Academic journal article John Clare Society Journal

Hic Inde Clare: Interity, Exocognition, & John Clare's 'Proposals for Building a Cottage'

Academic journal article John Clare Society Journal

Hic Inde Clare: Interity, Exocognition, & John Clare's 'Proposals for Building a Cottage'

Article excerpt

This article argues that the structure of Clare's 'Proposals for Building a Cottage', determined by Clare's complex relationship to 'culture', coaxes distinct reading experiences that call attention to distinct brain activities and thus invites a neuroscientific approach to reading Clare's opus as well as poetry in general.

In the early 1500s, 'culture' indicated soil cultivation, becoming the human attribute of refinement around the time John Clare wrote, in the early 1800s. During the first half of the eighteenth century, we see the mixing of the two senses of 'culture's' close relative 'cultivate' via metaphor in tracts like J. W. Orderson's Creoleana, dealing with noblesse oblige in West Indian Creole culture: 'But our youth's mind was not so great a blank as it seemed to be-it was a soil pure and fertile, but barren for want of cultivation'.1 Here is 'culture' in its transitional phase. Clare's rough agrarian beauty as well embodies the etymological transition from 'culture', husbandry of the earth, to 'culture', husbandry of manners. We see these two senses anxiously abut each other in '[After reading in a letter] Proposals for Building a Cottage'-the poem this paper will focus on. In proceeding to focus on a single poem rather than trying to plait a variety of Clare's poetic sound-bites, this essay enacts Nietzsche's philology, an interpretive strategy that,

in an age of "work": that is to say, of haste, of unseemly and immoderate hurry-skurry which is intent upon "getting things done" at once, even every book, whether old or new, will not "get things done" so hurriedly: it teaches how to read well: i.e. slowly, profoundly, attentively, prudently, with inner thoughts, with the mental doors ajar, with delicate fingers and eyes...2

This essay not only tends slowly to Clare's language in 'Proposals', but also considers Nietzsche's idea of slow reading as an embodied experience ('fingers and eyes') and extends this idea to the plastic brain itself, the 'mental doors', as it were, showing how absorbed aesthetic experience can reshape the brain in ways useful to decision-making skills and sustainability. 'Proposals' teaches us important things about what I choose to call 'exocognitive' aesthetic experiences and 'interity'-my terms, both-and a way of being in the world that these concepts foster.

On the neural level, exocognitive processes are brought about by aesthetic experience and are grounded primarily in the same area of the brain-the prefrontal cortex-that shows pronounced activity during meditation3 and likely shows pronounced activity during, for instance, Timothy Morton's 'rhapsody'4 and Robert Mitchell's revision of 'suspended animation'.51 don't mean to argue that exocognition is isolated in the prefrontal cortex; I'm using exocognition mainly as a placeholder term for what I believe future fMRI technology6 will show as what happens in the brain when the subject is absorbed in aesthetic experience. For now, let's assume this absorption - a presentness, an attentiveness that shrinks temporal awareness to the exclusion of past and future-is very similar to meditation that, again, has been shown to grow the prefrontal cortex. Generally speaking, the prefrontal cortex facilitates decision-making, particularly as relates to the subject's social being,7 and sounds like it bears an essential relationship to Gerald Edelman-via-Karl Kroeber's description of consciousness as 'regulating the salience of various elements of the vast stimulus complex that is the unstable environment it is perpetually encountering'.8 In essence, the prefrontal cortex negotiates the subject's way of being in the world, between what the subject wants and which of the subject's possible courses of action might exist harmoniously in his environment-a balance between desire and empathy - and may well prove to be an important seat of consciousness itself. With a well-developed prefrontal cortex a subject might imagine and enact effective cultural practices, among peers and strangers, self and other, at home and in the wild, to the extent that such distinctions-peer / stranger,9 self / other, domestic / wild-might even dissolve (the rhizome10 shares a similar goal) and thus create a model of what I choose to call 'interity'. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.