The Idea of Wessex: Subject, Place, and Memory in Thomas Hardy’s Poetry

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Abstract

Thomas Hardy and the Idea of Wessex explores the relationship of subject to place, through the lens of phenomenology. Rather than simply offer a phenomenological reading of Hardy’s poetry and its formations of subjectivity, perception, memory, and the subject’s ability to reconstitute through memory the initial impression and experience of an event, I argue that, in a number of significant ways, Thomas Hardy is readable as a proto-phenomenologist. More than this, I also explore the ways in which landscape serves as a material and phenomenal place of memory, opening to the subject the phantasm of past events, and constituting the subject’s sense of selfhood. Language is thus understood not merely as a mimetic tool or means by which the world can be recast, but, instead, the very medium of phenomenological apperception. The poem for Hardy thus becomes the material manifestation of that which haunts subjectivity, and which goes by the name of Wessex in the text of Thomas Hardy. In apprehending this, we come to see an analogy between Hardy’s verse and photography, to the extent that, apropos Hardy, it becomes possible to speak of a photo-poesis.

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