Wordsworth matters first because of the curse that the egotistical sublime was to become. High Victorian poets could not be content unless their speakers could take on personal stances dignified by Wordsworthian high eloquence. But they could no longer marry that eloquence to processes of sensation or to modes of symbol making. So the affective basis for self-projection came increasingly to have little but the poet’s imaginary identification with the role of poet as sustenance for lyric eloquence. This essay uses a short poem by Matthew Arnold to illustrate features of self-projection that become even more striking in overtly Wordsworthian poems like "The Scholar Gypsy." The essay also shows how modernist rejections of Romanticism might better be seen as repudiations of Victorian versions of the romantic subject that had lost the possibility of keeping the ego continuous with sensation. If we treat the poetics of immanence as primarily an emphasis on particular ways of getting as much of mind as possible made continuous with the senses, we can see that the anti-symbolist moderns and their heirs had to reinvent, sans egotistical sublime, what Wordsworth sought as his means of resisting the corrupt modes of feeling influencing social life. Wordsworth is the godfather of at least one strand of contemporary radical poetics because of how he enables us to escape the lyric heritage that Victorian poetics imposed upon him.
This essay traces the ways that Romantic poetics and aesthetics bequeath certain problems of difficulty that emerge full-blown in Modernism proper. The essay identifies and reconsiders a number of issues around the question of "difficulty" that are simultaneously poetic, theoretical, and sociopolitical. The essay's discussions range from Kant and the Romantic poets, through the Frankfurt School and its afterlives in contemporary critical-theoretical writings, to recent poetry and cinema. Among the questions the essay pursues (from a perspective at once aesthetic and sociopolitical) is whether Romantic notions of difficulty taken up by modern art can help us evaluate whether the apparent difficulties of a given piece of contemporary critical or theoretical writing is necessary or justified or whether, on the other hand, it is simply obscure, over-complicated, and/or poorly written (and hence impedes, or renders itself irrelevant to, attempts to put literary-aesthetic materials and experiences into engagement with social, historical, and political reality).
Beginning from Doty's commentary on Keats's "Endymion" manuscript, this essay examines the way the poetic process is figured as a conversation between the given and the made but also between the dark, unconscious world and the active, intellectual world of the will. Using Blanchot's and Tiffany's work on the role of obscurity in the lyric, the essay considers Doty's "Nocture in Black and Gold" as an exploration of leave taking in the form of an embodiment of shadow. Beginning with the poem's epigraph from St. Augustine, "Shadow is the queen of colors," the article traces how the poem investigates the color and substance of shadow or nothingness via an engagement with three sources: Whistler's painting, after which the poem is titled, Keats's notion of a happiness of the moment, and the figure of the Queen of the Night from Mozart's The Magic Flute. Doty's reading of Keats locates the origins of poetry in the very nothingness over which Keats's things of beauty are meant to triumph. For Doty, poetic description, like Blanchot's infinitely eroding cadaver, marks the temporal locus of the body, even as it moves into a nowhere, an obscurity that is, by conventional definition, beyond language. Doty's exploration of this nowhere brings him finally to the burnished darkness of the ordinary sublime, a place of intimacy restored.
Steinman's introduces essays by Charles Altieri on Wordsworth, Arnold, Williams and the contemporary poetry of Lyn Hejinian and Leslie Scalapino; by Robert Kaufman on the problematics and uses of Romantic difficulty from Kant through Bejamin, Adorno and the Frankfurt School to, finally, the work of Barbara Guest and Michael Palmer; and by Ellen Stauder on description and affect in Mark Doty's uses of Keats. Noting the variety of both contemporary and Romantic practices, this introduction argues that despite disagreements about which poetic practices exemplify the meeting of subject, world and feeling, there is an interesting if uneasy agreement that the difficult problem and necessity of having thought, feeling, world and language converge in poems is Romanticism's continuing legacy.