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Jonathan Bate, The Song of the Earth

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Jonathan Bate, The Song of the Earth.  Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000. xiv + 335pp. Illus.: 15 halftones. $31.50/£21.50 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-674-00168-0).

Reviewed by
James C. McKusick
University of Maryland, Baltimore County

In The Song of the Earth, Jonathan Bate ponders some fundamental questions about the purpose of literary criticism, and of imaginative literature itself, in a time of ever-increasing environmental crisis. He asks: "What are poets for?" (243). Is poetry the authentic representation of reality, or merely the decoration of life? Does it help us to remember our origins, or does it enable us to remain oblivious of the bleak future? Does poetry distract the reader with the soothing sound of Nero's fiddle while Rome burns?

These questions are squarely within the domain of poetics, as that discipline was conceived by Aristotle. In The Song of the Earth, Bate's extended meditation on these questions leads him to a new kind of poetics with an ecological inflection--an ecopoetics, as Bate terms it (thereby coining a useful term for contemporary literary production and critical analysis). In an era of impending ecological doom, the emerging discipline of ecopoetics is engaged in a vital re-vision of the fundamental task of poetry. At the present historical moment, ecocriticism has become more than just a marginal mode of literary analysis, because nature is more than just a passive backdrop or setting for the human drama of literature. Bate provocatively argues that the pastoral theme, because it raises the perennial question of the relationship between humankind and the natural world, "is, in fact, the only poetic theme, that it is poetry itself" (74).

As Bate points out, "the litany of present and impending catastrophes is all too familiar" (24). Any literate person is (or should be) aware of the impending doom of our planetary ecosystem, due to an array of human-caused environmental hazards that have no precedent in the entire history of the Earth. Bate presents these grim environmental threats in summary fashion: "Carbon dioxide produced by the burning of fossil fuels is trapping the heat of the sun, causing the planet to become warmer. Glaciers and permafrost are melting, sea levels rising, rainfall patterns changing, winds growing stronger. Meanwhile, the oceans are overfished, deserts are spreading, forests shrinking, fresh water becoming scarcer. The diversity of species upon the planet is diminishing" (24). We all know (or should know) these things, but for some reason our urgent awareness of these horrendous environmental problems has not resulted in effective remedial action. Why not? Perhaps there is something amiss in the deep matrix of Western culture. Maybe what's needed is not a quick technological fix, but a fundamental change in human consciousness. According to Bate, "The business of literature is to work upon consciousness" (23). His book sets out to explore how literature represents, and may potentially transform, the persistently pragmatic and instrumental awareness of the terrestrial environment that has pervaded Western culture for the last several centuries.

Bate inquires: "Where did we begin to go wrong?" (24). Many different human societies have a myth of a lost paradise, such as the Garden of Eden or an ideal Golden Age, and Bate argues that such myths are none the less valuable for being essentially fictive: "Myths are necessary imaginings, exemplary stories which help our species to make sense of the world. Myths endure so long as they perform helpful work" (24-25). In particular, the myth of the Golden Age serves to remind us of a time when human culture was in harmony with nature, not ranged in destructive opposition to it. Jean-Jacques Rousseau redacted the myth of the Golden Age in his well-known Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1754), which describes the "state of nature" as an ideal mode of existence, from which mankind has disastrously fallen.

What is the state of nature? Hobbes and Rousseau famously squared off on this question, with Hobbes's Leviathan (1651) arguing that life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short (37). Rousseau, a century later, retorted that the original state of nature was a time of innocence and equality; it is only the influence of society that has turned humans into greedy, depraved wretches. Without the temptations occasioned by the accumulation of property, humans managed to coexist as hunter-gatherers in peaceful harmony with their surroundings, wandering freely in the forest, and cheerfully sharing the fruits of their labor.

Rousseau offers his description of the state of nature as a hypothetical account of human origins. Bate points out that "Rousseau hedges his bets as to whether the 'state of nature' is a heuristic model or a real lost condition: it 'no longer exists and perhaps never did and probably never will'" (31). It is therefore pointless to attack Rousseau as a naive primitivist, out of touch with the harsh realities of human nature. In Bate's view, Rousseau's Discourse "is a thought experiment, a piece of hypothetical reasoning which asks us to imagine a state of nature as a way of critiquing the [present] state of society. In this sense, it is in the tradition of Sir Thomas More's Utopia, with the difference that instead of an imaginary better place it envisions an imaginary better time" (31).

Bate argues that Rousseau's hypothetical state of nature is essentially the same as the "return to nature" advocated by the Deep Ecologists of the twentieth century, although the latter theorists are generally reluctant to acknowledge that their green utopia is an entirely imaginary construct: "The dream of deep ecology will never be realized upon the earth, but our survival as a species may be dependent on our capacity to dream it in the work of our imagination. This book will be a testing of these supposes. Rousseau's second Discourse is a foundational paradigm for my hypothesis" (37-38). Bate posits an intrinsic human capacity to imagine utopian alternatives to the present (toxic) state of society. Following in the footsteps of Rousseau, the English Romantic poets dedicated themselves to the task of re-imagining the relationship between human communities and the natural world that surrounds and nourishes them.

Bate goes on to develop this controversial hypothesis in an extensive survey of the English Romantic writers, including Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Keats, Percy and Mary Shelley, John Clare, and Jane Austen. Ranging further afield, Bate re-envisions the entire modern canon of environmental literature; he scrutinizes the works of William Henry Hudson (an early advocate for preserving the tropical rainforest), Basil Bunting (whose poem Briggflatts is bioregionally grounded in Northumbria), Edward Kamau Brathwaite (who transposes Shakespeare's Tempest to the Caribbean), Elizabeth Bishop (who encounters a moose in northern New England), and Les Murray (an ecological exponent of the Australian outback). All of these writers, in their own distinctive voices, seek to rediscover (or re-invent) the human relationship with particular climates, topographies, and watersheds, along with their indigenous flora and fauna. Entering into colloquy with the earth itself, in various moods and weathers, these writers offer new understandings of human community within the web of life, reaching out to include bright-colored tropical birds, tree frogs, and even earthworms as cohabitants of the global ecosystem.

The case of William Henry Hudson (1841-1922) is particularly instructive. Born in Buenos Aires of American parents, he wrote numerous novels and travelogues that evoke the vast scale and splendor of the South American landscapes that he witnessed in his youth and early manhood, from the grasslands of Patagonia to the jungles of the Amazon. A prolific writer who was famous in his own time, but largely forgotten today, Hudson is perhaps best known for Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest (1904), a novel set in British Guiana. Green Mansions portrays the lush, teeming beauty of that habitat, but its plot culminates in the tragic destruction of the rainforest and many of its indigenous inhabitants. Bate offers an incisive close reading of this novel, arguing that it exemplifies the "myth of the return to nature" (58). Its protagonist, an expatriate Venezuelan revolutionary who is ominously named Abel, seeks "to return to Eden by means of a willed primitivism" (58). In the wilderness he encounters the shy, reclusive Rima, a mysterious "bird-girl" who embodies the untamed spirit of the rainforest. Abel promptly falls in love with Rima, who is "bird and butterfly and leaf and monkey all in one; her voice is the voice not only of bird, but also of insect, of wind and of water" (60). Rima speaks a strange, twittering language that enables her to communicate with birds, and at first she flees from Abel, seeking refuge in the hidden depths of the forest. By falling in love with Rima, Abel precipitates her fall from innocence, and in the end she is burned to death in the branches of a great tree where she has taken refuge. As Bate points out, "The allegorical possibilities are striking. Abel's desire to return to nature has destroyed the very nature he desired. Penetration of the virgin place perforce deprives it of its virginity; in this, Abel's story may be read as a prophetic admonition to ecotourists" (62).

The tragic figure of Rima is represented in a bas-relief sculpture by Jacob Epstein, created in 1925 and presently displayed in London's Hyde Park (figure 1). Bate offers an insightful discussion of this sculpture, calling it a "great but deeply alienated work" (62). Surrounded by tropical birds, with her arms lifted skyward in a gesture that yearns for escape, Rima is nonetheless framed by a hard slab of Portland stone, an "inorganic material" that "transforms nature into art" (62). Merely by the process of artistic representation, the shy spirit of the rainforest has been severed from her native dwelling place: "the green world has become Other" (63). Bate regards the plight of Rima as emblematic of the global process of environmental devastation; her figure bears silent witness to the worldwide destruction of the tropical rainforest. Bate concludes that by penetrating ever deeper into the earth's wild places, "we force Rima to retreat, always to retreat further and further into an ever-diminishing unknown. When there is no more unknown, when the last of the tropical rainforest has been cleared, it may then be only in art--in poetry--that we will be able to hear the cry of Rima" (67). At the dawn of the twenty-first century, ecopoetry is written mainly in the elegiac mode.

The Song of the Earth is a seminal, paradigm-shifting book. It offers a sustained methodological reflection on the emerging discipline of ecopoetics, and it provides insightful critical readings of a wide range of literary works, many of them recovered from undeserved obscurity. One of the most valuable and engaging features of this book is its vigorous endeavor to re-envision the established literary canon from an environmental point of view. Bate approaches his chosen topic with a refreshingly open-minded mode of inquiry, and his book takes the reader on a fascinating journey down less-traveled literary byways toward unexpected conclusions.

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The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, Volume 5: Romanticism. Editor, Marshall Brown

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The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, Volume 5: Romanticism. Editor, Marshall Brown. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. xii + 493pp>. £65.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-30010-X).

