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Paul Davies, Romanticism & Esoteric Tradition: Studies in Imagination

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Paul Davies, Romanticism & Esoteric Tradition: Studies in Imagination. Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne Books, 1998. 208pp. $18.95 (Pbk; ISBN: 0-940262-88-6).

Reviewed by
Sheila A. Spector
Independent Scholar

The task of reviewing for a scholarly journal a book intended for a popular audience invites a comparison between what are essentially two completely different genres—the trade book and the scholarly monograph—as well as some speculation about the gap that separates the two.1 When the book, like Paul Davies's Romanticism & Esoteric Tradition: Studies in Imagination, deals with so-called New Age teachings, the problems are compounded because at least since the Enlightenment, the rationalists dominating intellectual matters in the West have relegated studies of the occult to the outer margins of what has, as a result, become commonly viewed as some sort of pseudo-scholarship. Yet, as the persistent appearance throughout the centuries of books like Davies's suggests, significant numbers of people, even in the rational West, have always been and continue to be attracted to areas of supposedly unenlightened thought, so the question for the reviewer is not whether or not to condemn a popular text for lacking scholarly rigor but, rather, to consider its implications for academics.

New Age theories have developed within the context of the secularization of mysticism, the age-old phenomenon that can be defined on its most basic level as a direct apprehension of reality.2 Although it is usually associated with specific religions, mysticism is fundamentally a non-sectarian mode of thought said to be achieved when the highest level of consciousness merges with what might be called the ultimate reality, thereby producing a non-dual state of being.3 Because that experience is predicated on, to borrow Blake's phrase, the annihilation of the selfhood, it entails concepts antithetical to conventional grammar, whose structures are developed around the distinction between subject and object, the very state the mystic hopes to transcend.4 Therefore, s/he turns to meditation, a contemplative mode of thought that, by circumventing the requirements of the material language system, enables the individual to apprehend in succession all levels of reality on the journey back to the One, a psychological progression generally labeled the via mystica.5 That return from exile, as it is frequently described, is facilitated by a recognition of the Divine analogy, correspondences said to obtain between the physical and spiritual realms. Finally, apprehension of that relationship comprises the essence of Divine Love, knowledge of which is the ultimate goal of the mystical experience.

Several inferences can be drawn from this admittedly simplistic description of mysticism. First, when abstracted to this level, some manifestation of mysticism can be found in virtually all societies, from pre-historical times to the most future-oriented of Western occult movements. Yet, as has been argued, despite these similarities among mystical movements, the event itself is frequently considered to be culturally determined, making the experience of the Sufi, for example, substantively different from that of the Kabbalist.6 Second, mysticism entails a non-rational mode of thought that repositions Western logic into but a preliminary phase on the comprehensive journey, a progression that ultimately transcends the physical boundaries of time and space. Consequently, the very hypothesis of a mystical state threatens the hegemony of Western empiricism. Third, in their totality, the basic concepts associated with mysticism comprise a wide range of academic disciplines, including, in addition to the basic humanities—history, philosophy and religion—linguistics, psychology, anthropology, physical science, and, of course, theoretical physics. Holistically, these disciplines might be considered a kind of ecology, an external reality with which the subjective consciousness establishes some form of an intentional relationship. Finally, mysticism has clear parallels with poetry, the mystic's quest for the ultimate reality being comparable to the poet's attempt to evoke his/her own creative consciousness.7

In Romanticism & Esoteric Tradition: Studies in Imagination, Paul Davies—whose credentials include a doctorate in literature from Reading University, a teaching post at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, and publication of The Ideal Real: Beckett's Fiction and Imagination—reveals the similarities between the basic mystical concepts and romantic poetry by juxtaposing selected passages from each to illuminate a shared mode of thought. Intending "not to win a debate, but to deepen the stages of awareness implicit in the study and practice of the arts, mysticism, and philosophy" (15), Davies substitutes for scholarly rigor what he calls gnosiology, a study of the direct apprehension of knowledge:

What the following essays aim at is to deepen our understanding of the "infusions that power and vector" reason, infusions that were present in uncommonly strong concentrations in the poetry of the Romantic era. In this sense, then, this is a book about Romanticism, but it is equally a study of the nature of the creative principle in the eyes of poets and mystics, and its role in the present and future of this culture. (19)

In the eight chapters included in this book, Davies demonstrates the congruence between the basic mystical concepts and romantic literary theory.

As stated in his introduction, Davies's thesis is that romantic literature—generally that written by the canonical European poets, though not exclusively—shares with the world's mystical traditions certain attitudes towards creativity that "are the effective expression of a nonsectarian spiritual impulse that underlies the religious traditions of the world and holds potential for our evolution" (10). Not interested in demonstrating that romanticism is some form of mysticism, Davies brackets mysticism off from any religious orientation and then places the romantic approach to creativity within the context of mystical discourse, ultimately in order to illuminate modern attitudes towards ecology: "The esoteric discipline and tradition is aimed specifically at ways of allowing this creative movement to happen. It is not only in consonance with ecology, but extends its perspective inward to clarify consciousness, as well as outward to the physical environment" (12).

Following the introduction, Davies explores the parallels between romantic thought and the conventional categories associated with mysticism, the first three chapters focusing on language. In Chapter 1, "The Question," Davies identifies the mystical quest for the source of being with the romantic quest for the poetical principle—in Shelley's words, "at once the root and blossom of all other systems of thought" (31). Once the association between Divine and poetic creation is established, Davies can easily, in Chapter 2, "Sacred Grammar: Toward a Mystical Structuralism," demonstrate the relationship between the Word and external reality, as we "contemplate the universe devolving from the Unqualified Source as the word, spoken by that source, the entifying I am spoken by God, 'whose choral echo' says Coleridge, 'is the Universe'" (50). The Word, in Chapter 3, "The Metaphysical Conversation: The Romantics and Meditation," leads to the contemplative mode of thought in which subject and object merge, or as Coleridge says in Anima Poetae: "I seem rather to be seeking, as it were asking for, a symbolical language for something within me that already and forever exists, than observing anything new" (56-7).

The next three chapters describe the intentional relationship established between the subjective consciousness and externality. Chapter 4, "Active Imagination and Creative Intermediaries," defines the different levels of consciousness experienced by the mystic in terms of Coleridge's analysis of the imagination; and Chapter 5, "The Four Worlds," contextualizes the planes of reality to which the different levels of consciousness correspond within "the imaginative eco-system," ranging from the everyday reality of the physical world, to the level of dream states, through integrative potentials and spiritual determinations, to, finally, the ultimate reality. It is by establishing intentional relationships with these worlds, as is demonstrated in Chapter 6, "The Journeys," that the consciousness is able to ascend from the here and now to the One.

The last two chapters are devoted to the ultimate reality. Chapter 7, "Nature in the Science of Being: Symbol and Phenomenon," considers the correspondences between phenomena in this world and the spiritual realm; and Chapter 8, "Fedele D'Amore: The Essence and Arts of Love," projects the culmination of the mystical journey in terms of Divine Love. Davies concludes in his epilogue, "Poetry and the Science of Wholeness," that because the romantic poets associate this kind of love with nature, "The ecological perspective, the poetic perspective, and mysticism share an identical principle: the absolute unity of existence" (173).

As a trade book, Romanticism & Esoteric Tradition lacks the kind of scholarly apparatus to which readers of Romantic Circles Reviews are accustomed. There is virtually no analysis in this book and certainly no attempt to place the similarities between romanticism and mysticism into any kind of theoretical or historical framework. The endnotes are designed to provide sources for further reading on particular subjects, not to support or amplify any of the points raised in the text. The scant three-page index offers only minimal assistance in locating particular topics or figures. Finally, the bibliography, which appears to be a random selection of primary and secondary sources, contains none of the major studies of romanticism, mysticism or modern science that might help develop Davies's thesis.

Despite the dearth of scholarly materials, however, the theme remains provocative and potentially quite profound. Viewing mysticism and physics as essentially the same phenomenon, Davies implies that the Romantic Period is the nexus where its two manifestations meet, and that romanticism somehow provided the intellectual catalyst through which the former was transformed into the latter. When stated bluntly like this, the hypothesis seems jarring. Still, just this year, Mark Lussier, in Romantic Dynamics: The Poetics of Physicality (St. Martin's Press, 1999), has approached romantic poetry from virtually the same perspective, only he calls it "Physical criticism, . . . the energetic exchange between two broadly cast categories, literature and science, . . . explor[ing] the rhythmic and imaginative resonances between thought experiments crafted by Romantic poets and the full range of contemporary physical theory" (13). In Lussier's bibliography can be found, as would be expected, scholarly materials dealing with romanticism and science, but there are also books on Buddhism and eastern mysticism. Quite significantly, it would seem that neither Davies nor Lussier could confront on an overtly scholarly level the relationship between mysticism and ecology. Lussier does note that

[b]ridges exist between material and spiritual processes, as both "Western" science and "Eastern" religion have recognized, and the need to grapple with emergent physical theory, . . . should be imported into literary critical studies. (45)

Yet, he buries in an endnote his comments on Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism: "Put simply, the collision between Western physics and Eastern religion analyzed therein found considerable confluence yet lacked a rigorous presentation of ecological concerns" (186n35).8

The problem faced by these two authors is, in fact, endemic to academic publishing. Ever since the Enlightenment, curricula have grown progressively more discriminatory (this is not necessarily a bad thing), excluding as being beyond the range of respectable knowledge worth pursuing anything not amenable to logical analysis; and mysticism, by definition, is beyond the purview of Western rationality. Therefore, as disciplines within the Humanities began progressively to represent themselves in terms of the rigors heretofore reserved for the hard sciences, any traces of mysticism, which might have undermined the status of the Humanities, were systematically extirpated. Thus, for example, when Northrop Frye first attempted to sanitize Blake for academic consumption, he exploited a kind of semantic sleight of hand to differentiate between poets and mystics:

