This extract is taken from the first part of an essay on Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage which subsequently goes on to consider Canto IV. Vincent Newey’s essay exemplifies the strengths of traditional close-reading informed by some of the philosophical insights of post-structuralism. Immediately before this extract, Newey outlines his argument with Mark Kipperman’s reading of ‘the creative supremacy of the individual’ in Byron’s poem. Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Newey suggests, consists of a more complex interplay between affirmation and denial, questioning the limits of authorial power even as it celebrates authorial achievement. He resists a slide into infinite deconstructive free-play, stating firmly that, ‘no one writing (either a long poem or a critical article) can do without teleological assumptions, some principle of order or some centre of value’. Here we might separate Derrida’s questioning of ‘centrality’ from a questioning of the principle of evaluation. Deconstruction’s denial of absolute value does not mean that value cannot be identified, it just means that we should be aware of its relativity. Identifying Byron’s centre of value in Canto III as Nature (in line with earlier critics who have described Wordsworthian influences on this part of the poem), Newey proceeds to examine ways in which Byron’s poetic intelligence pushes beyond the limits of the self. This aspiration, however, cannot be disentangled from the poem’s recognition that what is beyond the self (Nature, Napoleon, Byron’s daughter) is created by the self. The discussion of self-conscious fictions in Canto III is further enriched by Newey’s exploration of subconscious patterning. Byron’s wish for absorption in the storm is, according to Newey, ‘an orgasmic fantasy, tinged with dreams of revenge’. Citing some of Freud’s and Otto Rank’s ideas about the

function of the double, Newey suggests that the wanderings of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage recurrently summon up and defer the power of mortality. Sensitive to the ‘changing guises’ of the poem, Newey’s encounter with Canto III is also helpful for condensing many of the debates about digression in Byron’s work – a subject with which all critics of Byron’s poetry grapple.

Suggested cross-references: Paul Elledge and William Galperin on the relationship between self and other in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage; Anne Barton and Jerome Christensen on the function of digression; Jerome McGann on the relationship between biography and poetic texts.