William Wordsworth is a poet about whom Julia Kristeva never has written, and probably never would. He is English, Romantic, an avowedly plain-spoken “man writing to men,” writing a poetry that aspires to the prosaic, that devotes itself to representing the extraordinary within the commonplace — the contemplative profundity the “meanest flower” can evoke, the lessons learned by a poignant encounter with a leech gatherer or a little girl, the mundane marvels of a rural tourist’s trip to teeming London. Wordsworth offers the very opposite, we might say, of Céline, whose explosive prose utters in “poetic” cadences the horror of extreme experience, of madness, brutality, and war; or, for that matter, of Joyce, who rendered even an everyman’s banal errand or a trip to the pub in the most unmistakably challenging language and style English literature had ever seen. Wordsworth’s piety and earnestness decidedly disqualify him from inclusion in the irreverently ironic Menippean tradition, which, we might gather from Kristeva’s and Bakhtin’s accounts, apparently skips his generation. Wordsworth, in other words, is precisely not avant-garde. His “revolution” in poetic language sought to overthrow a much different literary and social regime (the elite, mannered wit of the eighteenth century) than the one against which Kristeva’s literary heroes battled. Indeed, Wordsworth’s brand of idealized liberal humanism serves as the central target of the radical campaign Kristeva’s theory studies but also wages.
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