York: Norton, 1970. Perhaps a bit of an old saw, but always good to revisit, this text is a classic collection of essays on consciousness amongst the romantics and has insights into any angle on the subject. Geoffrey Hartman’s essay, “Romanticism and ‘Anti-Self-Consciousness,’” is an especially useful discussion of subjective states of consciousness and their alteration in the context of the sublime. Hartman’s essay and others in the book are relevant to development of an existing paper on trance states in Wordsworth’s The Prelude (one of the candidates for an abstract).

Deleuze, Gilles. “Bartleby, Or, The Formula.” Essays Critical and Clinical. Trans. Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 1997. 68-90. This is Gilles Deleuze’s evidently famous essay on “Bartleby,” although I overlooked it when I wrote a seminar paper on Sartre and corporate professional culture with reference to “Bartleby” several years ago. Deleuze’s reading of Bartleby’s apparent madness as a haze of private, individual logic (or, I would say, trance) and his characterization of Bartleby and Ahab as beings of “Primary Nature” are interesting, although I question some of his conclusions. Clearly worth another look.

Epstein, Mark. “On the Seashore of Endless Worlds: Transitional Experience and the Sense of Identity.” The Middle Way 88.1 (2013) 7-23. Epstein is a psychotherapist and something of a popular writer on Buddhism. I’ve come across some interesting contemporary articles on Buddhism and this one deals directly with Freud’s “oceanic,” so it brings perspective to bear on a paper I wrote on Freud’s “oceanic feeling” and the altered states of consciousness produced by the liminal moments of death and dying in King Lear and Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Epstein offers a lucid comparison of Freudian and Buddhist conceptions of the ego and states of consciousness and then turns his discussion to British psychotherapist D.W. Winnicott’s work on object relations. While perhaps not the most traditional academic work, Epstein’s piece is full of interesting ideas about liminal states of consciousness (a.k.a. trance) and ways to approach Freud and Buddhism in a critical way. The article also might be food for thought concerning a paper I’m incubating on the intersections of Buddhism and Romance in Enlightenment utopian fiction.

Harper, Margaret Mills. “Nemo: George Yeats and her Automatic Script.” New Literary History 33.2 (2002): 291-314. Having done work on the concept of “irreducibility” in Yeats, no exploration of literature and trance would be complete without some attention to George and W.B. Yeats and automatic writing. While Harper’s article alone doesn’t resolve the question of whether the scholarly earth has been scorched already on this subject, it does contain some good analysis of George’s experiments with automatic writing and the requisite state of altered consciousness. Harper’s article also includes some interesting coverage of George’s relationship to W.B. and the Order of the Golden Dawn.

Obeyeskere, Gananath. The Awakened Ones: Phenomenology of Visionary Experience. New York: Columbia UP, 2012. Vast and fascinating survey of eastern and western approaches to consciousness with many insights into trance, including dreaming, visions, memory, and liminality associated with death and dying. Obeyeskere’s breadth is wide enough to cover a lot of bases, including all of those relevant to my projects: Yeats and Madame Blavatsky, Blake and the Romantic Poets, Freud, Jung, Nietzche and post-Enlightenment European interpretations of Buddhism. All the classic trance-related phenomenology under the sun, or so it seems.

Sapienza, Claudio. “Il sentimento oceanico e il Sé Cosmico nella creazione artistica contemporanea.” PsicoArt: Rivista on line di Arte e Psicologia 3.3 (2013): 1-25. Sapienza’s article discusses Freud’s “oceanic feeling” in the context of contemporary art. Invoking Schiller and a number of other metaphysical thinkers, Sapienza investigates the direct engagement of nature to produce an aesthetic of the “oceanic” in the works of Graham Metson, Ana Mendieta, Giuseppe Penone and James Turrell, among others. Sapienza covers traditional works concerning nature and the universal in the gallery context as well as earthworks and land art such as Stonehenge, Michael Heizer’s Double Negative, and Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. The aesthetics of the “oceanic feeling” is another interesting angle on trance, and this article will also be useful for another nascent project on place-based art forms.

Simmons, Janette. “The Oceanic Feeling and a Sea Change: Historical Challenges to Reductionist Attitudes to Religion and Spirit From Within Psychoanalysis.” Psychoanalytic Psychology 23.1 (2006): 128-142. Simmons discusses Freud’s “oceanic” and everything the title so thoroughly describes. Her views on the historical relationship between spirituality and psychoanalysis also have implications for affect theory and audience reception to the legacies of the romantics and the enlightenment. Again, we have the intersection of subjective, first-person experience of consciousness, psychoanalysis, and spiritualism.

