On the Uses and Abuses of Theory (for Life)

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.

Teaching Romanticism, Poetics, and Lyric Theory

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.)


Romantic texts have repeatedly played important roles in the development of what we call literary theory. For instance, all of the essays collected in the 1979 Deconstruction and Criticism volume, which did so much to announce deconstruction in the United States, were originally meant to focus on the poetry of P. B. Shelley. In the intervening decades, Romanticists have often been hired as literary theorists, and so the teaching of Romanticism has frequently been paired with the teaching of literary theory. For this special issue of Romantic Circles Pedagogy Commons I asked contributors to reflect on the ways they integrate literary theory into their teaching of Romanticism and to reflect on the continued importance of literary theory to Romanticism and the work of Romanticists. I did not define “literary theory” but left the term open to interpretation. Collectively the essays broach a range of questions, but perhaps most importantly: why teach Romanticism and literary theory today? How does teaching Romanticism with literary theory alter our ideas of both?

The Romantic Revival in Early China and Taiwan: Hsu Chih-Mo’s Poetics of Liberty

The Chinese poet Hsu Chih-Mo (1897-1931), known as the Chinese Shelley, brought Romantic ideas from Britain to modern China. His conviction of liberty was manifested in his literary works, alongside his pursuit of true love and social change. This essay employs the concept of “Romantic legacies” to revisit Hsu’s Romantic philosophy and Taiwan’s Romantic movements. Firstly, the essay examines Hsu’s Romantic legacies. Influenced by Bertrand Russell, Thomas Hardy and other British intellectuals, Hsu succeeded to Shelley’s Romantic ideas of social justice and love. His journeys to Europe and experience of love helped shape and reshape his Romantic philosophy. Secondly, the essay explores Hsu’s Romantic ideas and Taiwan’s democratization. Hsu’s literary works, regaining significance in the spirit of the Fourth May movement, facilitated Taiwanese youngsters’ understanding of the significance of independent minds. Hsu’s poetics of liberty was introduced to Taiwan and gained popularity, in particular, during the period of campus ballads. In brief, the Shelleyan skylark flew from Britain, via modern China, to Taiwan and continues singing its songs of idealism.

“A candle that must melt away”: Early Keats Scholarship in Japan

This essay explores the ethos of early Keats scholarship in Japan, focusing on three major scholars: Saito Takeshi, Sato Kiyoshi, and Hinatsu Kohnosuke. Japanese scholarly investigations into Keats were pioneered by a group of young scholars centered around the Imperial University of Tokyo. In the first place, Saito attempted to establish a humanistic understanding of the poet’s ideas, as exemplified by his Keats’ View of Poetry (1929). His love of Keats reflects his early reading, higher education, and Protestantism. His meeting with John Lawrence, a philologist, at the University perhaps opened the way for a modern methodology of Romantic study in Japan today. Secondly, unlike his fellow-scholar, Sato in The Art of Keats (1924) embraced Keats as an apostle and victim of beauty, while understanding English Romanticism as a catalyst for social modernization. Thirdly, Hinatsu, a scholar-poet from Waseda University, authored a massive study entitled The Priest of Beauty (1939) on the psychological process through which Keats composed the “Odes.” His account of Keats’s artistry owes something to his early background and reclusive character. The achievements of these scholars attest to their high-minded ambition in guiding the progress of national literature and literary scholarship in Japan.

Romanticism in the Peripheries: Choe Jae-seo’s Literary Criticism in Colonial Korea

This essay explores the possibilities of literary criticism in a colonial situation by tracing the career of Choe Jae-seo (1908-64), who was one of the first scholars of English literature to write literary criticism in colonial Korea. Choe began his literary studies with a particular focus on English Romanticism at Kyungsung Imperial University, and Romantic aesthetics became a major site of struggle for Choe in finding his voice as a colonized critic. Throughout this struggle, Romanticism carries the burden of Choe’s historical and political consciousness by becoming the point of tension between literature and politics, East and West, universal cosmopolitanism and totalitarian imperialism. At the end of this road, Choe arrives at the possibility of a Romantic cosmopolitan criticism, which continues to call for a critical vigilance against colonial oppression and political violence.


This volume brings together essays from Japan, China, Taiwan, and Korea to offer an unprecedented view of English Romanticism’s presence in the modern literature and literary criticism of East Asia. Going beyond simply tracing the influence of English Romantic writing on East Asian writers and critics, each essay reveals an intrinsic and often surprising interconnectedness in the Romantic aesthetics and mode of thought across the borders of East and West. This collection’s reflection on English Romanticism through the historical particularities of East Asian nations at the onset of modernity sheds light on Romanticism as a still valid form of cultural critique against the shared yet divergent forms, experiences, and questions of modernity.

The Invention of Landscape: Keats’s Influence on Modern Japanese Poetry

This paper offers a historical and aesthetic discussion of the influence that Keats’s poetry had on Japanese modern poetry. The enthusiastic reception of Keats in the period roughly ranging from 1880 to 1910 coincided with Meiji Japan’s obsessive appropriation of Western culture. The coincidence between the acceptance of Keats and Japan’s Westernization articulates a situation not solely attributable to the incorporation of Western poetic diction and imagery into Japanese poetry. Rather, Keats’s influence on Japanese poetry was an extension of the contemporary changes in perception that had been cultivated through the reading of Chinese literature. The transformation in the mode of perception illuminates how English Romantic poetry initiated a turning point in the cognition of Meiji literati to reinvent landscape in a new language; the acceptance of Keats in Japan advanced a process that enabled modern Japanese poets to defamiliarize conventional topoi and invent a new, more “real” landscape.

Keats’s Afterlife in Twentieth-Century China

This paper puts together a trajectory of Keats’s reception in China from appropriation to oblivion and then to restoration in line with three distinctive moments in Chinese modern history. It explores the interaction between the original text and its foreign context, particularly complex in Keats’s case for his often misconceived image as an escapist aesthete who seemed much out of place in 20th China undergoing violent political and ideological changes. While this aestheticism confined Keats’s influence to a smaller circle than that of his more radical contemporaries such as Byron and Shelley, his less discursive and more ambiguous poetry also ensured its survival in a repressive political context and continued to appeal to different generations of Chinese readers with its deep sympathy for fellow human beings and honesty about the human condition.

Speaking with the Artful Dead in Romantic Periodicals

In several Romantic periodicals, a first-person narrator witnesses the spirits of the distant past return to reanimate artworks in museum settings.  This essay focuses on two such playful texts, which show how Romantic literary magazines used this rhetorical device to convey their visions of Britain’s recent history and probable future as well as to communicate a sense of their own place in Romantic print culture.