Title Background

Wet Feet Dirty Coats, Dirty Coats, and the Agency of Things: Thinking Personification through New Materialism

Wet Feet Dirty Coats, Dirty Coats, and the Agency of Things: Thinking Personification through New Materialism

This article considers PPl’s construction of personifications in light of New Materialism, arguing that the poem is particularly receptive to the ways in which matter plays on language even as language seeks to contain and police the material world. Specifically, it argues that personification involves an inversion of animacy hierarchies (the assignation of relative liveness, sentience, or humanness to objects in the material world that has an effect both on how these objects are interpreted in the world and on how they operate as grammatical constructs). In this, it borrows from Mel Y. Chen’s articulation of the notion of animacy. As Chen and other sociolinguists argue, hierarchizing language practices shape our view of reality and the likelihood with which we view any given noun — or object — as being ‘animate’ or ‘inanimate’, but this language is in turn shaped by human interactions with the material world. By placing abstract concepts in human bodies, PPl creates a momentary poetic inversion of animacy hierarchies; personification can be thought of as a material act. The article concludes by considering a particularly difficult problem of personification in the poem, which is its reliance not on visual metaphors to imagine the embodied forms that people the poem’s landscape but instead focuses on sound. The materiality of the sound, Bude argues, becomes an animating principle in the poem—one that has important ramifications for the way the persona is understood. (TB)

Volume

Yearbook of Langland Studies, 33 (2019), 205–9

Author

Bude, Tekla