Reviewed by
Andrew Elfenbein
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

In an era of flashy titles accompanying thin books, The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, Volume 5: Romanticism is seductively unseductive. Its stern cover radiates resistance to market pressures. Yet what the book lacks in flashiness it makes up for in uncompromisingly high scholarly standards and a commitment to the value of comparative intellectual history. Marshall Brown and Cambridge University Press are to be congratulated for investing in long-term interest rather than short-term trendiness. As Brown explains in the introduction, the volume was originally conceived as a joint project with Ernst Behler. Behler's death left Brown to carry out this history, and he has done an exceptional job in developing a volume of uniform excellence.

Each chapter, rather than being merely a close reading of a work or a meditation on a small debate, presents comprehensive views of developments in England and Germany, the two areas that receive the most emphasis in the volume. All chapters are unusually rich in bibliographical depth; a history of twentieth-century literary criticism unobtrusively partners the more overt history of early nineteenth-century literary criticism. It is hard to single out "bests" when quality is so high, but David Simpson's chapter on "Transcendental philosophy and Romantic criticism," evidently a late contribution to the volume, is dazzling. It seems impossible that anyone could explain Kant and the responses to him by Schiller, Schelling, and Hegel so clearly and with so fine a sense of nuance, yet Simpson pulls it off. I suspect that many romanticists will welcome such a friendly guide to the era's most daunting texts. Other illuminating chapters include Kurt Mueller-Vollmer's on language theory, Tilottama Rajan's on genre theory, Brown's on the theory of the novel, Jon Klancher's on the "crisis in the republic of letters," and Theresa M. Kelley's on women, gender, and literary criticism. But the book has no obviously weak chapters: all of them make valuable contributions.

As is appropriate, England and Germany dominate the volume, especially because most of the contributors understand "literary criticism" to be something closer to "literary theory." The practical criticism of reviews, editors, and casual correspondence, while not ignored, gets less space than the more formal aesthetic pronouncements of writers such as Immanuel Kant, William Wordsworth, and Friedrich Schiller. This preference shunts aside less traditionally established writers: except for de Staël, women writers are relegated mostly to Kelley's chapter, and the implicit aesthetics of literature by and for the working class has no place in the volume. However, more traditionally canonical writers receive splendid treatments, with Friedrich Schlegel emerging as the volume's unannounced hero; he appears so often that he needs a full page in the index. Without ever making the claim explicit, the volume presents a strong case for Schlegel as the energy center for innovative thought during the period. He surfaces under every significant topic, from the French Revolution to the transformation of rhetoric, from the impact of Shakespeare to the use of scientific models. For those whose background in romanticism has not included Schlegel, this collection would be an excellent introduction to him.

The fact that students of British literature may not know much about Schlegel points not only to the insularity of romantic studies as they have developed in recent decades, which this volume aims to counteract, but also to the frustrations of the literary relations between Germany and England during this period. Although extraordinary work was produced in both countries, the cross-fertilization between the two was never quite what it should have been. German romanticism presents the fascinating spectacle of writers steeped in eighteenth-century English literature taking its dominant ideas and motifs in directions they never could have gone in England. If only more English writers could have known about this work, rather than those "sickly and stupid German Tragedies" that Wordsworth hated. And if only early nineteenth-century German writers might have known not only the inevitable Byron and Scott but also Blake, Keats, or Austen. Their ideas and interests engage in a dialogue that only rarely rises to the level of influence or even confluence.

My only hesitation about this volume is that most of the contributors are more comfortable than I am with the genre of intellectual history. Philosophical prose deserves to be read as carefully as literature, and this would seem to be especially applicable for an era that was invested in elevating poetry to philosophy and criticism to creativity. Yet most of these essays prefer to map ideas than to scrutinize the texts of those ideas: although many writers note the self-conscious literariness of German romantic theory, this recognition might have played a larger role in their actual analyses. The exception is Tilottama Rajan on genre theory: it is telling that she quotes more from the authors that she discusses than virtually any other essayist in the volume. She notices not only the theories of the authors but also what she calls "the overdetermination of theory by practice" (239). Her essay argues that "the philosophical study of genre . . . eventually jeopardizes the philosophical project of unity and identity attributed to aesthetics by Szondi" (236), which results in "a system disseminated into everything it contains" (237).

Rajan's argument that Romantic efforts at systematization are always "overdetermined by the ramifications of their details" (237) contains an implicit recommendation for this volume's readers. Rarely does anyone read such collections cover to cover: readers usually go to the table to contents to find the topics that they care most about. Yet those who privilege the index over the table of contents might gain most from this book, because the system represented by the table of contents is a mirage. Beneath the apparent division into discrete topics are recurrent concerns with the thought of particular authors.

Often while reading the volume, I wanted to insert parenthetical cross-references to other essays in the volume. For example, when E. S. Shaffer mentions that "Kant's ideas were mediated during the 1790s for the wider literary community by Friedrich Schiller's important essays on the function of art" (141), I wanted to point readers back to David Simpson's discussion of just how complex this mediation was (81). When Jon Klancher notes that the "'old-hat Berlin Enlightenment' appeared masculinist" next to the "mixed-gender enclave" (310) at Jena, I wanted to make sure that readers saw Theresa Kelley's discussion of what this Jena enclave looked like for the women involved (237–38). Someone reading David Simpson's chapter on the French Revolution who learned that Schiller's On Naive and Sentimental Poetry analyzes the turn to nature as a "refusal of complex (and inorganic) human community and a further stimulus to reflective self-absorption" (64-65) would profit from Simpson's later placement of this work as a critical response to Kant's Critique of Judgement (80), Helmut J. Schneider's discussion of it as a contribution to the "querelle des anciens et des modernes" (93), Rajan's defense of its seemingly simplistic terms as an important "metacritical tool that works in several registers" (232), and David Perkins's grouping of it with mostly English works that use the past to analyze the present (339).

In other words, readers should approach this magisterial work in a romantic spirit, breaking down its own systematization so that each individual insight is understood in light of a larger, never quite enunciated totality. Admittedly, such an approach may take more time than following the convenient chapter divisions. But it will ultimately offer the richest insights from a volume that provides such skilled accounts of the period's dense and provocative literary criticism.

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Richard W. Clancey, Wordsworth's Classical Undersong: Education, Rhetoric and Poetic Truth

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Richard W. Clancey, Wordsworth's Classical Undersong: Education, Rhetoric and Poetic Truth. New York: St. Martin's Press/Palgrave, 2000. xxiii + 215pp. $65.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-22560-1).

Reviewed by
J. Douglas Kneale
University of Western Ontario

In reconstructing Wordsworth's classical education at Hawkshead" (xv), Richard W. Clancey emphasizes the fundamental importance of the concept of ethos in the growth of Wordsworth's style. Comprising "honesty, truth, and audience-concern" (9), ethos is at once an Aristotelian principle and a Wordsworthian signature. It begins with Wordsworth "in his mother's arms, at her knee, among his father's books, in his presence and shadow" (7), and it develops-with more continuity than disrupture-through the admirable, "holistically" based (51) education that Wordsworth received at Hawkshead Grammar School and his deepening intimacy with the classics at Cambridge. In a book on a poet whose originality owes much to his origins, Clancey argues for the importance of Wordsworth's teachers, and his teachers' teachers, in the formation of a poetical character whose romanticism is thoroughly grounded in its classicism.

The interplay of Wordsworth's traditional late-eighteenth-century upbringing and his revolutionary individual talent has always been a difficult issue to sort out, but scholars of late have demonstrated convincingly how indebted-and yet paradoxically how "free, enfranchised and at large"-Wordsworth is when it comes to the "feeding source[s]" of his poetry. Clancey traces the derivation of Wordsworth's voice to the "classical undersong" that he learned at school through his reading and translation in the classical languages. Arguing that "Teachers will ordinarily teach what they have been taught themselves" (38), Clancey goes into considerable detail about Wordsworth's schoolmasters, their training and background, their philosophy of teaching, and the probable curriculum that they set for boys such as Wordsworth. While we may know that Wordsworth was a respectable Latinist-his translations of Virgil and Horace not least standing as evidence-we may be less familiar with his competence in Greek, or the fact that "Hawkshead in the 1780s was teaching Demosthenes" (45). But Clancey also shows how much Hawkshead used translations in the teaching of the classics, and he suggests that such a method, different from techniques at other schools that stressed composition, actually allowed Wordsworth not just to develop an affection for the classics, but to become a sophisticated translator himself.

Out of this history of the English grammar school leading up to and including Wordsworth's time emerges the sense of an ethos instilled in personal and public life, but especially for Clancey in literature, that connected Wordsworth to a rhetorical tradition whose two anchors were Aristotle and Horace. While Wordsworth's famous and baffling statement in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads (e.g., "Aristotle, I have been told . . .") makes one question the extent of the poet's first-hand knowledge, Clancey suggests that Aristotle's principles of argumentation-particularly ethos itself as discussed in the Poetics and the Rhetoric and embodied in Horace's poetry-are important to an understanding of the character of Wordsworth's poetry. Clancey does not claim a direct or literal Aristotle-Horace-Wordsworth lineage, but he does show, against a background of Aristotle's ethical argument, convergences between Horatian and Wordsworthian poetics.

