Monday, 30 July 2012

#Coleridge (12th April 2012)

Joining Twitter a couple of months ago revolutionised my days in surprising ways. I had guessed that it would give me another site on which to procrastinate - although at least checking the most up-to-date Leveson tweets seemed more productive than scanning through the photos of someone a friend of a friend once met on a night out several years ago. For the first couple of weeks, I was blown away by the sheer volume of tweeters and bloggers talking about my topic specifically, or, more often, research generally. I spent the first 3 days of my Twitter life obsessively clicking on links from the likes of @phd2published or @thesiswhisperer, my browser buried in mounds of newly-opened tabs as I greedily collected more and more Twitter-inspired online reading. Although, a lot of the time, reading these resources is deflecting from that paper I should be writing, or that book I should have already finished, the psychological effects are worth the addition to my workload; the sense of being a part of an online community, even when you're in the midst of an intensive week when the only other being you've seen is next door's cat, is an invaluable addition to life as part of a small researching body, whilst anecdotal research blogs and a seemingly constant stream of career advice help to keep me looking ahead.

What I hadn't thought of was the influence of non-researchers and non-academics. I've never seen Coleridge as being a particularly popular subject; when asked what I'm doing, my summary usually ends up along these lines: 'I'm studying the Coleridge family. As in 'The Ancient Mariner.' Umm... 'Kubla Khan'? He was a poet in the nineteenth century.' Once, the addition of 'no, he didn't know Chaucer personally' was necessary. As the Telegraph helpfully observed a few weeks ago, nineteenth-century poets are not a part of the popular consciousness; unlike the most popular of Victorian novelists like, say, Dickens or Gaskell, their works are transferred to screens big or small only infrequently, and so don't form a part of the pop culture conversation. Nevertheless, one unproductive day I searched for Coleridge on Twitter, thinking that I would at least be spending my time-wasting reading the relevant name, even if I wasn't doing anything with it. On that day, I was surprised that there was so much being posted about Coleridge over the course of a day; a couple of tweets an hour, usually repeating a 'quote of the day'.

This week, however, something of a Coleridge renaissance has been occurring. The Daily Victorian (@Daily_Victorian) has quoted Coleridge five times since Monday; @1812now has mentioned him six times since Sunday. A quick search shows that he has been mentioned, in various capacities, fifteen times in the past hour. Once again, a lot of those mentions are 'inspirational' quotations. (Today's favourite seems to be: 'All men, even the most surly, are influenced my affection.') Clearly, taking quotations outside of any reference point means that the meaning becomes problematic. But that doesn't necessarily matter on Twitter. The sentiment's the thing, and Coleridge was nothing if not sentimental. In spite of the Telegraph's implication that nineteenth-century poetry is no longer relevant, and despite my inevitable weekly defence of what I do (researching Coleridge=wasting taxpayers' money), Twitter today demonstrates that there remains a significant number of people who still connect with the poet in some way. (Two more posts have appeared just in the time I've been writing this paragraph.)

Inevitably, I wonder what Coleridge would have made of Twitter. I imagine it would have suited him - his notebook entries, for instance, are often short enough to be compressed into a tweet. On the other hand, he would be plagued with constant updates from the Tweeter from Taunton (or something), and 'Kubla Khan' could then have been nothing more than a tweet in itself. Regardless, whether it's bored students 'learning Coleridge,' quotation sites cashing in on him, or ordinary tweeters posting some of his pithier remarks, for today at least Coleridge is a hot topic.

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