The text below reproduces, more or less, a talk I gave during the college’s Research Week in Spring 2003. Although the talk was scripted for the most part, there were a few improvised ‘passages’ – the major one occasioned by a latecomer’s tussle with the door, as I recall. Literally, ‘error’ means wandering and I used the word not just to create a link with William Carlos Williams’ unruly and roaming improvisation, Rome but also to signal my own sense of dissatisfaction, which was the goad for the talk in the first place. Dissatisfaction with the critical ‘voice’ in which I seemed to find myself ensnared after seventeen years purposeful writing and thinking in academia. A voice so clinical – or so it seemed to me – so anodyne and remote from the texts it was speaking about. The nature of these texts is very much to the point, since in working with ‘improvisations’ I was engaging with texts whose impetus and modus operandi fly in the face of many of the traditional pieties of academic discourse. Improvisations – those of Williams, at least – are not considered or consistent. They are often not finished, let alone polished. Subjectivity courses through them with an urgency that bursts syntax like a flash flood will snap a drain. So, should I rein back, refrain from engagements this kind of text altogether? As far as I know, only one other scholar has written in detail about Rome, although a published facsimile edition has been available now for over thirty years. What follows are my first real efforts to address the improvisations in a way that does not routinely betray their poetics but also traverses the communal space that is critical inquiry
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