The Climate of Romanticism: Autumn in Paris 2015

Fall has always been my favorite season. The excitement and energy of a new academic year, with the promise and potential for new experiences, engagements, commitments and ideas never ceases to amaze me. I’ve experienced this to be especially true this fall. Felicitously, and making good on Devoney Looser’s advice regarding applying for fellowships, published on this blog,  I received a fellowship to take part in Northwestern’s Paris Program in Critical Theory, a graduate exchange program with the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle. In the Program, you spend the autumn in a seminar covering a select topic in critical theory (this year, belief in Jacques Derrida’s “Faith and Knowledge”) led by Samuel Weber, best known as a theorist, scholar of media, and translator of Derrida and Theodor Adorno. For the rest of the year, you are free to engage in archival research and dissertation writing, and to take part in European academic life. I’ve included a link to the program’s website, since it is open to all graduate students with external funding.  With annual graduate fellowships available at most universities in the form of presidential fellowships and other awards that don’t require full-time residence at the home university, in addition to important external awards to apply for, such as the Fulbright program, ACLS/Mellon Dissertation Completion Fellowship, the Chateaubriand Fellowship in the Humanities, and many more, numerous great possibilities exist for grads across the humanities and social sciences to take part in the Paris Program in Critical Theory.

Specifically, I’m in Paris this year for two reasons. First, I’m here to study contemporary French environmental theory as I develop the conceptual framework that’ll drive my dissertation on Blake and ecological politics. Consequently, over the coming months on the blog, expect reading lists and book reviews of the latest in European social thought, with an emphasis on texts that haven’t been translated into English that I imagine will be especially relevant to graduate students generally, and Romanticists especially. There’s also nothing like having an audience to focus and sharpen the mind with language learning, translation, and writing, right?

Yet, this year–as I’m sure most of our readers are already aware–is an especially significant one for climate politics, decades in the making for climate policy experts and negotiators, and centuries in the making, with respect to the conditions those most optimistic among us hope will begin to be overturned: the massive amounts of carbon accruing in the earth’s atmosphere. In December, the United Nations Climate Change Conference (also known as the COP21) will convene in Paris, with the hope of establishing a legally binding universal agreement to begin curtailing carbon emissions. The goal is ultimately to limit the amount of atmospheric carbon to that which will produce no more than a 2°C rise, on average, above pre-industrial levels. So second, and relatedly, my fellowship is geared to support my hope to help document the important visual culture that looks to emerge around the the climate conference. Already, there are prominent stirrings–with the ArtCOP21 cultural festival set to convene in Paris, and across the globe, paralleling the climate summit. All of this, I believe, retains certain implications for the study of Romanticism.


As a result, my primary blogging for the NGSC for Autumn 2015 will take the form of a series I’m calling “The Climate of Romanticism,” with the remainder of this post being its introduction. Indeed, what I have become most interested in over the last several months–beginning with an inspiring visit to the University of Colorado-Boulder, last May, where I began to arrive at many of the ideas that follow in dialogue with the Colorado Romanticism Collective–is the concept that, in light of the clear historical-material conditions driving climate change, there is a real sense that the artists and cultural field we study are with us, and against climate change; that Romanticism is, in actuality, and in view of carbon, contemporary.

In fact, as the climate science shows, carbon emissions from the emergent eighteenth-century industrial apparatus is persistent through the present. Scientific estimates place the atmospheric afterlife of carbon dioxide, as a greenhouse gas, at somewhere on the order of several centuries, with 25% remaining a force for global warming, forever. In May, for instance, scientists reacted to analysis showing global carbon dioxide levels exceeded 400 parts per million (ppm) for a month straight for the the very first time in recorded history. Yet, because the apparatus of 18th- and early 19th-century industrial production contributed some of those parts per million, and because a number of the authors we study directly criticized the conditions, economics, and philosophical thought that underpinned the Industrial Revolution in England, a horizon of critique germane to the romantic-period continues. Consequently, and critically, the climate of Romanticism is now.

In posts to come, I will expand on the implications of this: comparative engagements with materials related to early industrial technologies, their links and relations with later productive modes, and their ramifications for the contemporary climate predicament; what role Romantic-period writing and artistic production might play, as ideas and images begin to circulate in the visual and literary cultures of the present against climate change; and to begin archiving the art culture events related to COP21 as they happen in Paris.

2 thoughts on “The Climate of Romanticism: Autumn in Paris 2015”

  1. Looking forward to these upcoming posts, Jacob…sounds like an exciting program in Paris, as well. Can’t wait to hear more!

  2. Thanks Aaron. Appreciate it, as always. Thinking you’ll especially like the write up on the “Climate Forum” put on by the Libération newspaper/Sciences Po and the Nuit Blanche “atmosphere” art installations and performances that took place this weekend.

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