The usual label attached to Blake's poetry is "mystical," which is a word he never uses. Yet "mysticism," when the word is not simply an elegant variant of "misty" or "mysterious," means a certain kind of religious technique difficult to reconcile with anyone's poetry. It is a form of spiritual communion with God which is by its nature incommunicable to anyone else, and which soars beyond faith into direct apprehension. But to the artist, qua artist, this apprehension is not an end in itself but a means to another end, the end of producing his poem. The mystical experience for him is poetic material, not poetic form, and must be subordinated to the demands of that form. From the point of view of any genuine mystic this would be somewhat inadequate, and one who was both mystic and poet, never finally deciding which was to be the adjective and which the noun, might be rather badly off. If he decided for poetry, he would perhaps do better to use someone else's mystical experiences, as Crashaw did St. Teresa's.
     I do not say that these difficulties are insurmountable, or that there are no such things as mystical poets. But they are very rare birds, and most of the poets generally called mystics might better be called visionaries, which is not quite the same thing.9

While Frye may have facilitated canonization, he succeeded at the expense of a significant component of Blake's illuminated art. But even beyond Frye's treatment of Blake in particular, romanticists in general have tended to circumvent the question of mysticism, relegating its metaphysical concerns to the margins of religious studies about poets who were popularly viewed as having resisted the constraints of the established Church.10

Yet, it must be emphasized, mysticism is not exclusively a religious phenomenon. A century ago, in Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind, Richard Maurice Bucke argued in favor of a secular approach, redefining mysticism in terms of "a consciousness of the cosmos, that is, of the life and order of the universe."11 Seventy years later, in response to a question about the possibility of mysticism in the twentieth century, Gershom G. Scholem, the pre-eminent authority on Jewish mysticism, cited Bucke when prophesying that the next movement would likely be secular.12 When read together, Davies's and Lussier's books imply the unstated hypothesis that there exists a relationship between romanticism and the secularization of mysticism, but they—and we—don't quite know how to go about testing that theory. One might, like Davies, confront the concept of mysticism head on, though that choice apparently could only be accomplished at the expense of scholarly rigor. For that reason, one might, like Lussier, choose the other alternative, to retain academic respectability, but at the expense of an essential portion of the argument, that is, by relegating the mystical component to a few Buddhist epigraphs and some suggestively ambiguous subtitles.

This is more than simply the issue of tailoring a text to a particular publisher and audience. As a result of the compromises either overtly or implicitly imposed on Davies and Lussier, we have been denied a serious consideration of the role played by romanticism in the secularization of mysticism. What we need is some kind of cross-over text, a hybrid capable of synthesizing the best of both genres. If we were able, like Davies, to accept mysticism on its own terms, and like Lussier, to apply the methodology of rigorous scholarship to that material, but even beyond that, if we were able to develop new analytical tools—like Davies's gnosiology and Lussier's a-causal synchronicity—that might prove more appropriate for non-empirical subject matter, then we might be able to illuminate a significant aspect of romanticism, one that has, until now, been occluded by its association with the occult.

Notes

1. Beth Luey attempts to differentiate between
the two genres in her Handbook for Academic Authors, 3d ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1995). See especially Chapter 9, "Books for General Readers"
(148-69). (Back)

2. From the extensive bibliography of reliable
studies dealing with mysticism, the following are selected highlights, intended to provide
only an overview of the field. Among the classic works produced at the turn of the
twentieth century are William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in
Human Nature
(New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1902; reprint, New York: Collier,
1961); Rufus Jones, Studies in Mystical Religion (New York: Russell & Russell,
1909; reprint, 1970); and Evelyn Underhill's two books, Study in the Nature and
Development of Man's Spiritual Consciousness
(London: Methuen, 1911), and Practical
Mysticism
(New York: Dutton, 1915).
     In the second half of the century, these were supplemented by,
among others, W. T. Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy (Los Angeles: Jeremy P.
Tarcher, distributed by New York: St. Martin's, 1960); and R. C. Zaehner, Mysticism
Sacred and Profane: An Inquiry into Some Varieties of Præternatural Experience
(New
York: Oxford, 1961), and Zen, Drugs and Mysticism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1972;
originally published in England under the title Drugs, Mysticism and Makebelieve [London:
William Collins, 1972]). Stephen T. Katz compiled three anthologies of great importance to
the field: Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis (New York: Oxford University Press,
1978); Mysticism and Religious Traditions (New York: Oxford University Press,
1983); and Mysticism and Language (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992). Also
of interest is Richard H. Jones, Mysticism Examined: Philosophical Inquiries into
Mysticism
(Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993).
     For studies of comparative mysticism, see Rudolf Otto's two
classics—The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-Rational Factor in the Idea
of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational,
trans. John W. Harvey, 2d ed. (London:
Oxford University Press, 1950), and Mysticism East and West: A Comparative Analysis of
the Nature of Mysticism
(New York: Macmillan, 1932; reprint, Wheaton, IL: Theosophical
Publishing House, 1987); and more recently, Leonard Angel's Enlightenment East and West
(Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994). Finally, on Christian mysticism in
particular, see Bernard McGinn, The Presence of God: A History of Western Christian
Mysticism,
vol. 1, The Foundations of Mysticism (New York: Crossroad, 1992);
vol. 2, The Growth of Mysticism (New York: Crossroad, 1994). (Back)

3. I approach mysticism from the perspective of
Jitendra Nath Mohanty's delineation of The Concept of Intentionality (St. Louis:
Warren H. Green, 1972). According to Mohanty, there are four modes of intentional
relationships, the highest of which corresponds to the mystical experience: "To be
brief, the point of departure provided by the notion of intentionality for metaphysical
thought is the concept of 'transcendence.' If intentionality is a reference to what is
beyond, if it is openness to an other, or if it is nothing in itself but a perpetual
self-transcendence—then surely does the thesis of intentionality entail the concept
of a transcendence as that which is the ultimate referent, or as that towards which
man is perpetually open. This transcendence may be construed from the religious point of
view as God, or from the speculative point of view as Being. Intentionality then is in its
hidden essence encounter with God or Being" (192). For a comprehensive discussion of
the relationship between intentionality and mysticism, see the introduction to my
monograph, "Glorious incomprehensible": The Development of Blake's
Kabbalistic Language
(Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2001, forthcoming);
and for an analysis of myth as their controlling structure, see the introduction to its
companion volume, "Wonders Divine": The Development of Blake's Kabbalistic
Myth
(Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2001, forthcoming). ( href="#REF3">Back)

4. For a variety of perspectives on the
mystical use of language, see the essays in Stephen T. Katz's anthology, Mysticism and
Language.
(Back)

5. On meditation, see the anthology edited by
Moshe Idel and Bernard McGinn, Mystical Union in Judaism, Christianity and Islam (New
York: Continuum, 1996). (Back)

6. Stephen T. Katz introduced the theory of
cultural mediation in the essay, "Language, Epistemology, and Mysticism,"
contained in his early anthology, Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis, 22-74. In
response, Robert K. C. Foreman compiled The Problem of Pure Consciousness: Mysticism
and Philosophy
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), an anthology of essays
arguing in favor of the existence of pure consciousness events, unmediated by any cultural
or religious tradition. Katz, who remains unpersuaded by the Foreman position, responded
with "Mystical Speech and Mystical Meaning," the opening essay of Mysticism
and Language,
3-41. (Back)

7. See, for example, Colin Wilson's Poetry
& Mysticism
(1969–70; San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1986). ( href="#REF7">Back)

8. Romanticism in Perspective: Texts,
Cultures, Histories
, Gen. Eds. Marilyn Gaull and Stephen Prickett (London: Macmillan,
2000), 13, 45 and 186n35. (Back)

9. Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William
Blake
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1947), 7-8. (Back)

10. Recently, in href="/reviews/ryan.html">The Romantic Reformation: Religious
Politics in English Literature 1789–1824,
Robert M. Ryan has argued that the
British romantics effected a kind of reformation of British religion through their poetry.
(Back)

11. (Philadelphia: Innes & Sons, 1901;
reprint, New York: Dutton, 1969), 3. Robert M. May's Cosmic Consciousness Revisited:
The Modern Origins and Development of a Western Spiritual Psychology
(Rockport, MA:
Element, 1991) extends Bucke's thesis through the twentieth century, exploring the
dimensions of the "cosmic consciousness" within the context of modern science. ( href="#REF11">Back)

12. "Reflections on the Possibility of
Jewish Mysticism in Our Time," Ariel, 26 (1970): 43-52. (Back)

Works Cited

Angel, Leonard. Enlightenment East and West. Albany: State University of
New York Press, 1994.

Bucke, Richard Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind.
Philadelphia: Innes & Sons, 1901. Reprint, New York: Dutton, 1969.

Capra, Ffitjof. The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels between
Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism.
New York: Bantam Books, 1975.

Davies, Paul. The Ideal Real: Beckett's Fiction and Imagination.
Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1994.

Foreman, Robert K. C., ed. The Problem of Pure Consciousness: Mysticism and
Philosophy.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Frye, Northrop. Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake. Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1947.

Idel, Moshe, and Bernard McGinn, ed. Mystical Union in Judaism, Christianity
and Islam.
New York: Continuum, 1996.

James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature.
New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1902. Rpt. New York: Collier, 1961.

Jones, Richard H. Mysticism Examined: Philosophical Inquiries into Mysticism. Albany:
State University of New York Press, 1993.

Jones, Rufus. Studies in Mystical Religion. New York: Russell & Russell, 1909.
Reprint, 1970.

Katz, Steven T. "Language, Epistemology, and Mysticism." Mysticism
and Philosophical Analysis,
ed. Katz. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. 22-74.

---. "Mystical Speech and Mystical Meaning." In Mysticism and
Language,
ed. Katz. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. 3-41.

Katz, Steven T., ed. Mysticism and Language. New York: Oxford University Press,
1992.

