Modern Language Quarterly, March 2000 v61 i1 p59

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? Reinterpreting Formalism and the Country House Poem. Dubrow, Heather.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2000 Duke University Press

In the current critical climate, many scholars are far more comfortable detailing their sexual histories in print than confessing to an interest in literary form. Indeed, in such circles the study of form is regarded as the irascible father who, unlike the obediently cheerful guests in the country house poems I will examine shortly, shows up uninvited at dinner parties at his children's newly and proudly built poststructuralist house. After insisting that they replace Gehry's dramatic entranceway of diagonal strips of sharp glass with some of those nice Corinthian columns, he attempts to dominate the dinner conversation with his unenlightening but unmistakably Enlightened pronouncements on Truth and Beauty despite--and, more to the point, because of--everyone else's desire to talk about those subjects once unmentionable at dinner parties: sex, religion, and of course, above all, politics.

Even more striking than the virulence formalism often evokes are the inconsistency and even illogicality that that subject engenders in any number of otherwise acute academics. Ralph Cohen has flagged the irony of poststructuralist critics who dismiss genre nonetheless writing on it; similarly, as John Guillory observes, many Marxist critics assume the incompatibility of aesthetics with their enterprise despite considerable evidence to the contrary in the writings of Marx and some of his distinguished followers. [1] Such patterns are writ large in the paradoxical relationship between most of the critical practices in vogue at the end of the twentieth century and literary form. Interest in that subject is variously demonized and demonstrated by people committed to the same methodologies, and sometimes by the same critic. Or discomfort with form may manifest itself in cursoriness: Stephen Greenblatt's trenchant introduction to a special issue of Genre titled "The Forms of Power and the Power of Forms in the Re naissance," like that chiasmic title, might have been realized as forms embracing power but in fact can be more accurately described as putting power at the center and forms at the margins. [2] How and why, then, does formalism provoke such reactions in some of the best and the brightest of today's critics? And how should one's responses to the critical approach that is variously and simultaneously an unwelcome and an honored guest in critical circles shape interpretations of the subgenre that enacts and thematizes hospitality, the country house poem?

From certain perspectives the hostility to formalism is, like contemporaneous attacks on Freud, not only understandable but also overdetermined: both in its overt manifestations and in its subterranean implications the study of form is antithetical to a host of values and practices currently celebrated in the academy. According to a widely accepted and often rehearsed narrative, the Enlightenment, responsible for the celebration of so many other politically suspect principles, witnessed the development of the Kantian concept of the aesthetic, which, in its emphasis on a delight wholly unrelated to the conceptual, the moral, or the material world outside the object of art, not only denies but also disguises the relationship between art and the political. Hence this determinedly apolitical version of the aesthetic impulse is itself complicitly political and ideological. The Kantian concept of the aesthetic is freighted with assumptions that further explain both its implications for the study of form and the con tempt it attracts in many circles. Its frequent though not inevitable focus on the beauty of the object of art (philosophers continue to debate how natural beauty relates to aesthetics) helps establish the singularity of high art, one of the targets of the poststructuralist attack on the aesthetic. Its emphasis on the subjective and immediate response to art plays up the individual; its suggestion that all will share that response when confronted with true beauty denies historical contingencies, social conditioning, and identity politics, while the very concept of beauty is determinedly essentialist in the sense of that term used by literary critics. [3] Its description of the rapture that beauty excites implicitly celebrates the power of art and the artist at a point when admiration, let alone excitement, is seen as a suspect reaction to texts. The tensions resulting from these positions are evident in the defensiveness with which George Levine, editor of the thought-provoking collection Aesthetics and Ideol ogy, justifies the collection. [4]

An emphasis on form is rightly seen as central to this nexus of values and hence is also subject to the contempt and suspicion it evokes in so many contemporary critics. Kant, after all, insists in his Critique of Judgment that design is crucial to the aesthetic response; he distinguishes the true impression of beauty it provokes from the mere charm created by a particular color. Many of his heirs and assigns have pursued his focus on form. Thus both their analyses of formal characteristics and his are open to the accusation of, as it were, privileging privilege: the poet who spends hours polishing the rhyme scheme of his sestina is viewed as analogous to and even dependent on a society where some in turn have the obligation to polish well-wrought urns for minimal wages and others the leisure to admire them or the cultural capital to publish articles on them.

