Romantic Circles Blog

CFP: The Art and the Act: John Thelwall in Practice

Second Thelwall Memorial Conference

October 16-18, 2009 Dalhousie University Halifax, Canada

The Art and the Act: John Thelwall in Practice

Since the inaugural Thelwall memorial conference held in Bath in January 2007, interdisiciplinary scholarship on Thelwall’s multifaceted career has gathered momentum. In 2009, the 175th anniversary of his death, we will once again gather to take stock, to celebrate his remarkable legacy, and to extend the circle of those who have risen to the challenge that his theory and practice offer our research, our teaching and our lives.

Elocution is the Art, or the Act of so delivering our own thoughts and sentiments, or the thoughts and sentiments of others, as not only to convey to those around us … the full purport and meaning of the words and sentences in which those thoughts are cloathed; but, also, to excite and impress upon their minds—the feelings, the imagination and the passions by which those thoughts are dictated, or with which they should naturally be accompanied.

(Thelwall, Introductory Discourse on the Nature and Objects of Elocutionary Science)

This conference invites papers on any aspect of Thelwall’s wide-ranging arts and acts (medical, political, elocutionary, literary, journalistic, peripatetic etc). Since Thelwall challenges us to practise what we profess, papers that cross boundaries between theory and practice are particularly welcome, as are those that explore Thelwall’s legacy, and/or transatlantic connections.

Halifax is ideally located between British and American Thelwall communities, with direct international connections. Birthplace of representative government and freedom of the press in Canada, this colourful 18th century port hosts several universities and a dynamic arts scene. In conjunction with the conference, Dalhousie Theatre Productions will stage a full-scale performance of one of Thelwall’s plays.
Papers and panel proposals by February 17, 2009 to

Judith Thompson
Department of English, Dalhousie University
6135 University Ave. Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4P9

Main Blog Categories: 

Parent Resource: 

Poets on Poets: new podcasts

New audio files are available at Romantic Circles' Poets on Poets series: Andrew Kozma reading Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" Part IV; Jennifer Kwon Dobbs reading Charlotte Turner Smiths's "Sonnet LXX" and "Sonnet LXXVII" [from Elegiac Sonnets]; Elizabeth Volpe reading William Blake's "The Human Abstract"; and Anne Shaw reading Blake's "The Tyger." As always, you can play or download the MP3 files directly from the Poets on Poets page--

--or subscribe to the podcasts via iTunes (search for "Romantic Circles") or directly from our page.

The Poets on Poets series is edited and produced by Tilar Mazzeo with the assistance of Doug Guerra and Matt O'Donnell.

Main Blog Categories: 

Parent Resource: 

CFP: Affect, Mood, Feeling: 1748-1819

Romanticism at Western

The University of Western Ontario: London, Ontario

25-26 April 2009

Keynote Speaker: Professor Ross Woodman (UWO Emeritus)

Recent work in Romanticism encourages us to consider the myriad manifestations and roles of affective experience in Romantic theory and criticism. In Romantic Moods, for example, Thomas Pfau locates within the folds and crosscurrents of European Romanticism “a persistent and unsettling ‘feeling’ of the irreducible tenuousness and volatility of being.” The wide-ranging implications of such an innovative re-imagination of Romantic affect may be felt in the various conscious and unconscious resistances to an Enlightenment faith in the unity of experience, a progressive concept of history, and the transparency of the public sphere, resistances that perhaps come to light in Keats’ yearning, “O for a life of Sensations rather than of Thoughts!”

As a focus for its third annual conference, the Romantic Reading Group at UWO encourages enquiry into Romantic affect, mood, and feeling. The historical timeframe suggested by the conference title aims to impose some restriction on a potentially expansive thematic: 1748 reflects the publication of Hume’s An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding and 1819 marks a watershed year in Romanticism—a year witnessing the publication of major works by Percy Shelley (The Cenci), the first two Cantos of Byron’s Don Juan, three novels by Scott, Coleridge’s public lectures at the Crown and Anchor, and much of Keats’ most well known poetry. Far less triumphantly, however, it is also the year of the Peterloo massacre.

