From one of the colder sites of the “Polar Vortex 2014,” I write to wish everyone within the orbit of romanticism (and beyond) a very happy, healthy, and successful New Year. The concluding months of 2013 brought with it the installation of a highly engaged and innovative new cadre of writers, with established authors Aaron Ottinger and newly elected NGSC Co-chair Laura Kremmel continuing to publish on the blog, making the autumn season an incredibly exciting one. There were no fewer than sixteen pieces generated in the better part of the last three months of the year. Writers explored a range of topics from the formation of scholarly collectivities, the importance of self-reflexivity regarding the possibilities and limits of reading practices, to new imaginings of cross-disciplinary approaches to romantic literature. An immediate and special congratulations goes out, as well, to blogger Renee Harris, who was selected to present new work at the Keats Foundation Conference, “Keats and His Circle,” at the Hampstead House this spring.
In my first editor’s note, posted in October, I made the proposition that this blog comprises a space where the “rush of new insights” might be most immediately felt (especially with respect to the sharing of concepts driving work-in-progress). This was most certainly the case across the autumn’s trajectory. In what follows, I highlight what I found to be some of the more interesting and important new threads of inquiry that appeared in the last few months. I’ll also make some suggestions regarding what is to be expected going forward, into 2014.
Deven Parker’s introductory piece “Towards a Tangible Romanticism” holds out the promise of very important work to come. In it, Deven outlines a new resolutely materialist approach to the interpretation of Romantic culture based on what she critically terms “an archaeological hermeneutics.” Taking a disciplinary point of origin in Deven’s initial undergraduate training in archaeology at Penn, the proposed method pivots, as Deven puts it, on the notion that a book retains “a relation to all other objects of the same type” with strata of meaning retaining the potential to be excavated on the basis of things like choice of verse. This comes in comparative relation to other literary texts, but with a vocabulary that significantly breaks from well-worn tropes and idioms in literary studies, with the result that books come into view as simultaneously “local and transhistorical artifacts.” At its core, Deven’s method—as it seems to me—offers myriad illuminating directions for shifts in focus and understandings of relations that comprise the materiality and conditions through which the texts and objects we study are generated, received, used, and redeployed.
Arden Hegele’s November blog publication—“Romantic Geologies and Post-Organic Forms”—represents some of the very best new thinking I’ve encountered as of late. Her ability to collegially engage with, and synthesize, work by the caucus graduate authors was as enlightening as it was inspiring. By highlighting the “fundamental” as a core concept connecting the blogging being undertaken by other caucus members, Arden brings out the ways in which our group is returning to the cornerstone issues upon which Romantic studies is constructed—and it is this thread that I hope other authors will continue to draw out over the next year. Arden directs our attention to vexing questions so often taken for granted: what represent the fundamental principles with which we define the scope and body of materials we study? What are the methods we use to pursue this, and what are the temporal and theoretical limits and possibilities for Romantic studies, with respect to the nineteenth-century and beyond? Arden’s pointing to geology was crucial in this regard—and her luminous turn to look at the ways the “instability of Romantic geology shook the foundations of the period’s poetry” generates a vital potentiality of thought. Just as well, I was grateful for Arden’s bringing genre into our continuing conversation on the blog—in a reading of Group Phi, whose writing on the topic as both “sedimented” and “metamorphic” Arden nicely highlights. I was especially compelled by the way Arden amplified the importance of Phi’s theorization, arguing that thinking about genre in geological terms endows the interpretive act with a particular urgency given the politics of our own contemporary moment. It’s connected, as Arden so memorably contends, with “the ethics of geotechnical excavation, and particularly the problem of violently appropriating formerly organic structures, now metamorphosed into inorganic matter (oil).”
More recently, Nicole Geary and myself, in conversation with Arden, took this thinking as a point of departure for considering how the field of geology represents a rich zone for thinking through our own respective practices—artistic, literary, and art-historical. This led to the first collectively written post on the blog, with the broader purpose of exploring the relation between romanticism and contemporary visual culture. Ultimately, it is my wish that multiple authors collaborate in the new NGSC “Dialogues” series to produce one jointly-written post per quarter.
Further, on the collaborative front, we saw three illuminating posts by different authors belonging to the Arizona State University 19th-C Colloquium. In their first piece, Kent Linthicum spoke to not only how their scholarly collective was formed, but also to the logic defining its practices, which hinges upon an ever-present “focus on professionalization.” It struck me that this is precisely what the caucus community is doing as well, and am convinced of the importance of getting clearer on precisely what professionalism and the process of becoming professional means within the context of our field. Also, on the point of collaboration, and interdisciplinary on another axis, Jennifer Leeds published her recent interview with the political scientist and author of Jane Austen, Game Theorist Michael Chwe in December. Jennifer and Professor Chwe’s discussion proves absolutely exemplary for locating the ways in which texts produced by a figure on which many of us work can represent a field through which we might re-think a range of issues at the nexus of different disciplinary frameworks, practices, and values. This, of course, is to say nothing of the brilliance with which Jennifer approached the interview, bringing into play her own crucial investments with respect to gender and the challenging of heteronormativity on the basis of the pervasive configuring force of homo-social and –sexual relations in the nineteenth-century novel. Jennifer’s including these concepts in the interview yielded highly productive results, which I found thrilling.
In short, I am pleased that the state of the Romantic studies blog(e)sphere is very strong entering 2014—and I enthusiastically look forward to reading the critical mass of writing that will appear in this forum in the coming months.