Daniel C. Remein
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Narrating heat in a hot world
in The heat of Beowulf
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Unlike mid-century approaches to the aesthetics of diction and variation, the influence of mid-century accounts of the narrative aesthetics of Beowulf have had a long reach in accounts of the poem’s aesthetic unity, balance, stability, and stasis. Against the backdrop of mid-century structuralist narratology, Blaser’s and Spicer’s approach to what they called the ‘serial poem’ provides a point of departure for a reevaluation of the interruptive and incomplete aesthetics of the ‘episodes and digressions’ that obsessed Beowulf’s mid-century critics. Rather than relitigate the episodes and digressions directly, the chapter first turns to lyrical interruptions of the poem’s narrative and, paying attention to the poem’s lexicon of fire, traces a fragmentary narrative about the aesthetics of fire and flame, touching on the burning of Heorot, the poem’s cremations, and the dragon. The aesthetics of these instances of flame-eaten lyricism mark an attempt to render sensible the resistance of sensoriality to narrativity. The chapter then turns to the ‘Finnsburg episode’, which Brodeur asked Blaser and Spicer to read as a discrete modern poem just as they were formulating their early serial poetics. Examining the narrative, formal, stylistic, and ‘fitt-division’ boundaries at either end of the episode, the chapter traces a latent seriality conditioned by a layering of pure spacing and the intrusion of non-narrative compositions whose edges mark a besieging of the poem’s narrativity by sensoriality. The chapter concludes by articulating how the heat of Beowulf operates differently—perhaps less humanly—on the scale of narrative than on that of diction.

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