Nectarine and the Poetics of Perception in the Journals of R.F. Langley

  • Chad Campbell

Student thesis: Phd


1. NECTARINE The idea of a true past, in which life continues as it once did, seems only to exist in the sort of remote idea of a place, paraphrasing Wallace Stevens, where what is dead lives with an intensity beyond any experience of life. Recollection is a strange idea because it can seem to imply that memories are discrete and can be re-called or re-collected at will, like shelves of preserves marked with labels like 'Thunderstruck Sunset' or 'Owl on a Phonebooth'. But we are contextual creatures, it seems, and these poems work to acknowledge that our memories, and so to a great extent ourselves, are reliant on place, and that it often does not seem to be a choice at all when a phonebooth owl or thunderstruck sunset rejoins the moment. The poems in this collection are about what is both here and gone; about the seawall in things through which filters voices, memory, and the traces of ourselves and others. They are an attempt to accept, if not embrace, the feeling that each time we give something a glance, we are giving some of our rations of glances to those things. 2. THE POETICS OF PERCEPTION IN THE JOURNALS OF R.F. LANGLEY This thesis explores R.F. Langley's poetics of perception and argues that it develops out of the perceptual concerns and dilemmas which are negotiated in the journals. I argue that a central dilemma that the journals explore is the potential for the 'instance' of Langley's own direct experience--his unmediated experience of the world--to be collapsed by the 'continuum' of self, knowledge, and history, which might be brought to bear on it. The apparent contradiction in using language to address perceptual concerns is, I argue, a crucially productive one for Langley, who develops ways of saying which, themselves, resist and negotiate the perceptual dilemmas which his journals identify. I offer close readings of Langley's journal entries and related poems, in order to demonstrate both their shared poetics of perception, and the way in which the poems restructure and amplify concerns and interests which the journals discover and explore. This thesis also offers a phenomenological reading of the journals. This reading, situated in the context of Maurice Merleau-Ponty's late writing on art and aesthetics, and contemporary phenomenological-literary studies, looks closely at the phenomenological dimensions of the 'instance' of direct experience which the journals describe. I focus on one of the most distinct and distinguishing features of the journals, Langley's use of colour, to demonstrate the phenomenological nature of his attention to the world that so preoccupies the journals. Further, I argue that Langley develops a way of saying or naming which, in its particularity, becomes its own 'instance' in the process of describing the particularity of direct experience. My discussion of the phenomenological dimensions of the 'instance' to which Langley attends offers a deepening understanding of his engagement with that philosophic tradition, while the poetics of perception he works out in the journals makes, I argue, an important contribution to twentieth-century poetics.
Date of Award1 Aug 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAnke Bernau (Supervisor) & John Mcauliffe (Supervisor)


  • Merleau-Ponty
  • Phenomenology
  • Canadian Poetry
  • R.F. Langley
  • Contemporary Poetry
  • Poetry

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