Grammars of assent: Constructing poetic authority in an age of science

William Myles Carroll, Marquette University


In the nineteenth century, cultural authority was less an accepted bond than a fractious question. Any seat of knowledge that would contend for epistemological authority needed to create grammars to demonstrate that it could produce legitimate avenues to knowledge. Using Wittgenstein's and Kant's definition of "grammars" as the structures and systems that govern how we do what we do, I argue that science provides the primary grammar for knowing during the late nineteenth century. This project seeks to explore the causes of the shift of intellectual authority away from poetry to science, the consequences of this shift, and seeks to reestablish an authoritative grammar for poetry, one which relies heavily on John Henry Newman's formulation of the illative sense. If grammars not only filter perception, but constitute our reality or, as Nietzsche asserts, "exact a mode of life," then the consequences of rejecting any grammar as authoritative are not merely theoretical, but change the ways we live. Consistent among every grammar of the Victorian period is the recognition that language shapes how we know what we know, and this study also explores the role of discourse in the construction of these grammars. Chapter one introduces the contested role of the poet at the start of the Victorian period and begins to explore the problem of representation through language. Chapter two examines the ascent of science to the intellectual throne. In addition, this chapter explores how the "real" is redefined by science's grammar. By examining Newman's Grammar of Assent , chapter three explores the Christian response to the rejection of religion's spiritual truths, which uncovers his conception of the illative sense---a faculty that revitalizes and legitimizes both religious and artistic representations of knowledge. Chapter four posits the role of the Victorian poet and examines how their experimentation with form demonstrates their attempts to make meaning from language. Chapter five articulates the need to recover the grammar of poetry to help make meaning from intellectual endeavor. Poetry generates constitutive fictions that offer epistemologically valid avenues to meaning that affirm life and provide authoritative judgment on the good, the true, and the beautiful.

Recommended Citation

Carroll, William Myles, "Grammars of assent: Constructing poetic authority in an age of science" (2005). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3188542.