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WatchwordsRomanticism and the Poetics of Attention$
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Lily Gurton-Wachter

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780804796958

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804796958.001.0001

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Reading, a Double Attention

Reading, a Double Attention

(p.33) Chapter 1 Reading, a Double Attention

Lily Gurton-Wachter

Stanford University Press

This chapter explores how eighteenth-century philosophers and rhetoricians imagined people paying (or not paying) attention as they read, focusing on Joseph Priestley’s idea that serious subjects should not be represented in verse, since it “shews double attention.” But the phrase “double attention” appeared in these years in both military texts and in poetic ones, and not only indicating weakness. Romantic poetics re-appropriates Priestley’s complaint: from Wordsworth and Coleridge’s theories of meter to Blake’s poetic practice, these poets embraced a model of double attention in which division is a strength. In Blake’s writing, aesthetic and political modes of observation merge in uncomfortable ways. In contrast to “Satan’s Watch Fiends,” Blake’s figures for state surveillance, Blake demands of his reader an attention that is both passive and multiple, divided not only between text and image, but also among competing grammars and syntaxes, and multiple ways of reading minute punctuation marks.

Keywords:   William Blake, reading, attention, surveillance, poetics, politics of observation, suspicion, meter, rhetoric, punctuation

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