Topics may include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:

● the nature of Romantic feeling ● the revolutionary potential of feeling ● feeling and the formation of the subject ● Romantic moods (anxiety, trauma, melancholy, boredom, paranoia) ● the socio-economics of feeling ● the historicity of sentiment ● the pathology of feeling ● symptomatic appearance of emotion ● sentimentality, sensibility, and genre ● the Gothic ● affect and embodiment ● Romantic sympathy and community ● the rhetoric of emotion ● the poetics and dramatics of passion ● affect and empiricism ● Romantic feeling and the transcendental ● the boundaries between the understanding, feeling, and judgment ● the ethics of affect ● negotiating sincerity ● confessional narratives ● moral sentiment, education, and virtue ● affect, feeling, and the Scottish Enlightenment ● excitability, irritability, and contagion ● metropolitan moods ● the psychosomatics of passion ● political feeling

We invite abstracts of 250 words that explore the ideas and implications (political, historical, literary, philosophical, aesthetic, economic, medical, scientific, and so forth) of Romantic affect, mood, and feeling.

Deadline for Abstracts: 1 March 2009

Please send abstracts to:

Main Blog Categories: 

Parent Resource: 

Some green thoughts in a green shade, finally

The invitation to do this blog made me discover several things. One—I love blogging! Two—how great to discuss things with others in slow motion, with careful reading and quiet writing, from the comfort of my introverted indoor space. Kurt and Ash, Ron and Steve, and our readers and commenters, thank you all so much.

Another thing I learnt, as I struggled with blogging form: We owe it to non-humanities people to express our ideas in a way with which they can engage.

Ecological criticism is one mode in which we can do this, easily.

That doesn't mean dumbing down our arguments. It simply means being able to say them in a language that isn't an insider discourse. I very nearly said "jargon"—yikes!

I'm averse to "the jargon of authenticity." Ecocriticism is full of it. I want to make it safe to think ecology and think theory together, simultaneously.

I know what Kurt means. Yet, even though the right might use a “there is no nature” argument to support “drill, baby, drill,” we still owe it to people to tell them what we think is true. I don't think there is a nature. I don't think there ever was a nature. Capitalism didn't destroy it. You can't destroy something that doesn't exist. But capitalism certainly seems to be waging an unrelening war against lifeforms and the biosphere.

I believe we can explain this to people in a way that is as profound and disturbing as the best deconstruction, but in a way that non-scholars will get.

I also think we should be in the business of setting the scientific experimental agenda. Here's one for starters, with profound ecological consequences:

Is consciousness intentional?

You can read more about that one in The Ecological Thought when it comes out in 2009.

Who would like to start a web page where humanities scholars suggest experiments that don't automatically assume ideological things about reality?

Main Blog Categories: 

Parent Resource: 

Last Entry

I’m sitting here recalling my conversation last night with an old friend about our many hikes in Washington State’s wilderness areas and national forests--set aside by legislation for their environmental value, including for hikers like us. My location in eco-critical thought and work is surely influenced by my decades of experiences as a city boy backpacking in those Washington wilds.  “Let ‘em be,” I say, for the critters, the trees, the hikers, and the tourists.  Does this view simply fall into the trap of seeing nature as something apart from, and as best purified of, human being?  “Only if one ignores the park signs, the required permits, and the maintained trails,” one might quip.  As I love to say to my students, “There’s nothing more cultural than ‘Nature,’” and yet, although our conceptions of nature, like our basic conceptions of time and space, etc., are culturally and linguistically shaped, that doesn’t mean there is no nature; only that what we find is always already something we’ve conceived and delimited.  Humans have divided, protected, exploited, named, studied, and mythologized the natural world we behold as “outside” human civilization and settlement—with “protecting” vs. “exploiting” nature being to some extent two sides of the same eco-coin—although our concoction of “nature” might be news to the deer, marmots, and bears living in Washington’s North Cascades.  As a way of pondering these matters more, in this my last entry in Romantic Circles’ eco-blog, I’d like both to circle back to some ideas from my first blog entry and to consider a few of the many thought-provoking ideas and observations of my two fellow bloggers, Tim Morton and Ashton Nichols.  Let me say what a pleasure it has been to participate in this eco-critical triumvirate, and let me extend my thanks to Ron Broglio for so kindly inviting me into the blog.

As this eco-blog’s inspiring entries by Tim and Ashton amply attest, eco-criticism is doing very much what it should in thinking more deeply and broadly about the conceptions—including the economics, politics, and metaphysics—of “nature” and “preservation” as well as about notions of “green” or less green discourses.  But that doesn’t mean all that such eco-criticism discovers or articulates will be useful to ameliorating the current global crises of habitat preservation, climate change, limiting waste of many kinds, and so forth.  New, radical conceptions like “ecology without nature,” “urbanature,” the “material sublime,” and (much further down the long list) “outlandish dwelling” may just as easily, and may very easily, become tools for opponents of land and species preservation.  “We’re nature, so we can do as we like!”  “Extinction IS nature.”  “To hell with biodiversity.  Cities are nature, too, and the world’s purpose is to be transformed!”  Narrow-minded views, no doubt, and far afield, one may say, of the theories offered on and off this blog.  But more generally, will our deconstructing of the nature/culture, animal/human opposition lead to more or to less respect for other species and their encroached-upon habitats?  Perhaps seeing ourselves as animals will diminish our sense of entitled hegemony.  But might it also lessen our sense of responsibility and of a (problem-fraught) feeling of stewardship?   It all reminds me of non- or even anti-vegetarian acquaintances of mine who opine, like Ben Franklin, “Animals eat animals, and I’m an animal.”  The modus ponens logic (or carnologocentrism?) feels inescapable yet sorely limited.