A detailed chapter on Horace's Epistle to Florus shows how aspects of the ethical argument-e.g., the "good sense, good moral character, and goodwill" (68) of the orator or poet-are manifested in Horace's ironic, lyrical, elegant voice. Before moving on directly to Wordsworth's poetry, however, Clancey juxtaposes an equally thorough rhetorical reading of Wordsworth's Preface to Lyrical Ballads, emphasizing the ethical cast of its arguments, and also its "celebratory or epideictic rhetoric" (91). Clancey reads Wordsworth's prose as closely as he reads Horace's verse, noting in their differing conceptions of "the chief duties of the poet"-for Horace, "mastery of the demands of his art"; for Wordsworth, "the interior principles of poetry" (105)-a common epistemological ground, what Wordsworth calls a "truth which is its own testimony" (113). Clancey asks how a subjective, lyrical kind of poetry can presume to a truth which is, as Wordsworth says, "not individual and local, but general, and operative," and he finds the answer in both Wordsworth's and Horace's "asserting a special poetic epistemology" (114) that downplays mimesis in favor of ethos; they thus espouse a poet who is less a "maker" than a "speaker" whose "feelings," "thoughts," and "expressions" are seen as "not standing upon external testimony, but carried alive into the heart by passion." Because so often in Wordsworth pathos is tied to an elegiac sense of loss, Clancey turns to Wordsworth's examples of epitaphs as texts whose "affective eloquence" (124) bespeaks the ethical and "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings."

What is new about the discussion of The Prelude in the chapters that follow is the degree to which Clancey demonstrates that the poem should be read as an argument, not a given history. "Wordsworth had to persuade himself," Clancey writes (133). In this poem, as in so many others in his oeuvre, Wordsworth's foregrounding of nature can obscure the role of art. While this is itself a classical topos-art hiding art-we sometimes tend to take Wordsworth at his word and think that the great poem on the growth of his own mind has an aesthetic and a rhetorical structure owing more to the fluxes and refluxes of the river Derwent than to any literary form. In Wordsworth's autobiography, as in Milton's doctrine, the life is often taken as the composition and pattern of a true poem, but it is a poem operating in forensic, deliberative and, perhaps above all, epideictic modes of rhetoric. We are well reminded of "the argumentative and evidentiary qualities" (133) of The Prelude-that is, of the ways in which Wordsworth must convince not only Coleridge but himself that he is the hero of his own "heroic argument." Clancey shows how ethos and epideictic work together: "Often the argument emerges as simple epideictic lyrical celebration of what has transpired in Wordsworth's life" (134), but since this self-praise (and occasionally self-blame) has its self-conscious side, we see that as the poem progresses, Wordsworth's "narrative becomes the history of the textual disclosure itself" (135).

But the forensic mode comes into play as well in Wordsworth's scenes of persuasion. Describing the after-effects of the boat-stealing scene, Clancey writes: "We are convinced of the authenticity of the moral dimensions of his experience because he seems so convinced that as a child he was convinced of the moral quality of what he did. . . . We read with interest as witnesses to a trial nature has set for Wordsworth" (144). The role of witness in the poem extends from the reader to Coleridge to the numerous apostrophised natural objects, presences, or spirits that corroborate a text which must be its own testimony, and which operates according to a rhetoric of guilty/not guilty, praise/blame, persuasion/dissuasion: "Wordsworth had to prove himself to himself" (148). In that ethical proof, of which the Snowdon episode provides the climactic example for Clancey, lies the vatic, the philosophical, the apocalyptic, the rhetorical, the authentically human Wordsworth.

Clancey's book joins other recent work on Wordsworth that continues to probe the affiliations between poetry and rhetoric; his Appendix offers an annotated bibliography of recent works on Aristotelian rhetoric and a useful synopsis of contemporary applications of the ethical proof. Because of his forging links with studies in these related fields, we may say that the ethical proof today-if not ethical behavior itself-is a living concern that cuts across aesthetics and ideology.

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The Examiner 1818–1822. Vols. 11–15 (1818–1822). Introduction by Yasuo Deguchi

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The Examiner 1818-1822. Vols. 11-15 (1818-1822).  Introduction by Yasuo Deguchi. London: Pickering & Chatto, 1998. 4,260pp. £600/$950 (Hdbk; ISBN: 1-85196-427-4, 5 vol. set).

Reviewed by
Charles Mahoney
University of Connecticut

At the beginning of 1818, Leigh Hunt was at the height of his career as the charismatic editor of the Examiner and critical champion of young poets such as Keats and Shelley. His profile was such that when Blackwood's took aim at the factitious "Cockney School" in 1817-19, Hunt was recognized as its ringleader and excoriated accordingly. By the end of 1822, however, Hunt was nearly forgotten: sales of the Examiner had fallen off precipitously; he had been seemingly abandoned by many of the young talents he had gathered around him in Hampstead; and he had resigned the editorship of the paper late in 1821 upon embarking for Italy and the ill-fated partnership (with Shelley and Byron) of the Liberal. The popular, heroic libeler of the Regent in 1812--the "wit in the dungeon"--was little more than the deposed and exiled "King of the Cockneys" in 1822. Whereas the paper's first five years, 1808-12, were highlighted by the series of ex officio informations filed against it for seditious libel (culminating in the Hunts' notorious trial and conviction in 1812), and the second five years, 1813-17, were dramatized by its transformation from a political weekly into a broader vehicle for reform in cultural as well as political matters (enlivened most noticeably by the regular contributions of Hazlitt and the introduction of the "Literary Notices" in 1816), these last five years under Hunt witness the erosion of both the paper's appeal and the stature of its editor: Hunt was regularly either overworked or too ill to work; circulation fell so low that a page of advertisements was begun in 1820; and when John Hunt was imprisoned and Leigh was en route to Italy in 1822, the paper often consisted in little more than numerous extracts from other publications. Nevertheless, these volumes--the third and final installment in Pickering & Chatto's invaluable reprint of the first fifteen years of the Examiner--are crucial to our understanding of the literary and political culture of Regency England. However unsystematic the paper's political principles may have been, the Examiner stood--liberally, unstintingly, invariably--for Reform, as articulated by a critic who steadfastly championed the vital and renovating consequences of literature for political change. And when chastening the Quarterly Review for its abuse of Keats and Shelley, upbraiding the ministerial press for its coverage of Peterloo, defending Queen Caroline, or denouncing the cant and hypocrisy of a corrupt Parliament, the Examiner succeeded time and again in "telling the Truth to Power" with its provocative combination of political intransigence and literary virtuosity.

The Examiner is increasingly Hunt's paper during these years: Hazlitt had stopped contributing regular literary and theatrical reviews, as well as political commentary, in 1817; the poetry of Shelley and Keats figured prominently in 1818 but rarely thereafter; and it fell to Hunt to write not only the "Political Examiner" and the theatre reviews but also the ever-more ambitious literary notices. When John Gibson Lockhart, alias "Z," initiated his series of attacks on the "Cockney School" in the first number of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine (October 1817), he went after Hunt precisely because of his multifaceted cultural prominence. As the acclaimed poet of The Story of Rimini (favorably appraised in the Edinburgh Review in 1816), the prominent editor of a vital anti-ministerial weekly, and the arbiter of a "new school" of poetry (see "Young Poets," 1 December 1816), Hunt presented an irresistible target for a high-handed Tory critic. Dismissing Hunt as "a man certainly of some talents, of extravagant pretensions both in wit, poetry, and politics, and withal of exquisitely bad taste, and extremely vulgar modes of thinking and manners in all respects," Lockhart contested Hunt's qualifications for founding a "school" of any sort, then proceeded to expose and ridicule his literary-critical delusions. Equal parts vicious character assassination and astute criticism of Rimini, Lockhart's denunciations testify to Hunt's political prominence as well as to his literary dilettantism. While it is due to Hunt's public profile as editor of the Examiner that Lockhart is concerned about the "success with which his influence seems to be extending itself among a pretty numerous, though certainly a very paltry and pitiful, set of readers," this influence is all the more troublesome precisely because Hunt's "shallow and impotent pretensions, tenets, and attempts" are now poised to influence not only political but also literary tastes.

How are we to understand the fact of Lockhart devoting so many pages to the Examiner and the aesthetic ideology of the "Cockney School" (six articles plus two critical epistles addressed to Leigh Hunt) at a time when it had ostensibly been eclipsed in Reformist circles by, among others, Cobbett's Political Register and Hone's Reformist's Register? Lockhart's unremitting attacks in fact testify to the continuing relevance as well as the increasing vulnerability of the Hunts' paper, and succinctly underline its public role in the years just before and after Peterloo. Unlike, say, the earlier denunciations of the Examiner and its writers for their seditious politics and inflammatory rhetoric (by the Quarterly's Robert Southey or William Gifford), Lockhart's critique focuses principally on the literary-critical pretensions of the "Cockney School." That is to say: by late 1817, the Hunts' paper was no longer construed as a nuisance due to its relentless exposure of the Regent's personal shortcomings and the corruption of the Court and Parliament, but due to its irritating pretensions to literary prominence. From 1817 through 1822, if the Examiner was still radical enough to threaten entrenched Tory power, it was no longer regarding matters of state so much as regarding the state of taste: as Hunt had previously embraced Reform and defended it against all assailants in the political realm, he was now advocating a renovation of belles lettres and defending his authors against their critical attackers in the ministerial press. Indeed, these final years of the Examiner in Pickering & Chatto's fifteen-volume set reveal a high-stakes civil war in the periodical press between the Hunts' papers--including the Black Dwarf (1818), the Indicator (1819-21), and the Liberal (1822-23)--and the high Tory Quarterly Review and Blackwood's Magazine, book-ended by Leigh Hunt's skirmishing with Lockhart and John Hunt's defense of the first numbers of the Liberal.

