Trauma and the Beauty of Dead Language

By William Hilton the Younger - National Portrait Gallery: NPG 194 Public Domain

By William Hilton the Younger – National Portrait Gallery: NPG 194 Public Domain

John Keats is perhaps one of the most famous names in poetry even today.

Dr David Miller, senior lecturer in English literature at MMU, will be giving a lecture at Konan University, Kobe, Japan on ‘Trauma and the Beauty of Dead Language: Recollection versus Memory in Freud and Keats’. The lecture follows his research on Keats and his poetic comportment with what he called his ‘posthumous existence’.

Living in the early 19th century, Keats contracted tuberculosis at a young age, and watched as his body deteriorated. Time, death and remembrance are consequently themes running throughout his poetry. Whilst Keats was suffering with his illness, he wrote of his ‘posthumous existence’. In his final letter to his good friend Charlie Brown he wrote: “I have an habitual feeling of my real life having past, and that I am leading a posthumous existence”.

In a letter he wrote to Fanny Brawne a few months before he died, he mourned his lost legacy: “I have left no immortal work behind me – nothing to make my friends proud of my memory – but I have lov’d the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had had time I would have made myself remember’d”. Keats referred to his wish for his work to become immortal in his final poem, Bright Star, in which he wrote: “Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art”. However, his poetry did have a posthumous existence and permeated into the twentieth century along with that of many other Romantic writers.

Dr Miller says: “The main discussion of my lecture focusses on Keats’ version of a poetic language of resistance conceived as ‘beauty and truth’ as opposed to Freud’s psychoanalytic discourse of adaptation conceived as a rhetoric of ‘treatment’”.

Dr Miller received the invitation to speak from the Konan Institute of Human Sciences in Kobe, which is one of leading research bases in Japan for the interdisciplinary study of psychology and aesthetics and the research group that focussed on tragic art and trauma. His paper will be translated into Japanese for circulation and then presented as a dual lecture with simultaneous translation at the event.

He and the research group are also working on a double issue publication with Journal of Literature and Trauma Studies on Japanese literary and artistic responses to Hiroshima and the area firebombing campaign.

Dr Miller says of the collaboration: “The relationship is one of scholarly interaction and research with a view to further collaboration, including visiting lectures, papers and publication in addition to the profile enhancing aspects for MMU”. He and Professor Kinya Nishi, Professor of Aesthetics and Philosophy at Konan University, have also put in an external bid for further collaboration.


A version of this article was also published on the MMU website here.

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