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.