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Victorian Poetry As Cultural Critique

The Politics of Performative Language
E. Warwick Slinn
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BUY Cloth · ISBN 9780813921662 · $45.00 · May 2003

In recent cultural studies, poetry has become something of a neglected genre. Warwick Slinn seeks to reverse that trend and argues that a fundamental continuity between the meaning of a poetic trope and the social function of language can be established through speech act theory—specifically through the linguistically based model of performativity.

Victorian Poetry as Cultural Critique discusses five Victorian poems in order to show how their display of language enacts a cultural critique, examining the conditions and realization of social and political discourses. Slinn begins by distinguishing the main conceptual strands of performativity and then explains how each poem dramatizes a fluid mix of identity, power, and ideology. By foregrounding such events as speech acts, these poems expose the politics of power relationships and show how performative language is inextricable from the means by which power relationships are enacted. Focusing on the internal dynamics of specific poems, Slinn challenges the separation of poetic language from social criticism and eventually questions traditional perceptions of poetic form itself.

The selected poems, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning, Arthur Hugh Clough, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Augusta Webster, offer a range of contentious issues that are in themselves politically challenging. The poets address such diverse and problematic concerns as slavery, sexual politics, prostitution, consciousness, agency, aestheticism, religious belief, and philosophical idealism. The discussion of each poem attends to the complexity of the poem’s utterance, its historical contexts, and its broader implications for cultural meaning.

Victorian Literature and Culture Series

About the Author(s): 

In recent cultural studies, poetry has become something of a neglected genre. Warwick Slinn seeks to reverse that trend and argues that a fundamental continuity between the meaning of a poetic trope and the social function of language can be established through speech act theory—specifically through the linguistically based model of performativity.

Victorian Poetry as Cultural Critique discusses five Victorian poems in order to show how their display of language enacts a cultural critique, examining the conditions and realization of social and political discourses. Slinn begins by distinguishing the main conceptual strands of performativity and then explains how each poem dramatizes a fluid mix of identity, power, and ideology. By foregrounding such events as speech acts, these poems expose the politics of power relationships and show how performative language is inextricable from the means by which power relationships are enacted. Focusing on the internal dynamics of specific poems, Slinn challenges the separation of poetic language from social criticism and eventually questions traditional perceptions of poetic form itself.

The selected poems, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning, Arthur Hugh Clough, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Augusta Webster, offer a range of contentious issues that are in themselves politically challenging. The poets address such diverse and problematic concerns as slavery, sexual politics, prostitution, consciousness, agency, aestheticism, religious belief, and philosophical idealism. The discussion of each poem attends to the complexity of the poem’s utterance, its historical contexts, and its broader implications for cultural meaning.

E. Warwick Slinn, Associate Professor in the School of English and Media Studies, Massey University, New Zealand, is the author of Browning and the Fictions of Identity and The Discourse of Self in Victorian Poetry (Virginia).

Victorian Literature and Culture Series

 
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