After thrice challenging Lockhart--alias "Z"--to come forward and avow himself (2 and 16 November, 14 December 1817), Hunt did not deign to acknowledge the continuing harassment until April 12, 1818, when he ran a detailed column recounting the "Attack on the Editor in a Magazine." Characterizing the initial attack as a libel, Hunt disingenuously--or impudently --suggested that since he had never disguised himself from the reading public, he assumed that "Z" would "have spirit enough remaining to avow himself and come forward." But "Z" did not: "He contented himself, instead, with addressing to me a letter ["Letter from Z. to Mr Leigh Hunt," January 1818], in which, after a certain growling and mean fashion, he recanted; --that is to say, in which he had the face to pretend that he had not attacked me in my private character and person, -- in which, with habits of falsehood equally disgusting, he pretended to confound all the absurd particulars of his libel with some general questions equally ridiculous . . . ." Lockhart's next assault was again presented as a letter, this time to "Leigh Hunt, King of the Cockneys" (May 1818), in which he exulted that "In spite and in pity of your wild yells of 'Coward! Coward!' I am, at this present moment, writing incog. And I purpose doing so, till it may suit my own convenience to affront, 'in angry parle,' the offended majesty of Lisson Grove." Responding to Hunt's charges of libel with an epistle to Hunt in his capacity as a monarch, Lockhart blithely replays the dynamic of Hunt's own most notorious indictment on charges of seditious libel: his ridicule of the Regent's "Princely Qualities" in 1812. Lockhart's strategy here is doubly effective, for he pointedly blurs the line between the "public" and the "private" Hunt (between the "poet" and the "man," much as Hunt himself did in his satires on the Regent) and, through refusing to identify himself, precludes Hunt from responding in kind. And Hunt, accustomed as he was to satirizing Southey, Croker, Gifford, and others by name (e.g. "Death and Funeral of the Late Mr Southey, 13 April 1817), was unable either to repudiate or to counter "Z." In this way, Blackwood's would prove to be a far more dangerous nemesis than the Quarterly. (In 1818, when the latter reviewed Keats's Endymion, Hunt could quickly turn it to account, first congratulating Keats "on the involuntary homage that, we understand, has been paid to his undoubted genius, in an article full of groveling abuse" [27 September], then reprinting an article from the Morning Chronicle [presumably written by John Hamilton Reynolds] on the arrogance and sycophancy that characterized Gifford's editorship of the Quarterly [11 October].) Unchecked, the Blackwood's critics would continue their attacks throughout 1818 and 1819, eventually moving to Hunt's more recent poetry in Foliage (1818; reviewed October 1819 as "The Cockney School of Poetry No. VI") and a new venture from the same period, the Literary Pocket-Books of 1818 and 1819 (reviewed by John Wilson, December 1819).

The Literary Pocket-Book (published annually, 1818-22) along with a new weekly, the Indicator (October 1819-March 1821), attest to both Hunt's sense of the richness of the literary climate of 1819 and to his own financial adversities at the same time. Both endeavors reveal the apparent decline of Hunt's interest in the Examiner as a political newspaper, and announce a variety of topics and genres which he would pursue in the numerous periodicals he would write and edit after his return from Italy. While the former consisted of a miscellany of lists "Connected with Science, Literature, and the Arts," a "Calendar of Nature," original prose, and such odds-and-ends as "Brummelliana" and walks through London, the latter announced itself quite explicitly as a retreat: "The Examiner is Hunt's tavern-room for politics, for political pleasantry, for criticism upon the theatres and living writers. The Indicator is his private room, his study, his retreat from public care and criticism, with the reader who chuses to accompany him." And in 1819, there seemed to be more than enough material for all three publications: in the Examiner alone, Hunt ranged in the Literary Notices over Thomas Moore's Selection of Irish Melodies (3 and 17 January), Hazlitt's Letter to William Gifford (7 and 14 March) as well as his Lectures on the English Comic Writers (18 April and 6 June), Lamb's Works (21 and 28 March), Wordsworth's Peter Bell (2 May), Shelley's Rosalind and Helen (9 May), the first two cantos of Byron's Don Juan (31 October), Hannah More's Moral Sketches of Prevailing Opinions and Manners (19 December), and, in addition, defended Shelley's Revolt of Islam (reviewed in the Examiner 1, 22 February and 1 March, 1818) against the Quarterly's "malignant" misrepresentation of Shelley and his poetry (26 September, 3 and 10 October).

So "literary" is the tenor of the Examiner at this time that even its coverage of the "Disturbances at Manchester"--the Peterloo Massacre--is subsumed within its ongoing war with the ministerial press, as it first ridicules the Courier's specious defense of the behavior of the yeomanry (22 and 29 August), then lashes out at Gifford and the Quarterly over the question of Henry Hunt's "coarseness" (5 September). After having been detained seven days on a charge of high treason, "Orator" Hunt was released to stand trial on a misdemeanor (as the Examiner gleefully noted, "a fault of the same class with that of his judges; for wrong imprisonment is a misdemeanour"). Acknowledging the great popularity which Henry Hunt had acquired as a result of his role at Manchester, "for the bold and intelligent manner in which he has conducted himself," the Examiner proceeded to note, "We wish indeed that without lowering a jot his tone of contempt for the usurpers of the constitution, he could be a little less coarse; but it would be a much greater fault in us, in a public point of view, if we did not let our fastidiousness give way to a sense of his present conduct rather than some of his former words." Furthermore (and this is the moment at which Hunt's editorial pivots from a defense of Henry Hunt to an assault on his detractors), "the charge of coarseness itself is contemptible from the mouths of his aristocratical enemies," some of whom "and of course the noisiest pretenders among them, are men of low origin, who set a most ungrateful example of the effects resulting from the diffusion of literature. If we wished to sophisticate against that diffusion, and to warn the poorer orders against the consequences of getting above their station, we should tell them to look at the proprietor of the Courier, who was a tailor, and at the pensioned editor of the Quarterly Review, who was apprenticed to a shoemaker" (5 September). What is at stake here is no longer (or not simply) the sufferings of the Reformers in the years after Waterloo, or whether or not the Riot Act was read at St. Peter's field before the yeomanry advanced, but "the effects resulting from the diffusion of literature." Hunt's objection to a sycophantic Tory's (Gifford's) representation of Henry Hunt as "coarse" shapes itself as a "defense" of literature--whether or not "literature" makes any difference in the quality of an individual's life, and then not in terms of a polite accomplishment but as a vital part of one's existence. For Hunt, as is apparent here, Reform is tantamount to cultural literacy, to extending the franchise of literature and thus diffusing its salutary effects amongst those from whom the Giffords of the world would withhold it.

Nor is it insignificant that Hunt's animadversions on Gifford occur under the aegis of a "Political Examiner" prompted by Henry Hunt's role at Manchester, for it is under this heading in particular that we can glimpse Hunt's most characteristic prose style, assimilating as it does the politics of the day in the crucible of his own distinctly literary sensibility. Consider the remainder of his jeremiad against Gifford, "in every respect one of the coarsest minds in England":

He is an adroit retailer of common-places, and prefers the dirtiest. There is more vulgarity in an epistle of his to PETER PINDAR, than in all of Bristol HUNT'S speeches put together. His criticism is specifically fond of maltreating women; and when he turns commentator and translator, it is upon the fiercest, coarsest, and most ribald men of genius he can find, --BEN JONSON, DECKER, and JUVENAL. This man abuses the poor upon the principle on which that little canting egoist Pamela is represented by Fielding as remonstrating with her brother Joseph Andrews upon the impropriety of lowering a family which her dear master Mr. B. had raised, --that is to say, of marrying an honest country girl, because her husband had married his maid-servant. Thus Mr. GIFFORD would have nobody elevated but after his own servile fashion. He is the male coquet of servility, -- Pamelo, or Virtue Rewarded, --"only not handsome." (5 September)

This is Hunt at his best: witty, facetious, and urbane as he discourses on the matters of the day in a disconcertingly rambling fashion, astonishingly free in ranging over topics, and oftentimes unpredictably literary in its allusions. (It is also in fact a remarkably Hazlittian quotation, with its attention to Gifford's wanton misogyny and ribaldry, as Hazlitt pointed out earlier the same year in his Letter to William Gifford. The astonishing turn to Richardson is reminiscent of Hazlitt's comparison [in the second of the "Illustrations of the Times Newspaper"] of the Lake poets' political ingenuousness to Clarissa's self-defense with a pen-knife when trapped in a house of ill-repute.) Who but Hunt--or Hazlitt--would have the imagination and impudence to cast Gifford as a latter-day "Pamelo," her wagered chastity recast as his canting servility?

