Paris

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Duncan, "The Trouble with Man: Scott, Romance, and World History in the Age of Lamarck"

Sylvan the giant captive Ourang-Outang is only the most spectacular figure in an array of monsters, prodigies, and other anomalous characters who trouble the categories not just of culture, gender, ethnicity and race but of humanity as a species in Walter Scott's late romance Count Robert of Paris (1831). Dismissed by most commentators as a bizarre effusion of Scott’s dotage, Count Robert of Paris sets its scene decisively outside the developmental continuum specified for “the classical form of the historical novel” by Georg Lukács. Eleventh-century Constantinople is scarcely the scene of “our own” past, a setting that may provide “a concrete prehistory of the present” (The Historical Novel 269). It is doubly divided from modern British readers: by the schism between the Greek and Roman churches, which cast Byzantium as the decadent shadow of a more vigorous “western civilization”; and by the Ottoman conquest of 1453, which cut off the Greek empire from the progressive path to modernity. J. H. Alexander’s new edition of Count Robert of Paris (Edinburgh, 2006), restoring extensive passages that were cut by Scott’s executors, allows us to see more clearly than was hitherto possible the novel’s philosophical investment in alien histories, alien origins. Among the passages published for the first time is a conclusion in which Scott acknowledges the unprecedented, experimental character of what is “probably the last of my fictitious compositions” (362). The quest for “novelty at whatever rate” has driven him to “lay his scene in distant countries, among stranger nations, whose manners are imagined for the purpose of the story – nay, whose powers are extended beyond those of human nature.” Scott’s prime example of a romance that goes beyond human nature is “a late novel . . . by the name of Frankenstein” (363). Scott had reviewed Frankenstein for Blackwood’s in 1818, and a new edition of the novel, revised by Mary Shelley, was published just over one month after he completed Count Robert of Paris (and less than two months before its publication). On Scott’s own authority, then, this essay will read Count Robert of Paris not as a historical novel but as a work of anthropological science fiction. Scott’s late romance reveals the link between the historical novel and science fiction to be more intimate than we might have thought, genetic as well as analogical, soon after the foundation of both genres (Waverley, Frankenstein) in British Romanticism. The name of that link, “man,” designates the philosophical problematic of Count Robert of Paris and marks the novel’s station not just at the end of Scott’s career but at the end of a century-long project of cultural modernization, the so-called Scottish Enlightenment. In 1739 David Hume had given that project a name, “the science of man.” By the 1770s it seemed as though history had become established as the discipline best equipped to realize the science of man, in conjectural histories of society, of manners and institutions, the arts and sciences, as well as of particular nations. It was the attempt to totalize these projects, to write the history of man as a species that laid bare a fault-line in the secular category of “man”—a fault-line constituted by its biological foundation. “The Human Species is in every view an interesting subject,” wrote Lord Kames in the preface to his Sketches of the History of Man (1774): however, “there is still wanting a history of the species, in its progress from the savage state to its highest civilization and improvement.” “The subject of this volume is the History of Man, by which I mean, not what is commonly called History, that is the History of Nations and Empires, but the History of the Species Man”: thus Lord Monboddo, introducing the fourth volume of his Antient Metaphysics (1795). These best-known of Scottish essays in the history of man as a species are notorious for their disruption of the category they invoke: Kames for his argument that humankind consists of different species (originally unified but then marked with biological as well as linguistic difference after Babel), Monboddo for his insistence that the mysterious great ape, the Orang-Outang, is man in his natural state, lacking only the artificial acquirement of language. For these accounts, it seems, “man” signifies at once too much and too little. By the time Scott was writing Count Robert of Paris, in 1830-31, the trouble with man had blown up into a scandal. Amid a rising tide of mainly French morphological speculation on the transmutation of species, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck had cited the orang-utan as a human prototype—not just a type of natural man but a figure for man’s animal origins and the mutability of species. Lamarck’s work was diffused across British literature by the controversy that peaked in the early 1830s, in endorsements by “Edinburgh Lamarckians” such as Robert Jameson and Robert E. Grant, as well as in refutations, most notably by Charles Lyell in the second volume of Principles of Geology (published one month after Count Robert of Paris, in January 1832). Count Robert of Paris finds its imaginative opening in the contemporary crisis of world history and the science of man. Scott’s Constantinople swarms with different creeds, nations, races and species, in which the boundaries between nation and race and species, and between human and non-human species, shift and blur. The main figure for this boundary-flux is the Orang-Outang, who, among his other accomplishments, understands instructions given in Anglo-Saxon and kills off the principal villain of the story. The newly restored text of Count Robert of Paris allows us to see that various forms of biological difference (including sexual as well as racial and species difference) are everywhere in play in the novel. Count Robert earns its place beside Frankenstein, if we understand Shelley’s novel (following Maureen McLane’s analysis in Romanticism and the Human Sciences) as enacting a radical critique of the “specifically anthropological discourse of man” that underwrites the newly-won autonomy of imaginative literature in British Romanticism. Scott’s Constantinople opens a new kind of setting for a new kind of historical romance: the cosmopolis or world-city as conjectural arena for the natural history of man. Within this radically heterodox imaginary space, Count Robert of Paris explodes the monogenetic trajectories of national progress charted in the Scottish Waverley Novels for a fantastic exploration of the multiplicity of developmental paths and forms that humankind might take.
September 2011