The first reason for distrusting these overviews of aesthetics in general and its pronouncements on form in particular is that they simplify the texts they purport to summarize. Kant does devote most of his attention to the aesthetic response to a type of beauty that can be largely though not completely summarized in the terms outlined above, but he contrasts that so-called free beauty with what he terms 'dependent beauty." The latter is indeed conceptual, based as it is on how a given object fits into a category. Thus Kant distinguishes the reaction to free beauty, which would involve a response to a beautiful object that happened to be a rose, from that to dependent beauty, a response to a lovely American Beauty rose. Admittedly, his discussion of this second category is brief, ambiguous, and, according to some students of his work, inconsistent. [5] But it introduces an aesthetic category that is germane to formalist inquiry in literature--and in so doing it warns literary critics and cultural historians against oversimplifying the Kantian aesthetic.

Moreover, even if one brackets the issue of dependent beauty, a reading of the Critique of Judgment and of the criticism it has provoked intensifies that warning, demonstrating that some generalizations that literary critics regularly proffer about Kant are more tendentious than they acknowledge. As subtle and learned a student of aesthetic theory as Guillory assumes at one point that the concept of the aesthetic necessarily involves the disinterested and autonomous (327), but students of Kant have persuasively called this into question. Others emphasize that Kant's category of free beauty, unlike that of dependent beauty, does not presuppose perfection; [6] thus the position that the author of the Critique of Judgment encourages the study of only well-wrought urns becomes debatable. The notion that Kant's concept of beauty is unrepresentational, uninstrumental, and amoral has been challenged by philosophers who find in it, as Donald W. Crawford does, the potential for cognitive or logical judgments or who a rgue, as No[ddot{e}]l Carroll does, that the moral and aesthetic dimensions of a work of art are connected because a negative judgment on the former may interfere with responses to the latter. [7] Carroll's argument therefore reverses the often repeated assumption that the aesthetic performs the cultural work of concealing and hence rendering acceptable repressive social practices.

However one adjudicates the interpretive dilemmas surrounding Kant and his followers, subsequent philosophers and other theorists have offered a range of alternative models for the aesthetic, many of which invite an expanded sense of the potentialities of form. [8] Theodor W. Adorno emphasizes the impossibility of separating form and content: "The unsolved antagonisms of reality return in artworks as immanent problems of form." [9] More recently, a number of philosophers have argued for conceptual reactions to form. [10] The controversial relationship between aesthetics and ethics continues to be debated; several theorists, such as Berys Gaut, maintain that they are indeed connected, a position with obvious implications for the political and other instrumentality of texts. [11]

Often the dismissal of formalism is connected not only to how the academy reads Kant but also to how it writes its own history. Gerald Graff has acutely identified repeated patterns through which established literary movements attempt to condemn the new kid on the block; [12] related patterns are evident in narratives of the development of literary criticism. I have argued elsewhere that Marxist models of ruptural change, as opposed to liberal paradigms of gradual shifts and incorporation, have long characterized our narratives about our own professional development, manifesting themselves even in critics with no sympathy for radical critique. [13] In scripting this scenario, it is convenient to adduce formalism as a synecdochal representative of criticism before the 1970s. In addition, I suggest, those who favor changes in critical methods are prone to cast such ruptural narratives in the comedic mode, while, not surprisingly, those who view the metamorphoses as corruption favor tragic paradigms. That is, a ccording to this model, which has been deployed by successive generations of younger critics, the youthful and vigorous disdain the prevailing regime of rigid rules; they run off to a forest that is its antithesis (in recent versions of the narrative, laying in a supply of French currency before doing so). This comedic pattern may be discerned in the relationship between philologists and literary historians, literary historians and New Critics, old historicists and new historicists, and so on. When the monarch in that putative court of rigid rules is genre or form, the plot I am outlining justifies seeing the study of literary types as inflexible and sterile, while the preexisting attribution of those qualities to the analysis of genre activates and justifies the comedic narrative.

Gender also figures in the academic misinterpretations of formalism, playing a role more subterranean but no less significant than that of other patterns posited here. Surely it is relevant that the formal as it is generally conceived has characteristics often gendered female and associated with a female subject position, though it is at once intriguing to speculate and impossible to determine to what extent formalism is demonized because it is feminized as opposed to vice versa. [14] Many philosophical descriptions of responses to form borrow the language of seduction: the formal transports, creates a rapture, and so on. And, of course, the formal is widely seen as nonconceptual, again invoking stereotypes about gender. Our professional dismissal of formalism coincided chronologically with the increasing presence and power of women in the profession. This was no accident--not because the female scholars in question typically practiced formalist criticism themselves (indeed, many women led the attacks on it that characterized the 1970s and 1980s) but because deflected resentment of visible female colleagues arguably intensified the rejection of the putatively feminized formal mode. Is it not possible as well that formalism's association with the fluid sexualities of Bloomsbury and other writers associated with art for art's sake further encouraged the rejection of it in some quarters? Real men don't eat villanelles.

