Neil Arditi

Neil

Undergraduate Discipline

Literature

BA, Yale University. MA, PhD, University of Virginia. Special interests in British Romantic poetry; Romantic legacies in Victorian, modern, and contemporary poetry; aestheticism, pragmatism, and Jewish literary culture in the 19th and 20th centuries. Essays and reviews published in Raritan, Parnassus, Keats-Shelley Journal, Philosophy and Literature, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Jewish Review of Books, and Jewish-American Dramatists and Poets. SLC, 2001–

Undergraduate Courses 2022-2023

Literature

Eight American Poets

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Year

American poetry has multiple origins and a vast array of modes and variations. In this course, we will focus our attention on the trajectories of eight American poets: Whitman, Dickinson, and Robert Frost in our first semester; Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, Hart Crane, Elizabeth Bishop, and John Ashbery in our second semester. Some of the poems that we will read are accessible on a superficial level and present challenges to interpretation only on closer examination; other poems—most notably, those written by Dickinson, Stevens, Eliot, Crane, and Ashbery—present significant challenges at the most basic level of interpretation. The major prerequisite for this course is, therefore, a willingness to grapple with literary difficulty and with passages of poetry that are, at times, baffling or highly resistant to paraphrase. We will seek to paraphrase them anyway or account as best we can for the meanings that they create out of the meanings that they evade. Our central task will be to appreciate and articulate the unique strengths of each of the poems that we encounter through close, imaginative reading and informed speculation.

Faculty

Reading High Romanticism: Blake to Keats

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

This lecture focuses on the interpretation and appreciation of the most influential lyric poems written in English in the tumultuous decades between the French Revolution and the Reform Act of 1832. Over the course of two generations, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats invented a new kind of autobiographical poem that largely internalized the myths that they had inherited from literary and religious traditions. The poet’s inward, subjective experience became the inescapable subject of the poem—a legacy that continues to this day. We will be exploring ways in which the English Romantic poets responded to the political impasse of their historical moment and created poems out of their arguments with themselves, as well as their arguments with one another. Our preeminent goal will be to understand each poem’s unique contribution to the language.

Faculty

Romantic Legacies: Tennyson to T. S. Eliot

Open, Seminar—Spring

This course offers a survey of some of the most influential poets writing in English from the Victorian period to the early 20th century, when modernists like T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound loudly proclaimed their break from Romanticism and its Victorian heirs. Our readings are bookended by two monuments to their cultural moments: Tennyson’s long elegy for Arthur Hallam, In Memoriam: A. H. H., which Queen Victoria kept on her bedside table next to her Bible, and Eliot’s The Waste Land, of which William Carlos Williams wrote: “It wiped out our world as if an atom bomb had been dropped upon it and our brave sallies into the unknown were turned to dust.” Eliot’s debt to Tennyson is clearer in retrospect than it was to Eliot’s contemporaries. Indeed, as the course title suggests, all the poets on our syllabus can be read, productively, as heirs of Romanticism whose attempts to break with Romantic tradition only extended and enlarged it. This course presumes some familiarity with the most influential British Romantic poets or a willingness to gain a familiarity with their work in conference. Poets to be studied include, among others: Tennyson, Whitman, R. Browning, C. Rossetti, Dickinson, Hardy, Yeats, and Eliot.

Faculty

Previous Courses

Literature

Eight American Poets (Whitman to Ashbery)

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Year

American poetry has multiple origins and a vast array of modes and variations. In this course, we will focus our attention on the trajectories of eight major American poetic careers. We will begin with Whitman and Dickinson, the fountainheads of a visionary strain in the American poetic tradition, before turning to Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, Hart Crane, Elizabeth Bishop, and John Ashbery. Some of the poems that we will be reading are accessible on a superficial level and present challenges to interpretation only on closer inspection; other poems—most notably, the poems of Dickinson, Stevens, Eliot, and Crane—present significant challenges at the most basic level of interpretation. The major prerequisite for this course is, therefore, a willingness to grapple with literary difficulty with passages of poetry that are, at times, wholly baffling or highly resistant to paraphrase. We will seek to paraphrase them anyway or account, as best we can, for the meanings that they create out of the meanings that they evade. Our central task will be to appreciate and articulate the unique strengths of each of the poems (and poets) that we encounter through close, imaginative reading and informed speculation.

Faculty

Eight American Poets: Whitman to Ashbery

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Year

American poetry has multiple origins and a vast array of modes and variations. In this course, we will focus our attention on the trajectories of eight major American poetic careers. We will begin with Emerson, Whitman, and Dickinson—fountainheads of the visionary strain in American poetic tradition—before turning to a handful of their most prominent 20th-century heirs: Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, Hart Crane, and Elizabeth Bishop. Some of the poems that we will be reading are accessible on a superficial level and present challenges to interpretation only on closer inspection; other poems—most notably, the poems of Dickinson, Stevens, Eliot, and Crane—present significant challenges at the most basic level of interpretation. The major prerequisite for this course is, therefore, a willingness to grapple with literary difficulty—with passages of poetry that are, at times, wholly baffling or highly resistant to paraphrase. We will seek to paraphrase them anyway—or account, as best we can, for the meanings that they create out of the meanings that they evade. Our central task will be to appreciate and articulate the unique strengths of each of the poems (and poets) that we encounter through close, imaginative reading and informed speculation.