---, ed. Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis. New York: Oxford University Press,
1978.

---, ed. Mysticism and Religious Traditions. New York: Oxford University Press,
1983.

Luey, Beth. Handbook for Academic Authors. 3d ed. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1995.

Lussier, Mark S. Romantic Dynamics: The Poetics of Physicality. Romanticism
in Perspective: Texts, Cultures, Histories, gen ed. Marilyn Gaull and Stephen Prickett.
London: Macmillan, and New York: St. Martin's, 2000.

May, Robert M. Cosmic Consciousness Revisited: The Modern Origins and
Development of a Western Spiritual Psychology.
Rockport, MA: Element, 1991.

McGinn, Bernard. The Presence of God: A History of Western Christian Mysticism.
Vol. 1, The Foundations of Mysticism. New York: Crossroad, 1992. Vol. 2, The
Growth of Mysticism.
New York: Crossroad, 1994.

Mohanty, Jitendra Nath. The Concept of Intentionality. St. Louis: Warren H. Green,
1972.

Otto, Rudolf. The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-Rational Factor in
the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational.
Translated by John W. Harvey.
2d ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1950.

---. Mysticism East and West: A Comparative Analysis of the Nature of
Mysticism.
Translated by B. L. Bracey and R. C. Payne. New York: Macmillan,
1932. Reprint, Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1987.

Ryan, Robert M. The Romantic
Reformation: Religious Politics in English Literature 1789-1824
.
Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Scholem, Gershom. "Reflections on the Possibility of Jewish Mysticism in Our
Time." Ariel, #26(1970): 43-52.

Spector, Sheila A. "Glorious incomprehensible": The Development of
Blake's Kabbalistic Language.
Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2001,
forthcoming.

---. "Wonders Divine": The Development of Blake's Kabbalistic Myth.
Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2001, forthcoming.

Stace, W. T. Mysticism and Philosophy. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher,
distributed by New York: St. Martin's Press, 1960.

Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Man's
Spiritual Consciousness.
London: Methuen, 1911. Reprint, New York: New American
Library, 1974.

---. Practical Mysticism. New York: Dutton, 1915.

Wilson, Colin. Poetry & Mysticism. Part 1, San Francisco: City Lights
Books, 1969. Part 2, London: Hutchinson, 1970. Reprint, San Francisco: City Lights Books,
1986.

Zaehner, R. C. Mysticism Sacred and Profane: An Inquiry into Some Varieties of
Præternatural Experience.
New York: Oxford, 1961.

---. Zen, Drugs and Mysticism. New York: Pantheon Books, 1972. Originally published
in England under the title Drugs, Mysticism and Makebelieve. London: William
Collins, 1972.

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Susan Cabell Djabri, with Annabelle F. Hughes and Jeremy Knight, The Shelleys of Field Place: The Story of the Family and their Estates & The Letters of Bysshe and Timothy Shelley and Other Documents from Horsham Museum & the West Sussex Record Office

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Susan Cabell Djabri, with Annabelle F. Hughes and Jeremy Knight, The Shelleys of Field Place. The Story of the Family and their Estates. Horsham, West Sussex: Horsham Museum Society for Horsham, Museum, 2000. iv + 200pp., illus: 23 b&w (maps, tables, etc.) + 1 color. £10. (Pbk; ISBN: 1-902484-08-8).
The Letters of Bysshe and Timothy Shelley and Other Documents from Horsham Museum & the West Sussex Record Office. Transcribed and annotated by Susan C. Djabri and Jeremy Knight. Horsham, West Sussex. Horsham Museum Society for Horsham Museum, 2000. ii + 186pp., illus: 14 b&w + 1 color. £10. (Pbk; ISBN: 1-902484-09-6).

Reviewed by
Nora Crook
Anglia Polytechnic University, Cambridge

First, a brief preamble on the context of the production of the books under review. Horsham in Sussex, over the two past centuries, has been mostly luke-warm about its most famous son, but Shelley's bicentennial year (1992) and the growth of the British heritage enterprise business provided an occasion for a public shift. The dramatic and original Shelley Fountain (1996) now graces the Horsham Arts Centre; exhibitions have been mounted, including one on Mary Shelley (1997), complete with a small laboratory within which a fearsome Creature realistically heaved its bosom. Visitors can follow a Shelley trail, while in the last decade the attractive little local museum has nurtured its own archive and has built up, through bequests and local sponsorship, an impressive Shelley book collection, probably the largest open to the public in the UK outside universities and the British Library. Scholars are welcomed. Items may be studied with three working days' notice; a few printed holdings are unique, such as a copy of Medwin's 1847 Life of Shelley containing Richard Garnett's own transcription of Medwin's autograph corrections.

Key figures in the development of the Museum towards the status of a Shelley study centre include the energetic curator Jeremy Knight, the independent scholar Susan C. Djabri, and other members of the Horsham Museum Society. The Museum has issued occasional substantial desk-top Shelleyan publications, labours of love and supererogation, transcribed, composed, and compiled in the teeth of budget constraints and sold at very reasonable prices to support future developments. They are not generally on sale, but may be obtained from Horsham Museum Society, 9 The Causeway, Horsham, West Sussex RH12 1HE, UK. Items include Shelley Family Plays (1992), Horsham's Forgotten Son, Thomas Medwin (1995) and a Catalogue of the Shelley Library at Horsham Museum (1999). All merit a place in a Shelley library. The second, in particular, draws on material concerning Shelley's cousin and first memoirist that were totally unknown to Ernest Lovell Jr., Medwin's 1962 biographer, who upon enquiry was told by the curator at the time that nothing of any Shelley interest was in the Horsham collections! Medwin, incidentally, emerges from this examination as more of a scapegrace than he appeared to be before.

The two books under review are, if anything, richer in their interest for Shelleyans than the above. A great deal of work has gone into their preparation. The authors draw on and/or place in the public domain selected material from the Museum's archive of 25,000 documents and from archives in the West Sussex Record Office (WSRO). These documents, even where previously known about (and many are new discoveries), have been little studied or assimilated into Shelley biography to date. (Among scholars who have recognised their significance is James Bieri, the discoverer of Timothy Shelley's illegitimate son, Shelley's half-brother, and to whose help and advice the authors pay tribute.) Useful catalogues of the Shelleyan material in the Horsham Museum and WSRO have been appended to Letters. Researches have been extensive, but not exhaustive; the editors do not rule out the possibility that undetected Shelleyan material might still be bundled up with unrelated documents (Letters, 3). Indeed, one result of publication is that a few more previously unknown, privately-owned Shelley family letters have already come to light.

The Shelleys of Field Place is both a history of the Shelley family in Horsham and a retelling of the familiar story of the relationship of the poet with his father from a West Sussex perspective. "It would be interesting to know the full history of Sir Bysshe Shelley's acquisition of land and money," wrote Donald Reiman in 1979, and the authors have taken up his challenge. The Letters of Bysshe and Timothy Shelley and Other Documents is an edition of transcriptions, arranged and linked with an informative, tactful, well-annotated interpretative commentary. Both books are written in an easy, lucid style, enlivened by touches of humour, and embellished with photocopied reproductions of maps, title pages, contemporary prints, handwriting samples etc. Each is free-standing and makes sense in itself, which means that there is some repetition and overlap between the two. The Shelleys of Field Place aims at a more general readership than The Letters. But neither duplicates the other; each contains new or unfamiliar material and each forces a fresh assessment of matters one had previously considered settled.

The documents directly concerning Shelley are few in number but very interesting; the rest, cumulatively, adjust with small but significant strokes the existing picture of his family and the context of his early life. There are many small nuggets, as, for instance, the address of Shelley's lawyer, Tahourdin; anyone who has ever wondered whether Shelley's mother was a Pilfold or a Pilford (one finds both spellings in Shelley biographies, often in the same book) now can rest assured that Pilfold it is; however, "Pilford" is not a virus introduced by some twentieth-century mistranscriber but was around in the eighteenth century too. In The Shelleys of Field Place a little-known letter from Shelley's mother, first printed in 1942, is reprinted. Apparently the three-year old Shelley was known as "Happy P." and relished partridge with bread sauce every other day. What a sad disappointment it must have been to his mother when this game little feeder grew up, turned vegetarian, and started talking of murdered chickens.

More importantly, the authors produce evidence which challenges received ideas that have been introduced into the biographical record and endlessly repeated. Many of these concern the acquisition of money and status. For instance, the Field Place Shelleys in the eighteenth century were not the junior branch, but as well-established an old county family as one might meet in a summer's day, and a very desirable family to ally oneself with too. They owned even more land than has been generally supposed—enough to forget about some of it on occasion. Shelley was later able to alienate a portion of it from his inheritance, and thus secure an annual income of £1,000, only because that portion had been inadvertently left out of the 1792 entail. The authors suggest that this happened because it had previously provided maintenance for Shelley's insane but by then deceased great-great-uncle John. (We also learn the names of Shelley's certifiably mad ancestors.)

Shelley's grandfather, Sir Bysshe, a pungent and ribald character who straddles both books, seems to have rendered no particular services to the Duke of Norfolk that might have earned him his baronetcy (1806), and was probably awarded it merely as head of the family. He did not have money to squander on Castle Goring, which appears not to have been a mere folie de grandeur, but an architecturally interesting hybrid Anglo-Italianate mansion. The tradition that he eloped with both his wives (thus setting a pattern for his grandson) turns out to have little substance. He certainly contracted a clandestine marriage, but half the marriages in London were then "clandestine"; he was probably doing the fashionable thing. In 1792 we find the veteran engaging in a virility contest with his newly-wedded son, Timothy, having got his own mistress with child to see whose brood mare would drop a colt first. (The metaphor is Sir Bysshe's; he lost by a few days, the winning colt being Timothy's Percy, ever the fiery particle.)

