Kate Lewis Hood and Niki Holzapfel | 3 April 2017.
Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ‘prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds.
–Charles Dickens, Bleak House
Authors’ Note: We were interested in the ways that literary criticism might be taken not as a detached or impersonal exercise. We chose a passage from a canonical text to read every day over the course of a week, and recorded our responses. We then shaped and condensed these responses according to what most resonated with our sense of the challenges of criticism as both process and practice.
Passing between bodies, between sentences, Dickens’ fog offers an affective structure. It is ‘everywhere’, but it isn’t just some vague, indeterminable relationality; in its permeation it is able to capture specific settings, characters, habits. For example, when Dickens describes the ‘fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper’, it is carefully positioned through the smallest grammatical elements: the preposition ‘in’, the doubled possessive ‘of’. As William James writes in The Principles of Psychology, ‘We ought to say a feeling of and, a feeling of if, a feeling of but, and a feeling of by, quite as readily as we say a feeling of blue or a feeling of cold’ (245-46). Dickens’ fog materialises the manner that these feelings find their way into collective grammars, and collective rhythms, embodied by the balladic stress patterns of ‘fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights’.
In her studies of affect and emotion, Sara Ahmed tilts attention away from interior psychological states and towards the circulation of affect through social and cultural practices (Cultural Politics 8-9). At the same time, she makes a strong case for the personal as the grounds for the theoretical. Description, particularly from ‘a body that is not at home in the world’ because of social and political exclusions, becomes a tool offering ‘a reorientation to a world, a way of turning things round, a different slant on the same thing’ Ahmed links this descriptive practice to the development of a ‘sweaty concept’, named because of the intellectual labour and practical experience that, she argues, inform critical theory (Feminist Life 13). I want to argue that this can also be a foggy concept in the way that Dickens uses fog: a process of unknowing based on careful, disciplined methods of attention: what Brian Dillon calls ‘rigorous susceptibility’ (280).
Writing in response to this passage every day for a week, and writing with an ‘I’, called attention not only to the questions asked, but also to the questions not asked. By observing critical preoccupations and the processes through which they develop, I began to notice the habitual exclusions that are both necessary and limiting for critical work. This, I hope, could be the beginnings of a pedagogy, rather than just the impersonal conclusion of a self-contained piece.
I spent a week reading the fog passage and was too fed up with it to analyze it as a literary critic, so I thought about it as a creative writer and music enthusiast. I thought about immersion in different kinds of fog: disappearing in memories or melancholia, tuning out with earphones in.
Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” has been rattling in my head alongside a variety of intrusive memories and an aching to play with words on the page. So, Charles Dickens led me to Kurt Cobain. They’re both classics in my eyes.
pollutions of a great and dirty city
wheezing by the firesides of their wards
as a friend
as an old enemy
as if they were up in a balloon
with fog all round them
doused in mud
soaked in bleach
chance people on the bridges
take a rest as a friend
peeping over the parapets
into a nether sky of fog
fog down the river
down in his close cabin
an old memoria
fog in the eyes and throats of ancient greenwich pensioners
fog creeping into the cabooses of collier brigs
fog on the kentish heights
fog up the river
as a trend
as a friend
as an old memoria
fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little prentice boy on deck
fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats
and hanging in the misty clouds
fog on the essex marshes
fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper
fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships
where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside
where it flows among green aits and meadows
come as you are
as you were
as i want you to be
Kate is an MSc by Research student exploring the intersection of feminist and environmental/ecological poetics in contemporary poetry by women. Her ‘research methods’ often include weather-watching and walking up hills. Outside of study, Kate is a poetry editor at The Missing Slate, an online magazine focusing on international arts and literature.
In my mother’s words, I was her only child who actually wanted to see how the story ended. After earning degrees in English and creative writing, the same can be said today. I am most interested in considering how people tell their own stories in the controversial world of creative nonfiction.
Article edited by Anna McKay.
Ahmed, Sara. The Cultural Politics of Emotion. Edinburgh University Press, 2004.
Ahmed, Sara. Living a Feminist Life. Duke University Press, 2017.
Dillon, Brian. Objects in This Mirror. Sternberg Press, 2014.
James, William. The Principles of Psychology, Volume 1. Cosimo, 2007 .
Dickens, Charles. Bleak House. Bradbury & Evans, 1853. Project Gutenberg, 1 Apr. 2017.
“Come As You Are – Nirvana.” Google Play, 2 Apr. 2017.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vabnZ9-ex7o : “Come As You Are”
Glasgow Exhibition: http://special.lib.gla.ac.uk/exhibns/month/nov2004.html
Nirvana Hometown Sign: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/24/nirvana-didnt-know_n_5791454.html