Romantic Materialities, or 'This is not a Thing'

This essay, an introduction to the collection "Romantic Materialities, or 'This is not a Thing," provides an overview of the essays included in the issue in the context of historic and recent accounts of the place of things in Romanticism, showing how a Romantic account of things helps to situate contemporary theory, from Deconstruction to Thing Theory to Object Oriented Ontology.

What Wordsworth Touched

This paper explores the occasion of Wordsworth’s retrospective commentary on his poetry as recorded by Elizabeth Fenwick in notes take at Rydal Mount in 1843. Focusing on the aging poet turning the pages of the book he holds in his hand as he reads and recalls writing his poems, the argument considers touch as a form of mediation that in bringing the subject into relation with the object also brings him into relation with his own material being. Wordsworth’s retrospective project reminds us that such materiality is an inevitable if also a fragile and changing condition of making poets as well as poems.

The Matter of Fictitious Capital

Though Karl Marx stands an irrefutable and even obligatory touchstone in most trajectories of materialism, his historical materialist analysis of capital proceeds by way of a number of formulations that subsequent Marxists would, and do, critique as idealist: conceiving labor as a differential substance that “is more than it has” and that marks the human’s distinction from animals (or, at least, from “bees” as the example goes) by virtue of its ineluctably ideational aspect; conceiving capital as “illusory, but (with) its own laws of motion for all that”; conceiving value as “in reality impossible”; and conceiving capitalism as a mode of production that is simultaneously a metaphysical system. As our present financial crisis has prompted various returns to Marx, particularly to his theory of fictitious capital, this entwining of the material and the ideal once again demands critical attention. This paper focuses on a few signal moments when thinking capitalism requires a materialism merged with its other – moments when it is a necessity, rather than a weakness, for Marxian materialism to have been something more multifaceted than we epigones generally avow.

Literary Immanence

This essay considers the problem of materialism in literature from the perspective of linguistic empiricism. It takes as a its point of departure Paul de Man's treatment of linguistic materiality to argue that a specifically literary description of agency ought to take into account the event of literature as such. It then turns to Gilles Deleuze's formulation of immanence to offer a reading of a key scene in Dicken's Our Mutual Friend that illustrates how literature stages its coming-alive.

Killing What Is Already Dead: 'Original Materialism,' Translation, and Romanticism after de Man

This article adresses Paul de Man's critique of translation in the context of his later writings on aesthetic ideology and materiality. By restoring de Man's essay on Walter Benjamin to its original context of the 1983 Messenger Lectures, it elicits from these later writings a concept of translation that might be of particular relevance for a closer investigation of the interplay between translation and aesthetic theory in the writings of Coleridge and Carlyle.

Radcliffe's Materiality

This article examines Radcliffe's writing as a phenomenon of continuous material surfaces and folds. Radcliffe's Gothic narratives can be seen as assemblages that generate transpersonal affects and intensities. Their conservatism can be seen in how they conceive of agency as a force that arrests or works against the constant movement inherent in materiality.

Material Excursions

“Material Excursions” teases two questions. How does the general mobility and flexibility of late capitalism, increased—if not inaugurated—by cloud computing, leave material traces? And, given romantic poetry's preoccupation with clouds, how does romantic poetry, specifically the poetry of William Wordsworth, help us to think the material traces of cloud computing and the knowledge economy differently? The essay draws from the accidental convergence of Apple’s rhetoric surrounding iCloud and Wordsworth’s “I wandered lonely as a cloud.”

Passing Judgment, Conceding Perfection: Third-Person Narration and Versions of the Cavellian Secular

This essay reviews the tensions between the hard work that the Cavellian figure of “acknowledgment” is supposed to perform in guaranteeing recognition between secular individuals, and the movements of “decline,” “lapse,” and “concession” by which acknowledgment happens. Cavell’s comments on perlocutionary utterances as acts whose happening cannot be definitively concluded, similarly leave open the question of what is to count as a “final word” between people. For a possible answer, the essay turns toward free indirect style in third-person narration as literature’s own performance of the finality, passiveness and non-assertiveness of acknowledgment, and offers sentences from Austen and Stendhal as instances of “passing judgment.” What light can a narrative style that enacts a split between the subject of experience and the agent of its verbalization shed on the Cavellian figures of conceded recognitions, withdrawn questions, and final judgments?

Introduction: Stanley Cavell and the Event of Romanticism

For Romanticists, the many interests of Stanley Cavell’s work include not only the pervasive concern with skepticism across all his books, but topics as divergent as understanding and incomprehensibility, acknowledgment, denial, withholding and secrecy, responsibility, forgiveness, gender, melodrama, horror, monstrousness, therapy, cinematic ontology, religion, secularity, and spectatorship. Two points of emphasis are maintained across his books. These are: the idea of skepticism as an unappeasable predicament one does not solve but lives (skepticism as a problem whose “answer does not consist in denying the conclusion of skepticism but in reconceiving its truth” [The Senses of Walden 133]); and the discovery that acknowledgement and avoidance are primary human orientations (often experienced through their equally human denial), with regard to which certainty and ignorance (the more visible and epistemologically-privileged terms of knowing) are evasions.

Four of the contributors to Stanley Cavell and the Event of Romanticism (François, Fry, Wilner, and Lindstrom) presented early versions of their essays as part of the “Stanley Cavell and Romanticism” panel, organized by Joshua Wilner and Eric Lindstrom, at the 2010 International Conference on Romanticism (ICR) held in Lubbock, Texas.

“A Modest Creed”: Saving Skepticism in Shelley and Cavell

Shelley and Cavell share the view that the imagination, visionary or otherwise, arises from a necessary basis in skepticism. What Shelley calls “Error and Truth” are historical; they are shaped by change and time. Only poetry, perpetually reconstituting veridical propositions as metaphor, can prevent the arteries of knowledge from hardening. Skepticism enables hope: our uncertainty about what life is (it is figured as death in Adonais) makes it possible to wonder whether death may not really be life. Apparently in contrast, Cavell emphasizes romantic disappointment with Kant’s “settlement” with skepticism, whereas for Shelley our inability to know the thing in itself is the very opening required for imaginative hope. Yet Shelley does not doubt the existence of things, only their identity, and also their “life,” and here he anticipates the argument of Cavell in In Quest of the Ordinary. For Shelley, as for Cavell, the visionary does not replace the ordinary but recognizes it anew. They differ from each other finally, however, in that whereas Cavell understands what Wittgenstein calls “criteria” for knowledge in semantic terms, Shelley sees them as typically semiotic: “almost all familiar objects are signs, standing not for themselves but for others” (“On Life”). The darker skepticism of The Triumph of Life anticipates deconstruction.