It was Shelley's father Timothy who was the political animal. Making himself useful to the Duke of Norfolk, he bribed and finagled and defeated the candidate of Lady Irwin of Hills (who was up to the same tricks). The documents published in Letters offer a wonderful insight into how "Old Corruption" actually worked, with its creation of "faggots" (bogus householders) and giving of venison feasts. A key player was T. C. Medwin, Thomas Medwin's lawyer father, who acted as Timothy's election agent, but who in 1811 became a bitter enemy, partly as a result of their differences over how to treat the rebellious young Shelley after his expulsion from Oxford. An extraordinarily vehement 1813 letter from T. C. Medwin offers Shelley his insider's legal expertise and implores him to resist the temptation to give up his commanding position as "Tenant in Tail Male" in return for an immediate income. "Rather" he meaningfully urges, "endure many difficulties . . . then you will be in a position to vindicate your own Rights, & reward or punish those who have deserved or may merit your Attention either way" (Letters, 112). Many have noted Shelley's grasp of legal affairs; some credit for that is surely due to Cousin Medwin. Yet Sir Tim was later to be kind to members of the Medwin family. Djabri and Knight suggest that he mellowed into a benign old gentleman, mean-spirited only to Mary Shelley and his grandson Percy Florence. And that's probably true too. "The tragedy is that everyone has his own good reasons," as Octave says in La règle du jeu.

Other highlights of the volumes include: an 1816 letter from Geneva, probably from St John Aubyn, painting a picture of a scientifically-clued up Anglo-Swiss community and mentioning Byron and the Shelley party; a newly rediscovered 1822 letter by Mary Shelley to Marianne Hunt, previously known only in Florence Marshall's 1889 transcript; more details of the financial and other difficulties faced by Shelley's son, Percy Florence, when he came into his inheritance (1844). Shelley's renunciation of his share in the personal fortune of Sir Tim cost his own son very dear. We catch glimpses of Mary Shelley's continuing friendship with the Beauclerks, after Aubrey Beauclerk, the man whom she hoped to marry but renounced under pressure, had married another. We find that John, Shelley's little brother, with whom he had played at parachutes in 1811, seems to have grown up with something of a pick-and-mix attitude to politics. In 1849 he stood for Parliament "on Liberal Principles" while opposing the repeal of the Corn Laws, proposing to relieve "the agricultural distress" by taxing imported corn—a policy which had put the Hungry into the "Hungry Forties." (Mary and Sir Percy, by contrast, favoured repeal.)

Inevitably, as the publications try to satisfy several possible readerships, there are passages, particularly in The Shelleys, more of interest to local historians than to literary students. Yet who can pre-assign limits to the significance that might be derived from even dry rent-rolls? At the least, such facts can enhance the pleasure of any serious literary pilgrim in search of "Shelley's Sussex," and it is right that they should be placed in the public domain. If one niggles at times about points where the editors use old-fashioned or rather eccentric presentation conventions (such as round brackets for editorial insertions), they explain what they are doing and it does not in the end impede comprehension. Proof-reading of the main body of the text has been thorough and typos are few; attention to detail inspires confidence that the transcriptions have been carefully carried out. In short, the authors are very much to be congratulated on these informative productions, which successfully mediate between local antiquarian research and academia.

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Kathleen Jones, A Passionate Sisterhood: Women of the Wordsworth Circle

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Kathleen Jones, A Passionate Sisterhood: Women of the Wordsworth Circle. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000. xix + 313pp. illus. $29.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-22731-0).

Reviewed by
Judith Thompson
Dalhousie University

The Romantic period, with its literary circles and coteries, its close collaborations and incestuous alliances, has long offered fertile ground for the development of a new form of literary biography, that would be more intersubjective, intertextual and historicized, taking into account recent research into plural nature of subjectivity and textuality as well as new historical understanding of the way the "lives of the poets" are interwoven with, and constructed in collaboration with, their others (readers, editors, publishers) and their material and economic circumstances. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the presence of such group biographies as William St. Clair's The Godwins and the Shelleys, or Nicholas Roe's carefully historicized and intertextual Wordsworth and Coleridge: the Radical Years, little has been done to break down prevailing and longstanding notions, originating in the Romantic period, of biography as the writing of a singular self. While the loosening of the canon and the rediscovery of women writers have, as it were, enlarged the optical field to take in ever more moons and satellites, the gravitational pull of the Romantic ideology is so powerful that our attention seems inevitably drawn to the center of any subjective universe.

Kathleen Jones's A Passionate Sisterhood: Women of the Wordsworth Circle exemplifies the difficulty of breaking prevailing paradigms. In choosing to write a group biography focused on the moons and satellites of planet Wordsworth, she makes an admirable effort to recenter and enlarge our perspective upon romantic subjectivity and life-writing. She moves the Great Men, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey, to the margins, where they appear only relationally, weaving in and out of the lives of one another and of the women in their lives, the multiplicitous Saras, Marys, Ediths and Dorothys who are the real subject of this biography. Their wifely, sisterly, motherly and daughterly talents as emotional and domestic managers, building and navigating an intricate web of relationships, facilitated the creation of great romantic poetry (and greater romantic egos), but took an enormous emotional and physical toll. This book opens up rich territory, and it is to Jones's credit that she attempts to look at it whole, to interweave multiple stories and trace patterns of similarity and difference between generations, all the while drawing our attention to the ineluctable realities, economic, material, domestic and physiological, that underlie, underwrite and undercut the grand romantic story. In the end, however, her book does not succeed—not because of its plural topic, but because of its theoretical reductiveness. Relying upon limited and outdated sources, reflecting not at all upon its own methodology, paying scant attention to its subjects as writers, A Passionate Sisterhood, like its subjects, fails to live up to its own creative potential.

Jones creates a dramatic narrative (oddly similar to Wuthering Heights in its intergenerational and binary structure) which shows the increasing complication of the interconnected lives of the poets. Part One introduces the first generation—four sisters (three Frickers and a Wordsworth) and their respective brothers, lovers, husbands and/or soul-mates (Coleridge, Southey and Wordsworth)—and follows the interweaving of their lives and loves in the early years (before 1800). This section is set up around a series of familiar romantic binaries which Jones personifies in her two female leads, representing two models of romantic-era feminine identity: the intellectual, independent, outgoing, Wollstonecraftian Sarah (Fricker Coleridge) and the passionate, dependent, imaginative, Wordsworthian Dorothy (Wordsworth). (To a lesser extent the same binaries shape her presentation of the male characters, as for example the irresponsible Samuel Coleridge is played off against the dutiful Robert Southey.) In Part Two, the cozy complementarity of this "plaited nest" of sibling-lovers is complicated as two more sister-threads (Sara and Mary Hutchinson) are added to the weave, coming between husband and wife or sister and brother, creating emotional tangles and intellectual tensions which lead up to the schism between Samuel Coleridge and William Wordsworth in 1810, with which this section ends. Finally, Part Three deals with the second generation: a "Triad" of daughters (Sara Coleridge, Edith-May Southey, Dora Wordsworth) who play out, but ultimately fail to resolve, the conflicts personified by their parents. Bright, creative, full of potential, they end their lives as monuments to what Jones sees as the fatal hallmark of this passionate sisterhood: the unbridgeable schism between female creativity and domestic, material reality, which inevitably turns feminine romanticism into a movement of potential unfulfilled, of tragic lack and loss, of repression, disappointment and diminishment.

This carefully patterned structure of Jones's biography, with its multiple perspectives on and parallels of character and experience, along with its detail of daily family life in the romantic era, makes for a richly-textured, readable narrative. The close attention paid to health (bodily and psychological), and the impact of such everyday matters as the state of one's feet, the weather and the roads upon one's creative identity, adds something to our understanding of Romanticism, reminding us how material circumstances and quotidian reality must be factored into accounts of creative production. Jones draws heavily upon existing biographies (especially of both Sara Coleridges and of Dorothy Wordsworth), but adds to them insofar as her plural method allows her to juxtapose their experiences not only with one another, but with those of other women in their circle, thereby highlighting the range of romantic female response to similar situations. Thus, for example, in chapter 4 on "The German Experiment," she juxtaposes the experiences of three couples during the winter of 1798–99: the terrible isolation of Sarah Coleridge, left alone by her intellectual adventurer husband to cope with a baby dying with excruciating slowness and pain; the intense, incestuous intimacy and alienation experienced by Dorothy and William Wordsworth alone in rural Germany; and the increasing emotional and physical estrangement of an anorexic, sexually repressed Edith Southey from her equally repressed and obsessive husband Robert. Disappointingly, however, Jones does not often follow up or reflect upon the implications of these juxtapositions, too often jumping abruptly from one pair and one paragraph to another, missing opportunities to draw intellectual conclusions that might complicate and add nuance to her otherwise rigid thesis about the repressive effects of domesticity upon female intellect and imagination.

