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"Romantic Number(s): A Brief Introduction"

Maureen N. McLane
New York University

1.        When the MLA’s Division on the English Romantic Period called in 2011 for papers on Romantic Number(s), we hoped to register and promote several new lines of inquiry in romanticism and in the humanities more broadly. We hoped the panel discussion might reckon with any or all of the following: older and newer logics of “matching” and “counting” and “measuring” (whether statistical, geometric, or otherwise un/calculable); what seems to be a broader Spinozan turn (itself indebted partly to Gilles Deleuze and Alain Badiou), not least in emergent accounts of “life” and “morphology” (see—among many sources—Frances Ferguson’s, Timothy Morton’s, and Marjorie Levinson’s recent work); challenges to Euclidean projections of/onto spatial order (both in the romantic period and in recent theorization, including Bruno Latour’s work); the impulse to rethink such categories as “bodies,” “multitudes,” “subjectivity” along different axes. (Here one might invoke—in addition to Deleuze and Hardt and Negri—Frances Ferguson’s Pornography: The Theory as one index of this turn: a rethinking of Benthamite calculuses as mechanisms for making subjects newly perceptible, in ways not always registered by Foucauldian analysis.) We hoped we might register as well such diverse phenomena as the resurgent interest in Malthusian population problematics and the revivified inquiries into metrics, prosody, and what Leigh Hunt called “numerous verse.”

2.        The response to our initial CFP was in fact so overwhelming—in both quantity and quality—that we were moved to propose a special second session under the Romantic Number(s) rubric. The work in these two "sets" of essays—occasioned by and developed since those panels—both answers and productively complicates our initial call for reflections on Romantic Number(s). We would not have anticipated, for example, a turn to formal-language theory (as witnessed in Levinson’s essay here) nor a turn to phrenology (see John Savarese). Certainly many possible lines of inquiry go unpursued in what follows here; and sharp-eyed readers will note a lack of quantitatively-oriented method (if not discourse) in what follows. So be it. Our panelists offered remarkable presentations at the 2012 MLA and they have revised them into the richly textured essays presented here. We offer these "sets" as provocations hopefully good to think with, as registrations of some current thinking, and as goads for new—and perhaps radically different—work. And we thank as well the Divisional Committee on the English Romantic Period for their conceptual and institutional élan, Romantic Circles Praxis Series editor Orrin Wang for his intellectual camaraderie and his astute shepherding of this volume, and the anonymous reader of these galleries for his/her trenchant and timely comments on all essays. We are also grateful to Site Manager Dave Rettenmaier and his team at Romantic Circles. Such a venture, in its communal and fortifying exchange, has helped dispel (at least for this editor/commentator) whatever remains of the romantic ideology of “the one,” singular, scholarly isolato.

Published @ RC

April 2013