Romanticism & Contemporary Culture
The essay contains excerpts from Liberal Identity, Literary Pedagogy, and Classic American Realism. Developing an iconoclastic methodology that I call "critical presentism," the book uses close analysis of works by such classic American realists as Wharton, Twain, James, and Chopin to "read" contemporary liberal identity in contexts that range from an affirmative action court case to the liberal arts classroom. The book's aims are two-fold: to provide new critical insights and pedagogical approaches to specific realist works, but also to develop fresh interpretative and political leverage over present-day liberalism. I seek to investigate liberal identity primarily as it overlaps with currently-lived modes of American exceptionalism and whiteness. The book's methodology offers a pedagogical and critical alternative to what James Chandler has described as the "regime of historicism" currently dominating critical studies.
The optics employed by the Picturesque meet with the rules of taking pictures according to Kodak. Both develop what Martin Jay calls "Cartesian perspectivialism"—an abstraction that transforms the land into a landscape for the viewer. Students can use web design and MOOs to examine the way of seeing mapped by the Picturesque and Kodak aesthetics. They can then re-think picturesque representation and consider other means of representing the land that fall outside this way of engaging with one's surroundings.
Jay Clayton's essay documents, with great brio and scholarly rigor, his attempts at bringing together Romantic literature and popular culture in a classroom environment. Clayton explores three modern texts - Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's The Difference Engine, and Tom Stoppard's Arcadia - and their relationship to, and usefulness in, teaching Romanticism. He offers a critical reading of these texts and addresses questions of history, genre and periodization.
In critical dialogue with David Simpson's recent work, Klancher reassesses the notion of "presentism" and how it is often entwined with historicism while appearing in recent debates as its opposite. He invokes a range of contemporary critical contexts in order to argue for moving beyond the culture-wars legacy of claims and counterclaims about presentism.
Jerome McGann's Radiant Textuality is his most recent scholarly speculation regarding the connection between technology and text. This short excerpt introducing McGann's new book argues for the importance of foregrounding what is specifically literary history in discussions of new digital technologies. His preface declares in clear language the relevance of literary history in the Information Age, arguing that "scholarship devoted to aesthetic materials has never been more needed than at this historical moment."
David Simpson's essay, reprinted here from SubStance, makes the compelling argument that strategies for making literary history relevant in both research and the classroom involve inviting students and scholars to project themselves uncritically upon the past. Simpson's particular strategy is archivalism, the disinterested collection of historical detail, which includes a critical appraisal of the limits of such disinterestedness (or objectivity).
This essay examines Byronic heroes in popular culture and the pedagogical value of such examinations. Drawing connections between Byron's heroes and contemporary popular culture heroes allows students a fuller understanding of Byron's work and its cultural context, while at the same time providing them with another tool to analyze the films, television series, and books that they, as consumers of popular culture, so avidly appreciate. The essay considers Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation; Lestat from Anne Rice's The Vampire Lestat; Eric Draven from the film, The Crow; Dream from Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics; and Angel from the eponymous television series. A particular concern involves the ways the Byronic hero provides his audience with a vicarious experience of superhuman abilities and power, but at the same time needs to be "rehumanized" in order to to gain his audience's sympathies in addition to their admiration.
Responding to David Simpson's concerns about the status of literary history, Tomso argues that presentism in literary studies is neither a threat to literary history nor a sign of the "end of history." In his essay, he explains a few of the assumptions about history and reading that motivate recent presentist work in literary criticism and history, and attempts to articulate both the historical and the more personal or subjective value of presentist scholarship.
Close study of popular music introduces students to the complexity and pleasure of lyric experience more effectively than a New Critical definition of the form. It can be a particularly valuable introduction to Wordsworth, whose directness of statement is better judged by the standards of song lyrics than of imagism. But a pedagogy based on this connection needs to be wary of idealizing immediacy and authenticity. Popular music is not necessarily more accessible to students than Romantic texts. The form is more familiar, but effort is still required to move from uncritical to articulate appreciation. A juxtaposition of contemporary and Romantic lyric forms also provides an opportunity to grapple with the paradox of Wordsworth's attitude to the popular culture of his own time, and with anxieties about "mass culture" that our students share with contemporary criticism.