The Examiner's regular assaults--on both Gifford in particular (held out above as a warning to "poorer orders") and the ministerial press at large--successfully invert a charge which had been systematically made against the radical press for years: that it was an incendiary "engine of mischief" responsible for exploiting the discontent of the poor, sowing the seeds of rebellion, and palliating insurrection. (As Southey had queried in the Quarterly in 1817, "We have laws to prevent the exposure of unwholesome meat in our markets, and the mixture of deleterious drugs in beer. --We have laws also against poisoning the minds of the people, by exciting discontent and disaffection; --why are not these laws rendered effectual and enforced as well as the former?") In his first commentary on Peterloo, for example, Hunt was quick to "remind our readers of the taunts and provocations thrown out by the Government papers, in consequence of the peaceableness of the Smithfield meeting. That peaceableness was called cowardice. The grossest political ill-treatment, joined with starvation, was not enough for the poorer part of the Reformers. They were to be insulted with charges of cowardice, in proportion to their very patience. Never let this be forgotten, when tumult is talked of" (22 August). Hunt's charge here--that the "criminals" had been taunted and badgered into committing their "crime" by the wanton exercise of ministerial power, that the ministerial press was itself responsible in this instance for "exciting discontent and disaffection" amongst the Reformers--gains additional force in the paper's coverage of two signal events from 1820: the Cato Street conspiracy and the trial of Queen Caroline. Regarding the former, Hunt was quick to note, "Let [the conspirators] be as they may in other respects, one thing seems clear, that they are paupers driven to desperation in unconstitutional times. . . . Let not perpetual provocation be treated tenderly; and nothing left to be said in extenuation of despair" (5 March). Hunt's emphasis here on "unconstitutional times" underlines a common emphasis in the year after Peterloo on the incursions of the Ministers on individual liberties. Used here to contextualize the desperate conduct of the conspirators, it will also be turned against both the ministers who deployed the spy Edwards first to foment then expose the Cato Street plot (30 April: Hunt's suggestion that the government provided the munitions it then purported to "discover" in the hands of the conspirators), and those who micromanaged the "Milan Commission" to investigate and report on Queen Caroline's "irregular life" while on the Continent (9 July: "the means taken by the agents of the powerful Party--the Green Bag, the Secret Committee, &c.--are the identical means which were lately used by the Oligarchy to deprive the people of their dearest rights"). And just as the conspirators were "driven to desperation" by repeated taunts and temptations, so might Queen Caroline be said to have succumbed to a similar pattern of provocation and betrayal at the hands of the ministry.

The paper's coverage of these two conspiracies is really its last great flourish under Leigh Hunt's editorship. In both instances, the Hunts were able to advance their campaign against the ministerial press while returning to the topic which had originally driven the Examiner: pressing for a Reform in Parliament. Not surprisingly, the paper was once again prosecuted by the Attorney General for libel, in this case on the House of Commons. While the offending piece was written by John Hunt in July, the paper had been publishing questionably libelous comments on the lower house since its coverage of Cato Street. Noting in an early editorial that "We are not to go on practicing courtesies towards all the violence and wrong exercised by men in power, and then trample in abhorrence upon the first men who are accused of meditating a violence in return" (5 March), Hunt later went so far as to charge the parliamentary "Boroughmongers" responsible for the plot's "cold-blooded entrapping of human beings" with having "given men further cause at once to fear and despise the system, whose long corruptions compel it to encourage such disgraceful sacrifices of blood, in order to divert the pressure of the popular demands" (30 April; see also the paper's coverage of an attempt to introduce a bill in the House of Commons against the government spy, Edwards, on 28 May). If, as according to Blackstone, the principal criterion for evaluating a libel is its tendency "to create animosities, and to disturb the public peace," then Hunt's denunciation of hypocrisy, lying, entrapment, and state-sponsored violence against its citizens would certainly seem to qualify it as such. Nevertheless, it was not until more pointed accusations were made against the House of Commons apropos its zeal in taking up the Regent's personal agenda against his wife, Caroline of Brunswick (now that he was about to be coronated as George IV, after the death of George III in January, 1820), that the paper actually went so far as to denounce its members as "criminals." In a long letter to the editor titled "Royal Differences" and signed by one "Ch. Fitzpaine," John Hunt took issue with the ministers' reliance on spies to scavenge for evidence against Caroline ("But if such are among the Agents, what, Sir, must be the Employers of such emissaries?"), in order to suggest that neither such spying nor the ensuing trial would have been permitted by a "real Representation of the People of England," properly occupied with "the great business of the Nation." The letter continues: "but when that House, for the main part, is composed of venal boroughmongers, grasping placemen, greedy adventurers and aspiring title-hunters, --or the representatives of such worthies, --a body, in short, containing a far greater portion of Public Criminals than Public Guardians, --what can be expected from it, but -- just what we have seen it so readily perform" (23 July). Less than a month later, Castlereagh cited these remarks in the House (see "Lord Castlereagh's Attack on the Examiner," 6 August), and on 26 November it was reported that the Attorney General had filed an ex officio information against the Examiner.

Unlike earlier criminal proceedings against the paper, John Hunt was sole defendant in this instance. (Leigh Hunt had previously renounced his share in the proprietorship in order that, should the paper again be prosecuted, the Attorney General could not convict both Hunts and imprison them both simultaneously.) Also unlike the case of The Prince Regent v. The Examiner, this proceeding failed to reinvigorate either the paper's flagging sales or its political energies. Leigh Hunt had taken a leave of absence for reasons of health as of 19 November 1820, and it was only John Hunt's conviction in February, 1821, that prompted him to return to the paper (25 February). In June, John Hunt was sentenced and imprisoned (one year, £1000 surety); later that summer Leigh Hunt acceded to Shelley's repeated invitations to join him in Italy (now made possible by the scheme for the Liberal); in October he edited his last number of the paper; and in November, set sail with his family for Genoa. 1821 is a low point in any trajectory of the Examiner: with John Hunt in prison and Leigh Hunt often ill or otherwise absent from the paper, the "Political Examiner" lacks bite (with a few notable exceptions, such as a detailed critique of Southey's Vision of Judgment [29 April, signed "Q"] and John Hunt's address after his sentencing, "To the British Reformers" [3 June]); the literary notices are brief (one column alone for Don Juan III, IV, and V [26 August]); and an unusual number of extracts from other newspapers pad the columns, lending it the air of a repository for abridgements and bin-ends.

Indirectly, it was in fact Leigh Hunt's departure for Italy which eventually revitalized the paper in 1822: first, with his series of "Letters to the Readers of the Examiner" during his voyage (May-July, principally on Byron and Shelley), then with John Hunt's promotion and defense of the Liberal (October-December). Hunt's first letter under this heading underscores his sense of freedom from his established persona as editor of the Examiner, one whose ubiquity in England had become such that "You cannot be sure that somebody is not disputing with you, criticising you, abusing you, or at any rate talking of you in some way or another." He presents himself to his readers from afar as one old acquaintance running into another in their "favourite club-room," the pages of the Examiner, and explains his choice of an epistolary mode in a similar vein: "The letters are addressed solely to those who feel a pleasure in imagining a more than ordinary intimacy between the author and his readers: and indeed, if I should sometimes write to you on subjects which do not seem important enough to warrant a public address, this kind of intimacy will vindicate me, and I shall have the usual privilege of a correspondent as to be as trifling and immaterial as I please" (26 May). Liberated from the burdens of editorship as well as from his "enemies" in the ministerial press, Hunt's voice can here be heard to assume the sort of fireside intimacy which he would cultivate so successfully upon his return from Italy--and which marks his signature contribution to the familiar essay--in, for instance, "The Wishing-Cap Papers," the Indicator, and the Tatler.

What Hunt refers to at this time as "the other work in which I am about to be engaged" is of course the Liberal, irrevocably altered by Shelley's untimely death just weeks after Hunt's arrival in Italy in July. Published in England by John Hunt, the first two numbers of the Liberal received copious attention in the Examiner (13 October, 29 December). After championing it as a periodical whose title alone "conveys in the most comprehensive manner the spirit in which the work is written, and falls in happily with the general progress of opinion (we do not mean in a political so much as a general sense) throughout Europe" (6 October), Hunt ran detailed extracts from the Preface and its notorious first offering, Byron's Vision of Judgment, as "Suggested by the Composition so entitled by the Author of Wat Tyler" (13 October). When both Byron's Vision and his epigrams on Castlereagh's suicide were vilified in the ministerial press, Hunt devoted two editorials (3 and 10 November) to defending Byron and exposing the cant of those "ultras" who took umbrage at Byron's epigrams ("So Castlereagh has cut his throat! -- The worst / Of this is, -- that his own was not the first") while not hesitating for a moment to get as much mileage as possible out of Shelley's death ("Shelley, the writer of some infidel poetry, has been drowned," proclaimed the Courier; "now he knows whether there is a God or no"). "Liberal," it turns out, stands opposed to "legitimate" not only on political but also on aesthetic and moral grounds. Or, as Leigh Hunt states in the Preface, "The object of our work is not political, except inasmuch as all writing now-a-days must involve something to that effect, the connexion between politics and all other subjects of interest to mankind having been discovered, never again to be done away" (13 October).

"Liberal" also denotes the editorial practice and appeal of the Examiner over the course of these first fifteen years: open to and openly supportive of proposals for reform, unstinting in its generosity toward the new and innovative, and certainly free from restraint in its outspoken attacks on what it perceived to be the ministerial organs of servility, hypocrisy, and cant, the Examiner forged a new role for the periodical press in charting the course of Reform politics and in extending the franchise of literature through an "infusion of literary taste into all subjects whatsoever." No one knew this or formulated it better than Hazlitt, who, in assembling a comprehensive critique of the periodical press in 1823 for the Edinburgh Review, wrote:

The Examiner stands next to Cobbett in talent; and is much before him in moderation and steadiness of principle. It has also a much greater variety of tact and subject. Indeed, an agreeable rambling scope and freedom is so much in the author's way that the reader is at a loss under what department of the paper to look for any particular topic. A literary criticism, perhaps, insinuates itself under the head of the Political Examiner; and the theatrical critic, or lover of the Fine Arts, is stultified by a tirade against the Bourbons. If the dishes are there, it does not much signify in what order they are placed. With the exception of a little egotism and twaddle, and flippancy and dogmatism about religion or morals, and mawkishness about firesides and furious Bonapartism, and a vein of sickly sonnet-writing, we suspect the Examiner must be allowed (whether we look to the design or the execution of the general run of articles in it) to be the ablest and most respectable of the publications that issue from the weekly press.