“We are more like them [animals] than they are like us,” Ashton holds.  I’m sympathetic to that provocative view, as I also am to Elizabeth Bennett’s implicit query, “What are men to rocks and mountains”?  But from what vantages are such conclusions reached?  Human language may ultimately derive, as Freud suspected, from animal utterances, but that doesn’t mean we cross the expanse when we surmise that original fact.  What does it mean for humans to be, genetically, 98% chimpanzee?  Precious little, Richard Marks has argued, given our complex human culture, our language, etc.  Scientists “find” such human-animal connections and analogies—common genes as well as common social or psychological “memes”— and market the species similarities to broaden the audience and attract funding.  But we’re not chimps, nor are we snails or amoeba, whatever the genetic commonalities.  We must therefore proceed cautiously down such paths toward human/animal similarity and (human-animal) origins, even or especially when they’re our “own.”  We’re not not animals, and yet we’re also not quite fully animals, either, chiefly because it is we who define “animal” and who wield such conceptual and technological power. A dose of Lacan or Derrida goes a long way here, with salutary effect.

“Beyond concept, Nature is,” Tim states, only to reject this Yoda-sounding phrase as “the ultimate chastity.”  Yet, to some extent, is not nature (à la the material or immaterial sublime) indeed that which is beyond conceptualization, however much that “nature” is always already conceptualized?  The Other is always beyond, and (or as) that which survives me.  Perhaps we need, then, to devise (chart) a course between “chastity” and profligacy: between preserving only to preserve and viewing the natural world as mere material to be transformed to Geist or to dust or sublimity.  Do wilderness areas repeat a phobia of intimacy, whereby one is commanded to leave no mark and to think of nature as that which is without a human trace or face?  Such chastity speaks to our separation, as symptom and as ethical outcome, from the natural world and from ourselves as a species (qua resemblance?) in that world.   That doesn’t mean we must make the natural world make room for us.  Quite the opposite.  “Where are the asphalt walks and the RV hook-ups?  People are animals, too!”  Is this vantage an outcome of a naïve, photo-op “love” of nature rather than of a more sober, more interdependent, and more cooperative, cohabitative ecology?   Ashton provocatively remarks, “The new [ecological] ethic needs to see skyscrapers, superhighways, jumbo-jets, and genetic research labs as parts of our ‘new’ nature, no less natural because they were crafted by members of the human species.”  But when all is “natural” there is no “nature,” not even “urbanature”—and perhaps not even “ecology”--eh?

At this end, I remain convinced that the concept of nature, for all its concocted status and its distortions, is still useful as a way of locating and preserving what is wild (and less wild).  Respect, and even eco-utility, requires a concept, a “looking back,” regard.  “Nature” arises from a false opposition, but that doesn’t mean the opposition isn’t still useful or that, within our oppositional thinking, it has no validity as a domain where thought meets its limits (sublime or otherwise) and where the human finds itself challenged.  Better, perhaps, to employ an oppositional term one knows to be a metaphor and to entail effects and risks, than to supplant it with a newer and truer one?  Here I find myself more a Wordsworthian than a Blakean (Blake never hiked), although I’d also point out that Blake sees the imprint of the animal on the human, not just the human on or within the animal.  And who’s to say that that radical idealist wouldn’t hold up a sign calling to clean up the Thames or to preserve a wilderness, even-, or because, he knew that place to be one humanly conceived and abused?  As Tim declares, “Ecology may be without nature. But it is not without us.”  True enough, with or without a “nature” beyond our ecological conceiving and dreams.

Thanks again Tim, Ashton, and Ron.

Parent Resource: 

Thoreau and Urbanature: a Final Thought

"Wildness" much more than "wilderness" was the key concept sought by America's greatest Romantic "nature" writer. His goal was psychological as much as it was ecological. Seen in this light, the activity of the human mind always has powerful consequences in our treatment of the nonhuman world. Thoreau's life in nature, like yours or mine, is entirely a function of the actions and reactions of his mind. What he chooses to describe has more to do with his own thinking and the desires of his heart than with any objective state of affairs in the external world. He does not want us to go live in the wilderness so much as he wants each of us to wild our own minds, to turn away from society toward the wildness that is within us. The result of such wilding will be a closer link between the human and the nonhuman worlds.

