Romantic Circles Blog

Pride and Prejudice--and Zombies?

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It seems Jane Austen-ites are abuzz with a new book, titled Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance - Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!, that turns Elizabeth Bennet, Fitzwilliam Darcy, et al into zombie killers.  According to an article in today's Times, the novel retains about 85 percent of Austen's words, twisting them to fit the zany context. Hence Austen's famous first line reads, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains."

According to the publisher's description, the novel is a "delightful comedy of manners" accentuated with plenty of "bone-crunching zombie action":

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies features the original text of Jane Austen's beloved novel with all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie action. As our story opens, a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton—and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she's soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers—and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield as Elizabeth wages war against hordes of flesh-eating undead. Complete with 20 illustrations in the style of C. E. Brock (the original illustrator of Pride and Prejudice), this insanely funny expanded edition will introduce Jane Austen's classic novel to new legions of fans.

The novel is slated to come out in April.

The book also got some play on the NPR quiz show Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me this week during the "Bluff the Listener" segment, in which a listener was tasked to choose which of three stories about classic works of literature being "improved" was true. Listen here.

This story is already all over the blogosphere, so here are just  a couple examples of what others are saying about this spoof:

Austenprose

A Bloggering Hole

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CFP: "Romanticism and the City" NYC November 5-8 2009

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(http://www.ccny.cuny.edu/icrnyc/)

The fall 2009 meeting of the International Conference on Romanticism will convene in New York City from November 5 to November 8 to address the topic “Romanticism and the City.” The meeting will be jointly hosted by The City College and The Graduate Center of The City University of New York. Submissions engaging with some aspect of the general theme are welcome from all disciplines, including but not limited to literary studies, history, philosophy, and political science.

Plenary Speakers:
Alexander Gelley, University of California-Irvine
Marjorie Levinson, University of Michigan
Michael Moon, Emory University

From Wordsworth’s description of Lyrical Ballads as a response to “the increasing accumulation of men in cities” to Baudelaire’s location of the impetus for his prose poetry in “la fréquentation des villes énormes,” the history of Romanticism is bound up with a continuous and evolving response to the emergence of the modern city. As work in a range of areas in our own day leads us to reconsider how we think about such oppositions as nature and culture, the organic and the mechanical, wholeness and multiplicity, the urban text or sub-text of Romanticism presents itself not only as a comparatively neglected area of investigation but as a place to pursue this rethinking.

These observations are offered to prompt debate and, above all, to invite a broadened conception of the historical reach of Romanticism in the formulation of proposals. Proposals for individual papers should be limited to 500 words and emailed to icrnyc_at_ccny.cuny.edu no later than May 1, 2009. General proposals for special sessions should be also limited to 500 words, or 1000 words if comprising sub-proposals, and emailed to: icrnyc_at_ccny.cuny.edu no later than March 1, 2009.

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The Intimate Portrait: drawings, miniatures and pastels from Ramsay to Lawrence

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Another exhibition, this time at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, chronicles one hundred years (1730-1830) of "intimate portraits," including portraits of Walter Scott and Robert Burns.

Sir Thomas Lawrence, Portrait of Mary Hamilton, 1789
This exhibition explores a fascinating but relatively unknown type of portraiture that flourished in Georgian and Regency Britain between the 1730s and 1830s.

It features intimate portraits by Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds, John Downman, Richard Cosway, David Wilkie and many others, all drawn from the collections of the National Galleries of Scotland and the British Museum, many never exhibited before.

Portraits were displayed in public at the Royal Academy exhibitions but behind the scenes, in private sitting rooms, studies and bedrooms some of them served a more intimate role. Miniatures were often worn as jewellery to keep a loved one close; fragile pastels protected by glittering gilt frames were displayed on walls, while drawings were framed or mounted in albums to be shown to friends and family.

The exhibition features nearly 200 examples in a range of materials, from pencil, chalk, watercolours and pastels to miniatures on ivory. It includes many self-portraits as well as intimate portraits of the artists’ families and friends. Sitters vary from the merchant and middle classes to the aristocracy, actors and celebrities including Lady Hamilton, and political and literary figures such as Sir Walter Scott, the Duke of Wellington, Robert Burns and the young Queen Victoria.

Scottish National Portrait Gallery
25 October – 1 February 2009

British Museum
Prints and Drawings Gallery, Room 90
5 March – 31 May 2009

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Changing Landscapes: The Industrial Revolution and the British Banknote

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Here's what the British Museum has to say about an ongoing exhibition on currency and the industrial revolution:

An unissued five pound banknote engraved by W.H. Lizars
An extraordinary exhibition providing an insight into the economy and society of nineteenth century Britain.