The demonization of formalism is particularly evident in discussions of a subject very germane to the country house poem tradition, generic norms. Indeed, genre has come to serve as a prototype for form in the sense of prototypes explored by the cognitive sciences, which helps explain the immediate, almost visceral reactions the concept can evoke. (This deployment of genre is all the more striking given that students of communications and rhetoric, as well as certain literary critics, often stress function more than form when discussing generic types.) In any event, despite the historicizing of literary kinds by the critics enumerated immediately above and by many others, generic norms are often represented as ahistorical, much as form is seen as divorced from material and political realities. Despite the work on genre and communication to which I will shortly turn, genre is sometimes seen as distinctly, even uniquely, literary: "Few concepts of literary criticism are quite as 'literary' as the concept of gen re." [15] And despite the way what the Renaissance terms genera mista or "mixed genre" challenges classification, genre is of course also associated with taxonomy, which, as Harriet Ritvo for one has trenchantly shown, can lend itself to racism; hence the attack on the concept of generic purity by Derrida and others. [16] The study of genre also lends itself to a comedic scenario similar to the one told about formalism: many still contrast the bad old days of a belief in generic norms (a literary decorum sometimes associated with the social decorum of suppressing argumentation) with the poststructuralist forest of formless forms. This narrative pivots on the largest and most telling misconception in discussions of genre, that strict rules were the norm until the advent of poststructuralism. [17] But witness even neoclassical pronouncements such as Johnson's comments on the unities in his Preface to Shakespeare and Rambler 125, and witness too the sixteen-line poems by George Meredith that he, like many later critics, labels "sonnets."

As I have observed, since about 1980 the reductive assertions I am analyzing have coexisted with repeated efforts to find new, or apparently new, ways of justifying the discussion of literary form. Academics committed to radical cultural critique variously (but usually not simultaneously) study form to reveal how it hides a conservative agenda or, alternatively, how it reflects and even encourages social change. [18] Similarly, Thomas O. Beebee stresses the uneasy and often unresolved struggles among genres, thus exemplifying the drive to recuperate formalism for poststructuralism. [19] Formalism has also been made safe for cultural studies by tracing analogues to and even instances of literary types in "low" or popular culture, calling into question whether or not they are in fact literary. [20] Finally, the critical trend to reconceptualize texts as rhetorical rather than literary, hence building in assumptions about power, is another route toward discussing literary form without the putatively conservative assumptions associated with that enterprise. An early instance of this agenda, Jane P. Tompkins's reading of Uncle Tom's Cabin, looks at techniques that might well be described in aesthetic terms, such as mirroring of episodes and other forms of repetition, from the point of view of rhetorical instrumentality; the work on genre and rhetoric in the field of communications buttresses such undertakings. [21]

My own discussion of the current status of the formal, then, might appear to stage another comedic narrative: the potential fissures created by misreadings and misrepresentations can be prevented by approaching the texts in question more judiciously and by adopting the strategies for recuperating formalism that I have just listed. A reading of the country house poem does indeed demonstrate the feasibility of reconciling a discussion of form with contemporary literary concerns: they can dine at the same table. Yet comedy includes Marcade and Jacques, and an examination of county house poems also demonstrates the prices that can be exacted for that seemingly harmonious dinner party.

The country house poem offers an ideal test case for studying the potentialities and problems of formalist criticism. Engaging as it does with questions about orderly edifices, social and architectural, it figures many issues that I have been examining, and its indisputable embeddedness in contemporary political and social tensions clearly invites an exploration of the relationship between literary forms and social formations. That exploration is, however, complicated by how this subgenre both encourages and resists generalizations. The verbal echoes among some of the poems, most marked in the indebtedness of Carew's "To Saxham" to Jonson's "To Penshurst," may discourage an adequate acknowledgment of important distinctions. [22]

Despite such distinctions, these poems are rooted in the same rocky and mined soil, the tensions surrounding the responsibilities of landlords and the ownership of land and homes in early modern England. [23] The so-called prodigy houses were prodigiously--and often ruinously--expensive to build and maintain; their owners frequently spent long periods in London, neglecting hospitality and other responsibilities at home, as James I passionately reminded them. Moreover, anxieties about invasion, studied by Richard Helgerson and Linda Woodbridge, among many others, in terms of foreign powers, also involved the domestic arena. [24] The permeable daub-and-wattle walls of many early modern homes troped their permeability in other respects: their vulnerability to the interrelated threats from burglars, fire, stepparents, rivals in land disputes, and would-be adulterers.

