Guyer’s essay "Biopoetics" opens by elegantly noting that it was not just natural and social scientists who became interested in life around 1800, but also poets. What, Guyer asks, would be a poetic understanding of the relationship between literature, power, and life? To answer this question, she turns to Barbara Johnson’s account of the relation of poetic apostrophe, a rhetorical figure of animation, and the politics of abortionas well as to John Clare’s romantic-period poem, To Mary. The conjugation of Clare and Johnson suggests that what is at stake in the relationship between romanticism, biopolitics, and literature is not a shared thematic representation of life but, rather, a shared predicament concerning the representation of life. Guyer reveals the nature of this predicament in an economic reading of the poem’s apostrophic complex.
This essay introduces the Romantic-period political reformer and polymath John Thelwall and takes stock of his rapid critical renaissance over the past decade. The announcement of a new archival find, a copy of a seventeenth-century play owned and annotated by Thelwall, serves to highlight the range of his interests and activities. Presenting Thelwall as a leading representative of “romantic sociability,” I situate him within wider social and intellectual networks than have hitherto been mapped, and I raise questions about the coherence and continuity of his diverse pursuits—literary, political, and scientific—that demand further attention. My brief overview of the essays collected here emphasizes how they address those questions, engaging with one another, with existing Thelwall scholarship, and with Romantic studies more generally. This introduction also sets forth the rationale for the volume as part of the larger project John Thelwall: Recovery and Reassessments (forthcoming) and explains why Romantic Circles is an especially appropriate venue for that project’s efforts to advance Thelwall studies by reconnecting text, voice, and image in the dynamic way for which Thelwall himself was renowned.
This Romantic Circles Praxis Volume moves the perspective of critical inquiry into British Romanticism from the Island (England) to the Islands (West Indies), considering the particular significance of the Atlantic—watery vortex of myriad economic and cultural exchanges, roaring multiplicity of agencies, and vast whirlpool of creative powers. Black Romanticism remembers a forgotten ancestry of British culture, recovering the vital agencies of diasporic Africans and creole cultures of the West Indies. It does so by practicing counter-literacy, reading the works of nation, empire, and colony against themselves to liberate the common cultures they occlude. The five essays presented here examine texts by or about Jean Jacque Dessalines, Juan Manzano, Jack Mansong, Mary Prince, and John Gabriel Stedman, following a circuitous route that begins in Africa and travels from Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, Suriname, Bermuda, and Antigua to corresponding points in England, America, and the continent. The circulation of radically different adaptations of the “same” material provides new ways to understand the colonial Caribbean.
Popular representations of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a Haitian Revolutionary general and Haiti’s first head of state, have shaped his legacy for various political, creative, and ritualistic purposes. While most factions have presented Dessalines as either completely demonic or virtuously heroic, only Haiti’s religion of Vodou recognizes and actually celebrates his many contradictions.
Speitz reveals how Prince’s narrative attests to the importance of salt, a central product of slave labor in the British-held West Indies. Although its overall value is largely ignored in literary scholarship, Speitz demonstrates how harvesting salt proved harmful enough to inspire Prince’s rendition of a horrific contortion of being. Her repeated detrimental exposure to salt transforms Prince’s body, consciousness, and ultimately, of course, her narrative--making it tantamount to a material history and psychological case study of a forced merger of landscape, labor, body, and mind. Prince’s text records how lethal amounts of salt seep through the skin, forging a visceral, literal, and grotesque union between salt, the commodified substance, and the slave, the commodified worker. Further, buttressing the vast amount of scholarship on the historical significance of luxury consumables which could easily impede international or regional revenue streams if boycotted, Speitz brings to light the unacknowledged history of Caribbean salt raking relative to not only British colonial economies and politics, but also to the revolutionary history of the United States, in which it plays a pivotal role.
The current multiplex configuration of Stedman's _Narrative_ emerged in 1988, the result of Richard and Sally Price's new scholarly edition. The Prices' text transcribed Stedman's 1790 manuscript version aiming to restore his original authorial intent and exposing the extent to which the text had been altered by Stedman's first editor, Joseph Johnson. Both versions of the _Narrative_ are troubled by what they cannot contain, whether it be the sexual exploitation made possible by plantation-slavery, or the inter-racial desire that would eventually mark Stedman's _Narrative_ as a singular example of resistance to the exploitations inherent in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world.