The face of Britain changed beyond recognition in the nineteenth century following intense industrialization and urbanization, advances in agriculture and developments in international trade and finance. New private banks employed celebrated engravers to create intricate and beautiful banknote illustrations, portraying aspects of the changing Britain and illustrating a sense of national pride and civic identity.

This extraordinary exhibition of banknotes, tokens, medals, paintings, prints, silverware, pottery and models of locomotives and ships reflects those monumental changes and provides an invaluable insight into the economy and society of the time.

This exhibition is part of an ongoing collaboration between the British Museum and the Barber Institute. The exhibition also features items on loan from the Science Museum, Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, Wolverhampton Art Gallery and the Cadbury Collections of nineteenth century Britain.

Barber Institute, Birmingham
7 March 2008 – 6 March 2009

Image: An unissued five pound banknote engraved by W.H. Lizars

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CFP: The Art and the Act: John Thelwall in Practice

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Second Thelwall Memorial Conference

October 16-18, 2009 Dalhousie University Halifax, Canada

The Art and the Act: John Thelwall in Practice

Since the inaugural Thelwall memorial conference held in Bath in January 2007, interdisiciplinary scholarship on Thelwall’s multifaceted career has gathered momentum. In 2009, the 175th anniversary of his death, we will once again gather to take stock, to celebrate his remarkable legacy, and to extend the circle of those who have risen to the challenge that his theory and practice offer our research, our teaching and our lives.

Elocution is the Art, or the Act of so delivering our own thoughts and sentiments, or the thoughts and sentiments of others, as not only to convey to those around us … the full purport and meaning of the words and sentences in which those thoughts are cloathed; but, also, to excite and impress upon their minds—the feelings, the imagination and the passions by which those thoughts are dictated, or with which they should naturally be accompanied.

(Thelwall, Introductory Discourse on the Nature and Objects of Elocutionary Science)

This conference invites papers on any aspect of Thelwall’s wide-ranging arts and acts (medical, political, elocutionary, literary, journalistic, peripatetic etc). Since Thelwall challenges us to practise what we profess, papers that cross boundaries between theory and practice are particularly welcome, as are those that explore Thelwall’s legacy, and/or transatlantic connections.

Halifax is ideally located between British and American Thelwall communities, with direct international connections. Birthplace of representative government and freedom of the press in Canada, this colourful 18th century port hosts several universities and a dynamic arts scene. In conjunction with the conference, Dalhousie Theatre Productions will stage a full-scale performance of one of Thelwall’s plays.
Papers and panel proposals by February 17, 2009 to judith.thompson@dal.ca

Judith Thompson
Department of English, Dalhousie University
6135 University Ave. Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4P9

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Poets on Poets: new podcasts

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New audio files are available at Romantic Circles' Poets on Poets series: Andrew Kozma reading Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" Part IV; Jennifer Kwon Dobbs reading Charlotte Turner Smiths's "Sonnet LXX" and "Sonnet LXXVII" [from Elegiac Sonnets]; Elizabeth Volpe reading William Blake's "The Human Abstract"; and Anne Shaw reading Blake's "The Tyger." As always, you can play or download the MP3 files directly from the Poets on Poets page--

http://www.rc.umd.edu/editions/poets/toc.html

--or subscribe to the podcasts via iTunes (search for "Romantic Circles") or directly from our page.

The Poets on Poets series is edited and produced by Tilar Mazzeo with the assistance of Doug Guerra and Matt O'Donnell.

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CFP: Affect, Mood, Feeling: 1748-1819

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Romanticism at Western

The University of Western Ontario: London, Ontario

25-26 April 2009

Keynote Speaker: Professor Ross Woodman (UWO Emeritus)

Recent work in Romanticism encourages us to consider the myriad manifestations and roles of affective experience in Romantic theory and criticism. In Romantic Moods, for example, Thomas Pfau locates within the folds and crosscurrents of European Romanticism “a persistent and unsettling ‘feeling’ of the irreducible tenuousness and volatility of being.” The wide-ranging implications of such an innovative re-imagination of Romantic affect may be felt in the various conscious and unconscious resistances to an Enlightenment faith in the unity of experience, a progressive concept of history, and the transparency of the public sphere, resistances that perhaps come to light in Keats’ yearning, “O for a life of Sensations rather than of Thoughts!”

