Daniel C. Remein
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The heat of earmsceapen style
Translatability and compound diction
in The heat of Beowulf
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This chapter revisits the debates about Old English poetic diction that formed the bedrock of the mid-century interest in Beowulf’s aesthetics, rewound through Blaser’s and Spicer’s responses to Arthur G. Brodeur’s instruction. For Brodeur and his followers, the aesthetics of Old English poetic diction were legible to the extent that they participated in the organic unity of the poem and exhibited the individuality of poet. Brodeur was interested in the ‘inner workings’ of compound poetic diction in order to measure its originality. Blaser’s and Spicer’s attention to Brodeur’s interests, as evidenced in their coordinated experiments translating the compound words of the poem, indirectly point towards a fundamental instability within compound words stemming from the ease of their capacity for rephrasing, or what the chapter calls ‘translatability’. The chapter theorizes translatability by way of Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction of basic concepts of translation theory, including the phenomenological valences of its vocabulary and Roman Jakobson’s concept of ‘interlingual translation’. Attending to the translatability of compound diction as the locus of a corporeal experience, the chapter then performs a close reading of Beowulf at Hrothgar’s verbal map to the so-called ‘Grendel-mere’. By ‘opening up’ the kineticism that inheres in the emphatic rephrasability of compound poetic diction, the chapter describes a deforming lexical ‘movement’ that constitutes the rhetorical ductus (path) through passage. The resulting earmsceapen (ill-shaped) style resonates with the cardiocentric hydraulic model of cognitive-affective vernacular psychology in Old English verse and indexes an ecopoetical process by which the poem deforms the human sensorium.

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