Tag Archives: Percy Shelley

Presence/Absence as Problem & Possibility in “On The Medusa of Leonardo Da Vinci” and ODESZA

In October, I found myself facing a new problem in the interpretation of music, with broader implications for the engagement and understanding of the arts generally. It has taken this long to begin to work it out. Then, I saw the contemporary indie electronica group ODESZA. The show was amazing. Yet, it yielded a profound sense of vertigo, the kind we all sense, and become been sensitized to, in romantic poetry. How do we contend with art when the aesthetic object–traditionally understood–radically recedes from view?

Continue reading Presence/Absence as Problem & Possibility in “On The Medusa of Leonardo Da Vinci” and ODESZA

Romantic Objects

I’ve long been fascinated by two Romantic objects that figure prominently in poetry and prose: the Aeolian harp and the Claude glass. The Aeolian harp is a stringed instrument that is placed in an open window so that the strings vibrate with the wind, sort of like a sideways guitar.

Aeolian-HarpInWindow

Image source: http://chestofbooks.com/reference/American-Cyclopaedia-V1/Aeolian-Harp.html

Continue reading Romantic Objects

Affect Theory Reading Log

This winter, I’ve been working to familiarize myself with the affective turn in Romantic studies. But the reading experience has been generally defamiliarizing; ideas about affects, emotions, feelings and passions are consistent, it seems, only in their inconsistency. In their introduction to Romanticism and the Emotions, Faflak and Sha usefully suggest that the difficulties that Romantic scholars encounter trying to theorize affect stem from the nature of the project, which is “to categorize what by definition at once sustains and eludes both thought and language.” The common ground that unites those that I’ve read on the topic is not so much a shared theory as a a shared belief that we can learn something about our contemporary interest in affect as a scientific object (neuroscience) and as a subject for the humanities by looking back to emotion’s (uneven and multilayered) emergence as a category of experience in the Enlightenment and Romantic periods.

In the place of a single book review, I’ll provide here a brief and by no means comprehensive survey of a few books on the topic that I’ve been spending some time with lately. The readings here ask unresolvable, but pressing, questions about the relation between feeling and knowing, bodies and texts, affect and agency, aesthetics and socio-political forces. The list is completely idiosyncratic: Thomas Pfau’s Romantic Moods is influential, but I haven’t read it and Romanticism and the Emotions from Cambridge UP is fresh and excellent but, as a collection of essays, is too daunting to summarize. I’d love to know what other people are reading on the topic—please feel free to add your recs in the comments section!

  1. Pinch, Adela. Strange Fits of Passion: Epistemologies of Emotion, Hume to Austen. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1997.

Pinch

Strange Fits of Passion asks what writings by Hume, William Wordsworth, Charlotte Smith, Ann Radcliffe and Jane Austen can teach us about the relationship between knowing and feeling. Recurring questions include: Where do emotions come from and how do they travel? Can we judge whether feelings are fit to their occasions? Are feelings our own (personal) or are they transpersonal (conventional)? The last question is the most central to the study; Pinch everywhere challenges the notion that emotions come from some irreducible core of the self. She does this by emphasizing the “vagrancy,” (10) or trans-individual status of emotions in Romantic literature. What interests me most about Pinch’s book is her idea that that language, and especially imaginative language and utterance, plays a key role in bridging the gap between affect (materiality, physiology) and emotion (psychology). In poems by Wordsworth and Smith, poetic figures are simultaneously produced by passion and productive of emotions that circulate as conventions.

Reading Hume, who did not theorize language, Pinch seeks to recover the role that representation plays in shaping sympathy. In Hume, “force” designates the mysterious motion of the mind that translates ideas into impressions (and vise-versa) and is thus crucial to “sympathy.” “Force” is an unsatisfying concept in Hume if only because it fails to explain how and why some ideas impress us more forcibly than others. Contrasting Hume’s representation of imaginary men of misfortune with his famous representation of his own despair at the end of Book I of the Treatise, Pinch suggests that sympathy may be most forceful where we attribute imaginary feelings onto indifferent objects. Readers have long found it difficult to sympathize with Hume’s melancholic outpourings and this may be because he represents them as his own, rather than as ours to imagine.

