The Ring and the book : texts, and the texture of experience : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in English at Massey University

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The following discussion of The Ring and the Book suggests that the primary concern of the poem is with language. Chapter One of the discussion attempts to lay a broad base for the relation of language to the poem. It takes the form of a prelude intro­ducing the later chapters and suggests that the overriding concern with language includes the poem, itself, as a linguistic construct. A dis­tinction is drawn between the language of ordinary discourse, which is the immediate subject of the poem, and the language of artistic dis­course, which is the medium of the poem, but which in turn becomes the subject of consideration. The interpenetration of subject and medium, it is suggested, res­ults from Browning's recognition that language is a temporal and ongoing process, and that, therefore, a prior, static truth cannot be conclus ively expressed in language. Rather, art may embrace the processional nature of ordinary discourse within the context of artistic discourse, in order to provide a structure of "the experience of experience". Chapter Two suggests that Browning's method of foregrounding the relationship between language and experience is one of a disruptive juxtaposition of texts. Such a method demonstrates how the style of representation conditions, and supplants, experience: how the medium supplants the subject. Book I, it is argued, becomes an implicit and explicit education in how to read The Ring and the Book, functioning as a paradigm for the later monologues. The discussion of Book I is central to this study; the method of the poem, and the concerns that method foregrounds, are established in Book I (a section of the poem that is rarely discussed in any detail). Primarily, the disruptive texts of Book I dramatise the author fragmen­ting the "whole" story into stylistically conflicting representations; the fragmentation disrupts the conclusiveness implicit in any represen­tation. The "story", or narrative, becomes displaced, and the poem becomes, rather, a cumulative ongoing texture of linguistic representations. Chapter Three considers the problem of climax in a disruptive play of texts. In Book X and Book XI, the language of ordinary discourse in the poem reaches what I would term a plateau of linguistic intensities: the Pope and Guido become the disruptively juxtaposed poles between which the other characters inhabit the world through language. Chapter Three provides a link between the discussion of Book I and the discussion of Book XII which concludes this study. Chapter Four argues that the plateau of linguistic intensities reached in Book X and Book XI is maintained in Book XII. Browning, firstly, includes in his poem the truth of the negative intensity of language: that it is the temporal medium by which experience dis­sipates, even as that experience unfolds in language. The completing intensity of language in the poem, however, is the presence of the implied author in Book XII. The language of artistic discourse counters the limitations and fallibilities of the language of ordinary discourse, not by escaping, or being conclusively above, those limitations, but by embodying them in a true way. The artistic discourse therefore becomes a processional embodiment of truth, from which a conclusive truth may not be separated.
Browning, Robert 1812-1889