Your Friends and Lovers: Perfectionism’s Recounting of Romanticism

Stanley Cavell famously defines the work of Romanticism in In Quest of the Ordinary as “the task of bringing the world back, as to life.” This essay examines how Cavell turns to Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale as a text that anticipates Romanticism’s preoccupation with reanimation; in his analysis of the play’s language of economy and computation, Cavell parses “life” as a process of division and branching that is denied or overlooked by skepticism. According to such an understanding, Romantic efforts to reanimate “life” in its generality fall short of a genuine recounting of and reckoning with the ordinary. The essay reads Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Julian and Maddalo” as staging the several characters’ failure to recover the world and bring it back to life.