Surprisingly, given her interest in creativity, Jones does not pay as much attention to the writing of her principals as do some other more critical biographers. Of course, Dorothy's journals are mined for biographical information, or interpreted as evidence of emotional stress and instability (including the requisite over-reading of the wedding-day entry), but there is no serious attention to Dorothy as a writer in her own right, with an intellectual life and a craft of expression, and little understanding or nuanced reading of the deeply fascinating intertextual relationship between her writing and William's. Instead, fitting her thesis regarding repression and depression, Jones stresses Dorothy's utter dependence on William, stating baldly that her life as a writer ends with his marriage to Mary Hutchison (to be fair, the dependence is seen by Jones as mutual, and William's work without Dorothy's inspiration is dismissed as mediocre). In so doing, Jones devalues Dorothy's later accomplishments as a poet and travel writer and ironically reproduces in her own work the very subordination of female creativity to domestic drudgery that she complains of. She relies on outdated sources to support this argument (at one point quoting a book published in 1924 as evidence of a critical "consensus" regarding the relationship between William and Dorothy) and ignores recent criticism (like Susan Levin's Dorothy Wordsworth and Romanticism, which does not even appear in her bibliography) that would have offered her a more balanced and nuanced reading of Dorothy's work and life, and of her continuing creative dialogue with both William and other members of her circle. When attention is paid to the literary accomplishments of the other members of this passionate sisterhood, it is a hit and miss affair. One is surprised, for example, late in the book, to find Jones commenting on the significance of Sarah Fricker Coleridge's invention of her own private language. Not that her observation that "in a household of wordsmiths and linguists it was not only a creative, but also a subversive act" (174) is not worthwhile, but it stands alone: because there has been no attention to Sarah as a writer before this, and there is no attempt to follow up with analysis of her writing, or commentary on the intertextuality between Sarah's and Samuel's philological experiments, or conclusions drawn from comparisons with Dorothy's writing, Sarah's linguistic creation appears as a mere curiosity, contributing nothing to our overall understanding of the feminine imaginary. Likewise, little is made of her daughter Sara Coleridge's accomplishments as an editor, intellectually aware of and engaged with the complex and problematic legacy of her father's genius. Too wrapped up in her idea of repressed creativity, and of writing as a symptom of illness, Jones does not consider the rich ways in which the work of this sisterhood succeeds in self-consciously engaging with, entering into dialogue with, the writing of their brothers and sisters.

Judging from her bibliography, which leans towards biography of rather elderly vintage, Jones has little knowledge of recent developments in literary criticism, and little interest in investigating the enormous number of scholarly resources on Romantic women's lives and writing that have become available in recent years, and that would help enrich her biography. What theoretical framework there is in her book is drawn from a limited range of rather outdated feminist criticism (Showalter, Gilbert and Gubar), and it is applied schematically in a way that undercuts Jones's apparent intention to present a truly multi-faceted, plural view of her subject. The reductiveness of this approach is particularly evident in her binary constructions: for example, her insistent presentation of Sarah and Dorothy as polar opposites, even when evidence contradicts such a presentation. She plays up the slavishness of the latter's devotion to her brother and the emotional manipulativeness of her relations with men and women in her circle, in order to contrast her unfavorably with the wife of Coleridge, whom she presents sympathetically as a long-suffering woman of great intellectual independence locked in a stifling marriage. At the same time, Jones ignores or downplays evidence that doesn't fit her thesis—nowhere do we read of the sharp concern for economic independence shown in Dorothy's astute correspondence with her brother Richard, or her identification with poor women she meets on the road. Jones fails to understand the significance and complexity of Dorothy's writing about vagrants and outcasts and insists that "her whole emotional focus was on William and Coleridge" (129) to the exclusion of all other concerns. Unfortunately this kind of blatant misreading of writing or reductive misrepresentation of character is all too common in this book, which also relies heavily on the popular stereotype of Samuel Coleridge as a drug addict, and generally presents William Wordsworth as a whiny, self-pitying egomaniac.

In short, then, "this will never do." Romantic studies has progressed beyond a reductive binary approach to Romantic-era women as failures and victims, maddened and miserable mirrors of their more successful brothers, husbands, and fathers. We need a more nuanced view of this passionate sisterhood, and of the intricate collaboration that produced Romanticism. And we have had such a view put forward in the studies which Jones ignores, especially Susan Levin's book, and articles by Alan Liu and Kurt Heinzelman, Anne Wallace and Alison Hickey, among others. Scholars looking for a book that would do justice to the complexity of intersubjective and intertextual relations within the Wordsworth Circle would do better to seek out these studies, and to leave A Passionate Sisterhood on the shelf among other accessible but reductive popular biographies of the Romantic generation.

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Clifford Siskin, The Work of Writing: Literature and Social Change, 1700–1830

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Clifford Siskin, The Work of Writing: Literature and Social Change, 1700–1830. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. x + 285pp. $41.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8018-5696-5).  $16.95 (Pap; ISBN: 0-8018-6284-1).

Reviewed by
Ian Balfour
York University

Writing sure is work. And if anyone were in doubt about it, she or he will be persuaded by Clifford Siskin's new and challenging book that probes the fact(s) and the idea of writing during a period when it was particularly transformed and transforming. Siskin's title has a double resonance: he is interested in the work writing does and, to a lesser degree, in writing about work. A book concerned with the former need not address the latter, work being only one among the almost infinite possible subjects or topics of writing. But the conjunction is fortuitous, and one of the numerous virtues of this book on the longish eighteenth century is its attention to the too often unexamined matter of labor (adding to the labors of Donna Landry, Anne Janowitz et al.).

In the flurry of recent work on print culture, we perhaps too often lose sight of the more inclusive category of writing. It is almost as if we had forgotten about the massive achievement of Derrida's Of Grammatology, as well as of its force for our understanding of the "age of Rousseau" broadly understood. But Siskin is alive to the vicissitudes and new possibilities for writing and print, with an eye especially on what is at stake for the changing category of "literature." Most particularly he is attuned to what happens in this period that sees the emergence of a new professionalism of writing, when writing became work in a new and different way. Siskin's own formidable interdisciplinary interests (technology, economics, history of philosophy) come to focus on the disciplinary matters of the eighteenth century and the Romantic period when the protocols of knowledge were substantially rewritten and when the category of "Literature" in the modern sense emerged, almost all of a sudden. One of the motivating forces for this study is that what is now (and then) called "literature" is once again in disciplinary crisis—as literature departments get more and more interested in writing that is not usually called literature. And this in the decades after all those other disciplines had to start paying attention to literary theory.

Though in some places Siskin resists what he calls "the Derridean equation of language with culture" (84)—that criticism seems misplaced, since Derrida argues relentlessly against such logocentrism—I think Siskin is sometimes himself, in his attention to the category of Literature, seduced by what might be called a Foucauldean nominalism. For literature certainly exists avant la lettre, as it were. Take the example of Defoe, for instance. When Defoe in 1726 wrote his Essay Upon Literature (a text almost no one reads—and Siskin can't be faulted for not addressing it) he had in mind nothing at all like our modern sense of literature but rather whatever was written in letters. But isn't Robinson Crusoe (which predates it) undeniably "literature" even if the category had not yet been formulated in its modern sense? (This is not to say that Robinson Crusoe didn't function somewhat differently in the early eighteenth century than it does now, with the marked generic instability well demonstrated by Michael McKeon, Cathy Gallagher, Lennard Davis, and others). But this problem hardly undermines all the force of Siskin's multi-faceted argument.

Following a number of literate social theorists and political scientists (Habermas, David McNally et al.), Siskin links writing (which he calls a new "technology," though one could argue the same for the age of Plato) to economic forces that gave rise to a new professionalism, which he takes to be coterminous with a new spirit of criticism, as if all philosophy now had to be critical philosophy (though not in the Kantian sense). Along these lines, Siskin offers a good chapter on Scottish philosophy and how it shaped the emergent sense of English literature.

Siskin is more than usually well read in women writers of the period and is vigilant about matters of gender. (Though it is odd that at the outset he speaks of "women being excluded in startlingly systematic ways" [2]. Aren't we by now no longer startled by that, but have rather come to expect it [of so many epochs of the past]?) Women writers, despite the rapidly growing number of women readers, had a tenuous relation to the new professionalism of writing—though their relative unimportance to the literary scene is more a fiction of the late nineteenth century institutionalization of the academic study of modern literature—creepily patriarchal—than a fact of eighteenth-century life.

Siskin provides a helpful analysis of how (what passes as) knowledge itself comes to be gendered, or rather is gendered from the very start of the new order of writing. He makes good use of Karen Swann's very fine essay on "The Sublime and the Vulgar," though he could perhaps have underscored more the stark division of aesthetics into the (masculine) sublime and the (feminine) beautiful. But he is attentive to Burke's attempt to rein in, conceptually and descriptively, the unruly realm of experience and to the uneasy and perhaps untenable hierarchies established in his and similar texts. Siskin proposes that if we wonder where the sublime of this period went, we need only look to the sometimes absent term "culture"—a suggestive hypothesis, even if it can't be sustained for every instance or conception of culture.

In the old days most general books on the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries could get along fine without any attention to the novel, but Siskin sees the novel as integral to the work that (literary) writing was doing in the period. He welcomes the inclusion of Austen into the Romantic canon now being re-shaped and has some witty things to say about it. And I find his suggestion that "British nationalism functioned, in part, as a domesticating solution to the uncomfortable threat of writing" intriguing (180). Siskin proposes that what he calls "novelism" helped naturalize writing (unlike, we might say, priestly hieroglyphics, which mystified writing) and the privileging of "English" within the British novel "helped to institute the form of nationalism peculiar to a newly united kingdom" (175).

Siskin often glosses his historicist account with an anecdote from or diagnosis of some scene or event contemporary with us, which has a dual and perhaps contradictory effect. In calling to our attention to a certain conjunction between past and present it somewhat undermines the (New or newish) historicist commitment to the specificity of moments of the past. Why get so worked up about historical specificity if it isn't so specific in the first—or is it second—place? How profoundly new, we might still ask at the end of the day, is the new technology of writing? Or consider how, at the moment when Siskin is glossing the phenomenon of the Gothic and suggesting that the reason for its popularity is because it serves as a site for "the symbolic violence of selective forgetting and remembering" (213), could that not be said of virtually every cultural formation?

But my singling out of some minor shortcomings of Siskin's project is more than outbalanced by the massive learning, good local analyses (e.g., on the lyric and labor) and the bold hypotheses that permeate this study. Especially for its resonant hypotheses, this book will be a force to reckon with for some time to come.

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Susan J. Wolfson, Formal Charges: The Shaping of Poetry in British Romanticism

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Susan J. Wolfson, Formal Charges: The Shaping of Poetry in British Romanticism. Stanford University Press 1997. xiv + 344pp. illus: 10 b&w. $39.50 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8047-2657-4).  $19.95 (Pap; ISBN: 0-8047-3662-6).