Smith, Dominic. “Beyond Bartleby and Bad Fatih: Thinking Critically with Sartre and Deleuze.” Deleuze Studies 7.1 (2013) 83-105. Smith provides an excellent history of the critical disputes over “Bartleby” and brings Deleuze’s article into conversation with Sartre’s ideas of bad faith and good faith from Being and Nothingness. Smith posits Bartleby’s behavior as bad faith and then suggests moving past that idea into Deleuze’s emphasis on the political implications of Bartleby’s actions. I have a number of concerns about Smith’s readings of both Sartre and Deleuze and would take a different approach to the subject, but this article makes for a good and recent reference point for the state of scholarship on “Bartleby.” Without getting into too much detail, I’d argue that Bartleby is in good faith (and awake), and the narrator is in bad faith (and in a trance), to again put it in terms of the ESA conference.

Vasquez Rocca, Adolfo. “Sartre: Teoría fenomenológica de las emociones. Existencialismo y conciencia posicional del mundo Nómadas.” Revista Crítica de Ciencias Sociales y Jurídicas 36.4 (2013). Vasquez Rocca’s article about phenomenology, emotions, existentialism and the world’s postcolonial consciousness suggests political angles on altered consciousness.

Vidler, Anthony. “Bodies in space/subjects in the city: psychopathologies of modern urbanism.” Differences: A Jounal of Feminist Cultural Studies 5.3 (Fall 1993): 31. Vidler gives us another approach to Freud in terms of modern spaces, and a discussion linking the “oceanic” and existentialism in terms of the subject’s engagement with urban environments. Virginia Woolf is Vidler’s main literary reference point and his slant is feminist; trance states in Woolf’s work are indeed interesting.

State of the Field: British Romanticism 1780-1850

By: Kate Eickmeyer


Essays in Romanticism (formerly Prism[s]; ICR affiliated). Liverpool UP, 2 issues per year.

European Romantic Review (Journal of NASSR). Routledge, 6 issues per year.

Romanticism. Edinburgh UP, 3 issues per year.

Studies in Romanticism. Boston UP, 4 issues per year.

Wordsworth Circle (Journal of the Wordsworth-Coleridge Association). Boston UP, 4 issues per year.

The Byron Journal (Jounal of the Byron Society). Liverpool UP. 2 issues per year.

Keats-Shelly Journal (Journal of the Keats-Shelly Association of America). 1 issue per year.

Romantic Circles Praxis Series (e-journal only). Frequency varies.

Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net (e-journal only). Frequency varies.

A few books published 2013-2014:

Haines, Simon. Redemption in Poetry and Philosophy: Wordsworth, Kant, and the Making of the Post-Christian Imagination. Baylor UP, 2013.

Sandy, Mark. Romanticism, Memory, and Mourning. Ashgate, 2013

Yoshikawa, Saeko. William Wordsworth and the Invention of Tourism, 1820-1900. Ashgate, 2014.

Yousef, Nancy. Romantic Intimacy. Stanford UP, 2013.

Annual conferences:

International Conference on Romanticism (ICR). Annual. Fall 2015 conference in Vienna, Austria (no CFP announced yet). (Formerly the American Conference on Romanticism)

North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (NASSR). Annual. Aug 13-16, 2015 conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba on “Romanticism and Rights.” CFP Deadline January 17, 2015.

British Association for Romantic Studies (BARS). Annual. July 15-19, 2015 in Cardiff, Wales. CFP Deadline January 31, 2015.

Wordsworth Summer Conference. Annual. August 3-13, 2015 at Rydal Hall, Cumbria. No CPF announced yet, but last year was in April.

International Byron Conference (The Byron Society). Annual, in June. No 2015 info or CFP posted yet.

Not annual, but:

Every other year (2011, 2013, 2015, etc.): Keats-Shelley Association of America 1-day Symposium. No info on 2015 yet.

Every other year (2015): Romantic Studies Association of Australasia (RSAA) conference. July 23-25, 2015, U of Melbourne. CFP Deadline March 1, 2015.