Through both content and form, country house poems engage with the pressures I have been cataloging, attempting in particular to control the relationship between inside and outside. Those who do not live in the house are welcomed within, guests at its table and participants in its vision; and the poor, rather than sneaking through the door to steal, receive charity at it:

And though thy walls be of the countrey stone,

They' are rear'd with no mans ruine, no mans grone,

There's none, that dwell about them, wish them downe;

But all come in, the farmer, and the clowne.

("To Penshurst," 45-8) [25]

The tensions latent in such practices emerge in anthropological studies of hospitality, which stress that strangers are potential menaces who can and must be controlled through its laws. [26] Appearing repeatedly in classical discussions of hospitality, that assumption finds its early modern equivalent in the concluding lines of "To Saxham," which finesse the intense anxieties about burglary to which I referred: "And as for thieves, thy bounty's such / They cannot steale, thou giv'st so much" (57-8) [27] Here form mimes content as neatly as it does anywhere in this tradition. The final line opens on a phrase whose syntax might well lead us to believe that the thieves will become the primary grammatical subject. Yet much as semantically their subjectivity is compromised by the denial of the agency to do what makes them what they are ("They cannot steale"), so grammatically by the end of the couplet the house itself steals from them the position of subject and the role of agent. From another perspective, the li nes swerve between an implied version in which the thieves are the subject of an independent clause ("Thieves cannot steale because thy bounty's such") and an alternative that relegates them to a relative clause ("Thou giv'st so much that thieves cannot steale"). Indeed, the syntactical struggle between Saxham and its transgressors synecdochally stages the praxis of the subgenre. The formal closure that this couplet effects in the poem, the closural potentiality of a couplet, and the syntactical containment and erasure in the privative "cannot" all enact the ways the house itself is sealed up, protected from thievery.

The regulated hospitality of country house poems is played out on many other formal levels as well: this subgenre invites certain potential rivals and enemies, in the form of other literary types, to dine at its table. Thus, as epistles addressed to the house rather than to its owners, Carew's "To Saxham" and Jonson's "To Penshurst" celebrate the friendly interaction between house and guests while avoiding the sycophancy common in epistles addressed to aristocrats. Similarly, many country house poems attempt to include, but in delimited and contained form, the acerbic notes of formal verse satire.

Although country house poems generally negotiate tensions with threatening forces just beyond the pale by inviting them in, a pattern exemplified generically as we have seen, on occasion they determinedly exclude would-be enemies. Genres, as many have observed, are typically relational in that they define themselves against other genres; in the country house poem, this relationality is often manifest in the significance of what is not written, the alternative genre toward which the text gestures. In particular, as James Grantham Turner and Raymond Williams, among others, have observed, it is by avoiding the realistic details of the georgic tradition to which they allude that these texts slide away from direct confrontation with social tensions. [28]

Hospitality is the mirror image and the devices I have been exploring are the formal analogues to the signature trait of the subgenre, the linguistic mannerism known as the negative formula. Words of negation deny the presence of something even while introducing it in the doorway of the poem, as it were. "Thou art not, Penshurst, built to envious show," Jonson famously observes (1), and in "To Saxham" Garew boasts, "Thou hast no porter at the door / T'examine or keep back the poor" (49-50). "Nor has the darknesse power to usher in / Feare to those sheets," Herrick writes in a cognate formulation that itself mimetically almost ushers in darkness and fear yet fixes them at the threshold ("A Country Life: To His Brother, M. Thomas Herrick," 39-40)--much as the poor are firmly located at the doorway of Appleton House in a passage to which I will turn shortly. [29]

Not the least role of the couplets in country house poems is to trope their vision of social harmony: the tenant and the lord rhyme with each other, as it were. These poems typically do not erase social distinctions but conceal their injustices by stressing harmony: Carew's "To My Friend G. N. from Wrest," for example, devotes six lines to the different dining arrangements for those of different ranks. Similarly, the couplet unites two words whose difference as well as similarity is emphasized through that union. Our pleasure in rhyme is indeed sensuous, immediate, and nonconceptual and hence is an instance of an aesthetic experience in the narrow sense often cited by the literary critics who demonize it. Yet the rhymes in this tradition demonstrate the interaction between that type of aesthetic experience and the more capacious version that includes a ratiocinative element--or, to put it another way, they demonstrate how the sensuous pleasure of the rhyme may reinforce the political agenda it expresses in t his case.