Reviewed by
Robert Kaufman
Stanford University

Maybe the best thing that ever could have happened to those contemporary literary criticisms passionately committed to history, material culture, and the sociopolitical in general—not to mention theory—was the challenge of a reinvigorated formalist criticism. Such a challenge is more than a speculative possibility or even a late development: there is a long if discontinuous narrative of the historical (or social, political, cultural), theoretical, and formal camps sharpening one another's critical instruments through amicable, cordial, or hostile joinings of debate. Just within the past few decades' Romanticism-focussed studies, contributions made through and across these categories have helped clarify and reconceptualize literature's relationships to its traditional Others. Yet questions have been raised about whether the players in these contests have already, against their own intentions, been caught in an antiquarian fiction. For this moment in criticism is often enough said to be the Jetztzeit of a fateful disciplinary drama, in which cultural studies ruthlessly analyzes new-just-yesterday versions of historically and theoretically oriented literary study, finding them effectively to have become the latest (last? parasitic? reliquary? finally transitional?) incarnations of a superannuated formalism whose few remaining drops have dripped into our exponentially postformalist era. Still, some contrary evidence suggests that reports of the demise of historically and theoretically inclined literary scholarship may be premature. And it would prove no small measure of poetic justice and post-Romantic irony if concerns for history and theory should in turn find themselves inextricably bound to the survival of form and formalism within literary studies. At any rate, questions about the formal's status vis-à-vis the material, sociopolitical, and historical may not be so moot after all.

Against this backdrop, Susan J. Wolfson's Formal Charges: The Shaping of Poetry in British Romanticism (winner of the American Conference on Romanticism's 1997 Book Prize) has quickly made an important difference. Indeed, the belated assignment of the present review (through no fault of the journal itself) provides an opportunity to assess not only the book's merits, but also something of its incipient reception history in Romantic, Victorian, and twentieth-century studies. Here we should emphasize the particular character of Wolfson's interest in poetic form and critical formalism, and what that character adds to emerging reconfigurations of scholarly investigation of formal matters in Romanticism (and in those descendants of Romanticism known as Modernism and Postmodernism). Because between an extensive, historically and theoretically grounded first chapter and a short afterword (which provide extremely intelligent, much needed reassessments of high Romantic poetry's crucial relationships to modern formalist and historicist criticism—relationships linked in turn to Romanticism's significance for Modernism and its aftermaths), Wolfson dedicates herself to a close-reading praxis whose intensity may be unmatched in contemporary Romantic studies. In fact, among today's critics identified primarily with Romanticism, perhaps only the work of William Keach and a few others rivals Wolfson's sustained commitment to dense, dilated, extraordinarily worked-up readings of poetry's formal events, starting from units as minimal as the phoneme.

Wolfson's readings display what to many readers may appear as an attempt, not least at the level of style, to resurrect a presumably retrograde New Critical universe of virtuosic attention to complicated, contradictory registers of poetic form. Indeed, Wolfson's relentlessly close, frequently tours de force readings are so willing to attend to the microscopic that a quatrain can come to seem a formal unit of near-epic size. Yet Wolfson directs her matching or outdoing of New Critical formalist virtuosity against the political conservativism so regularly associated with New Criticism and also—with necessarily greater charge, for obvious historical reasons—against revisionist, Left critical tendencies that see formalism as inherently quietest, conservative, or reactionary. She seeks to counter the political, historical, and social charges that have been filed against high Romanticism's (and modern formalism's) emphasis on poetic form and aesthetic experience; her case proceeds by recourse to an alternative notion of charge. Wolfson highlights the ways that acts of making and responding to literary form are at least protocritically imbued with sociopolitical significance, so that poetry's internal charges may themselves help charge the frontlines for, or recharge the batteries of, a critical human agency.

Wolfson ingeniously casts the book in the form of chapters on each of the traditional "Big Six" English Romantic poets (these chapters are framed by the book's introduction and afterword). Even before the consistently impressive textual exegeses, then, she macrologically enacts her project's doubly-charged duty. Canonical form itself is foregrounded—most palpably in the very form of attention to the Big Six, with all their influence on modern notions of poetic form's privileged status—while, in an opposite movement, the more celebrated texts and passages of those poets generally give way to noncanonical writings. To convey how lesser known texts relate (if at all) to long-honored works, Wolfson inevitably takes up a large number of genres in their interactions with sociohistorical context and as they exist within and across particular poetic oeuvres. Her study, with its ongoing reflections on form and genre, thus bookends usefully with Stuart Curran's Poetic Form and British Romanticism (1986). Seeking to correct what he had perceived as criticism's erasure of Romantic investments in and reimaginings of traditional forms and genres, Curran had surveyed and synthesized a tremendous amount of poetry, and had himself offered, in the process, no small number of illuminating close readings. Wolfson in certain ways begins from the opposite impulse—to consider, in a limited number of famous poets' texts, the immediate, often minutely-focussed experience of poetic form—but ultimately presents a complementary investigation of how poetic form and genre inform Romantic writers' and audiences' attempts to understand their historically unprecedented modernity. To grasp how the dynamics of poetic form help enable such conceptual-emotional engagement, Wolfson effectively argues, is to comprehend poetry's protocritical or protopolitical vocation.

The book's sections allow this argument to take powerful shape. The chapters investigate the methods by which the poets experimentally engage, extend, and mobilize the elements of poetic form—including meter, syntax, sound pattern, diction, rhetorical figures (and the problem of figuration itself), sound and visual punning, allusion, and so forth—to underwrite their respective visions of poetry and aesthetic experience as protocritique. Real treatment of the fabric woven from Wolfson's remarkable sensitivity to the how of poetry's formal acts (and the pleasure that her communication of it provides) is beyond the scope of a review, such as this one, that stresses her book's contributions to overarching debates about the critical value of poetic form and aesthetic experience. Suffice it to say that such large claims are worthless without on-the-pulses proof culled from the poems themselves, and that Wolfson's frequently pyrotechnical readings—which alone would be worth the price of admission—deftly marshal poetic data for interpretations that are compelling at the levels of line, stanza, poem, social context, and theoreticohistorical framework. In nimble coordinations of personal, sociopolitical, and textual materials, Wolfson gracefully articulates, for instance, the complexities of Byron's existential and aesthetic performance of the heroic role, so that the life and the heroic-couplet form are seen continually (if contradictorily) to construct one another. In an equally acute discussion, she shows how Wordsworth's long history of revising The Prelude's "drowned man" episode leads to an understanding of how poetry's formal agencies can actually subvert their ostensible telos of formal closure, concomitantly troubling the demarcations conventionally made among a work's author, readers, and referents.

In these and other cases, Wolfson emphasizes the ways that formal dynamics instigate critique, not only of a work's sociopolitical données but of the ideological functions to which poetic form itself may fall prey. In a superb chapter on Poetical Sketches, Wolfson demonstrates in great detail how Blake's prosody (well before the Songs (1789) of Innocence and Experience would brilliantly thread anxiety about poetic "beguilement" right into the sonic, semantic, and visual elements of poems whose beguilements were patently meant to ease or resist the pressures of the ideologically given) projects a concept of poetic form virtually synonymous with a critique of poetic form's own, if unintended, ideological effects. Meanwhile, a chapter on Keats's late lyrics overturns some old tables, or rediscovers what was always underneath them. These late Keats poems have long been deemed—by an overwhelming consensus in Keats-interpretation as well as New Criticism and, indeed, most twentieth-century, Anglo-American formalisms—a collective embarrassment, texts too emotionally wrought and lacking in serious, impersonal aesthetic discipline: examples, in a phrase, of too obviously unachieved form, fallings off from the masterful shapings of tension enshrined in Keats' Great Odes. Wolfson shows, however, that late-Keats-looseness may be nothing less than the development of "a problematic of form already at play, and quite deliberately so, in the Odes themselves" (192).

If that sounds like an important rethinking-from-within of modern, Keats-and-Romanticism-derived axioms about the relationships between monumental, impersonal constructionism and feelingful expressivity, Wolfson's stunning chapter on Coleridge—perhaps the book's best and most unexpected—has prepared the way for it (though, sneakily enough, with suggestions of an opposite trajectory for construction-and-expression from the one Wolfson will trace in the Keats chapter). Burrowing her way deep into Coleridge's play (in prose and verse) with simile, Wolfson locates the terrific stress at the heart of what, perhaps above all else, makes Coleridge such an enormous influence on nineteenth- and twentieth-century poetics: the aesthetic theory and poetic practice of organic form. In a well-known analysis shared in certain measure by deconstruction, Marxism, and adjacent methodologies, organic form is today seen as the alpha and omega of ideology or, better, of the modern aesthetic ideology inaugurated in Romanticism and still powerfully operative. In the standard critique-of-aesthetic-ideology narrative, organic form papers over artistic and social artifice, papers over, that is, construction; effacing what Coleridge and others stigmatize as mechanic form, organic form thereby encourages the ideological illusion that art and society are vegetative and natural, rather than artificial human constructions subject to change, to reconstruction.

Wolfson rehearses the successive levels at which Coleridge works out his preference for organic over mechanic(al) form, most notably, imagination over fancy, symbol over allegory. But as is her wont, she begins by patiently honing in on the most minimal of linguistic or conceptual units, which here are literature's building blocks of comparison and are, not coincidentally, the building blocks of figuration itself: Coleridge's mechanic-identified simile and his more organically integrative, imaginative metaphor. With precedent in critical history but with a relentlessness and acuity all her own, Wolfson reveals how riven—in ways obvious to Coleridge—are the poet-theorist's attempts, across his writing life, to keep simile and metaphor separate. I can't begin to do justice in this review to what is simply an astonishing intuitive and intellectual sense, on Wolfson's part, for how Coleridge works this field of force and how it works on him. Yet it bears remarking that, in fascinating contrast to many of the valuable deconstructive and historicist accounts of this question, Wolfson at least implies that Coleridge's problems in simile-metaphor management may not readily map onto all his other great oppositions, and that his oppositional structure as a whole does not necessarily map onto critique-of-aesthetic-ideology political grids. It may be true that constructivist simile, with its advertised method of like/as comparison, often secrets itself inside the apparent naturalness of metaphor; Wolfson mines Coleridge's own work for abundant evidence on this count. It may also be the case, as Wolfson reminds us, that allegorical modalities, starting with those in Coleridge himself, often recapitulate "previous" simile/metaphor sleights-of-hand when allegorical Jacks come bounding out of presumably symbolic boxes.

