Repetitions of the Romantic: Working Backward Towards a Structure of Feeling with William Wordsworth, Todd Haynes, Wallace Stevens, Gayatri Spivak, and Aesop Rock

In this essay, I relate my experience of teaching an upper-division class on romantic poetry—my struggles, assumptions and discoveries, and my ultimate decision to revise the way I teach, and to some extend think about, romanticism. The problem—the contemporary/romantic opposition (the topic of this volume of essays)—turned out to be a pedagogical and critical opportunity. It also became a way for my students and me to think and talk about an even deeper split, the schism between the values of our contemporary culture (including the culture of an increasingly professionalized and professionalizing academia) and those of an “aesthetic education.” In what follows, I give firsthand reports about what worked and what didn’t in a class that came to be called “Repetitions of the Romantic,” an engagement with romantic and post-romantic art. Along the way, I address some methodological problems, and offer some reflections on the fragility of teaching the humanities in the contemporary classroom and more specifically on what I see to be the challenges and benefits of teaching the romantic within specific contexts, in my case within the economic and social micro-culture of central Ohio.

Constellations, Contemporaneity, and Coltrane: A Conversation with Tres Pyle

In his latest book Art’s Undoing: In the Wake of a Radical Aestheticism (Fordham University Press, 2013), Forest (Tres) Pyle asserts that certain poetic texts “produce a radical engagement with the very processes by which we conceive of the aesthetic, those processes by which the world is not merely known, but felt—and felt as an effect of representation” (5). This model for a poetics of history draws on a rich web of sources, from Shelley, Benjamin, and de Man to John Coltrane, Todd Haynes, and Cy Twombly, in which constellations of aesthetic experience, not unlike signs and flowers, are self-originating. They “flash up” like flares in a night sky whose apprehension, always possible but never determined, is felt with something of a shiver. In this conversation, Tres and I discuss the poetry, music, painting, cinema, and scholarship that make him shiver, focusing on how this constellation of art, artists, philosophy, and criticism, which spans two centuries, has shaped his approach to understanding and teaching Romanticism. That which makes the Romantic poem particular, Tres says, those characteristics around which we have organized a canon and a name, are precisely what challenge periodization in the first place. If Ian Curtis exhibits a sense of possession that summons up Coleridge, then how are we to reconcile historical specificity with aesthetic continuity? What are the “strange subterranean force[s]” that exert themselves in “adventurous poetic forms, musical examples, cinematic forms, or the visual arts?” Since this conversation, Tres and co-editor Jacques Khalip have assembled a collection of essays that addresses these questions. With essays by Ian Balfour, Sara Guyer, and Gayatri Spivak, among many notable others, Constellations of a Contemporary Romanticism (Fordham University Press, 2016) inquires into the implications of Agamben’s notion of contemporaneity, as an adherence to one’s own time through disjunction and anachronism, for studies of Romanticism. As a constellation itself, the book not only illuminates certain shadows, or future anteriors, of Romanticism as they irrupt in Benjaminian now-time, but it also postulates Romanticism itself as a trope that dramatizes—or “detonates”—such now-time by forcing an experience precisely with that which has been passively deposited into the archives of historical time. It is this sense of Romanticism “with its tentacles extended into the future” that drives our conversation.

Pedagogy of the Depressed: Romanticism and the Long Revolution

This essay discusses how a course about 'literature and revolution' invites students to make use of depression as an affective explanation for the history of optimism, disappointment, reluctant transformation, and fear of the future. Students assess their relationship to the ongoing past in which modernity, mobility, self-making, and optimism were first offered as political goals for entire societies, and consider how a 'long revolution' shapes their relationship to the disappointing present, in the literature classroom as a locus, instrument, and effect of radical social transformation.

Against Utilitarianism: Two Hundred Years of “Useful Knowledge”

This essay challenges students to think about how we might make the case for the public value of the humanities by grounding our own debates about these issues in a close reading of Percy Shelley’s “Defence of Poetry.” It argues that Shelley’s argument against the primacy of utilitarian pragmatism is not, despite its apparent rhetoric, a lofty and off-putting retreat into elitist claims for the arts, but quite the contrary, a radical and politically engaged account of why the arts ultimately matter more than applied forms of “useful knowledge,” even within the context of social reform.


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