Faculty

Elective Affinities in Contemporary Poetry

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Year

The canonical status of contemporary literature is always up for grabs. In this seminar, we will spend roughly two-thirds of the academic year reading a sequence of the instructor’s favorite poets and those whose lives have overlapped with his own: Elizabeth Bishop, May Swenson, James Merrill, A. R. Ammons, John Ashbery, Jay Wright, Mark Strand, and Anne Carson, among them. The coincidences of another reader’s taste and judgment might generate a very different list of contemporaries; and this, too, will be our subject. In conference, each student will be asked to focus on a contemporary poet, or sequence of poets, not included in the syllabus. From the work of these poets, an ad hoc syllabus will be culled for the final sequence of class readings. As always, our preeminent goal will be to appreciate each poet’s—indeed, each poem’s—unique contribution to the language through close, imaginative readings of texts. 

Faculty

Emersonian Quartet: Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, Stevens

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

In an 1842 lecture, titled “The Poet,” Emerson complained that no American had yet emerged who could answer the legacy of Western literary tradition with original energy and native genius. Whitman would later remark that he had been “simmering, simmering, simmering” until Emerson’s injunctions brought him “to a boil.” The outcome was his sublime, democratic, homoerotic poetic sequence, “Song of Myself” (the “greatest piece of wit and wisdom yet produced by an American,” as Emerson immediately recognized). In unique but related ways, Dickinson, Frost, and Stevens also answered Emerson’s call. Like Whitman at the end of “Song of Myself,” their most inventive poems seem always out in front of us, waiting for us to arrive. We will do our best to catch up: to conceptualize and paraphrase their tropes while acknowledging the inevitable failure of merely discursive language to transmit a poem. Our central task will be to interpret and appreciate the poetry we encounter through close, imaginative reading, informed speculation, and an understanding of historical contexts.

Faculty

First-Year Studies: Romanticism to Modernism in English-Language Poetry

Open, FYS—Year

In the first semester of this course, we will explore the work of major poets writing in English between the French Revolution and the American Civil War.  One of the goals of the course is to demonstrate the ways in which modern poetry originated in this period.  In the wake of the French Revolution, Blake, Wordsworth and Coleridge invented a new kind of poem that largely internalized the myths they had inherited from literary and religious traditions. To put it another way, the inner life of the poet became the inescapable subject of their poetry.  In the second semester, we will trace the impact of their work on subsequent generations of poets writing in English.  Our preeminent goal will be to appreciate each poet’s—indeed, each poem’s—unique contribution to the language. Our understanding of literary and historical trends will emerge from the close, imaginative reading of texts.  Authors will include: Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, Whitman, Dickinson, Tennyson, Robert Browning, Christina Rossetti, Hardy, Frost, Yeats, and T. S. Eliot.  During the fall semester, students will meet with the instructor weekly for individual conferences. In the spring, we will meet every other week.

Faculty

Reading High Romantic Poetry (Blake to Keats)

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

This course focuses on the interpretation and appreciation of the most influential lyric poetry written in English in the tumultuous decades between the French Revolution and the Great Reform Bill of 1832. Over the course of two generations, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats invented a new kind of autobiographical poem that largely internalized the myths that they had inherited from literary and religious traditions. The poet’s inward, subjective experience became the inescapable subject of the poem—a legacy that continues to this day. We will be exploring ways in which the English Romantic poets responded to the political impasse of their historical moment and created poems out of their arguments with themselves, as well as their arguments with one another. Our preeminent goal will be to appreciate each poem’s unique contribution to the language.

Faculty

Romanticism and Its Consequences in English-Language Poetry

Open, Seminar—Year

The first half of this course will explore the work of the most influential poets writing in English in the time between the French Revolution and the American Civil War. One of the goals of the course is to demonstrate the ways in which modern poetry originated in this period. In the wake of the French Revolution, Blake and Wordsworth, among others, invented a new kind of poetry that largely internalized the myths that they had inherited from literary and religious traditions. The poet’s inner life became the inescapable subject of the poem. In the second half of the course, we will trace the impact of 19th-century Romanticism on subsequent generations of poets writing in English, with particular attention to the first half of the 20th century. Our preeminent goal will be to appreciate each poet’s—indeed, each poem’s—unique contribution to the language. Our understanding of literary and historical trends will emerge from the close, imaginative reading of texts. Authors will include: Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, Whitman, Dickinson, Tennyson, Robert Browning, Christina Rossetti, Hardy, Frost, Stevens, Yeats, and T. S. Eliot.

Faculty