But reading Wolfson we are struck—or struck anew—by the fact that these dynamics just might not extend to the final (initial?) level of mechanical form itself (a realization that ought to send us running to reread with new eyes the whole tradition on this topic, from the Baroque to Goethe, Rousseau, and Hegel, from Hölderlin, Baudelaire, and Mallarmé to Benjamin, de Man, Fletcher, et al.). To put this, again, in a framework and rubric somewhat distinct from Wolfson's: while mechanic still may be organic form's other, it may be other to organicism in a manner that differs in degree and kind from the ways that the opposed elements within simile-metaphor, allegory-symbol, and fancy-imagination other one another. Why, and why should it matter? These questions around organic form generate additional queries (which will in turn drag behind themselves those kindred Danger: High Voltage! signs that Wolfson tags in her introduction, afterword, and throughout her chapters: aesthetic autonomy, lyric aura, unity, harmony, and transcendence): What if the preference for organic form is not an inherently ideological choice, and what if the insistence on seeing it as ideological is what actually constitutes "aesthetic ideology"; what if the doctrine-practice of mechanical form ultimately has little, if anything, to do with what later generations call construction or constructivism? As these interrogatives already indicate, the stakes involve not only Romantic studies, contemporary criticism, theory, and aesthetics; they are crucial too for artistic practice in Modernism and beyond.

Coleridge can seem to assimilate processes within some of his oppositional structures to all his other, parallel binary structures. But Wolfson allows us freshly to see how especially aware Coleridge is of the dynamic aporias that result from his mappings of the simile-metaphor, allegory-symbol and, at times, fancy-imagination distinctions; his awareness leaves him alternately vexed, fascinated, even weirdly delighted. That simply does not obtain for the larger mechanic-organic distinction, for one good reason: Coleridge there describes a phenomenon in which, generally speaking, the pair's stigmatized member is not surprisingly or intriguingly turning up inside its "good" opposite number. Mechanic does not unexpectedly appear inside organic form because mechanic is by definition and practice externally imposed; its sheer externality is exactly what's wrong with it: it lives and breathes the thin air of already-codified, calcified, convention. It may be imported into, and salutarily acted upon by, organic poetic form (as when important conventions of poetic tradition are made part of a poem, salutarily acted upon by "the poetry of a poem"); but rich as that may prove, it tends for Coleridge not to be particularly surprising, confusing, or interestingly vexing—as opposed to the parallel cases in simile and allegory, which, as Wolfson shows, can leave Coleridge semi-happily shaking or scratching his head. In other words, the human subjectivity connected to acts of making (i.e., to constructivism), when acting with/upon simile or allegory, tends holistically to inoculate these latter, so that acts of shaping with similic or allegorical tools and materials—even when their rudiments can still be identified as, or as having originally been, allegorical—leave their final character teasingly uncertain.

What Wolfson allows us to see, by so ably charting it from figuration to figuration, stanza to stanza, and theoretical text to theoretical text, is that for Coleridge, construction is organic, and organic form is constructionist; Wolfson's readings thereby permit us with emphasis to add that mechanism, despite its initial appearances to the contrary, is the other of both organic form and constructionism. (Mechanism also stands, of course, as the negative, abstract category-definition of that which is not organic or, better, not organic-constructionist). Organic form, far from trying to hide its artifice, bases itself on what Coleridge and other Romantics believe can be accomplished only by auratically-invested artifice, by artistic construction. This entails the making of forms whose fictionality the audience is simultaneously inclined to notice and suspend notice of, forms the audience is specially inclined to treat—in the language of similitude—as if those forms were not artificed or made for and as fictions (but all the while knowing that they are). As someone once said (trying to capture the intensely paradoxical character of this phenomenological structure), what we've got here is self-consciously unself-conscious recognition of the territory called "purposiveness without purpose."

Wolfson's work with Coleridgean simile can help us sort out, among other things, long-standing misconceptions about mechanical form's necessary identity with reconstructions of nineteenth-century radicalism and radically-intended Modernist art and politics, as well as with Russian formalist, structuralist, and related notions of "baring the device." In the latter cases, for instance, one need only notice how often that "baring" involves emotional-intellectual recognition of something far removed from mechanism, namely, the subject's Coleridgean (actually, Kantian) recognition of the pleasure involved in knowing-feeling that the subject has been induced to suspend his or her "objective" or purposeful relationship to the phenomenon at issue. Meanwhile, today's politically-oriented criticism has been alternately impressed and repelled by the fact that precisely this Coleridgean position—on the ways that both organic form and constructionism, despite their particularly tortured divagations and interanimations in the modern period, ultimately oppose mechanism—has been voiced most forcefully in Theodor Adorno's Marxian aesthetics.

If the frequent association of Adorno with retreat from political engagement is thought to taint his analysis, the point could just as easily (and to Adorno's benefit) be made by turning to Marx. It would take time but not much difficulty to show that the Coleridgean elevation of organic and constructivist—over against mechanic—form obtains equally in Marx (in Engels as well). It is to Romantic notions of organic form, aesthetic autonomy, unity, and aura that Marx consciously turns, at every crucial stage of his career, to convey the "critical" nature of his thinking about theory and practice (always animated, Marx takes pains to signal, by his internalization of high aesthetic theory). This alone should indicate that major mistranslations have underwritten recent Marxian-derived criticism's tendency to identify Romantic-Coleridgean constellations with ideology per se, or to theorize and condemn an "aesthetic ideology" modelled on Marx and Engels's dissection of a "German ideology" of explicitly Left political philosophy.

Indeed, careful historical reading of The German Ideology reveals that what Marx and Engels there condemn as ahistorical idealism actually involves their former comrades' misguided  attempts to "uncover and critique" a reactionary politics that Marx and Engels's erstwhile Young Hegelian associates imagined necessarily to inhere in certain forms or theoretical formulations; and this is not even to mention The German Ideology's biting, ceaseless attack on Left intellectuals who imagine that radically-intended theory and criticism can count as praxis. By the time Coleridge was drafting his most important poetry and (especially) theory concerning construction and organicism, he did not think of himself—to put it mildly—as a Left revolutionary explicitly advocating (as were Marx and Engels's Young Hegelian, German Ideologist former comrades) doctrines called socialism and communism: which is to say that The German Ideology's analysis is stunningly inapplicable to Coleridge, and, frankly, to a very high percentage of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century figures to whom critique-of-aesthetic-ideology criticism has applied its readings of The German Ideology. Coleridge's high opinions of his own efforts notwithstanding, there is no need to believe that organic form, constructivism, and their aesthetic kin—once they've been decoupled from necessary, causal relationship to reaction—should instead be deemed inherently progressive. At all events, the key move for recent Marxian-inflected ideology-critique—the revelation and denunciation of organic form's attempts to hide its mechanically constructed artifice—stands canceled in advance by our realization that, for conservative Coleridge and radical Marx, neither organic form nor artistic construction has any necessary connection to ideological subterfuge. The starker, more puzzling truth is that organic and constructivist form formally oppose that other formal phenomenon that Marx, for one, does not hesitate to align with a bourgeois status quo: mechanism.

Wolfson's scrupulous attention (amid her reflections on poetic and literary form's truck with ideology and history) to Coleridge's difficult negotiations with constructivist simile, allegory, and himself—having been focused onto our intensified questioning of mechanic form, and then brought into dialogue with Adorno or Marx—yields the sense that Marxian misreadings of Marx's valuation of organic form, aesthetic autonomy, and aura are part of one last, crucial issue. This is an issue that Formal Charges flags early and repeatedly, and that I'll try in this final movement further to elaborate (once more in a somewhat different vocabulary and framework than Wolfson's). I'd like to begin by suggesting that the constellation of questions broached in the immediately preceding paragraphs resolves provisionally into the problem of the relay—if any—between aesthetic agency (or aesthetic experience) and sociopolitical agency.

One of the strengths of Formal Charges is the way its readings court conversation, dialogue, even disagreement. Readers undoubtedly will differ with individual exegeses, but Wolfson's efforts to bind her interpretations to the most concrete and material poetic acts, and to a continuous meditation on form's criticality, make the anticipation of such questioning one of her book's subjects; her criticism aims to stimulate a second-order version of the very investigative responsiveness that, she contends, constitutes one of poetic form's greatest charges. For this reviewer, one of Formal Charges's most stimulating provocations involves its discussion of Percy Shelley's The Mask of Anarchy and related political texts. Attending to Shelley's prosody and his play with genre, text, and context, Wolfson joins and extends the analysis of critics who have stressed the Mask's self-divisions and impasses: Intended as a public, political protest poem, the Mask's author nonetheless knew that censorship laws, along with other modes of political repression and danger would—and did—prevent its publication; internally, the poem's calls to action frequently undercut themselves, or result in seemingly static pageantry and hortatory directives; the initial dream-vision frame is never broken through or unmasked; the plan and mode of address are scored by an overweening elitism and inwardness that arrest and imprison the poems' interventionist, populist ambitions; and so forth.