Book series:

Cambridge Studies in Romanticism

Yale Studies in English

Princeton’s Literature in History

Routledge Studies in Romanticism

Examples of past and present lecture series related to romanticism:

Boise State University’s Spring 2014 “The Idea of Nature” series:

Stony Brook University’s Spring 2014 “Global Romanticisms” Dean’s lecture series:

NYU’s Scholars Lecture Series 2014/2015:

Scholarly blogs:

Romantic Circles: (whole website; also has a separate, infrequently updated blog on romanticism and pedagogy:

Blythe Spirits:

BARS Blog:

The Wordsworth Trust Blog:

Romanticist Research Group of NYU (NYURRG):

(Currently Inactive) The Hoarding:

Not a blog, but interesting: UPenn’s “Unbinding Prometheus” project, with a MOOC starting Nov 21st and a conference in late spring:

Institutional Twitter accounts:

NYURRG: @RomanticismNYC

UPENN Unbinding Prometheus: @PrometheusPenn

BARS: @BARS_official

John Clare 2014 (Oxford Brookes): @JohnClare2014

Twitter accounts managed by individual scholars:

Romantic Imagination @romanticimag (Jon J. Dent)

Jim Kelley@onejimkelley (lecturer at U of Exeter)

18th Century Common@18common (Andrew Burkett of Union and Jessica Richard of Wake Forest)

Noel Jackson@noeljackson (rather bizarre Twitter page of MIT romantic lit professor)



Thoughts on Graff

Some reflections after yesterday’s class:

First, in addition to hoping I didn’t offend anyone by asking whether comp classes are remedial, I wonder if classes that cater to struggling students actually do the most good for the world. Helping a poor student learn to write a fair paper might be a greater contribution to civilization than helping a good writer learn to be even better (normative judgments galore, so please feel free to suggest alternatives). But talented and even privileged students need teachers too, and maybe there’s no way to quantify the relative social value of each position. Nevertheless, maybe it’s useful to think about this odd question. As Iris mentioned in class, people often ask us, “why literature,” and further, “why literature in a world so fraught with suffering and injustice?” I think those questions should be front-and-center. Questions about why the humanities matter, and more specifically, why our work matters both locally and globally, are uncomfortable and even a little embarrassing, but from my nascent standpoint in this program, we should embrace them. We have some good answers, even if they’re difficult to articulate to a board of trustees.

Do we avoid these questions because any answers that would validate the profession to those outside of it would seem too elitist or encrusted with naive humanism to those within it? The word “humanism” vexes me, mostly because the threat of being attached to it stymies some potentially fruitful inquiries. The act of considering the value of one’s profession should transcend its products. In any other profession, if you propose that your work has broad, indirect social value, you are not automatically associated with Matthew Arnold or a 400-year-old historical pedagogy with all of its bells and whistles. It seems to me those uncomfortable questions about value and legitimacy already rumble below the surface of many other conflicts, and skirting those underlying questions produces a lot of alienation and anxiety—perhaps the same alienation and anxiety that causes departments to fragment and isolate themselves from one another’s potential accusations of invalidity. Do fears of annihilation and the lurking thought that others doubt our right to exist explain the reluctance to “teach the conflicts?” In that light, the sand looks like a comfortable place to put one’s head.

On a separate note, I wanted to mention my favorite part of Graff’s book: the description of the later career of Hiram Corson, the professor who inspired his students to grand poetic rapture at Cornell. On p. 49, Graff describes Corson’s increasingly erratic behavior, which included conducting séances in class “with a chair set for Tennyson or Browning, solemnly recording their poetic messages from the other world.” That is very funny, of course, but it also raises questions about the value of boldness, eccentricity, and personality in the context of academia. My favorite law school professor was a notorious—tenured, natch—eccentric, and while I never saw him resort to antics as outlandish as Corson’s, he did plenty of totally unorthodox things in class that were intelligent, inspiring, and exceedingly rare. Is this a dying phenomenon now that tenured positions are growing so scarce? We all know about the threats to academic freedom and innovation in research, but what about pedagogical creativity that challenges students’ ideas about authority and academic structure? And are academics their own enemies, driven to police each other for idiosyncrasies in the competition for limited resources?

It’s worth noting that Corson’s classes are still being written and thought about 140 years later, and it’s not because of his research. His teaching was—quite literally—legendary. Even if his behavior was insane or the worst kind of showboating, one thing is clear: Corson made people think, and he’s still making me think right now in 2014. Is he a dead white guy unworthy of our attention? Probably. Have there been plenty of other teachers more deserving of our attention whose careers have disappeared in the folds of racist, sexist history? Absolutely. But I’d argue that Corson hacked some chinks in the walls of a hegemonic system that actively suppressed independent thought. And that makes one damn good answer to the question, “why literature?”