As a focus for its third annual conference, the Romantic Reading Group at UWO encourages enquiry into Romantic affect, mood, and feeling. The historical timeframe suggested by the conference title aims to impose some restriction on a potentially expansive thematic: 1748 reflects the publication of Hume’s An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding and 1819 marks a watershed year in Romanticism—a year witnessing the publication of major works by Percy Shelley (The Cenci), the first two Cantos of Byron’s Don Juan, three novels by Scott, Coleridge’s public lectures at the Crown and Anchor, and much of Keats’ most well known poetry. Far less triumphantly, however, it is also the year of the Peterloo massacre.

Topics may include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:

● the nature of Romantic feeling ● the revolutionary potential of feeling ● feeling and the formation of the subject ● Romantic moods (anxiety, trauma, melancholy, boredom, paranoia) ● the socio-economics of feeling ● the historicity of sentiment ● the pathology of feeling ● symptomatic appearance of emotion ● sentimentality, sensibility, and genre ● the Gothic ● affect and embodiment ● Romantic sympathy and community ● the rhetoric of emotion ● the poetics and dramatics of passion ● affect and empiricism ● Romantic feeling and the transcendental ● the boundaries between the understanding, feeling, and judgment ● the ethics of affect ● negotiating sincerity ● confessional narratives ● moral sentiment, education, and virtue ● affect, feeling, and the Scottish Enlightenment ● excitability, irritability, and contagion ● metropolitan moods ● the psychosomatics of passion ● political feeling

We invite abstracts of 250 words that explore the ideas and implications (political, historical, literary, philosophical, aesthetic, economic, medical, scientific, and so forth) of Romantic affect, mood, and feeling.

Deadline for Abstracts: 1 March 2009

Please send abstracts to: westernromantics@gmail.com

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Some green thoughts in a green shade, finally

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The invitation to do this blog made me discover several things. One—I love blogging! Two—how great to discuss things with others in slow motion, with careful reading and quiet writing, from the comfort of my introverted indoor space. Kurt and Ash, Ron and Steve, and our readers and commenters, thank you all so much.

Another thing I learnt, as I struggled with blogging form: We owe it to non-humanities people to express our ideas in a way with which they can engage.

Ecological criticism is one mode in which we can do this, easily.

That doesn't mean dumbing down our arguments. It simply means being able to say them in a language that isn't an insider discourse. I very nearly said "jargon"—yikes!

I'm averse to "the jargon of authenticity." Ecocriticism is full of it. I want to make it safe to think ecology and think theory together, simultaneously.

I know what Kurt means. Yet, even though the right might use a “there is no nature” argument to support “drill, baby, drill,” we still owe it to people to tell them what we think is true. I don't think there is a nature. I don't think there ever was a nature. Capitalism didn't destroy it. You can't destroy something that doesn't exist. But capitalism certainly seems to be waging an unrelening war against lifeforms and the biosphere.

I believe we can explain this to people in a way that is as profound and disturbing as the best deconstruction, but in a way that non-scholars will get.

I also think we should be in the business of setting the scientific experimental agenda. Here's one for starters, with profound ecological consequences:

Is consciousness intentional?

You can read more about that one in The Ecological Thought when it comes out in 2009.

Who would like to start a web page where humanities scholars suggest experiments that don't automatically assume ideological things about reality?

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Last Entry

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I’m sitting here recalling my conversation last night with an old friend about our many hikes in Washington State’s wilderness areas and national forests--set aside by legislation for their environmental value, including for hikers like us. My location in eco-critical thought and work is surely influenced by my decades of experiences as a city boy backpacking in those Washington wilds.  “Let ‘em be,” I say, for the critters, the trees, the hikers, and the tourists.  Does this view simply fall into the trap of seeing nature as something apart from, and as best purified of, human being?  “Only if one ignores the park signs, the required permits, and the maintained trails,” one might quip.  As I love to say to my students, “There’s nothing more cultural than ‘Nature,’” and yet, although our conceptions of nature, like our basic conceptions of time and space, etc., are culturally and linguistically shaped, that doesn’t mean there is no nature; only that what we find is always already something we’ve conceived and delimited.  Humans have divided, protected, exploited, named, studied, and mythologized the natural world we behold as “outside” human civilization and settlement—with “protecting” vs. “exploiting” nature being to some extent two sides of the same eco-coin—although our concoction of “nature” might be news to the deer, marmots, and bears living in Washington’s North Cascades.  As a way of pondering these matters more, in this my last entry in Romantic Circles’ eco-blog, I’d like both to circle back to some ideas from my first blog entry and to consider a few of the many thought-provoking ideas and observations of my two fellow bloggers, Tim Morton and Ashton Nichols.  Let me say what a pleasure it has been to participate in this eco-critical triumvirate, and let me extend my thanks to Ron Broglio for so kindly inviting me into the blog.

