"Ranking and Romantic Lyric"

The seminal motif of Romanticism’s critique of capitalism is sympathy for losers. Like poetic successors such as Keats, Adam Smith has the implicit good faith to acknowledge that the commodity form is total and consequently that sympathy must be immanent, must follow a consumerist logic of its own. Keats’s poetic response to this impasse introduces a formally more intricate sympathetic economy that might be termed “romantic ranking.” Rather than either reifying capitalism’s losers, or impossibly pretending to escape such reification only in order to reify failure as such, such ranking entails a second-order standard of comparison. Beyond the question of mere winning or losing it hinges on the subversively distinct question of the relative effectiveness of several instances of failure, subversive because this latter question stands paradoxically to mobilize texture of normative failure as a new mode of communication. The inherently provisional conclusions of comparative ranking stand to preserve the particularity of this texture while allowing it to circulate socially.