Click above to watch McGann’s Keynote and click here to read an exclusive interview with him about the symposium and Manfred.
A Reflection on McGann’s Keynote
The Lord Byron’s Manfred Symposium keynote address was delivered by the University of Virginia’s John Stewart Bryan Professor, Dr. Jerome McGann, editor of Byron: The Complete Poetical Works, and author of The New Republic of Letters: Memory and Scholarship in the Age of Digital Reproduction (2014), as well as numerous other publications on Byron and Romanticism.
McGann began his lecture by characterizing his longstanding and passionate relationship with Manfred, his second favourite Byron poem: it has “obsessed me forever.” After a decade or so working in the field of American literature, McGann returned to Byron’s Manfred through Dino Felluga’s COVE (The Central Online Victorian Educator) project. McGann came aboard as both a project consultant and a contributor, working collaboratively to produce an annotated edition of Manfred. The “minute engagement with the text” that this annotation project necessitated encouraged McGann to “really read Manfred again.”
The consequence of this extended close reading? Discovering that Manfred is more complex, challenging, and difficult than McGann’s prior readings made apparent! Projecting presentation slides crammed with textual inconsistencies and inexplicable details, McGann demonstrated to the audience that, on the surface, so many things in Manfred don’t make sense. However, armed with historical knowledge, epistemology, and a keen eye for allusion and wordplay, McGann worked to unpack the poem’s deep intertextuality.
In light of the dramatic reading staged the night before, one of McGann’s most provoking remarks was that staging Manfred is a near impossible challenge because the poem is “double-voiced in the prosody.” This quality of the poem is easily lost in dramatic readings or performances, McGann argued, because the actor must choose to voice the text in a particular way, which then obscures the parallel meaning. Decisions such as these were made by the resident dramaturges, actor director, and artistic director of the Manfred dramatic reading. The motivations and outcomes of these creative choices are queried in some of our other interviews – coming soon!
What was so delightful about McGann’s lecture – aside from his astute and careful reading of the poem – was his enthusiastic recitation of the passages of the text. Narrating verses aloud for the audience emphasized the cadence and dark humour of Manfred. The echoes and tensions between the keynote’s demonstration of close reading and the previous evening’s dramatic performance highlighted how medium impacts interpretation and how the power of Manfred lies in the multiplicity of its readings.
– Lindsey Seatter, K-SAA Communications Fellow