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Ut pictura poesis: Keats, anamorphosis, and Taoism Li, Richard W.


The present dissertation proposes a fresh approach to Keats's remarkable growth and development as a poet by assessing his works in relation to four different but interrelated contexts: the tradition of poetry as a "speaking picture," Lacanian interpretations of that tradition, the related nature of classical Chinese poetry, and parallels between Keatsian themes and Taoist principles. Chapter one seeks to assess Keats's poetry by articulating the relationship between "ut pictura poesis" on the one hand, and psychoanalysis and Taoist philosophy on the other. Chapter two deals with the invisible ground of the sympathetic imagination. Chapter three discusses Keats's philosophy of "negative capability" with reference to the Taoist philosophy of the "Middle Path." Chapter four compares Keats's Lamia to the Chinese legend The White Snake. Chapter five concludes the work by showing how the poet matures into "poethood" through an anamorphotic process of developing from the imaginary to the symbolic. The focus of this dissertation is on the pictorial and sculptural qualities of Keats's poetry in comparison with many poems in the Chinese and western traditions. Efforts have also been made to combine psychoanalytical theory and Taoist philosophy and poetics to shed light on the discussion. Even though the dissertation seeks to assess Keats's poetry through an analogy with the plastic arts and to extend this assessment through conceptual categories provided by psychoanalysis (with reference to the poet's maturing into "poethood") and Taoist philosophy (with reference to the poet's philosophy of "negative capability"), it does not assert that Keats is a psychoanalyst nor does it claim that he is a Taoist. Keats is mainly a poet dealing with human emotion, love, beauty, truth, and imagination — a poet with "no self," a poet who can be regarded as "the perfect man" (Tao Te Chinq, 18) in the truest sense of a Taoist.

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