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Romantic Frictions

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This volume of Romantic Circles Praxis Series includes an editor's introduction by Theresa M. Kelley, essays by Ian Duncan, Mary A. Favret, Daniel O’Quinn, Matthew Rowlinson, Colin Jager, and Jacques Khalip.

In recent decades skirmishes about how to read literature and culture have at times polarized critics, who find themselves identified, or identify themselves, with distinct critical dispositions toward either historicism or toward some version of poststructuralist writing, in particular deconstruction, supposed to be suspicious of historicism for espousing an empiricist, neo-positivist perspective on the past. What emerges from this standoff can seem comical or simply bizarre as one side imagines the other as its constitutive other, and as such productive of readings in which something is missing. Deconstructive and poststructural readers who ground their readings in philosophical argument and rhetorical nuance are at the very least bemused by the focus on detail in new historicist readings or the large gestures of cultural studies readings. In reply historicist and cultural critics find the lacunae in arguments from philosophical points of departure damaging to the lived temporality of writing and culture. Although this dispute animates more than one moment of literary study (it has become more marked in Victorian studies), its most sustained version has concerned Romanticism, understood variously since the 1980s as the disputed subject of new historicism and deconstruction.

Whatever else it is, Romanticism arises in a moment of extraordinary and divisive recognition of differences among races, peoples, and political programs. And at least since the 1980s, the era has remained the focus of critical dissent as deconstructive, new historicist and other critical arguments debated whose Romanticism was theirs. This debate has in turn helped to shape public understanding of how we read literature and culture now as an enterprise strangely and contentiously divided between thinking about the work of language or the character of historical difference as though each goal could be separated from the other. This opposition is strangely rigid, easy to caricature and, as importantly, easy to dismiss. What gets lost in this critical antagonism is the shimmer of historical and philosophical friction in Romanticism itself and in compelling Romantic criticism in the last decade.

Romantic Frictions emphasizes this important critical turn, which supposes that the pressure of Romantic difference is as much historical and cultural as it is philosophical and theoretical and that it is ongoing in critical discourse. So positioned, these essays address the rub of critical differences as the work at hand as well as the work that Romanticism itself frequently performed. Hearing critical voices rather than taking stands, these essays stage frictions that make Romanticism engaging for modern readers, precisely because this era and its modern critics remind us of the value of difference as the work of thought in time and culture. The essays in Romantic Frictions find in Romanticism what philosophical modernity has often found there: a disposition to recognize oppositions that cannot be squared or resolved precisely because they constitute the ongoing work of culture and writing. Such frictions are embedded in a shifting temporal moment whose inner complexity is similarly textured such that neither history nor philosophy assumes a master (and fictional) disguise. Both are instead crosscut and assembled in ways that sustain an inner friction that invites being read.

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About the Romantic Circles Praxis Series

The Romantic Circles Praxis Series is devoted to using computer technologies for the contemporary critical investigation of the languages, cultures, histories, and theories of Romanticism. Tracking the circulation of Romanticism within these interrelated domains of knowledge, RCPS recognizes as its conceptual terrain a world where Romanticism has, on the one hand, dissolved as a period and an idea into a plurality of discourses and, on the other, retained a vigorous, recognizable hold on the intellectual and theoretical discussions of today. RCPS is committed to mapping out this terrain with the best and most exciting critical writing of contemporary Romanticist scholarship.

About the Contributors

Ian Duncan is Florence Green Bixby Professor of English at University of California, Berkeley. He is author of the award-winning Scott’s Shadow: The Novel in Romantic Edinburgh (Princeton, 2007) and Modern Romance and Transformations of the Novel: The Gothic, Scott, Dickens (Cambridge, 1992), co-editor of Scotland and the Borders of Romanticism (Cambridge, 2004) and editor of James Hogg’s Winter Evening Tales (Edinburgh, 2002) and several novels (including Scott’s Rob Roy and Ivanhoe and Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner) and a co-edited anthology of Travel Writing 1700-1830 for Oxford World’s Classics.

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Mary A. Favret is Professor of English literature at Indiana University-Bloomington, where she specializes in literature and culture of the eighteenth-and nineteenth-centuries, especially British Romanticism. The author of Romantic Correspondence: Women, Politics and the Fiction of Letters (Cambridge, 1993) and co-editor of At the Limits of Romanticism (Indiana, 1994), she has published many scholarly articles, most recently in Modern Language Quarterly and English Literary History. She is curently at work on a book project about modern wartime in British Romanticism.

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Colin Jager is Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University, where he is currently co-director of the “Mind and Culture” seminar at the Center for Cultural Analysis.  His articles have appeared in Modern Language Quarterly, Public Culture, Theory and Event, and Literature Compass.  The Book of God: Secularization and Design in the Romantic Era (University of Pennsylvania Press) appeared in 2006.  He edited "Secularism, Cosmopolitanism, and Romanticism" for Romantic Circles Praxis in 2008, and he has forthcoming articles on Charles Taylor, on literary enchantment, and on pedagogy.

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Theresa M. Kelley is Marjorie and Lorin Tiefenthaler Professor of English at University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is the author of Wordsworth’s Revisionary Aesthetics (Cambridge, 1988), co-editor with Paula Feldman of Voices and Countervoices: Romantic Women Writers (New England, 1995), and Reinventing Allegory (Cambridge, 1997), which won the South Central Modern Language Association award for best scholarly book of that year. Her articles have appeared in ELH, Studies in Romanticism, European Romantic Review, Nineteenth-Century Literature, and she has contributed essays to Romantic Science (SUNY, 2003), Cambridge Companion to Allegory (Cambridge, 2009) and Language without Soil: Adorno and Late Philosophical Modernity (Fordham, 2009). She has just finished writing Clandestine Marriage, on the presence of botany, as figure and material culture, in Romanticism.

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Jacques Khalip is associate professor of English and Modern Culture and Media at Brown University. He is the author of Anonymous Life: Romanticism and Dispossession (Stanford, 2009), and co-editor of Releasing the Image: From Literature to New Media (Stanford, 2011). His current book manuscript, Dwelling in Disaster, considers Romantic and post-Romantic explorations of extinction and wasted life.

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Daniel O'Quinn is an Associate Professor in the School of English and Theatre Studies at the University of Guelph. He is the author of Staging Governance: Theatrical Imperialism in London, 1770-1800 (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005). He has co-edited the Cambridge Companion to British Theatre, 1737-1840 (2007) with Jane Moody and edited Travels of Mirza Abu Taleb Khan for Broadview Press (forthcoming Winter 2008). His articles on the intersection of race, sexuality and class in Romantic culture have appeared in various journals including ELH, Studies in Romanticism, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, European Romantic Review, and Romantic Praxis.

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Matthew Rowlinson is Associate Professor in the Department of English and Centre for Theory and Criticism, University of Western Ontario. He is the author of Tennyson’s Fixations: Psychoanalysis and the Topics of the Early Poetry (Virginia, 1994) and essays on Victorian culture, capitalism, Marx and Jacques Derrida. He is welcomed to this volume as the disciplinary emblem of Romanticism’s differences with Victorian culture.

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September 2011

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