And he was right: Hazlitt catches the essence of the paper's liberality, in both the "rambling scope and freedom" of the topics covered, and the unusual, occasionally disconcerting tone in which Hunt managed to address everything from Bonapartes and Bourbons to sonnets and firesides in Hampstead. All the dishes are here, immaculately re-presented in this invaluable, remarkably legible reprint of the Examiner's first fifteen years. Thanks are due to Pickering & Chatto for having so handsomely renewed our subscription.

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Steven E. Jones, Satire and Romanticism

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Steven E. Jones, Satire and Romanticism.  New York: St. Martin's Press/Palgrave, 2000. x + 262pp. $49.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-22879-1).

Reviewed by
Donelle R. Ruwe
Fitchburg State College

Steven E. Jones poses two self-reflexive questions that are increasingly vital to today's scholars of British Romanticism: how has the canon of Romantic texts been created, and what is the critical history of the concept of Romanticism? Through New Historicist readings of specific productions of satire, which are then inflected through Pierre Bourdieu's analyses of the workings of cultural capital, Jones examines Romantic-era satire in its immediate context in order to understand the ways in which the concept of "Romanticism" evolved into a dominant aesthetic. Jones contends that Romanticism emerged through a struggle with satire, which he sees as Romanticism's other, with Romanticism and satire now defined by mutual exclusion, now by interpenetration. As Jones states, "If Romantic poetry is defined as vatic or prophetic, inward-turning, sentimental, idealizing, sublime and reaching for transcendence--even in its ironies--then satire, with its socially encoded, public, profane, and tendentious rhetoric is bound to be cast in the role of generic other" (3). In the contested space between the two modes, Romanticism and satire gradually defined each other. As Bourdieu writes, distinction is a serious game played for dominance in the field of legitimate taste, and these distinctions are made through rhetorical competitions and symbolic violence. The friction between satiric and sentimental/sincere modes subtly rearranged reputations, aesthetic assumptions, standards of taste, and a distribution of symbolic and cultural capital. These rearrangements paved the way for the Victorian and modern construct of English Romanticism as excluding satire. Even our more recent constructions of the aesthetic mode of Romantic irony, Jones suggests, are a way for criticism to allow Romanticism to reabsorb its traditional opposites and recognize its darker sides while still turning them into Romantic forms. Jerome McGann, Stuart Curran, and Marilyn Butler have variously commented on how criticism of Romantic writing has tended "to replicate Romantic ideological formations, to ignore or underplay the importance of satire in the period" (Jones 4). Prior to Jones, recent studies of Romantic satire focused generally on recovery of satiric and radical writings: Gary Dyer's British Satire and the Politics of Style 1789-1832 (Cambridge University Press, 1997) offers an essential survey of satirical writings; and Marcus Wood's Radical Satire and Print Culture, 1790-1822 (Oxford University Press, 1994) presents an historically rich--though not primarily literary--reading of the range of activities and satirical publications (from wooden coins to parodic cartoons and courtroom battles) undertaken by British radicals during the Romantic era. Jones, by contrast, is interested in exploring how the canonically peripheral genre of Romantic era satire was essential in shaping the contours of canonical Romantic aesthetics.

Rather than replicate Romantic ideological formations, Jones shows how this ideology is shaped through local performances: for example, Jones examines the ways in which one author might read and react to another author, with reactions sometimes resulting in textual confrontations, frequently in the form of parodies. Jones wisely begins his book by showing how three hallmark Romantic aesthetic categories, nature writing, sincerity, and sympathetic imagination, can be traced to a series of satirical and anti-satirical publications in which Stephen Duck, George Crabbe, and William Wordsworth jockey to represent the zeitgeist of the age by distinguishing themselves from the projects of their predecessors. As each author attempts to master the poetic field through representations and misrepresentations of others, the ground is cleared for Wordsworth's eventual success in claiming that imaginative sympathy best expresses the gravity of universal nature. Jones reveals the following satiric and counter-satiric moves: in patronizing and praising the antipastoral, nature poetry of the thresher poet Stephen Duck, Crabbe cleared space for his own powerful anti-pastoral and superior poetry, which debunked/satirized idealizations of nature. In his turn Wordsworth would present Crabbe as a realist, one who claims moral authority by reporting versified facts rather than deeper truths. And so, Wordsworth's poems of nature are revealed to be countersatirical pastorals.

Satire and Romanticism is most engaging in moments like these in which familiar authors are defamiliarized, or familiar texts are placed in new contexts within a realigned narrative of how Romanticism came to be. For example, Jones connects the satirical mode of Don Juan to the conventions of popular pantomime theater, showing that Byron's Romantic irony is dependent upon satirical wit--Don Juan's material performance of illusion is not unlike pantomime trickwork in which stage technology (e.g., the magic of the harlequin's wires) is visible to the audience. Jones's study of Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner likewise explores its performance of satiric and countersatiric modes. Initially a complimentary parody of popular German-style Gothic ballads, the poem is further complicated by the fact that Coleridge's own supernatural works were so deliberately extreme they often seemed to be self-parodic. When Coleridge distanced himself from popular romance forms and tried to recast the poem as more metaphysical (and as more philosophically coherent within the canon), he rewrote and parodied his own poem. Later critics enthroned Rime of the Ancient Mariner as the quintessentially Romantic poem. To do so, critics interpreted Coleridge's satirical elements as elements of Romantic irony, asserting that Coleridge's gloss, which itself is a parody of academic or "monkish interpretation" (52), is actually Coleridge's own ironic perspective on the main text of the ballad. Of particular pleasure in this section is Jones's reading of a contemporary satire of The Ancient Mariner from Hunt Emerson's 1989 comic-book version.

In other chapters of Satire and Romanticism, Jones studies satirical modes in works by less canonical figures than Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Byron. He examines the ephemeral publications of the radical press, particularly the weekly The Black Dwarf, which, in 1817 after Habeas Corpus was suspended, became the leading radical social organ. Its editor, Thomas J. Wooler, used theatrical and melodramatic modes of satire in his publication, and Jones suggests that Percy Bysshe Shelley attempted to use similar modes in his poetry. Works like The Triumph of Life are full of the scrappy political satire of the reform movement, including its grotesque comic allegories and public caricatures.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, gender differentiation became particularly important in the culture wars which helped to define Romanticism. Jones looks at the volatile, fashionable, and potentially humiliating literary force of late eighteenth-century salon culture. The salons were a modern form of patronage with the power to silence the works of others in the name of taste. In the era of the Napoleonic wars, the public reception of the salons was further complicated by connections between feminine power, the cult of sensibility, and anti-Jacobinism, for "femmes savants seemed to represent a frightening combination of old-regime social power and new fashioned intellectual aspirations" (140). Salons influenced public reputations, cultural capital, and book sales. They competed with critical reviews and mediated between the public and private--at a time when literature was becoming professionalized.

In Jones's discussion of gender and satire, secondary figures such as William Gifford and Leigh Hunt suddenly become keystone figures in the creation of Romanticism, for their public quarrel over aesthetics clarified and publicized the tenets of Romantic aesthetics and Romantic literary history. The hostile reviews of Romantic-style poetry, such as Gifford's attacks on the Della Cruscans, used scathing satire to critique what was seen as unsatirical, merely sentimental work. In turn, by defending the victims of satire, in particular the women Della Cruscans, who were savaged by the reviews, writers such as Hunt positioned themselves as the chivalric protectors of women and defenders of women's "natural" mode of sincerity. In doing so, Hunt ultimately separated out women poets from male poets and relegated women to a second-class authorial status. Gifford's hostility toward the perceived effeminacy of the male Della Cruscans and licentiousness of female Della Cruscans is a type of misogyny, and misogyny is a conventional satiric theme.

Jones's Satire and Romanticism adds to the work of other scholars who, since the publication of Jerome McGann's Romantic Ideology: A Critical Investigation (University of Chicago Press, 1983), have been examining the evolution of Romantic ideology--its modes, its canonical texts, and its aesthetic claims. An important precursor to Jones's work is Marlon Ross's landmark work The Contours of Masculine Desire: Romanticism and the Rise of Women's Poetry (Oxford University Press, 1989). Ross demonstrates how canonical (i.e., masculine) Romantic aesthetics was shaped in a closing-of-the-ranks response by male writers against a perceived feminization of poetry and the literary marketplace. For example, Ross examines the career of Keats, from his early identification with the poetry of Mary Tighe and the flowery-bowery style of Hunt, to his later struggles to distance himself from feminine modes. Jones, too, traces how the writers who became canonical or who influenced the canon did so through antagonistic or patronizing responses to what they perceived as threats to their own works' modes and themes. Like Ross, Jones sees these struggles, or force relations, that occur within the actual practice of literature as that which creates the terms of Romanticism itself. Whereas Ross focuses on gender dichotomies within Romantic ideologies, Jones is interested in generic dichotomies: satiric vs. sincere (i.e., Romantic) modes. However, as Jones's work with the Della Cruscans and the Bluestocking circles proves, gender dichotomies feed into genre dichotomies.

