New Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow: Dr. Michael Kindellan

This Autumn, the School of English is welcoming several new members of staff, who we’ll be highlighting one by one throughout the semester. We have so many new members of staff that we are still doing this in December!

Our next new member of staff to be profiled is Dr. Michael Kindellan. After trying — and utterly failing — to capture Michael’s writing style, we asked him to write a bit about his recent and ongoing research, so this profile is straight from the man himself.

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I’m astonished and delighted to be here. I can’t believe my luck. What to say? I have had a somewhat peripatetic route to Sheffield: from Canada originally, then to the UK (MA, PhD), southern France for a postdoc, Berlin/Bayreuth in Germany for another postdoc. And now Sheffield. My work focuses on 19th but mainly 20th century innovative poetry and poetics, with special, though by no means exclusive, attention to points of convergence between textual scholarship (which explores the history and provenance of texts) and literary criticism (which, of course, evaluates and interprets those texts). I suppose one of my main concerns at the moment is to figure out different ways of thinking skeptically about materialist hermeneutics, that is, about interpretations of literature that take into consideration a text’s physical media (typeface, layout, bindings, paper quality: all of the things that Jerome McCann calls the “bibliographic codes” of the document, the palpable artifact). I think this is an extremely interesting way of going about things—one that has deeply influenced my own work. But very often this approach assumes that the medium always clarifies and enhances the message. I’m trying to consider the reverse, and to suggest that the relationship between what something says and how it is said isn’t always salutary. They are not, in other words, necessary complements: the medium can obscure the message. This contradiction, if I can put it that way, is itself interpretable. And so it goes.

At the moment, I’m writing a book about Ezra Pound and his late cantos. This poetry is really self-conscious about its own status as material artifact, and at the same time, Pound seems keen to transcend the “textual” condition: “it coheres all right / even if my notes do not cohere” is his way of positing, at the end of The Cantos, a unity of purpose and meaning despite, not because of, a text that is everywhere fragmented and corrupt. So I’m looking at the history of the “late” sections of this poem’s composition and transmission, and arguing that such an approach is responsible but ultimately futile. In doing so, I am hoping to show that The Cantos has found ways to (successfully?) resist criticism as such. I understand this resistance as partly the result of Pound’s profound antagonism towards institutions of higher learning, which is fraught with all kinds of difficulties because he’s generally considered the last century’s greatest English-language poet-pedagogue.

It’s this aspect of his work that connects to my next project, and which gives my work here at Sheffield a semblance of continuity. Once this book is done, I’m going to start a project called “Present Knowledge: Charles Olson, Black Mountain and the Poetics of Pedagogy”. As it says on the tin, my job here will be to explore the ways in which Olson’s position as an avant-garde educator—he was the rector of the interdisciplinary Black Mountain College (1933-1957) during its final few years—impacted upon his avant-garde poetics, and visa versa. Olson considered the writing of verse to be a kind of master-discipline that could comprehend all others. My aim is to subject his ambitious interdisciplinarity to something of a rethink, and to unpick some of the assumptions and ideologies that prompted him to say “poets are the only pedagogues left to be trusted”. This project will, as I intend it, be both interdisciplinary in its approach and a critique thereof. I’m pretty old-fashioned I suppose. Part of my aim here, however, is to collaborate with colleagues in other disciplines both at Sheffield and elsewhere in a forum that takes Black Mountain’s example in general and Olson’s theories in particular as the bases for experimental reconsiderations of pedagogical practice. My colleague Sam Ladkin thinks I don’t know how to pronounce the word “pedagogy”, so before all of this I’m going to totally get to the bottom of that.

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