Romanticism & Complexity

An investigation into the scientific thought of Romantic writers, looking at the Romantics' conflicted attitudes toward Enlightenment-based science, and offering speculative explorations of their work in the framework of more recent scientific developments. Edited by Hugh Roberts, essays by Arkady Plotnitsky and R. Paul Yoder.

Unlocking Language: Self-Similarity in Blake’s Jerusalem

In the first part of the essay, Yoder outlines John Locke's theory of language as it is presented in Book III of the Essay concerning Human Understanding. Locke identifies the flaws in language as obscurity and instability, and he offers a five-point plan to repair these flaws primarily by eliminating figurative language and limiting the meaning of words to what they have meant in the past. In the second part of the essay, focusing primarily on William Blake's Jerusalem, Yoder argues that Blake offers a theory of language contrary to Locke's theory, one in which language might be described as fractal, a term borrowed from chaos theory. In Blake's system, signfication expands and contracts across a sliding scale of analogous linguistic structures; the standard of these fractal iterations is the human form. Yoder also argues that this understanding of language helps to explain the problem of narrative in Blake's poem.
March 2001

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Complexity and Order

Roberts argues that Romantic criticism's constantly renewed interest in scientific models of explanation and analysis can be best understood in relationship to Romanticism's own conflicted relationship with the scientific Enlightenment project. He further argues that contemporary sciences of chaos and complexity can seem particularly congenial for the Romantic critic in their questioning of the possibility of a deterministic account of the natural world. After describing some of the contradictions inherent in Romantic understandings of chance and indeterminacy, Roberts argues for Isabelle Stengers's concept of "resistance" as a useful conceptual framework for providing some common ground between scientific and humanistic modes of inquiry.
March 2001

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Chaosmic Orders: Nonclassical Physics, Allegory, and the Epistemology of Blake’s Minute Particulars

The essay considers Blake's epistemology of "minute particulars" in terms of what the essay defines as "radical organization," the concept in part indebted to the epistemology of quantum mechanics, further linked to the epistemology of allegory in de Man's sense. By so doing, the essay positions Blake's epistemology in relation to both quantum physics and chaos theory. While both depart epistemologically from classical, Newtonian, physics, they are epistemologically different in turn. This difference helps to illuminate the complexities of Blake's epistemology, which, and the way it departs from Newton, have affinities with both of these theories, but does not fully conforms to either. The essay also relates this epistemological problematic to the view of Blake's illuminated manuscripts as (or at least as anticipating) the artists' books-the art form that combines the self-conscious investigation of the conceptual and material form of the book with the interplay of the literary and the visual within it.
March 2001

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Romanticism and Complexity

An investigation into the scientific thought of Romantic writers, looking at the Romantics' conflicted attitudes toward Enlightenment-based science, and offering speculative explorations of their work in the framework of more recent scientific developments. Edited by Hugh Roberts, essays by Arkady Plotnitsky and R. Paul Yoder.

Date published: 

March, 2001

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