Moreover, the genre tropes the social conservatism to which it is committed through a version of literary conservatism. The respectful imitation that so often characterizes the Tribe of Ben has been cited to explain how closely several other poems echo "To Penshurst." Fair enough, yet the affinities between the work of Carew and Herrick, on the one hand, and their master, on the other, also mime and endorse the orderly succession of generations that Jonson and other writers in the tradition stress; further, poems that laud the continuity of values and buildings themselves manifest a literary continuity. Arguably, we might even read the final line of "To Saxham"--"They cannot steale, thou giv'st so much"--as a gracious allusion to the relationship between the author and Jonson and thus, of course, as an apologia for what might otherwise have seemed to be stealing.

Many of the patterns I have been exploring are crystallized in the troubled and troubling description of the poor in Marvell's "Upon Appleton House": "A Stately Frontispice of Poor / Adorns without [outside] the open Door" (65-6). [30] This aestheticizing of the impoverished reminds one again why the concept of the aesthetic is so often distrusted. Marvell's language is--and should be--offensive to us, as it probably was to many of its original readers, but its strategies are telling. First, the poor are fixed in a carefully defined location: in contrast to displaced and potentially displacing burglars and stepparents, they know their place and are firmly kept at the door rather than wandering as rogues and vagabonds do or pushing their way in. Social place is established and represented through decisive spatial placement. The door is at once open, suggesting hospitality, and yet closed to the indigent in that they remain at the threshold, suggesting the careful regulation and delimiting of the charity that is the analogue to hospitality. "Stately," of course, also suggests that the poor have acquired some of the values of the house; they rhyme with it. They have been turned from a threat to the house into an adornment--and from agents into adjuncts, in several senses, as their grammatical role in the prepositional phrase tacked on to "Stately Frontispice" would indicate.

Yet to recognize that a range of formal strategies negotiates the ever-present threats associated with invasion and temporality is not to endorse the equation of form with conservative ideological agendas, whether in the instance of this literary type or of others. Country house poems also use formal and other devices to remind us what cannot be contained. Discordant elements, cracks in a putatively well-wrought urn, interrupt the poems in question. In particular, when Jonson refers to his "gluttony" (68) in a text celebrating moderation and order, his corpulent body both deflects and represents other types of excess that threaten the poem, notably flattery. [31] Sycophantic exaggeration is mirrored rhetorically in hyperbole and copia and structurally in lists such as the descriptions of the bounty of the house in "To Penshurst" or of its natural delights in Lanyer's "Description of Cookeham." While lists in other subgenres may suggest order and control, here the parataxis seems anticlosural, hence resemblin g gluttony more than a well-balanced diet. Much as Penshurst itself today strikes the viewer as built for envious show, so Jonson's poem and cognate texts do not uniformly achieve the modesty they advocate. Given the length of other country house poems and Marvell's own condemnation, in a pivotal early stanza, of "superfluously spread" men and their "unproportion'd dwellings" (17, 10), might not the ninety-seven stanzas of "Upon Appleton House" at the very least introduce uneasy questions? From one perspective, the poem's intellectual and moral complexity fully justifies its length; from another, its square footage raises doubts about the self-aggrandizement of the speaker and possibly the poet who characteristically attempts with only partial success to distance himself from his personas.

Similarly, if the control or exclusion of certain generic alternatives mimes the suppression of certain threats that wish to invade the house, so too the ghosts of other genres mime the discord that cannot be wholly excluded. While celebrating the irenic, poems in this genre are pulled toward the satiric in their description of less worthy houses; the genre's bitterness is partly but not completely contained by the negative formula. [32] Thus the tension between the drive to incorporate would-be enemies within and the impulse to wall them out is realized as well on the level of literary form. The decidedly postlapsarian bitterness of formal verse satire is an unwelcome guest that dines at the table, partly though not completely controlled by the laws of hospitality, when "To Penshurst" and "Upon Appleton House" describe the edifices they reject; in other texts in the genre it lurks by the gates, reminding us of its presence in the hints of acerbity that arise.