In attending to the conventional and virtual aspects of feeling, Pinch sidelines the common charge against the Romantics (especially central to eco-critical conversations) of egoism and anthropocentrism. Pinch’s open displacement of this issue sets her apart from the other books listed here, which are more explicitly concerned with the ethical and political stakes of formulations of ‘sympathy’ that emerged in the Enlightenment and Romantic periods. Strange Fits of Passion positively stands out, however, in its analysis of the ways that gender differences get entangled in writers’ rendering of emotion. I especially enjoyed reading Pinch’s on Wordsworth’s “Goody Blake and Harry Gill.” For Pinch, the poem identifies the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” with an old woman’s passionate utterance. More surprisingly, it likens Harry’s violence towards Goody to the male poet’s desire to empathize with an experience of feminine suffering that will authenticate his verse. There’s a great anecdote here in which Joseph Cottle reads the Lyrical Ballads aloud to Hannah Moore. On the second reading of “Goody Blake,” Hannah Moore lifts up her hands, “in smiling horror” on hearing the curse “O, may he never more be warm!” Pinch writes, “Moore perhaps recognizes through her own playacting the power of a woman’s curse to engender poetic pleasure” (97).

  1. Yousef, Nancy. Romantic Intimacy. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2013.

YousefRomantic Intimacy asks how the epistemic problem of other minds informs accounts of intimacy in writings that range from eighteenth century moral philosophy to contemporary recommendations for psychoanalytic practice. Yousef moves lucidly between moral philosophy, poetry, novels and contemporary theory as she carefully draws out the ethical implications of relational experience in Romantic texts. A central thesis is that writers like Wordsworth, Austen and Coleridge are skeptical of sentimental philosophy’s confident appeals to the authority of shared feelings yet untethered to notions of (re)cognition (in Kant and Levinas) that emphasize equality and reciprocity between persons. Yousef’s book encourages us to see in Romantic literature diverse accounts of relational experience that expand beyond the paradigms of Humean sympathy and Kantian respect.

Yousef shares with Adela Pinch an unprepossessing interest in the formal and aesthetic qualities of the texts she explores. But where Pinch tends to reify a dichotomy between private and shared emotion, Yousef is drawn to poems like “Frost at Midnight” that challenge that divide. In Coleridge’s poem, little Hartley’s breath—his passive and unimposing presence—provides the relational background that sustains Coleridge’s intimate lyrical outpouring of memories, fantasies and hopes. Yousef provides startling analogies between the “generative silence” Coleridge’s infant son provides in “Frost at Midnight” and contemporary experiments with silence in psychoanalytic practice and performance art.

An interest in affective asymmetries coheres the excellent chapters in Romantic Intimacy on Wordsworth, Austen and Coleridge. If “Frost at Midnight” configures a relational situation where one person is completely silent so that another can speak, Pride and Prejudice represents the erotic possibilities of a relation where one person is endowed with gift giving power so that another can learn to receive. Yousef points out that Elizabeth Bennet’s engagement with Darcy is read at turns as a capitulation to power and as an aspirational (Kantian) assertion of equality between rational beings. Attention to the role of gratitude in Elizabeth’s bilding offers a way out of this impasse. For Yousef, Elizabeth’s entanglement with Darcy demonstrates the transformative force of a self-abasing moral feeling that constitutes the subject “as an implication of appreciation for an other” (112). Pride and Prejudice thus represents the subject as the effect of gratitude, rather than the other way around.

