I realize the title of my first piece sounds like a Redbook article. It isn’t. Yet. But, I thought for my first post it’d be good to introduce myself by talking a little about how I’ve come to do, and view, Romantic studies and, in so doing, gesture towards why I think our field is particularly special. I do this because as we’re making the turn toward the end of an academic term it’s good to pat one’s self on the back and to do the same for others pursuing similar interests. In order to rescue this piece, however, from being mere intellectual biography, which admittedly would be pretty drab, I hope some of you reading will chime in in the comments about what your initial experiences were that initiated you into the field and how that informs (or doesn’t) the work you do now.
I’m generally positioned in eighteenth and nineteenth century art, and moving towards specializing in Blake studies in the Department of Art History at the University of Oregon. What I’ve loved from the beginning about Romantic studies is how my intellectual, social, political, and environmental commitments can exist as an integrated whole—life as a romanticist has to some degree, for myself, as I know it has for others, always functioned as a way of living as a type of art in itself.
Pretty much from the moment I initially encountered Blake, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats, and Shelley in a lit survey course (however unfortunate it was figures like Mary Robinson and Anna Barbauld were left out, not to mention Byron) four years ago, I experienced something I imagine a few, if not most of those who frequent this blog, did. The cultural documents I encountered transformed in an exciting way how I viewed and related to my own world in a vitally immediate manner. Most poignantly for me, commitments to a liberatory ethos in terms of a casting off of ‘mind forg’d manacles’ (“London”) and to intensely experiencing nature in such a way that retains the potential to precipitate (pun intended as I watch a wintry mix fall outside the coffee shop where I’m writing in Eugene) an emergence and continuous renewal of—what I later came to realize represented—an ecological consciousness (“Mont Blanc”) became clarified. With Blake and Shelley as catalysts, the developmental trajectory of my studies coalesced into a new, pragmatic, and illuminating whole. Still I remember, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget, the way I felt when I climbed Camelback Mountain in Phoenix one February morning in 2007, taking a break from my first time writing on Shelley. An experience with nature that I had had so many times before, being an Arizona native, was revitalized and rendered somehow more authentic as a result of actively thinking through and writing on English Romantic texts.
Although I’ve since moved into Romantic visual culture, with the nature of the cultural documents I study having shifted somewhat, my initially pragmatic interests in the field have remained. Some mornings when riding my bike to campus along the Willamette River, I reflect on the ways in which my studies have influenced the changes I’ve made to how I work and live. Often, and particularly at the segment of my four mile bike trek to campus where my route takes me through a gorgeous field near the UO’s Autzen stadium (next year, the BCS Championship will go to the Ducks—it was published here first), I gaze across the Eugene countryside and am reminded of paintings like that of John Constable, where the artist’s experimentation with the realistic representation of the play of light in nature elides the mediating role of art work in the first place (fig. 1),
with Constable’s aesthetic shattering what Italian Renaissance art theorist Leon Battista Alberti theorized as the work of art as a type of window out into a mathematically and always rationally represented world. Such a Romantic way of viewing and reading, realized pictorially and poetically throughout the period, where the viewer (subject) and nature (object) collapse into one another and form an interconnective unity is something I try to realize on a pragmatic level, everyday—in terms of how I relate to my environment and others, striving to consistently move beyond myself in the best interests of both.
So, in closing, it’s for these reasons that I’ve come to see that “life as a romanticist is a life for me” and I have to say that I feel privileged to be a part of this community going forward. I can’t wait to get to know you all better in this space, at NASSR/ICR conferences, and other events down the road.