Gender generates other cracks in these urns. As Hugh Jenkins has emphasized, the women in these poems are at once emblems of their central values and at least potential embodiments of what threatens and interrupts those values, notably the invasion of adultery. [33] In one of the most extraordinary passages in these extraordinary poems, Herrick assures his brother:

Nor has the darknesse power to usher in

Feare to those sheets, that know no sin.

But still thy wife, by chast intentions led,

Gives thee each night a Maidenhead. (39-42)

The enjambment between lines 39 and 40 contrasts its own formal openness with the house that excludes that would-be invader fear inasmuch as the female body within it excludes other invaders. [34] On one level this body is simply the corporeal equivalent of the unchanging timelessness of her world, with her ever-renewed virginity providing a physiological analogue to the restoration of Eden that is the aim of these poems. Yet this virginity conflicts with the fruitfulness that is another value of the poems, and the urge for untouched purity is surely a product of the fear that the sheets may indeed know sin. Might not Jonson's characteristic reminder of limitations, "And if the high-swolne Medway faile thy dish" (31), deflect and express fears of a cognate failure, the miscarriage by a swollen female body? Liable to the blandishments of nuns and strangers, the bodies of the women in these poems are not necessarily impermeable, any more than their houses or their genre is.

Thestylis's extraordinary interruption of Marvell's narrative in "Upon Appleton House," then, performs and figures what is present more implicitly in other country house poems: her breaking into and breaking up of narrativity, Marvell's version of hyperbaton, represent the ever-present possibility of an invasion of the poem and its genre by wandering, roguish values, alien literary types, and rival narratives and narrators:

But bloody Thestylis, that waites

To bring the moving Camp their Gates,

Greedy as Kites has trust it up,

And forthwith means on it to sup:

When on another quick She lights,

And cryes, he call'd us Israelites;

But now, to make his saying true,

Rails rain for Quails, for Manna Dew. (401-8) [35]

Seizing the narrative much as she seizes the bird, Thestylis represents the ways a vision can be countered by gendered threats (tellingly, her counterpart in Virgil is not female) or simply by an alternative critical viewpoint. The genre is always deeply concerned with representation (for example, the dream in Herrick's "Country Life: To His Brother, M. Thomas Herrick" draws attention to the poem's own status as a representation); here, by breaking out of the narrative, Thestylis draws attention to its constructedness.

Although texts that differ radically from earlier models of their genre are often described as markedly transgressive, in fact it is more precise to observe that they typically occupy an extreme position on the customary spectrum between close adherence to norms and wide divergence from them; most writing lies somewhere between those poles, often deviating sharply from certain norms while staying close to others. Indeed, the principal generic expectation of most readers of English literature, I suggest, is of a dynamic interplay between the ways a given text fits norms and the ways it deviates from them. Thus genre produces aesthetic effects, in the expanded senses of that concept, very like those of slant or off rhyme. Indeed, this prosodic technique not only illuminates genre but also provides a paradigm for reconciling certain poststructuralist reading strategies and the study of form. The tension that sometimes occurs in slant rhyme between visual conformity and aural deviation tropes the ways a text may fence with generic expectations. And this prosodic technique encourages us to predict some measure of unpredictability, thus demonstrating how genre and many other types of form may achieve structure without rigidity or, to put it another way, instability without total amorphousness or formlessness.

The country house poem is, then, hospitable to the critical approaches that recuperate formalism. Its ruptures and evasions, notably those connected with the appearance of Thestylis, offer yet more proof that the study of literary form can be reconciled with poststructuralist paradigms. And, as we have seen, some critics justify the study of genre by showing that social forms may mime and even encourage radical social change, while others justify it as a way of uncovering conservative social agendas; the country house poem demonstrates how and why the same form may do both, thus demonstrating as well the intimacy between form and content. Yet this literary type resists mere citation as an apt instance of how form can serve the ends of the critical approaches that have flourished during the final decades of the twentieth century: aesthetic pleasure certainly serves political ends, but it functions in many other ways, too, and to assume simply that they mystify its political workings is to flatten both the expe rience of writing these poems and that of reading them. One might make a case that Jonson's "painted partrich" (29) gestures toward the concerns about representation and misrepresentation that, as I have suggested, recur throughout the genre, but Jonson's primary pleasure in fashioning this adaptation of his classical source and ours in reading it lie in the sensual appeal and the cleverness of the image, and these levels should not be ignored. Similarly, whereas Marvell's final trope of the canoers is the culmination of his references to inside and outside and all their political valences, the creation of a visually engaging and witty image is central to the aims and effects of the poem.

