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This review is taken from PN Review 10, Volume 6 Number 2, November - December 1979.

THE LIVING CONTEXT George Dekker, Coleridge and the Literature of Sensibility (Vision Press) £6.95

In this volume George Dekker uses Coleridge's Dejection Ode as a point of "entry to, and perspective on, a wide range of antecedent traditions". The danger of this approach, as Professor Dekker is well aware, is that by focusing on literary precedents, it may direct "attention to everything except that which is fresh and unique" in the poem. Alert to the Procrustean tendencies of traditional generic criticism, Professor Dekker guards against them by interweaving generic, historical and practical analysis. He best summarizes his own procedure: "The book begins with biography, intensely intimate and local and slow-motioned in character, and moves towards the impersonality of literary form and the long perspectives of intellectual and generic history, concluding with a close reading of Dejection in the light of all that I have said before." In this way he retains a just sense of proportion, employing generic and historical criticism to demonstrate how the Ode transcends its origins rather than to reduce it to them.

Dekker's aim, then, is to tap the traditions upon which the Ode draws. These range from formal literary conventions to the less familiar traditions from which concepts like "joy", "genius", "nature's music" etc. derive their significance. These concepts have rich semantic histories and Dekker's exploration of their past leads to "the recovery of forgotten or hidden systems of significance, exhuming a host of meanings beyond their primary meanings". His investigation certainly enriches these words. It also, implicitly, challenges the axioms of New Criticism by demonstrating ...

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