There is certainly ample evidence for these claims to merit serious consideration, and perhaps to win some or all of the day. But regardless of how they're assessed, what is curious is that the glaring paradoxes, contradictions, and impasses that Wolfson identifies as the debilitating or embarrassing elements of Shelley's political poetry (with the Mask as exemplary case) are, almost everywhere else in Formal Charges, exactly the sort of dynamics whose self-divisions, tensions, and threatened implosions are accorded pride of artistic-critical place. It may be that, whether off-base or spot-on accurate, Wolfson's assessment of Shelley is overdetermined; her Shelley chapter suggests numerous factors that contribute to her overall judgment, including the poet's apparent self-absorption, insensitive, boorish, and cruel behavior to Mary Shelley and others, and the glaring discrepancies between his political ideals and on-the-ground actions. In terms of poetics, however, what looms particularly large—triggering strict scrutiny, and not only by Wolfson—is Shelley's pretence to writing political poetry. What is generally objected to is the idea, as Wolfson succinctly puts it, of "proffering poetry as the thing to be 'done' in [time of] political crisis" (198). Indeed, this very stance of Shelley's leads Wolfson to one of her rare straightforward uses of the term and doctrine that most of Formal Charges is written to contest; for it turns out to be Shelley's "suppression of [the Mask's] initiating dream frame" that "marks an aesthetic ideology" (203).

Tempting as the opportunity might be, this is not the place for a full-blown counterview of the Mask, much less of Shelley's other political poetry and oeuvre generally. My abiding present interest involves stealing Wolfson's terrific insights about Coleridgean construction in order to gesture toward some alternate—and here, brutally compressed—suggestions about how the Mask critically works its impasses and self-divisions. As Wolfson's plottings of simile indicate, Coleridgean construction foregrounds the ways that figuration goes about constructing (starting with the construction of figures themselves). Yet we can approach this process not just from the direction of artistic making, but also from that of the phenomenology of aesthetic experience. (Kant, no poet, famously highlights this phenomenology; Coleridge, theorist and poet, works both ends, sometimes simultaneously. In a decidedly different tonality, syntax and rhetoric, the Coleridgean combinations are reimagined in Shelley's Defence, which Wolfson quotes approvingly in her afterword [231].) The key point is that aesthetic figurative construction, as it enacts the smaller units and larger structures of artistic works, makes possible the present-tense construction of new concepts—or at least provides and begins experimentally shaping the protoconceptual materials for new concepts; it is part of formal aesthetic experience to begin to feel and understand this, to be charged by it. The basically Kantian schema of constructionism, which knows celebrated modern variants in figures from Arendt to Adorno, Habermas, Lyotard, and Rawls, can be rehearsed in a slightly different set of formulations.

The aesthetic, while looking like conceptual-objective, useful, content-determined thought or activity, only "looks like" them. Aesthetic thought-experience in some way precedes conceptual-objective, content-and-use-oriented thought; in that sense, the aesthetic is formal because, rather than being determined by, it provides the form for conceptual, "objective" thought or cognition. Aesthetic thought-experience remains "free" (at least, relative to more properly conceptual thought) from pre-existent concepts or cognitive rules. In the Kantian lexicon, this makes the aesthetic a site of "reflective" rather than "determinate" judgment. The aesthetic, then, serves as mold or frame for the construction of "cognition in general," as Kant puts it.

The aesthetic serves also as formal and imaginative engine for new, experimental (because previously nonexistent) concepts. With its quasiconceptual and quasisocial character, the aesthetic can provide a prerequisite of critical thought by offering formal means for developing new (not even necessarily utopian) concepts. Such concepts may bring to light presently-obscured aspects of substantive social reality (aspects of society not already determined by society's own conceptual view of itself). The operative notion is that thought determined by society—by society's own concepts of itself: status-quo, reigning concepts of society—can never give a satisfactory picture of that society. Experimental aesthetic experience helps construct the intellectual-emotional apparatus for accessing, and to that extent helps make available the social material of, "the new." Such constructivist theory and practice sees that aesthetic experiment helps make new areas of the modern fitfully available to perception in the first place. Constructivism by itself guarantees neither progressive subjectivity nor sociopolitical agency, but is prerequisite to such subjectivity, critical thought, agency, and commitment.

This Kantian view of the constructionist shuttle between (formal) aesthetic and (concrete) sociopolitical agency is also Marx's and Shelley's; and, with very different political intent and content, Coleridge's. But what this means—at least for Shelley and Marx, and maybe for anyone—is that the sheerly formal qualities of aesthetic experience will almost inevitably be articulated in political voice, that is, as if they clearly had substantive content. This becomes all the more confusing—and potentially all the more interesting—when the writer in question is, like Marx or Shelley, identified with the Left and/or interventionism and (as in Marx and Shelley) with a general commitment to aesthetic autonomy that tends to yield a preference for "high" art. And as just indicated, the militant insistence, by someone on the Left, that aesthetic formalism is vital for critical thought seems destined to slide problematically into the claim that the aesthetic or aesthetic experience is already filled with, or is itself already, political, is itself already filled with political content. Such vexed sliding gives structure, for example, to a celebrated tension in Shelley's Defence, a tension between poetry's stubbornly formal and social-revolutionary faces. The same tension could be traced throughout the extensive aesthetic commentary in Marx and Engels (hardly surprising since, after Heine, the poet they most significantly champion and channel on this issue is probably Shelley).

This would go some way towards explaining the impasses and divisions that score the Mask. The poem's explicitly political, interventionist materials, and the genuine ethicopolitical outrage that animates their literary expression, exist within a work by a poet deeply convinced that aesthetic acts construct the thought-possibilities that help bring new concepts—and the sociopolitical praxis that can spring from them—into being. Yet actually and finally to regard this as equivalent to extra-aesthetic, real-world empirical action would be to cancel the critical role of aesthetic illusion. Bypassing or suspending suspension-of-disbelief itself would mean that aesthetic/literary claims or experiences (of being like real-world agency) would no longer feature, as part of their own internal constitution, the critical interruption worked by the aporia or impasse inherent in the very concepts of aesthetic semblance, aesthetic illusion, and/or suspension of disbelief. The removal of aporetic elements in artworks with political impulses may push those works away from the criticality enacted by aesthetic illusion and so, against their own intentions, toward something that could cause genuine political damage: something like pre, post, or extraesthetic illusion. For a progressively-intended artwork effectively or intentionally to do this, Marx often (and Adorno always) polemically intones, is for it truly to produce aesthetic ideology. That is, real aesthetic ideology involves the attempt fully and nonaporetically to live sociopolitically the fantasy that art's formality can be put aside for a formally unmediated, fully socialized art. Such lived fantasy is aesthetic ideology because, renouncing the aesthetic's formally constitutive aporia of semblance, it produces a sheerly ideological, unchallenged-by-dynamic-impasse sociopolitical illusion: that artistic action and aesthetic experience can themselves count as empirical sociopolitical action.

The Mask's internal dance with and away from the political (marked by exactly the problems of form Wolfson underlines in her treatment of the poem), and then its long and quite unique reception history, tell in various registers just this formal-theoretical story, over and over. It is there in the well-known case of Chartist and socialist veneration of the Mask and affiliated Shelley texts; that veneration, it could be shown, never ignored—in fact, it often remarked—the poems' dynamic formal impasses. But the story is also present in the too little noticed, twentieth-century African-American reception of Shelley, particularly on the Left; the tale involves public, overtly political performance of Shelley's poetry by figures ranging from W.E.B. Du Bois to quite recent cases involving veteran Popular Fronters like Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. Still another example may properly complete this review of Formal Charges, for across a broad swath of twentieth-century history it uncannily, and with rather singular authority, anticipates and powerfully supports key elements of Wolfson's large claims for the criticality of poetic form. Though Brecht's 1930s debates with Lukács have been much studied, it is surprising how rarely the commentary has remarked that Brecht's interventionist stance trickily depends on, indeed craftily champions, the critical value of formal aesthetic experience and experiment (with a particular Brechtian emphasis over against Lukács, of course, on formal experimentalism). I'll leave readers to marvel, after their renewed perusal of the Expressionism-Debate anthologies, at how effectively charged with Wolfson's precise line of argument Brecht's contentions really are.

And it does right by Wolfson's thought-provoking, generative book to note a special last charge. The major essays in Brecht's dispute with Lukácsian orthodox realism were intended for Das Wort, the Popular Front, Moscow-based journal on whose editorial collective Brecht served. Brecht knew—and indicated in his journals and letters that he knew, and that he periodically had to hide the knowledge from himself—that the essays would not, could not, be published. To Anglo-American audiences, the least known of these late 1930s pieces, written with Walter Benjamin literally at his side, involved Brecht's fateful rediscovery of Shelley, and the Brecht essay in question seized on the Mask as Exhibit A for the way that a complicated, seemingly obscure formal poetics could be found at the heart of the greatest (most "revolutionary," in Brecht's wording) interventionist poetry

In the most hideous sort of irony imaginable, the sociocontextual histories attending the original occasion for, and posthumous reception of, Shelley's text were repeated in a grimmer tone when Brecht's translation of, and essay on, Shelley's Mask could not be published—and when one of Brecht's fellow contributors to Das Wort, who had recently published an essay in its pages simply titled "Percy Bysshe Shelley," was accused in Moscow of "Social Fascist/Trotskyite" subversion, declared a "people's enemy," and summarily executed. Quietly, both Brecht and Benjamin kept rereading, translating, and writing about the Mask and adjacent Shelley texts; those texts' formal charges led to nothing less than Benjamin's brilliant complication of his earlier aesthetic-political views on allegory in and after that watershed named Baudelaire. And the same profoundly formal charges led finally to Brecht's rededication to a critical, auratic lyric practice—shot through everywhere with Shelley—throughout the 1940s and early 50s. This Brecht poetry, in its original German and then in translation, had no small influence after 1945 on the experimental poetry of at least three continents. Quite a series of historical acknowledgements, and further reconstructions, of formal charges. A review essay on Wolfson is the right place to have noted them, for she has written quite a book, one that contributes importantly to the recovery of such formal charges for literary and artistic history, aesthetics, and theory.

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