The sense of an occasion is inseparable from the productivity that characterizes Romantic prose. Carl Schmitt's account of the "subjective occasionalism" of Romanticism offers us an analytical point of departure. But I argue that Romantic prose tries to deepen, extend, or formalize this sense of occasion. It tries to express, and sometimes embeds within itself, the social conditions of acts of utterance.
This essay briefly explores two developments that produced a remarkable turn in the relationship between philosophy and literature between the publication of Hume’s Treatise in 1740 and the heyday of the Romantic familiar essay in the 1820s: the socialisation of experience by Scottish Enlightenment thinkers and the impact of belletristic periodical culture upon philosophical discourse. These changes were interconnected, jointly exhibiting a swerve away from systematic epistemology and towards a form of essayism. As the literary genre of trusting intersubjectivity par excellence, the familiar essay had functioned as a vehicle for philosophical experiments in communication since the days of The Spectator. And yet, Hume’s idea of an ‘easy,’ conversational philosophy grounded in social correspondence increased the epistemological burden upon essayist beyond anything envisaged by Addison or Steele. The Romantic familiar essay inherits this burden while changing the stakes: thus, while the rewards of essaying for Hume lay in the consolidation of consensus through philosophically indifferent conversation, for Lamb and Hazlitt, they consisted in the promotion of a more limited social solidarity through the production of modes of reading receptive to the authenticity effects of singularity and transcendence.
This article makes the case that perlocution, a notoriously tricky species of speech act, opens up news ways of thinking about De Quincey’s autobiographical writings, particularly Suspiria de Profundis. Because its effects are indirect, uncertain and unpredictable, perlocution helps us understand language’s ability to entangle: readers, writers, memories, experience, events, other texts. That uncanny ability to entangle things—and our inability to ever fully disentangle them—is one of De Quincey’s abiding preoccupations. Its readiest models are the famous involute and the palimpsest, but examples of it exist throughout his oeuvre. De Quincey’s thinking on these and related matters anticipates later theoretical concepts such as Freud’s “tangle of dream thoughts," Benjamin’s verschränkte Zeit (entangled time), and Derrida’s double bind, “which can only be endured in passion.”
This essay examines Sydney Owenson’s strange syntax—at once ornate and truncated, full of floating modifiers and attributions that remain forever unresolved—as a medium for her explorations of sensation and perception. Tracing the form of her novels in conjunction with her meditations on empiricism, it argues that Owenson’s syntax resists the ontic and formalizing claims of a Common Sense philosophy of perception. Instead her early novels enact, syntactically and therefore figurally, a conception of “life” as ceaseless, formless motion and an ethics of interdependency embodied in what Thomas Reid called “mere sensation.”
Is there a place for the spiritual in literature? James Hogg's long poem The Queen’s Wake and his sprawling prose narrative The Three Perils of Man appear to literalize an affirmative response by giving play to spirits and other supernatural phenomena. And yet, Hogg’s answer may actually be no, if only because “literature” as imagined by his friend and rival, Walter Scott, downgrades spiritual intensities to the status of cultural differences from everyday life. Hogg did not divide up the world in quite that way, a point with implications not only for the idea of the spiritual, but also, and especially, for literature.
"The Privatization of Public Life: Free Direct Discourse in Persuasion" argues for the importance of other narrative techniques beyond free indirect discourse in Jane Austen’s work, such as the related but in many ways opposed form, free direct discourse. Paying particular attention to such techniques, I contend, allows us to see the ways in which public discourse in a novel such as Persuasion is repeatedly converted into a medium for private feeling. The result is a strangely fractured view of public life, in which characters fail to share even something as fundamental as time itself.
A recent media turn in Romantic studies has foregrounded the ballad—and poetry more generally—as a privileged site for understanding how questions about medium and mediality feature in the writing of the period. But do such questions feature in the era’s prose genres, as well? And is it possible to talk about a medium of Romantic prose as Celeste Langan and Maureen N. McLane talk about a medium of Romantic poetry? In this essay, I suggest that the answer to both of these questions is “yes,” and to show this I turn to the prose tales of James Hogg, a Romantic-period writer who not only recognized bonds of affinity between metrical and prose composition, but also understood ballads and tales to be versions—interchangeable, in a sense—of each other. Like the ballad, I argue, the tale, too, can be understood as a “hybrid oral and textual practice” (in Paula McDowell’s words), a prose form that exhibits a subtle self-consciousness about its own medial status.
If a conversation between poetry and philosophy can be said to have inhabited the language and literature of Romanticism since its inception—and to have constituted the driving force of Romanticism-as-theory, what happens to this conversation when it crosses linguistic and cultural borders? What are the limits of the theory internal to Romanticism and of the theories that Romanticism generates beyond the confines of an increasingly monophone globalism? This paper engages with such questions by presenting and reflecting on passages of textual and cultural dissensus—à propos the specific difficulty of translating the very signifiers, “sense” and the “senses”—in the reading of “Tintern Abbey” in a non-Western context. It suggests that such sites of untranslatability may serve precisely as new grounds for restarting Romanticism’s theoretical potential in our contemporary global context of connected yet heterogeneous cultural traditions.
This piece relates some strategies for creating a generative tension between theory and romanticism in the classroom. Its examples are Badiou's strident critiques of romanticism as the "philosopheme" of historicism and Kant's imbrication of "theory" and "practice." At stake more broadly is the problematic notion of use (and misuse), so common in recent discussions about the humanities: how to "use" literature—which literature, or which theory, and for what ends.
Cumbersome terminology aside, this essay demonstrates the use and interest of teaching the debated concept of lyric ontology in the Romantic Poetry classroom across undergraduate and graduate levels. It moves from a narrative introduction on Robert Frost's very material practice of "lyric overhearing" on his Derry, New Hampshire party-phone line, to extended consideration of the recent scholarly turn to historical poetics in the study of nineteenth century British and American Poetry. I discuss Virginia Jackson's influential and compelling anti-lyric anti-theory——Jackson's version of the resistance to theory——as it presents a teachable conflict with the Romantic "literary absolute." The essay ends by reconsidering the metonymic linkage between the position of Romanticism and the position of poetry/ literature/ the Humanities in the institution of the contemporary university, and with brief suggestions for lesson plan ideas and student readings. (Post-production note: contemporary American poet Ben Lerner's The Hatred of Poetry [Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016] makes for a timely addition to the essay's bibliographic suggestions and also may impart something like a critical mass to the essay's approach to teaching in the rift between poetic ontology and historical poetics.)