Artless and Artful: John Gay's Trivia
This chapter highlights mud and analyses the jokes, games, and witty play of language found in John Gay's poem Trivia: or, the Art of Walking the Streets of London. At the same time, it illustrates how literary criticism can provide a capacious umbrella for different types of scholars. It uses psychoanalysis to track how mud works as comic and anxious stuff. In doing so it muddies the borders of genres and suggests that metaphor is one way in which material and imaginary relations are transacted. It invokes urban theory to reflect upon how Gay's poem may anticipate, or not, the nineteenth-century flâneur. Objects like dress and mire have very direct effects upon people who walk along the streets. Gay uses a discourse about danger in the urban environment against which his poem supposedly provides useful warnings. The art of walking in Trivia is significantly an art of avoiding threat. Also, the poem offers a double field of vision through imagery, such as the use of signs as an emblem of London's potential readability.
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