The dissertation considers how a heterogeneous group of observers in the disciplines of natural history and lyric poetry write their attention to the natural world. The “intelligence” of their attention refers to the writing itself, as observation that bridges the divide between the two disciplines. Each chapter is a case study for the writing and reading of attention to the natural world inflecting the possibilities of attention through literary form in a different way. The observers considered are: chapter 1, English poet John Clare (1793-1864) and American poet Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979); chapter 2, Victorian naturalists Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913); chapter 3, French poet Francis Ponge (1899-1988) and Franco-Swiss poet Philippe Jaccottet (1925-2021); chapter 4, the English “parson naturalist” Gilbert White (1720-1793), and lyrical naturalist J.A. Baker (1926-1987). The dissertation argues that these observers, guided by passionate interest towards the objects of their attention, also discover the existence of these objects in excess of that attention. My reading of these texts also implies a tentative ethics, despite the heterogeneity (and heterodoxy) of the case studies. It is an ethics of outward orientation, an openness that resists instrumentalizing the world or making it about the observer’s self. As a response to environmental crisis, to the dying of living things all around us, this collection of observers, sensibilities, writings and readings, makes a modest claim: that however we find ourselves estranged, the work of bringing into language our attentive encounters with other beings can help us to recognize a bond, in two interrelated senses: that of connection, and that of responsibility. This sense of a “bond” is informed by environmentalism (E.O. Wilson’s biophilia as “the human bond with other species”) and by Sharon Cameron’s analysis of the “bond of the furthest part” in filmmaker Robert Bresson.




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