Charles D. G. Roberts, the famous Victorian Canadian man of letters, says that Thoreau went through "Nature" to reach his goal. The goal was not nature itself, but rather freedom. Robert Louis Stevenson, as Roberts also notes, said that the cabin on Walden Pond was "a station on man's underground railway from slavery to freedom." The freedom that Thoreau sought at Walden was freedom of thought but also of action. This idea of freedom emerged from his abolitionist childhood, perhaps, but expanded as an adult far beyond the pressing need to free American slaves from their bondage. Thoreau's mind sought to free human beings all over the world from political restrictions of every kind and also from enslavement to narrow-minded ways of thinking.

He resented organized religions of all kinds because each religion told a distinct group of human beings that one way of understanding the cosmos was the only right way. Once Thoreau had read the Bhagavad-Gita and the Vedas, which he got from Emerson's library, it became hard for him ever again to see Judaic or Christian scripture as the only source of divine wisdom. He resented the rampant religion of materialism that he saw around himself in Concord and Boston, because of the way it imprisoned its practitioners and devotees rather than liberating them. The townspeople around him carried their possessions on their backs like burdens they could not lay down. Thoreau's response was explicit: "Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only. Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul."

Thoreau's battle cry for this liberating kind of freedom, his anti-materialism, and his sense of a surging energy at the center of the nonhuman world, all contributed to a sensibility that has resonated throughout America, and beyond, over the past two centuries. Even today his widespread influence continues. He is quoted by politicians and songwriters. His wisdom appears from state houses and college classes to t-shirts and bumper stickers. In his naturalistic individualism, in his devotion to history and to classical texts, in his belief in nonviolent resistance to unjust laws, Thoreau put into play central tenets of Ralph Waldo Emerson's thinking-and of a wider American Transcendentalism-in ways that continue to shape our politics, populism, and popular culture. At the same time, his effect on the tradition of nature writing and the wider environmental movement has been incalculable. He is a nineteenth-century thinker for the twenty-first century. He is a secular high-priest for our time, perhaps for all time.

I would like to end my ecocritical blog-posts by recalling that a locomotive ran along the edge of Walden Pond every day that Thoreau lived there between 1845 and 1847. Thoreau could hear the wheels against steel rails. He could smell the smoke from the coal-fired smokestack. He walked into town along its right-of-way. The freight car workers often nodded to him like old friends. The locomotive's whistle was, to Thoreau, like the "scream of a hawk." The steam emerging from the engine's smokestack was like a "downy cloud [. . .] high in the heavens." Thoreau does not even mind the commerce that is associated with this rumbling rail line. He only complains about the human tendency to substitute the value of these transported goods for the human values that these goods are meant to serve: relieving hunger, clothing the needy, warming the cold. Here, in the metaphoric center of American nature writing, with a rail line running through pristine wilderness, we once again find an interpenetration of natural and urban, of wild and human. For Thoreau, our nonhuman, natural house is the same place as our fully human, cultural home: urbanature.


Parent Resource: 

The nature of the economy

Luckily this is all going down in an election year.

We the people are figuring out that we, the people are—the people.

Not just little individuals in our cul de sacs with big old govt. intruding and doing it wrong, and/or protecting our nation (whatever that is). No: we are the nation.

We have the power. We hold the purse strings.

It's our choice what we want to see on Wall St. and it's our choice to pay, and how to pay.

"The economy" has suddenly ceased being this weird thing happening "over there" like a mountain range.

It's in your wallet. It's in your debts. It's in your bills. It's just like ecology without nature: when you realize everything is connected, nature withers away. “Ecology may be without nature. But it is not without us.” (Last sentence of Ecology without Nature.)

What a wonderful learning curve we're on! It feels good to be alive.

Blink Charlie! Blink! It'll moisten your eyes.

Main Blog Categories: 

Parent Resource: 

Romantic Circles Poets on Poets

Romantic Circles is pleased to announce the latest installment of its Poets on Poets archive of audio files, with contemporary poets choosing and reading Romantic-period poems . This grouping includes Ken Cormier performing Blake's "The Fly," Douglas Kearney reading Blake's "A Poison Tree," Molly Peacock reading Wordsworth's "Nuns fret not" sonnet, Joshua Kryah reading John Clare's "Where she told her love," and Erica Wright reading Wordsworth's "Elegaic Stanzas."   As always, the audio files (in MP3 format) or readings, accompanied by bios of the contemporary poets and texts of the poems, can be listened to and downloaded for free from this address:

The files are also available via automated subscription using our RSS feed or directly from iTunes (search in podcasts for "Romantic Circles").


