In recent decades skirmishes about how to read literature and culture have at times polarized critics, who find themselves identified, or identify themselves, with distinct critical dispositions toward either historicism or toward some version of poststructuralist writing, in particular deconstruction, supposed to be suspicious of historicism for espousing an empiricist, neo-positivist perspective on the past. What emerges from this standoff can seem comical or simply bizarre as one side imagines the other as its constitutive other, and as such productive of readings in which something is missing. Deconstructive and poststructural readers who ground their readings in philosophical argument and rhetorical nuance are at the very least bemused by the focus on detail in new historicist readings or the large gestures of cultural studies readings. In reply historicist and cultural critics find the lacunae in arguments from philosophical points of departure damaging to the lived temporality of writing and culture. Although this dispute animates more than one moment of literary study (it has become more marked in Victorian studies), its most sustained version has concerned Romanticism, understood variously since the 1980s as the disputed subject of new historicism and deconstruction.
Whatever else it is, Romanticism arises in a moment of extraordinary and divisive recognition of differences among races, peoples, and political programs. And at least since the 1980s, the era has remained the focus of critical dissent as deconstructive, new historicist and other critical arguments debated whose Romanticism was theirs. This debate has in turn helped to shape public understanding of how we read literature and culture now as an enterprise strangely and contentiously divided between thinking about the work of language or the character of historical difference as though each goal could be separated from the other. This opposition is strangely rigid, easy to caricature and, as importantly, easy to dismiss. What gets lost in this critical antagonism is the shimmer of historical and philosophical friction in Romanticism itself and in compelling Romantic criticism in the last decade.
Romantic Frictions emphasizes this important critical turn, which supposes that the pressure of Romantic difference is as much historical and cultural as it is philosophical and theoretical and that it is ongoing in critical discourse. So positioned, these essays address the rub of critical differences as the work at hand as well as the work that Romanticism itself frequently performed. Hearing critical voices rather than taking stands, these essays stage frictions that make Romanticism engaging for modern readers, precisely because this era and its modern critics remind us of the value of difference as the work of thought in time and culture. The essays in Romantic Frictions find in Romanticism what philosophical modernity has often found there: a disposition to recognize oppositions that cannot be squared or resolved precisely because they constitute the ongoing work of culture and writing. Such frictions are embedded in a shifting temporal moment whose inner complexity is similarly textured such that neither history nor philosophy assumes a master (and fictional) disguise. Both are instead crosscut and assembled in ways that sustain an inner friction that invites being read.