As this eco-blog’s inspiring entries by Tim and Ashton amply attest, eco-criticism is doing very much what it should in thinking more deeply and broadly about the conceptions—including the economics, politics, and metaphysics—of “nature” and “preservation” as well as about notions of “green” or less green discourses.  But that doesn’t mean all that such eco-criticism discovers or articulates will be useful to ameliorating the current global crises of habitat preservation, climate change, limiting waste of many kinds, and so forth.  New, radical conceptions like “ecology without nature,” “urbanature,” the “material sublime,” and (much further down the long list) “outlandish dwelling” may just as easily, and may very easily, become tools for opponents of land and species preservation.  “We’re nature, so we can do as we like!”  “Extinction IS nature.”  “To hell with biodiversity.  Cities are nature, too, and the world’s purpose is to be transformed!”  Narrow-minded views, no doubt, and far afield, one may say, of the theories offered on and off this blog.  But more generally, will our deconstructing of the nature/culture, animal/human opposition lead to more or to less respect for other species and their encroached-upon habitats?  Perhaps seeing ourselves as animals will diminish our sense of entitled hegemony.  But might it also lessen our sense of responsibility and of a (problem-fraught) feeling of stewardship?   It all reminds me of non- or even anti-vegetarian acquaintances of mine who opine, like Ben Franklin, “Animals eat animals, and I’m an animal.”  The modus ponens logic (or carnologocentrism?) feels inescapable yet sorely limited.

“We are more like them [animals] than they are like us,” Ashton holds.  I’m sympathetic to that provocative view, as I also am to Elizabeth Bennett’s implicit query, “What are men to rocks and mountains”?  But from what vantages are such conclusions reached?  Human language may ultimately derive, as Freud suspected, from animal utterances, but that doesn’t mean we cross the expanse when we surmise that original fact.  What does it mean for humans to be, genetically, 98% chimpanzee?  Precious little, Richard Marks has argued, given our complex human culture, our language, etc.  Scientists “find” such human-animal connections and analogies—common genes as well as common social or psychological “memes”— and market the species similarities to broaden the audience and attract funding.  But we’re not chimps, nor are we snails or amoeba, whatever the genetic commonalities.  We must therefore proceed cautiously down such paths toward human/animal similarity and (human-animal) origins, even or especially when they’re our “own.”  We’re not not animals, and yet we’re also not quite fully animals, either, chiefly because it is we who define “animal” and who wield such conceptual and technological power. A dose of Lacan or Derrida goes a long way here, with salutary effect.

“Beyond concept, Nature is,” Tim states, only to reject this Yoda-sounding phrase as “the ultimate chastity.”  Yet, to some extent, is not nature (à la the material or immaterial sublime) indeed that which is beyond conceptualization, however much that “nature” is always already conceptualized?  The Other is always beyond, and (or as) that which survives me.  Perhaps we need, then, to devise (chart) a course between “chastity” and profligacy: between preserving only to preserve and viewing the natural world as mere material to be transformed to Geist or to dust or sublimity.  Do wilderness areas repeat a phobia of intimacy, whereby one is commanded to leave no mark and to think of nature as that which is without a human trace or face?  Such chastity speaks to our separation, as symptom and as ethical outcome, from the natural world and from ourselves as a species (qua resemblance?) in that world.   That doesn’t mean we must make the natural world make room for us.  Quite the opposite.  “Where are the asphalt walks and the RV hook-ups?  People are animals, too!”  Is this vantage an outcome of a naïve, photo-op “love” of nature rather than of a more sober, more interdependent, and more cooperative, cohabitative ecology?   Ashton provocatively remarks, “The new [ecological] ethic needs to see skyscrapers, superhighways, jumbo-jets, and genetic research labs as parts of our ‘new’ nature, no less natural because they were crafted by members of the human species.”  But when all is “natural” there is no “nature,” not even “urbanature”—and perhaps not even “ecology”--eh?