Parent Resource: 

The Ambient President

2001: 9/11 (Bush on holiday with dossier that says “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in Mainland USA”)

2003– Iraq (“Stuff happens”)

2005 Hurricane Katrina

2008 Wall Street implodes

Anyone see a pattern here?

Apres moi le deluge needs to be updated to “Simultaneously with moi, le deluge”—no?

Capitalism is reactive. The environmental crisis demands proactive attention (as does everything else on this list...).

Main Blog Categories: 

Parent Resource: 

Creationism in a New Key

Richard Keynes—the British physiologist and a direct descendant of Charles Darwin—has recently noted that it was actually mockingbirds rather than the finches that led to Darwin’s earliest intuitions about the mutability of species. Darwin's ornithological notes first point out that Spanish sailors can tell you the precise island that any tortoise comes from based entirely on the shape and size of its saddle-shaped carapace ("galápago" in Spanish). Darwin then adds, of his own recently collected specimens of mockingbird, that each "kin" (species, type) is found "exclusively" on only one island. If each of these islands has a different tortoise, and each a different mockingbird, then these different species must have gotten here somehow. Since they could not have all traveled here via water, some creatures must have been "created" here. They must have taken shape here. They must have evolved. In the next sentence, Darwin drops the scientific bombshell that will send shock waves shuddering through the next two centuries. The facts that Darwin has recorded, he says, a few simple observations about tortoises and mockingbirds, might—here he almost pauses in his own syntax—"undermine the stability of Species." God did not make every type of creature in a fixed and unalterable way in seven days, or seven eons. The laws of nature have generated creatures since the beginning of life on earth, and those laws continue to make new creatures today. Creation is happening right now.

All plants and animals on the Galápagos Islands are aboriginal, native and indigenous. Even today many are still found nowhere else on earth. All of these creatures, however, "show a marked relationship" (Darwin's diction) with their distant relatives on the mainland. Darwin could not say "their genetic relatives" because genetics would have to wait half a century for Gregor Mendel to start breeding and cross-breeding his peapods in clay pots. But Charles Darwin soon understood, as his grandfather Erasmus’s poetic description of evolution had implied, that all the giant tortoises on Albemarle Island (later called Isabella) had a kinship with their much smaller relatives back in Guayaquil on the South American mainland. These might all be aboriginal creatures, but they were all also linked to similar species on each of these islands and, even more remarkably, to their mainland relatives. Darwin called the Galápagos archipelago "a little world within itself." The idea behind his metaphor suggests that our entire planet might also be small enough to be covered with creatures that are all, in complex ways, related. He was right, of course, and the truth about that set of relationships is precisely the truth that his "Origin of Species" would confirm in 1859, more than two decades after the Beagle voyage ended.

The Galápagos Islands on which Darwin landed in 1835 were not the desirable destination of today’s eco-tourists. Herman Melville, writing two decades after Darwin’s visit, called them "heaps of cinder" in an isolated expanse of ocean, more desolate than any spot on the planet. Darwin himself called them beautiful, but he was referring only to the symmetry of their volcanic craters, a geologist’s paradise. A page later he says that no landscape could be less inviting than one’s first sight of the Galápagos island then called Chatam, now called San Cristobal. We can draw directly on Darwin’s own diction to give the full effect of this first sight. The lava looks like waves, he says, broken by great cracks and fissures, the whole scene covered with sunburned and stunted scrub-wood. There are almost no signs of life. The surface is parched and dry. The atmosphere is sultry and close. You feel as though you are standing next to a burning stove. The bushes literally stink. Even this greatest of all specimen collectors found it hard to collect here. On that famous first day ashore he had collected only a few wretched little weeds that seemed as though they should have come from an arctic landscape, not from the sunny equator. The shrubs looked as leafless as in winter, but in fact their tiny leaves were fully out, and even their flowers were in bloom. He had to get magnifier-close before he could see this indistinct detail of natural history. The tiny flowerets and leaves were almost invisible, a good lesson for any nature watcher. Only after a season of heavy rain were these islands even partially green. The same is true today. Not a very likely tourist destination, perhaps, but then it is Darwin’s own writing that has changed all of that a century and a half later. Luxury ecotouristic yacht trip, anyone?


Main Blog Categories: 

Parent Resource: