This chapter is concerned not just with reading dissidence in Tennyson, as the title professes, or with cultural materialists reading dissidence in Tennyson, but more broadly with the status of the text in the process of reading, or what I will call, after Derrida, the process of ‘translation’. The concern is therefore how a text is interpreted within a theoretical or critical framework such as cultural materialism. In particular I want to focus on the act of translation or communication between theory and text, and the responsiveness and resistance of each to this process. In this case it is the political readings of cultural materialism which feature in the communication with Tennyson’s poetry, which in itself is an interesting juxtaposition of a critical theory engaged with reactionary discourses in contemporary politics and a writer held to be, in Joanna Richardson’s terms, the ‘pre-eminent Victorian’ (Richardson 1962). Cultural materialism’s interest in how writers from the past come to function within contemporary discourses as legitimating agents of the values and power strategies of the dominant culture finds an interesting and fit subject in Alfred Tennyson, whose writings become the ground of contest between the dominant culture and ‘dissident critics’. The strategy which critics such as Alan Sinfield, Jonathan Dollimore and Catherine Belsey tend to adopt is one of revealing how certain texts can be seen to expose the operations and masking of power of the dominant culture, or conform to its values and structures.
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- Cultural Materialism and Reading Dissidence in(to) the Poetry of Alfred Tennyson
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