Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The key to Spenser.

Perhaps not THE key, but MY key. I remember reading The Faerie Queene twice during gradaute school, and while I enjoyed Books 1 and 3, the rest of it got a little tedious. Around the middest of the race, maybe a couple of cantos into Book 4, I'd think, "My lordy, when will this sucker END?!!" And, as time went on, the constant grad-school early British survey teaching rotation of Books 1 and 3 flattened those out a little bit for me as well.

So it was with some curiosity, not to say trepidation, that I proposed my current All-FQ-All-the-Time grad course. Would I grow bored halfway through? Would I run out of energy, and resent having to read all those inevitable papers on Redcrosse's flaws or Britomart's gender negotiations?

I'm happy to report that I'm enjoying the text very much this time around, and I think it's because I've decided to ignore the plot, to stop waiting for the resolution of this or that subnarrative, to stop caring whether Florimell is rescued from Proteus or whether Timias ends up with Belphoebe. (For the record: it's been enough years that I don't really remember the answer to those questions.)

Instead, I'm reading it as a text about poetry, and I have to say, I'm enthralled. I am in the Bower of Bliss, this space of artistic production which reflects on the nature of both nature and art. I am Grylle, and I like being a pig. And I think the text wants me to feel that way, which is why it's constantly subverting its allegories. I'm thinking the text doesn't care about its allegories as much as it cares about poetic pleasure. And I can do THAT, baby.


Bardiac said...


Ink said...

That's wonderful! I have a soft spot for FQ and am a wee bit jealous of your course, as it sounds fabulous to be able to relax into the text proper rather than racing through parts and trying to keep students apprised of how the given excerpt fits into the whole thing. Sounds just great...

the rebel lettriste said...

I hated the FQ, as an undergrad, and still can't make myself return to it. You are so right about "poetic pleasure" vs. allegories. Allegories are mad boring. But beauty, laughter, perplexity, that wacked out rhyme scheme? Never fail to interest. Never.

Flavia said...

I love FQ, in part because it's so much more than an allegory--and I think you're right that, ultimately, the poem resists its own allegories, and refuses to turn into the airless didactic thing it sometimes pretends to be.

I also love its psychology, if that's not too weird a thing to say--or rather, the way the allegories and their failures seem to represent something true and complex about human experience, albeit in a totally non-realistic way.