Literature

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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The Negative Turn: Smith’s Elegiac Sonnets and the Right not to Communicate

This essay proposes a reinterpretation of Charlotte Smith’s role in the romantic sonnet revival. It argues, against the predominant trend in Smith criticism, that Elegiac Sonnets is a counter-sentimental work. Smith’s primary innovation in the sonnet form was a particular way of using its “turn” function to dissociate the lyric subject from an unsatisfying reality. This gesture—the “negative turn”—occurs throughout the many editions of Elegiac Sonnets. Emphasizing this aspect of Smith’s sonnets prepares the ground for a hypothesis about her influence on subsequent generations of poets: similar rhetorical devices can be found in works by Cowper, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats. The phenomenological efficacy of the “negative turn,” in Smith and other poets, can be usefully described via D. W. Winnicott’s psychoanalytic argument for a “right not to communicate.” Smith’s sonnets invoke this right, and provide a crucial poetic technique for dissociating from the coercive facticity of an unsatisfying reality.

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Caleb’s Unreasonable Doubt

This essay considers the doubt and its relation to desire as explored in William Godwin’s Caleb Williams (1794). It argues that the novel’s interest in doubt, and particularly its interest in how doubt organizes legal inquiry, should be read in dialogue with a form of legal doubt adopted within eighteenth-century legal epistemology as a response to problem of legal judgment under uncertainty and now crystallized in the “beyond reasonable doubt” evidentiary standard that continues to organize legal proof in Anglophone law. The essay considers how the novel’s insistence on the ways desire conditions doubt subverts the claims to “disinterestedness” and “reasonableness” that recommend “reasonable doubt” as legitimate and adequate response to the risks posed by judgment under uncertainty. The novel’s ironic treatment of “reasonable doubt” exposes how reasonable doubt is itself conditioned by an “unreasonable” desire to preserve the possibility of legal judgment despite these risks and how this unreasonable, conservative desire ultimately compromises its ability to assess and respond to uncertainty. Through Caleb’s “unreasonable doubt” and the reader’s “doubt-as-suspense,” the novel pursues doubt as raw, affective excess -- doubt as it exists “before” it is disciplined or conditioned by skepticism -- in an attempt to expose the basis of doubt in unreasonable, inaccessible desire and, thus, to call into question its legitimacy as a ground for legal judgment. The essay’s coda considers how the doubt “before skepticism” pursued by Caleb Williams might be generalized as a form of “Romantic doubt” and, further, how this “Romantic doubt” allows us to reimagine the relation of Romanticism and skepticism.

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About this Volume

About this Volume

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,

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Romanticism and the Rights of the Negative

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.

Date published: 

June, 2017

Study Abroad in the Lake District

Date published: 

May, 2017

This collection grows out of a 2014 conference panel at the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (NASSR), in which five of our six authors shared their varied experiences leading study-abroad courses and field schools to various parts of England and France. These experiences ranged from do-it-yourself plans to full partnerships with third-party organizers, with a similar range of flexibility and cost. Taken together, five areas shape the concerns of the five chapters: models of study and the logistics of running them; models of leadership; types of assignments and excursions; forms of collaborative teaching and learning; and the value of international education for humanities-based learning. This volume will provide practical and experience-based information about study-abroad programs as well as critical reflection about methods and motives.

A Do-It-Yourself Study Abroad Tour of the Lakes and Snowdonia

This essay provides guidelines for anyone who wants to plan his or her own study-abroad trip the English Lake District, outlining the advantages and disadvantages of not using a professional touring or educational service. The essay includes information on lodging and transportation, and describes visits to Keswick, Grasmere, Ullswater, Barrow-in-Furness, and Mt. Snowdon.

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The Lakes, the Field, and Beyond: Designing Field School Assignments

This essay provides an introduction to the concept of the “field,” and explores how fieldwork can be brought into humanities-based courses to reinvigorate humanities pedagogy. It provides a detailed survey of digital-based assignments, which we promote because they more readily allow for cultural fieldwork to be multi-modal, shared, and archived. This digital approach enables greater integration between the students’ home and field environments, breaking down artificial distinctions between the two and supporting ongoing virtual fieldwork.

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“Much Depends on Dinner:” On Students, Food, and Foreigners

Most faculty organizing abroad programs know to have an opening dinner to help everyone to “bond” at the beginning of a group trip -- and most of us are equally aware of the advantages to having a final meal together before everyone returns home. But instructors do not tend to think about eating and student diet for the intervening weeks. Food and food culture, as we all know, are crucial parts of any ethnography. The food and dining habits of a nation tell us a great deal about its priorities, its lifestyle, and its history. To ignore the food of a nation is to leave that place untried, unknown, untasted. This essay will explore ways in which we can encourage an engagement with the culture in which our students reside by working certain food-oriented events into our field school syllabi and assignments.

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