PAMLA: Coleridge and the Prison Bower of Meaning

This year's Annual Conference of the Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association was hosted by Seattle University and held October 19-21 - 110th.  I contributed a paper on Coleridge to the session "To Sleep, Perchance to Dream."


 In Coleridge’s Dream Theory and the Dual Imagination, Kathryn Kimball puts forward the poet’s outline of sense impressions that “arrive constantly,” “whether asleep or awake,” which “the night-working imagination transmutes into dream images,” arguing that, while the poet can be said to have a purposeful theory of dreams, the main reason he was so concerned was that “dreams are an escape from a difficult life.”  

Using Kimball’s assemblage, and a section of the Biographia Literaria called "Nihil Negativuum Irrepresentabile," I argue that the arrest of such “transmutations” becomes for Coleridge an aesthetic technique wherein the Imagination is staged as a mediator who is intentionally exhausted by the difficult (or impossible) task it is set.  He explains the difficulty of his project: to produce “a body at one and the same time in motion and not in motion,” and his method: to erect “...a motory force of a body in one direction and an equal force of the same body in an opposite direction,” which he argues “is not incompatible, and the result, namely, rest, is real and representable.” The interjection of the man from Porlock, for example, during the composition of Kubla Kahn,  like the overvaluation of albatross-hunting, is that second “motory force” which demands that the imagination mediate between the two opposites in an effort to achieve a place of retirement. 

This paper reads Coleridge’s failures of thought and willful obfuscations in the Biographia Literaria as Deluzean attempts to construct a kind of black hole in which meaning is itself imprisoned, with the intention of defining the imagination’s mediative role between states:real and unreal, sleep and waking. 

It was a lively conference in which to participate, and much larger than the usula discipline-specific conferences I attend.  The best part was connecting with people outside my particular area of specialization and hearing the fine papers by my co-panelists (see full program here):


  • Patrick Randolph: "

    Who Are You?" Queerly Destabilizing Identity in Wonderland

  • Rebecca McCann

    “The Scientific Possibilities of Mesmerism”: Dreaming of Utopia in The Diothas

  • Kristine Miller

    The 'Fever Dream' of the Post-9/11 Cop: Trauma, Personal Testimony, and Jess Walter's The Zero


Special thanks to our panel chair, Lauren Bond (La Sierra University), to the conference organizers from Seattle University, and to the Renaissance Hotel for having us.