But even inviting in the formal only as a guest of the concerns of contemporary criticism is dangerous. Rather than reconciling tensions, it can mask them, allowing them to return in more virulent form. Students of the traditions of hospitality remind us that one reason for the imputed Arab habit of leaving one's host's home in the middle of the night is that once one had stepped over its boundaries, one was liable to attack (Pitt-Rivers, 108). Similarly, if we need to realize that the study of form can be reconciled with a commitment to, say, the study of ideology or gender, the position to which this essay is passionately committed, we need as well to confront and argue about tensions that will remain: the representation of the artist struggling with the complexities of a villanelle's rhyme, for example, implies an emphasis on authorial agency and autonomy that many critics would condemn, and these issues need to be fully addressed.

Second, reconciling form and contemporary criticism by turning the formal into a respectful guest, or, more to the point, the butler serving the guests, risks condescension (cf. Wolfson, 232). The guest-host relationship involves the walls of hierarchy as well as the open doors of conviviality, and the cheerful servants at country houses know their place and are firmly put in it by these texts ("He knowes, below, he shall finde plentie of meate" ["To Penshurst," 70]). Similarly, the assumption that formalism may once again become respectable simply because it can serve the needs of its host, historical and political criticism, relegates the formal to a secondary, supplementary role that potentially neglects the depth and the range of its contributions to style and meaning. Critics who deplore the self-serving power plays of colonialism risk a colonialist appropriation of formalism if they defend it merely for its ability to provide raw materials that can be manufactured into the goods of political analysis. Statecraft is one--and yet only one--of the central aims of literary craft; crafty manipulation is one--and yet only one--of its central agendas.

Heather Dubrow is Tighe-Evans Professor and John Bascom Professor in English at the University of Wisconsin. She is author, most recently, of Shakespeare and Domestic Loss: Forms of Deprivation, Mourning, and Recuperation (1999).

I am indebted to Marshall Brown, No[ddot{e}]l Carroll, Donald Rowe, and Susan J. Wolfson for extensive help with this essay.

(1.) Cohen, "Do Postmodern Genres Exist?" Genre 20 (1987): 241-57; Guillory, Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), esp. 272-4.

(2.) Greenblatt, "Introduction," Genre 15 (1982): 3-6.

(3.) The term essentialist has a different significance in philosophy, where it suggests that something is definable; in that sense the Kantian concept of beauty is not in fact essentialist.

(4.) See Levine, "Introduction: Reclaiming the Aesthetic," in Aesthetics and Ideology, ed. George Levine (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1994), 1-28.

(5.) On the problems of interpreting this concept see, e.g., Donald W. Crawford, Kant's Aesthetic Theory (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1974), 113-7.

(6.) See, e.g., Robert Wicks, "Dependent Beauty as the Appreciation of Teleological Style," Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 55 (1997): esp. 387-8.

(7.) See Crawford, e5p. 31, 122-3; Carroll, "Moderate Moralism," British Journal of Aesthetics 36 (1996): 223-38; and Carroll, "Moderate Moralism versus Moderate Autonomism," British Journal of Aesthetics 38 (1998): 419-24.

(8.) Certain later statements on aesthetics do, however, express less ambiguously some of the positions about the relationship between politics and art that are problematically attributed to Kant himself. See, e.g., Clive Bell, Art, new ed. (London: Chatto and Windus, 1949).

(9.) Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, ed. Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann, trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 6.

(10.) Cf. Arthur C. Danto, "The Naked Truth," in Aesthetics and Ethics: Essays at the Intersection, ed. Jerrold Levinson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 257-82.

(11.) See, e.g., Gaut, "The Ethical Criticism of Art," in Levinson, 182-203. Levinson's volume also contains other valuable essays on the relationship between aesthetics and ethics.

(12.) Graff, Professing Literature: An Institutional History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 240-1.

(13.) See, e.g., my book A Happier Eden: The Politics of Marriage in the Stuart Epithalamium (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1990), esp. 265-6.

(14.) Certain philosophers argue that the beautiful is gendered female and the sublime male, a debate germane to but distinct from my argument. See, e.g., Paul Mattick Jr., "Beautiful and Sublime: 'Gender Totemism' in the Constitution of Art," in Feminism and Tradition in Aesthetics, ed. Peggy Zeglin Brand and Carolyn Korsmeyer (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995), 27-48. On the relationship between gender and form see also Susan J. Wolfson, Formal Charges: The Shaping of Poetry in British Romanticism (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997), esp. 149-61, 1710-3.