3. Anonymous Life: Romanticism and Dispossession. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2008.

Khalip

Anonymity and Dispossession theorizes Romantic subjectivity in the wake of the Enlightenment call for transparency and self-revelation. Jacques Khalip argues that second-generation romantics (Keats, Hazlitt, Shelley, Austen) saw Enlightenment models of personhood as deeply inauthentic and sought to re-conceive  of the self as anonymous. To think about subjectivity as anonymous is to value experiences of trauma and privation over experiences of self-possession and confessional  plentitude. As critical praxis, understanding subjectivity as dispossessed, or as being-without, involves attending to the virtuality of figuration (de Man and Derrida are important theoretical influences in the book) and to literary representations of anachronisms that evoke “an existence whose untapped power” is “always temporally unfinished and suspended, not knowing what it is, and what it will be” (7). Khalip wants us to see that Romantics thought of identity as “always an unmade and undone “thing”” (14) and, in so doing, shattered the relational channels of sympathetic exchange and mutual recognition. (see Yousef!)

Anonymity and Dispossession intersects with the concerns addressed in Pinch’s and Yousef’s book and Romantic affect theory more broadly in its treatment of “sympathy.” Khalip carefully draws out sympathy’s political dimensions, or its entanglement with the logic of financial speculation and accumulation. Khalip points out that the category of property underwrites formulations of sympathetic selfhood in Hume, Burke and Smith. All three of these philosophers acknowledge the virtual and potentially destabilizing aspects of sympathy (see Pinch!) only to keep the self as imaginary possession intact. Shelley then amplifies the destabilizing features of sympathy  present in Hume, Burke and Smith in order to re-conceive of sympathy as a “dissimulating” process that tears apart the “apparently fluid causality of consciousness” (117) and thus allows for a challenging ethical experience: “Sympathy…is an obligation to otherness that cannot be properly defined, but to which the subject remains critically open” (132). This is sympathy in the wake of any illusions about the linkage between affect and cognition, impressions and ideas, meanings and texts. It is a sympathy that refuses to understand the relationship between the self and the other in terms of mimesis.

Chapter four asks what the book’s broad themes of a skeptical and uncertain selfhood look like in the hands of women writers. The unifying mood is not of sympathy but of melancholy. Khalip argues that for Wollstonecraft, Shelley and Austen, melancholy entails a withdrawal from the public sphere that is sometimes strategic, sometimes compulsory. One surprising suggestion is that by refusing the demands of self-presentation, female writers display a “powerfully anonymous mobility in the world.” Wollstonecraft’s Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark and Austen’s Persuasion are well chosen and illustrative of the point. If the delicate being taught only to please of the Vindication is cognitively and emotionally stunted by a discourse of femininity that “spuriously regulate[s] the visibility of the female self,” then the Wollstonecraft fashioned in the letters is more like Austen’s melancholy heroine who cultivates a skepticism that “disarticulates personal fulfillment from self-presentation and self-assertion” (135). Khalip’s book leaves us with challenging questions about agency—if we can’t define ourselves, then how do we know how to act in the world? Romanticism and Dispossession encourages us stop thinking of ourselves as willful actors and to take up an obligation to perpetually reorient ourselves in relation to a fundamentally unknowable world.

The Romantic Reply to the that Terrible Question: Valuing the Humanities

One option out of a wide array of graduate seminars to choose for this current Spring semester ranging from the theory heavy to the literature heavy, and usual contenders (i.e. my much beloved courses on Modernism and the 18th c. novel) stood out among the rest in sheer ambiguity: the public humanities. The seminar is an interdisciplinary course that includes graduate students from various departments. Continue reading The Romantic Reply to the that Terrible Question: Valuing the Humanities

New Initiative: Romantic Bicentennials!

I’m pleased to announce a new initiative sponsored by the Keats-Shelley Association of America and the Byron Society of America: ROMANTIC BICENTENNIALS! This project offers scholars, readers, and the general public the opportunity to get involved and to receive updates about annual symposia, related conferences,  networked events, and other media celebrating 200 years of Romanticism.

