... powerful and perceptive readings of his six major odes, in which she locates a vision of the modern world’s painful impact on human bodies that is not just reflective of Karl Marx’s theories, but necessary to a fuller understanding of his thought ... None is more persuasive than her treatment of 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' ... a far-reaching and deeply felt analysis of the university itself as one of the would-be communes that we offer to vulnerable young people ... The 'Grecian Urn' chapter is exemplary—I suspect this will become the reading most undergrads are taught in the coming years—and representative, with each of the other chapters using a similarly scrupulous reading of a single 'Ode' as a method of exploring ideas from more recent poets (Sean Bonney, Alice Notley, Juliana Spahr) and poet-memoirists (Anne Boyer, Renee Gladman), critical theory (Eve Sedgwick, Édouard Glissant, Mariarosa Dalla Costa), and Nersessian’s own reflections from a lifetime of reading Keats and pursuing scholarship ... Both Nersessian and Baldwin make a case for great literature’s ability to foster conversations and understanding across difference, a case that seems too frequently absent from our current discussions about the canon and its use.
... her examination of Keats’ poetry is highly personal. As a person of Iranian descent coming of age in the United States she felt as much an outsider as Keats must have in his society. It’s through this lens that she looks at his work; bringing a perspective to her critiques both unique and intriguing ... While Nersessian is an academic, and she does delve deeply beneath the surface of Keats’ odes to give us a better understanding of his work, the book and her ideas are surprisingly accessible. Each of the six [ods]...examined in the text, are given an in-depth and loving treatment ... The book is not just unstinting praise as she takes a very much warts and all approach to her subject. While some might find that odd for what is supposedly a love letter to the poet, this ability to be objective but retain her affection for Keats gives more credence to her opinions ... a deep and accessible delve into the poetry of one of the great Romantic poets. It is the perfect antidote to the way most of us had his poetry foisted on us in school as it's a wonderful combination of reverence for Keats’ sublime writing and reality based analysis.
Nersessian is a sensitive close reader ... what most impresses about Keats’s Odes is how deftly Nersessian moves from Keats’s vulnerability to her own. Keats’s love was strained and straining; so is Nersessian’s, for Keats and for the world around her ... Writing against and around and through 'To Autumn,' Nersessian comes to see that the poem’s choice of natural beauty over political rage isn’t a failure—or, isn’t just a failure ... This twinning of beauty and discomfort is in the nature of love, and it’s why we continue to love Keats as we do.
Keats’s Odes: A Lover’s Discourse...models a kind of criticism for the future ... This Keats is fully human. The book is a lover’s discourse in part because that is what love so often means: to love through the flaws and faults of the lover ... this short book is expansive, perhaps grounded in six poems but sprawling out to contain reflections on contemporary writers, sexual misconduct, death, and more ... Each chapter tries something different, and the book feels essayistic in the truest sense: as attempts at new ways to relate to these poems ... This is a book about Keats but it is for his admirers. It is an ode to a poet and his poems that have touched generations. Stylistically, A Lover’s Discourse appears freed by the sensuousness of Keats’s own verse, standing on the verge of becoming something more than literary criticism. While not an imitation of Keatsian style, Nersessian shares his willingness for vulnerability and for writing that enfleshes the experience of being subject to the world because you are a subject in it ... Nersessian illustrates the vitality of certain kinds of thinking: thinking about the best aspects of art, about love and harm, about the connections we forge to others and the environment.
... a ham-fisted application of literary theory, a traditional work of literary exegesis on six sophisticated odes, and a personal narrative that alternately does and doesn’t directly relate to the poems ... Too often this study comes off like an acrimonious couple’s counseling session ... Nersessian weaponizes Keats’s delicate odes and turns them into blunt instruments to smash the bourgeoisie ... There’s no question that Nersessian has some ingenious, and often apt, applications of Marxist theory. Other times, however, the heavy-handed ideology drags down her prose ... Ironically, Nersessian is gifted at exactly the kind of formalist literary criticism Marxist critics of the ’70s and ’80s fought so hard to discredit. This analysis is seldom central to her argument, but she makes a great many perceptive observations ... Nersessian has a fine ear as well, and she often finds meaningful rhetorical justifications for Keats’s sibilants, open vowel sounds, and alliterations. But she isn’t hypnotized by Keats’s technique, either. She will call it out when it is overcooked or strained ... She isn’t afraid of bringing her educated, loving, and damaged self (or at least the persona of one) into the discussion ... At times, these moments are powerful and revealing. But I must confess I sometimes struggled to see (or was reluctant to participate in) how these confessions were supposed to help me understand Keats’s odes ... but it’s a start on an exciting new approach to criticism.
While Nersessian aims for her study to appeal to nonspecialists, that goal is undermined by ample use of literary jargon (apotheosis, ekphrasis, and caesuras), and discussions of poetic meter that will leave lay readers behind. This astute work will be best enjoyed by academics or Keats enthusiasts.