This presentation describes the role of levity in the reproduction of gender subordination. It seeks to understand the relationship between literary atmosphere and gendered habits of perception, arguing that lyric poetry, with its fine-tuned instruments of attention management, is an especially useful site for exploring this problem. Looking to poems by John Donne and Aphra Behn, and giving special attention to Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress," I describe a version of levity that depends on an incomplete or frozen decision that someone or something is unworthy of attention -- a decision that establishes an experience of ambivalence in which the outcome is determined but not actually pursued. In these cases, the gendered conferral of triviality on someone or something does not direct attention elsewhere but instead reframes attention as pleasurably superfluous. Ultimately, I make an argument for the importance of levity, understood in these terms, as a subject for feminist and queer inquiry, and reflect on the challenges of cultivating an anti-patriarchal sensorium.
Guest lecturer: David Simon, University of Maryland
Associate Professor of English