On a final note, as an indication of the sea change in literary criticism in recent years, it is significant that, in Jones's well-researched and historically nuanced narrative about the creation of the concept of British Romanticism, the Preface to Lyrical Ballads is not cited. In earlier generations of scholarship, it would be unthinkable to write a history of the rise of British Romanticism without reference to the Preface. For today's scholars, as demonstrated in Jones's decentered history of Romanticism, there are no ur-texts, only complex processes of competing narrations and constantly evolving concepts.

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Timothy Morton, The Poetics of Spice: Romantic Consumerism and the Exotic

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Timothy Morton, The Poetics of Spice: Romantic Consumerism and the Exotic. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 42.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. xiii + 282pp. Illus.: 17 halftones. $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-77146-3).

Reviewed by
Paul Youngquist
Pennsylvania State University, University Park

This is a book about getting stoned, or scoring in a scholarly mode. What after all does dope have in common with less questionable commodities? The rush that comes with consumption. Consumers get hooked on the hit that delivers. But culturally speaking such dependency is not inevitable. Capitalism may be the biggest drug lord of them all, but it remains a historical phenomenon. And its emergence as an economic order that today constitutes reality on a global scale involves more than the simple domination of the masses by a ruling class of profiteers and their empty ideologies. One of Timothy Morton's central claims in The Poetics of Spice is that capitalism achieves its legitimacy by mobilizing desire, promoting fantasies that produce consumers who desire their dependency. It's the old cultural logic of entrapment: capitalism creates a desire whose fulfillment can be managed in advance. But what is new to Morton's analysis is its insistence on the affective register of that logic. Capitalism works because it enthralls the senses. Consumerism triumphs because it dazzles the imagination. The dreams and pleasures of consumer capitalism consolidate its reality--as any doper knows. That's why Morton attends so carefully to the political efficacy of what he calls the poetics of spice in the long eighteenth century. Pepper, cinnamon, salt, cumin, nutmeg, ginger, fennel, galingal, and clove (not to mention their darker kin, cannabis and opium): these and other spices were also commodities, exotic goods that materialized dreams. As such they play a powerful role in the production and circulation of desire in the consumer culture whose emergence Morton associates with eighteenth-century Britain.

But in what sense can spice be said to have a poetics? Morton describes his analysis as a "study of the literary and cultural representation of consumption and the commodity" (204), indicating that the poetics of spice is a historically specific discourse, one whose political efficacy is wholly bound up with the practices of consumer capitalism. In a declaration whose frequency makes it a kind of mantra of his argument, Morton claims that spice "becomes ideologically useful precisely at the point at which it is less materially useful, even for fueling the capitalist economy" (122). At the historical moment when spice diminishes in its importance as an actual commodity, it acquires astonishing ideological force, sustaining "fantasies of cornucopian consumption" (10). The poetics of spice becomes a kind of rhetoric of commodified abundance, like the old doper's fantasy of a cheap legal source for a controlled substance. As such it promotes a desire for the rush that comes with consumption and creates a consumer always hungry for the next score. The poetics of spice puts the consumer in consumerism.

Morton identifies this ideological effect with the commercial practices of eighteenth-century British culture largely on the basis of two books: Neil McKendrick, John Brewer, and J. H. Plumb's The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England (Indiana University Press, 1982) and Colin Campbell's The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism (Blackwell Publishers, 1987). And indeed, these ought to be required reading for anyone interested in the long eighteenth-century, especially for Romanticists still susceptible to the Wordsworthian ruse of something far more deeply interfused. McKendrick, et al., carefully documents the "unprecedented propensity to consume" that forces his conclusion that "the first of the world's consumer societies had unmistakably emerged by 1800" (11). He scrupulously describes the democratization of consumption that attends an increase in spending among all classes. After 1750, for instance, 25% of all English families had incomes between £50 and £400, and between 1785 and 1800 the consumption of excised commodities in mass demand increased twice as fast as the population (24, 29). Clearly consumerism was on the rise. But don't look for such details in Morton's account of its emergence. His description of that historically new phenomenon, the self-reflexive consumer pursuing luxury for its own sake, presumes an intimate familiarity with both the history of consumer capitalism in England and the scholarship that presents it, a familiarity many of his readers probably lack and would be eager to learn, if only to situate his claims.

But eschewing material history frees Morton up to pursue an innovative theoretical analysis of the poetics of spice. It incorporates a witches' brew of contemporary theorists. There isn't a hipster Morton hasn't consumed--and digested. Chief among them is Slavoj Zízek, whose culturally inflected return to Hegel and Lacan proves useful to the task of fathoming fantasies that legitimate the desires of consumerism. Deleuze and Guattari play a less direct but decisive role in Morton's descriptions of the flows of capital, and Derrida puts in a somewhat predictable appearance to parse the supplementary logic of spice as an exotic commodity. Drawing liberally on these thinkers, Morton theorizes the poetics of spice in two dimensions, hazarding an account of both what it is, culturally speaking, and what it does. The poetics of spice, it turns out, unites a substantive discourse with an array of performative effects.

First the discourse. As such the poetics of spice aligns a historically specific lineage of representation with a theoretically distinct rhetoric of possibility that proves particularly conducive to the cultural logic of consumer capitalism. Morton illustrates this alignment with a smart discussion of what he calls "the trade wind topos," the traditional literary topos of a spicy breeze blowing from an exotic land of cornucopian abundance "towards the imaginary nose of the reader" (42). With the emergence of consumer capitalism, this topos serves to naturalize and therefore to legitimate commercial trade on a global scale by associating luxury commodities with far away, exotic territories. Morton describes "the politics of these figurative structures" as "significantly orientalist, exoticising the lands from which the spices flowed and the flows of trade themselves" (42), which makes the trade wind topos a potent ideological marker. In a neat twist, Morton links its productivity directly to that of the nascent discourse of advertising, showing how both make the promise of a better world available through exotic commodities.

Reinforcing this promise is the rhetoric of possibility that characterizes the poetics of spice as a discourse. This rhetoric has two modes, ekphrasis and fantasia. Morton describes the former as "the vivid effect of a substance jumping out, as it were, of its textual frame, appearing to break the tissue of the text and stand forth at somewhat of a distance 'in front of' it" (129). In ekphrasis an image leaps off the page to assert a luminous presence. Fantasia on the other hand gestures toward a dreamy beyond that exceeds a text's capacity to represent. When it prevails, a text "appears to be folded into itself, or into a potentially infinite supply of other texts: travelers' tales, mystical stories, narratives of a 'beyond' not in the present here-and-now" (130). In fantasia a text flows into other texts to invoke an endless figuration. Both ekphrasis and fantasia posit the possibility that there is more to life than representational language can say, the former as a luminous presence, the latter as a dynamic flow. Both advance the ends of consumer capitalism by identifying such possibilities with exotic commodities. The poetics of spice gives the act of luxury consumption an almost spiritual mystique. The consumer of exotica is that much closer to those spiced islands of mortal bliss.

What, then, are the performative effects of the poetics of spice and its refulgent discourse? Most obviously, to naturalize and to normalize consumer capitalism. The poetics of spice serves as a kind of rhetorical software for capitalism's economic, social, and political operations. Who wouldn't want to consume exotic commodities that promise a richer, lusher life? That question leads to another important effect of the poetics of spice, namely its ability to structure a subjectivity peculiarly suited to consumption. Drawing upon Zízek's deployment of Jacques Lacan's formula for object relations, Morton emphasizes the reversibility of the relation between a consuming subject and the spice it desires. The subject of consumption needs an exotic commodity that determines what it needs. This reversibility between consumer and commodity evacuates subjectivity and involves it in an endless pursuit of needful goods. And because this logic operates by occluding social context, all such goods become equally needful, or as Morton puts it, "there is certainly no clear way of distinguishing between luxury and necessity" (27). To the subject of consumption all commodities are potentially exotic. Perhaps the most potent effect, then, of the poetics of spice is to maximize and to sensualize their fetishization. The promise of exotic possibilities combines with the algebra of perpetual need to promote the pleasures--the deeply sensual pleasures--of consumption, or the next score. Hence Morton's sense of the cultural uses of the exotic commodity: "Part of the luxury status of spice . . . has nothing to do with the ways in which it is consumed, but with the ways in which it sensualises certain fantasies about the nature of money and capital" (36). The poetics of spice disseminates the fetish: in a rhetorical sense, it deals dope.

But The Poetics of Spice is primarily a book about the relationship between consumer capitalism and literary representation. Morton's historical allegiance to the long eighteenth century allows him to approach a wide range of poets from the perspective of a poetics wherein "spice became a figure of pure opulence, the richness of figurative language itself" (45). With the emergence of consumer culture, the poetics of spice gets redeployed away from mystical and toward linguistic possibilities. Morton offers fresh readings of Milton, Dryden, Blackmore, Darwin and a host of others to illustrate this shift and its concomitant legitimation of consumerism. But it is in his discussion of Romantic poetry that he advances his boldest claims. For "Romantic period poetry again adapts the poetics of spice to make sophisticated statements about consumption, here the self-reflexive consumption of one's life" (135). The effect is to reevaluate the traditional canon of British Romanticism. The old masculine poets of consciousness and imagination, spontaneity and expression--Wordsworth, Coleridge, and their ilk--are out, and the feminine poets associated with the ornamentation and sensuality are in. Call them the spice girls: their work includes the disparaged effeminate poetry not only of Anna Seward and Charlotte Smith, but of John Keats, Percy Shelley, and Leigh Hunt, too. In this Morton participates in the recent rehabilitation of sentimental writing undertaken by critics as diverse as Anne Mellor, Paula Feldman, Jeffrey Cox, Greg Kucich, and Nicholas Roe. And it's about time. By showing how such poetry engages and even disrupts the poetics of spice, Morton proves these poets to be deeply engaged in the issues, specifically economic issues, of their day. Suddenly Wordsworth seems questionably comfortable with capitalism, his preoccupation with the growth of his Poet's Mind a pretty piece of fetishism.

