Literature

Ashley Cross - Mary Robinson and the Genesis of Romanticism: Literary Dialogues and Debts, 1784–1821. Reviewed by David Sigler

Ashley Cross, Mary Robinson and the Genesis of Romanticism: Literary Dialogues and Debts, 1784–1821 (Routledge, 2017). xiii + 288 pp. (Hdbk., $140; ISBN 9781848933682).

David Sigler
University of Calgary

Romantic Circles BookChat: Michael Gamer's Romanticism, Self-Canonization, and the Business of Poetry, hosted by Kirstyn Leuner

Kirstyn Leuner (Assistant Professor, Santa Clara University) hosts a chat with Michael Gamer (Professor, University of Pennsylvania) to discuss his new book Romanticism, Self-Canonization, and the Business of Poetry (Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, 2017). Their guests are Jeffrey N. Cox (Professor, University of Colorado Boulder), Devin Griffiths (Assistant Professor, University of Southern California), and Devoney Looser (Professor, Arizona State University). Prof.

The Immaterial “Christabel”: Reading Revision Before and After Publication

This article takes up the act of retreating or withdrawal as a way of reading the unpublished and published versions of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Christabel." Although Coleridge intended to publish "Christabel" in the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads in 1800, the poem was withheld from publication until 1816 and further revised by Coleridge until 1834. Rather than reading revision as clarifying authorial intention, or seeing less revision as creating more indeterminacy, I see Coleridge's revisions to "Christabel" as representing revision in a third sense: considerable revision that appears insignificant but instead compounds the indeterminacy of the text's writing. Taking up Coleridge's addition of The Conclusion to Part the Second as well as the modifications to the primary scene of unreadability between Geraldine and Christabel, I argue that Coleridge's repeated retreating and returning to these scenes are symptomatic of a traumatic relation that cannot be read in terms of authorial intention, but rather, in the words of Catherine Malabou, as an involuntary retreat that "the psyche cannot stage . . . for itself" (Malabou 9).

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“Something Not Yet Made Good”: The Tropology of the Negative in Godwin’s Mandeville

This paper takes up Godwin’s fourth major novel, Mandeville (1817), and explores its extreme negativity as a recursive space for the stalled revolutionary energies of what Godwin saw as the only period in British history worthy of “genuine and independent man”: the period of the Civil Wars and the “English Revolution,” which had many resonances with his own time. The novel, which begins with the Irish Rebellion of 1641 and ends on the eve of the Restoration, is a catachresis: a historical novel whose protagonist never enters history as he progressively retreats into the closet of his psychic history. At its centre is the misanthropic protagonist’s “eternal war” on his rival and future brother-in-law Clifford, who prvides an alibi for an almost pathological deconstruction of normativity. The story ends shockingly with Mandeville’s accidental defacement by Clifford, an effraction that dis-figures all schemes of restoration. But the novel is by no means the “domestic story” that Godwin’s publisher wanted to make it, as Mandeville’s damaged life is a symptom, “imprinted by history and the process of history’s destruction of the body” (Foucault). Approaching the text within the political unconscious of seventeenth-century religious politics, I see the fanaticism that provides the text’s historical backdrop and its later secularization as misanthropy as tropes that must be turned back and in on themselves to discern whether history is absolute negation or the site of a dissensus whose potential comes forth warped and convoluted by a culture that represses its underlying contradictions.

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Introduction

This collection thinks the “rights” of the negative against the more common association of the term “rights” with human rights and rights that can be posited. Such rights, despite their seeming liberalism, produce a normative notion of the person which is in the end biopolitical, and moreover, in assuming that rights can always be posited, they assume the primacy of the public sphere. The essays in this collection all resist the current emphasis on the public sphere that has resulted from the absorption of “Romanticism” into the “Nineteenth Century,” and focus instead on Romanticism as a retreat from publication, publicity and consensus. Whether this retreat is absolute negation or a withdrawal that holds something in reserve is a question left open in the spaces between these six essays on Godwin, Charlotte Smith, Coleridge and Goya.

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Worldlessness and the Worst in Goya’s Disasters of War

Although often heralded as a passionate denunciation of the mayhem of the Peninsular War, Francisco de Goya’s The Disasters of War (1814-1820) was not published during the artist’s lifetime. My wager is to treat Goya’s desistance not as evasive but as intrinsic to the Disasters itself, now seen as an artistic practice and an experiment in living that takes on ruination without necessarily metabolizing it. Goya releases his images by denying them refuge in the visibly social. In what ways are traces of this abstention legible in the aquatints themselves? The fact that the prints remained uncirculated during Goya’s lifetime threads together life and work, wartime and the aesthetic, survival and ruination in ambiguous but mortalizing ways, and puts to us that, for a time, for the decade that they took to engrave, and then for the remainder of his life, the inventor and then the archivist of the series learned to live alongside disaster in a condition that I call “worldlessness.”

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Positive Negation: On Coleridge’s “Human Life”

Romantic literature at times features instances of positive negation, that trope whereby a literary text gives a body, face, visible form, or effective agency to negativity. In doing so, it anticipates similar features in modernist critical theory, such as Heidegger’s notion of the possibility of the impossibility of existence, or Bataille’s rendition of the presence of the absence of God. Such figures appear in the late poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, especially “Human Life, On the Denial of Immortality,” which reveal a counterside to his late theological reflections. That poem’s deployment of what Coleridge elsewhere considers to be the “positive state” of “Eternal Death” proposes that without the immortality of the soul, the best instance of positive negation is the living human being, who (in an echo of Milton’s Death) personifies the nothingness she or he must face. Such a figure, the poem suggests, can neither mount a suitable emotion in relation to its nothingness nor make its nothingness meaningful; nevertheless, as something crafted by nature’s “restless hands unconsciously,” the mortal becomes a figure of excess, of what interrupts mere blankness, exemplifying not a dialectical rendition of death but a second-order nullity, and thus can be defined through a Lacanian enigmatic signifier, even if one deprived of any code in which it may make sense. The poem thus anticipates certain a/theological features of recent thought, mapping the human as a site for the assertion of negativity.

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