The project’s main website (still under construction) is located here: http://dev-romantic-bicentenials.pantheon.io/. On the website, read about each day’s events 200 years ago, and stay informed about current scholarly events celebrating bicentennial anniversaries throughout 2016 to 2024 (Geneva to Missolonghi). There will be one major sponsored conference each year: this year, it’ll be on May 21st, at the New York Public Library, celebrating the Genevan Summer of 1816.

Reach out if you would like to get involved — we’re looking for people to live-tweet events with our hashtag #‎Romantics200‬! We are also looking for scholars to participate in the annual symposia, as well as to attend the networked events throughout the year. To stay in touch, connect with us through our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/romanticbicentennials/. (A twitter handle is coming soon). And write to me if you have questions!

“We are here!” Interstellar Messages and Why the Humanities Matter

Why study the humanities? It’s a question that doesn’t seem to go away no matter how many times it’s answered or in how many different ways. Here, I’d like to propose yet another answer, one that also answers a related question: why study Romanticism? This answer was inspired by two videos about science, of all things: an episode of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s series Cosmos: a Spacetime Odyssey, and a YouTube video in the Vsauce series that describes our efforts to send messages into space, in the hope that we’re not alone in the universe.

Continue reading “We are here!” Interstellar Messages and Why the Humanities Matter

Ozymandias

ozymandias

This is a sketch I did a number of years ago. It was published originally on my blog White Tower Musings, but I wanted to share it since it was inspired by one of the most, possibly overused but still brilliant poems, Ozymandias by Percy Shelley.

The poem has always been one of my favorites because of its ability to really convey the ephemeral nature of Mankind’s creations.  Men build egos and empires, and in the end it all fades.  Nature is the only force that lasts.

 

Here’s a link to the original post:

https://jsjammersmith.wordpress.com//?s=ozymandias&search=Go

Romantics, they’re just like you and me: Health fads of the 18th and 19th centuries

If there was one thing* I was completely unprepared for in my pursuit of a PhD, it was the toll grad school would take on my body. After working for several years post-college, I found returning to student life more physically draining than I expected: I hadn’t fully anticipated that my slightly older body would need more sleep and better food than it did in college, that the fonts on my computer would require some magnifying, or that my right wrist would come to demand the support of a carpal tunnel brace. While I realize the hardships of excessive sitting pale in comparison to, say, those of transportation to Botany Bay, that awareness couldn’t fully stop me from dwelling on the chair-bound grad student lifestyle’s surprising tendency to hurt, in places expected…and unexpected.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that as I learned how to take better care of myself as a grad student, I found myself gravitating towards health-related topics in my research. Or perhaps I simply felt vindicated by medical opinion new and old, both of which emphasized the evils of too much sitting. Indeed, Swiss physician Samuel August Tissot’s Essay on Diseases Incident to Literary and Sedentary Persons (1768; translated into English, 1769) would not seem out of place among the numerous recent articles detailing the threat posed by chairs, comfy and otherwise. Tissot’s medical advice is far from the only text that calls to mind current health preoccupations. In this post, I want to highlight a few of my favorites:

Continue reading Romantics, they’re just like you and me: Health fads of the 18th and 19th centuries

Archival Research: The Poetic Personalities Of Keats And His Circle

Participants on the Heath.  Not all of us, but quite a few!
May 3, 2014: Keats and His Circle Conference participants on Hampstead Heath. Not all of us, but quite a few!

Hello and happy summer!  Since I last blogged, I passed my Ph.D. comprehensive exams and spent two weeks in England.  I presented at the Keats and his Circle conference along with my fellow blogger, Arden Hegele, and of course the conference was everything a Keatsian (or Romanticist) could wish it to be. Our weekend at Wentworth Place came complete with three days of really smart and innovative Keats studies, phenomenal featured lectures, and a “Keats walk” through Hampstead. But what I will talk about today is what I learned in the week after the conference. Continue reading Archival Research: The Poetic Personalities Of Keats And His Circle