At this end, I remain convinced that the concept of nature, for all its concocted status and its distortions, is still useful as a way of locating and preserving what is wild (and less wild).  Respect, and even eco-utility, requires a concept, a “looking back,” regard.  “Nature” arises from a false opposition, but that doesn’t mean the opposition isn’t still useful or that, within our oppositional thinking, it has no validity as a domain where thought meets its limits (sublime or otherwise) and where the human finds itself challenged.  Better, perhaps, to employ an oppositional term one knows to be a metaphor and to entail effects and risks, than to supplant it with a newer and truer one?  Here I find myself more a Wordsworthian than a Blakean (Blake never hiked), although I’d also point out that Blake sees the imprint of the animal on the human, not just the human on or within the animal.  And who’s to say that that radical idealist wouldn’t hold up a sign calling to clean up the Thames or to preserve a wilderness, even-, or because, he knew that place to be one humanly conceived and abused?  As Tim declares, “Ecology may be without nature. But it is not without us.”  True enough, with or without a “nature” beyond our ecological conceiving and dreams.

Thanks again Tim, Ashton, and Ron.

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Thoreau and Urbanature: a Final Thought

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"Wildness" much more than "wilderness" was the key concept sought by America's greatest Romantic "nature" writer. His goal was psychological as much as it was ecological. Seen in this light, the activity of the human mind always has powerful consequences in our treatment of the nonhuman world. Thoreau's life in nature, like yours or mine, is entirely a function of the actions and reactions of his mind. What he chooses to describe has more to do with his own thinking and the desires of his heart than with any objective state of affairs in the external world. He does not want us to go live in the wilderness so much as he wants each of us to wild our own minds, to turn away from society toward the wildness that is within us. The result of such wilding will be a closer link between the human and the nonhuman worlds.

Charles D. G. Roberts, the famous Victorian Canadian man of letters, says that Thoreau went through "Nature" to reach his goal. The goal was not nature itself, but rather freedom. Robert Louis Stevenson, as Roberts also notes, said that the cabin on Walden Pond was "a station on man's underground railway from slavery to freedom." The freedom that Thoreau sought at Walden was freedom of thought but also of action. This idea of freedom emerged from his abolitionist childhood, perhaps, but expanded as an adult far beyond the pressing need to free American slaves from their bondage. Thoreau's mind sought to free human beings all over the world from political restrictions of every kind and also from enslavement to narrow-minded ways of thinking.

He resented organized religions of all kinds because each religion told a distinct group of human beings that one way of understanding the cosmos was the only right way. Once Thoreau had read the Bhagavad-Gita and the Vedas, which he got from Emerson's library, it became hard for him ever again to see Judaic or Christian scripture as the only source of divine wisdom. He resented the rampant religion of materialism that he saw around himself in Concord and Boston, because of the way it imprisoned its practitioners and devotees rather than liberating them. The townspeople around him carried their possessions on their backs like burdens they could not lay down. Thoreau's response was explicit: "Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only. Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul."

Thoreau's battle cry for this liberating kind of freedom, his anti-materialism, and his sense of a surging energy at the center of the nonhuman world, all contributed to a sensibility that has resonated throughout America, and beyond, over the past two centuries. Even today his widespread influence continues. He is quoted by politicians and songwriters. His wisdom appears from state houses and college classes to t-shirts and bumper stickers. In his naturalistic individualism, in his devotion to history and to classical texts, in his belief in nonviolent resistance to unjust laws, Thoreau put into play central tenets of Ralph Waldo Emerson's thinking-and of a wider American Transcendentalism-in ways that continue to shape our politics, populism, and popular culture. At the same time, his effect on the tradition of nature writing and the wider environmental movement has been incalculable. He is a nineteenth-century thinker for the twenty-first century. He is a secular high-priest for our time, perhaps for all time.

I would like to end my ecocritical blog-posts by recalling that a locomotive ran along the edge of Walden Pond every day that Thoreau lived there between 1845 and 1847. Thoreau could hear the wheels against steel rails. He could smell the smoke from the coal-fired smokestack. He walked into town along its right-of-way. The freight car workers often nodded to him like old friends. The locomotive's whistle was, to Thoreau, like the "scream of a hawk." The steam emerging from the engine's smokestack was like a "downy cloud [. . .] high in the heavens." Thoreau does not even mind the commerce that is associated with this rumbling rail line. He only complains about the human tendency to substitute the value of these transported goods for the human values that these goods are meant to serve: relieving hunger, clothing the needy, warming the cold. Here, in the metaphoric center of American nature writing, with a rail line running through pristine wilderness, we once again find an interpenetration of natural and urban, of wild and human. For Thoreau, our nonhuman, natural house is the same place as our fully human, cultural home: urbanature.

--A.N.

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