Morton's fresh readings of specifically Romantic poems, both familiar and unfamiliar, are the best in the book. In a kind of tour de force return to Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Morton advances one of his most productive theoretical conceptions: "antiquing." With its archaisms and its gothicisms, its transcendentalisms and its gloss, that infamous poem "comes ready-made as a timelessly valuable antique" (123). And as a carefully crafted, purposefully faked literary antique, Coleridge's Rime is a pre-packaged souvenir from a bygone age, "a commodified medievalist text that retains the form of the medieval text" (123). It's highbrow kitsch for middle class consumption, like portraits of Shakespeare on English Department websites. Antiquing commodifies literary discourse by making it a memory of itself, becoming in Morton's terms "a symptom of a feminised consumer culture" (123). That's a promising way to approach the element of romance in British Romanticism. It's no longer an instance of internalization so much as an index of commodification. Poetry becomes a commodity during the Romantic period, a circumstance that Coleridge's antiquing exploits.

Other poets, such as Hunt and Keats, were less complacent in their commodifications. On Morton's account the Cockneys contested consumer capitalism through the campiness of their poetry. Hunt's "The Panther," for instance, plays with the discourse of the commodity form to qualify its operation. This poem too has been antiqued, but where Coleridge produces kitsch, Hunt promotes camp. "The Panther" becomes a kind of allegory of consumerism that hyperbolically plays its promised pleasures against their inevitable fetishization. The effect is to contest the rhetoric of possibility associated with the poetics of spice, in Morton's terms to undermine "the fantasy support of capitalism--the myth of the free lunch or the Land of Cockaygne from which the Cockneys got their name" (214). Nowhere is this effect more powerful, however, than in Keats's sentimental masterpiece, "The Eve of Saint Agnes." Morton reads its as another antiquing of that constitutive fantasy. In it Keats parodies consumption with such extravagance as to render it empty. Morton puts the point somewhat murkily: "The Eve of Saint Agnes presents the realization of a fantasy that retains the appearance of fantasy" (163). What he means is that, even when materially realized, the promise of consumption remains a fantasy. The poetics of spice turns out to be only that, a phantasmic rhetoric of possibility. This point comes clearest in the famous stanza 30 with its quince and curd and "lucent syrops tinct with cinnamon." In this "fantasy of pure excess in which the accidents are more vivid than the substances" (164), a profusion of exotic commodities provides a camp parody of consumption in which food (necessity) and spice (luxury) turn mutually fantastic. The sheer hyperbole of that fatuous banquet proves it an instance of Cockney camp that "parodies the rhetoric of the commodity by redoubling it" (170).

And that raises the problem of the political efficacy of such camp. Does it make much of a difference? Or as Morton himself puts the question, "does Keats's poem undermine capitalist ideology?" (168). The answer is that it doesn't so much undermine ideology as traverse it. Morton identifies ideology less with the ruling illusions of a master class than with the operation of the poetics of spice, which circulates a sensualized fantasy of consumerism. Ideology critique achieves only the appearance of an escape from that fantasy. The reality is much less promising: "There is no escape from consumerism, because it is the very idea of an escape which reinforces it" (125). To critique ideology, then, is to commodify dissent, reinforcing the fantasy of consumerism by marketing demystification. Leaving aside for a moment the cynicism and complacency of this claim (it is of a piece with a certain demoralization that runs through theorists of totality from Adorno to Jameson to Baudrillard), it's important to appreciate Morton's alternative to critique. Leaning heavily on Zízek, Morton prefers a strategy of traversal to demystification. Zízek observes that what appeals about ideology is also what undermines it. In this instance, the poetics of spice makes an exotic promise it cannot keep. Ideology involves both that illusion and its demystification. "Thus the best strategy for undermining ideology," says Morton, "is a traversal of its phantasmic elements rather than a resistance to it or the positing of a non- or anti-ideological presence which ideology cannot assimilate" (210).

Traversal offers an appealing alternative to critique because it avoids the turn to a higher truth, a stable meaning. Zízek has made a name for himself as a theorist by insisting that the failure to achieve such a meaning on the part of a subject or in this case an ideology is constitutive element of that subject or that ideology. His claim is not that such a meaning is impossible, but the more paradoxical one that impossibility is that meaning, that subject, that ideology. Critique, with its transcendentalizing turn, does not touch this impossibility. Traversal does, because it affirms impossibility and runs with it. To Morton, "The best way to subvert ideology is through a form of sincere parody" (210), a strategy he associates with Romantic writers traditionally dismissed as sentimental or effeminate. Cockney camp or sentimental ornamentation traverses the fantasy of consumerism by amping it up, emptying it out, showing it to be both imperative and impossible. Thus they affirm that impossibility is not a passing moment on the way to higher meaning but the very substance of meaning itself. One might question the ethics of traversal as an analytic strategy, however--its investment in the negative as a mode of subversion. Claiming that subjectivity or ideology includes impossibility is another way of saying that it lacks completeness. That's why the poetics of spice with its fantasy of exotic consumption works: lack drives desire for commodities that constitute desire as lack. Traversing this logic is supposed to subvert its operation. But does it? Or does it reveal only that lack is secretly in love with totality, that the fantasy of consumerism in fact works because even its very impossibility becomes directed toward the promise of cornucopian abundance? How far is sincere parody from a resentment that fixes desire on the obscure object that it lacks? Steven Shaviro has suggested that discourses of lack have the unfortunate effect of recapitulating the "conservative, conformist assumption . . . that our desires are primarily ones for possession, plenitude, stability, and reassurance" (The Cinematic Body [University of Minnesota Press, 1993], 53). Is it inevitable, as Morton claims, that there is no escape from consumerism?

That's what bothers me, after all its articulate explorations, about The Poetics of Spice--the complacency of its politics, the frictionlessness of its analytic. Near the end of his study--whose intelligence and nuance is beyond question--Morton concludes that "The poetics of spice was employed in the formation of this aesthetic dimension of commercial capitalism. What is not seen in this ambient emporium is the labour that produces the surplus value" (229). The same can be said for the book itself, raising the possibility that it too participates in the poetics of spice. Morton has little truck with the facts of material culture and the forces of productive labor. His interest in the fantasy of consumption keeps his discourse at a theoretical remove from the dirty business of production. Even where slavery becomes an issue, as in his discussion of the blood sugar topos in the discourse of emancipation, it is a slavery recuperated at the level of representation in which subjection is more trope than tragedy. Morton's long eighteenth century is a middle class paradise where exotic goods circulate freely and happy consumers buy with abandon. For all its theoretical inventiveness, then, The Poetics of Spice has little to say that might contest global consumerism then or now. The book delivers the kind of high that renders the material and social effects of the fantasy of consumption a little too tolerable.

Morton's promotion of "ambience" to conceptual status tends, I fear, toward similar ends. One of the productive aspects of the poetics of spice is that it "can create a kind of embodied space, a space that is not zero or nothingness, not caught up in the logic of negative and positive. . . . It is an atmosphere, a realm in which events have room to happen" (222). This is the space of ambience, a zone of pure potential, an atmosphere irreducible to relations of subject and object. But how does ambience in this sense relate to a world given over to consumer capitalism? In a recent interview, Zízek describes the way ideology works today: "In our so-called cynical era, . . . ideology functions in a way that is much closer to the fetish. 'Fetish' is exactly, almost in a mirror-like way, the opposite of symptom. If a symptom is the return of the truth in the universal lie, a fetish is the little lie that enables you to sustain the truth" ("Slavoj Zízek: Philosopher, Cultural Critic, and Cyber-Communist," Gary A. Olson and Lynn Worsham, eds., The Journal of Advanced Composition 21.2 [2001]: 1–36; 8). Zízek proceeds to describe the fetishistic function of New Age spirituality. "It's a fetish in the sense that . . . you don't even try to cope with life: the situation is too complex; just accept it as a game of appearances but maintain a proper distance; be aware that it's all a superficial play of appearances, and so on. This is a perfect attitude to survive the mad, accelerated, frenetic rhythm of today's capitalism without going crazy" (9). I worry that ambience as a space of pure potential simply repeats the poetics of spice in a mystical mode, fetishizing resistance to capitalism by making consumerism seem merely a fantasy. What, one must finally ask, is the political work that ambience advances? The answer should appear in Morton's next book, alluringly entitled Ambience. As it is, The Poetics of Spice makes an important contribution to contemporary studies in the long eighteenth century for the way it reinvents critical practice. Readers will have to decide for themselves whether the rewards of Morton's attention to the constitutive poetics of consumer capitalism outweigh his apparent lack of interest in material culture. Buy it, I am tempted to say, and see. Score the book and enjoy the trip, but in the end, ask where it takes you.

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