Inhuman Mentors

I’ve been thinking more about what I might write about for my slowly approaching dissertation, and I confess I have fallen in love with a phrase, which I wonder might lead me to a larger project.  And the phrase, I should also say, developed weirdly enough out of a dream I had two nights ago.  (The phrase is “Inhuman Mentors.”)

In the dream, I was talking to a former teacher of mine, a mentor and writer, and at a certain point in that dream he pointed to a passage in a book, which kind of shone (the passage).  I felt like he was telling me to write about mentorship.  In the dream, when I realized this, the passage itself took on a kind of new physical contour, as if its shining suggested that mentorship, the theme and its implications, might help me reach some interesting interpretations of certain textual passages.  (I realize that I am oscillating between describing the dream itself and my later interpretation of it, but it is hard to sort of extricate the one from the other, especially since some time has passed since the dream itself.)

Anyways, after I woke up around 7am with the memory of the dream trailing a kind of comet tail in my mind, I started looking up articles and monographs having to do with mentorship.  And I also started thinking about mentorship in relationship to poetry.

At first, of course, I thought of Mentor himself, the character in the Odyssey who Athena transforms into, who guides Telemachus.  And that I think could be an interesting starting point for the dissertation.  What role does Mentor (and Athena) play in the transformation of Telemachus?  And how do we understand the role of this mentorship in the light of other scenes of instruction in poetry, (I started thinking), such as the instruction that the river Derwent affords for Wordsworth, or the weather itself affords for Wallace Stevens, or (I kept thinking) the painter Parmigianino for Ashbery?

And then I hit upon the phrase, “Inhuman Mentors.”  And I kind of fell in love with the idea.  Normally we think of mentorship as a very human thing, an intersubjective transaction; but what would it mean if we studied inhuman mentors, like the Derwent river or the wind for Wordsworth, or the weather for Stevens, or a dead painter for Ashbery?  (The last part, about Ashbery, needs work, because Parmagianino is still human, despite not being alive.)

So that’s where I am currently.  I think I want to study the role that inhuman factors play in the formation of the poet’s mind, or in the cultivation of ideas, thoughts, feelings which contribute to the work.  It seems like a broad and far-reaching topic, but also idiosyncratic enough to carry some weight.  We shall see!


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