(15.) Paul Hernadi, Beyond Genre: New Directions in Literary Classification (Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 1972), [1.]

(16.) Ritvo, The Platypus and the Mermaid and Other Figments of the Classifying Imagination (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997), esp. 5 1-84.

(17.) For a related attack on this assumption see Cohen (n. 1 above); his argument, however, focuses mainly on the eighteenth century.

(18.) Fredric Jameson famously demonstrates the first of these approaches in The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 198) 1), 103--50. For the second approach see, e.g., the reading of "Lycidas" in David Norbrook, Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984), esp. 282-5; and Nigel Smith, Literature and Revolution in England, 1640--1660 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1994).

(19.) Beebee, The Ideology of Genre: A Comparative Study of Generic Instability (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994). This book also demonstrates Marxist approaches to genre.

(20.) See, e.g., Peter Rabinowitz, "'Reader, I Blew Him Away': Convention and Transgression in Sue Grafton," in Famous Last Words: Changes in Gender and Narrative Closure, ed. Alison Booth (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993), 326--43.

(21.) Tompkins, Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 122-46. Many students of speech and communication have also investigated the rhetoricity of genre and genres; see, e.g., Carolyn R. Miller, "Genre as Social Action," Quarterly Journal of Speech 70 (1984): 151-67.

(22.) As its title suggests, Mary Ann C. McGuire's essay "The Cavalier Country-House Poem: Mutations on a Jonsonian Tradition," Studies in English Literature 19 (1979): 93-108, posits a different though not incompatible distinction within the tradition.

(23.) On the erection of prodigy houses and the decline of hospitality see two important studies of the country house poem: G. R. Hibbard, "The Country House Poem of the Seventeenth Century," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 19 (1956): 160-2; and William A. McClung, The Country House in English Renaissance Poetry (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), esp. 18-35. See also the analysis of other social changes in Charles Molesworth, "Property and Virtue: The Genre of the Country-House Poem in the Seventeenth Century," Genre 1 (1968): 141-57.

(24.) These issues are discussed in two new studies: Helgerson, Adulterous Alliances: Home, State, and History in Early Modern European Drama and Painting (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, forthcoming); and Woodbridge, Placeless in the Renaissance (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, forthcoming). I am grateful to these authors for making their work available to me prior to publication. For a more detailed discussion of the domestic threats I cite see my book Shakespeare and Domestic Loss: Forms of Deprivation, Mourning, and Recuperation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

(25.) Ben Jonson, ed. C. H. Herford, Percy Simpson, and Evelyn Simpson, 11 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1925-63), 8:93-6.

(26.) On theories of hospitality see Ladislaus J. Bolchazy, Hospitality in Early Rome: Liry's Concept of Its Humanizing Force (Chicago: Ares, 1977); and Julian Pitt-Rivers, The Fate of Shechem; or, The Politics of Sex: Essays in the Anthropology of the Mediterranean (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 94-112.

(27.) I cite The Poems of Thomas Carew, ed. Rhodes Dunlap (Oxford: Clarendon, 1949), 27-9.

(28.) Turner, The Politics of Landscape: Rural Scenery and Society in English Poetry, 1630-1660 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1979), 143-4; Williams, The Country and the City (London: Chatto and Windus, 1973), 27-34.

(29.) The Poetical Works of Robert Herrick, ed. L. C. Martin (Oxford: Clarendon, 1956), 34-8.

(30.) The Poems and Letters of Andrew Marvell, ed. H. M. Margoliouth, 2d ed., 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1952), 1:59-83.

(31.) Oxford English Dictionary, 1st ed., s.v. "gluttony."

(32.) I interpreted this containment more optimistically twenty years ago ("The Country-House Poem: A Study in Generic Development," Genre 12 [1979]: esp. 161-2), but that was in another academic country.

(33.) Jenkins, "From Common Wealth to Commonwealth: The Alchemy of 'To Penshurst,'" Clio 25 (1995): 176-80. I am indebted to Alexandra Block for useful suggestions about the female body in these poems.

(34.) I thank Susan J. Wolfson for drawing my attention to the significance of this enjambment.

(35.) For compatible but different interpretations of Thestylis, I am grateful to Sarah Monette; I also thank the other members of my English 961 class for stimulating discussions about the country house poem.




   
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