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September 2011

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John Thelwall’s Panoramic Miscellany: The Lecturer as Journalist

From January to June 1826, Thelwall edited, wrote, and marketed The Panoramic Miscellany, a monthly periodical that demonstrates his ongoing commitment to political causes, public education, elocutionary training, and literary criticism. This essay examines the context and contents of the little-known Panoramic Miscellany, showing that Thelwall’s editorial policy and discursive practice depend heavily on his experience as lecturer and educator and that the Panoramic Miscellany stands out for its international perspective, its attention to women writers, and the integrity of its book reviews. The unsuccessful attempt of Thelwall the lecturer to become an independent journalist offers insights into the experimental and volatile media context of the 1820s.
September 2011

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"Hegel’s Bearings"

In her essay, Rei Terada ponders Hegel's style of "tarrying with the negative," particularly with the narrowing of political possibility in German territories both under Napoleonic liberalization and after Waterloo. In correspondence with his friend Friedrich Immanuel Niethammer, who states his wish to persist in fighting a losing cause even - or especially - if he is the "last man" to do so, as if to find sustenance in his inability to bear his dark times. Hegel bears up in another manner, seeking a middle way that "allows nothing to get too bad and nothing too good." Rather than trusting himself to a truly open history, Terada argues, Hegel protects the civic life of the middle class, but in doing so he also carries through on a philosophy in which "another middle, the middle of transition, always rules the world." Drawing on a description of a dream Hegel sends to his friend, in which "a certain realist calculation and foresight is implicit," his critique of "the mirror reifications of empiricism and idealism" in the Logic, and his account in the Encyclopedia of how the subject, reading every negativity that comes from outside as actually from inside, can become "a being capable of containing and enduring its own contradiction," Terada shows how Hegel becomes a "privileged figure of the new dispensation," someone capable of enduring "the horizonless condition of an antipolitical society that extends from the late Napoleonic era to our own."
January 2012

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"The Ruins of Empire and the Contradictions of Restoration: Barbauld, Byron, Hemans"

This essay explores how Regency ruin culture developed at once as the apogee and the ambivalently repressive (and repressed) symptom of British imperialism, articulating the nuances of “Britain’s role in determining the trajectory of the Napoleonic imperial project at moments unstably situated between triumph and catastrophe, commercial and military pre-eminence and social crisis.” Working through Walter Benjamin's comments on ruination in The Arcades Project, Keach marks out how the difference between a “canonical” and “critical” ruin culture depends on gestures of delayed fascination tempered by an “awakening” that throws the ruin into sudden critical knowledge. For Keach, the ruin is indelibly coupled to restoration, thus producing a double movement of destruction and reconstruction that not only operates separately, but is intrinsic to the ideology of the ruin. As fragment, the ruin figures as a remainder of other cultures newly “acquired” and transmuted into the mournful excesses that haunt their reinstallment in pre- and post-Waterloo Britain. Even more, it either constitutes a celebratory surplus that hints at renovation or offers itself as unyielding matter—the debris of political and social violence.
January 2012

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"Mary Wollstonecraft’s Perpetual Disaster"

This essay reads the moments in the Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (1796) in which Mary Wollstonecraft imagines future disasters and grieves for losses yet to come. Taking his cue from William Godwin's comment that her prejudices suffered a "vehement concussion" from the events of the French Revolution, Juengel argues that these moments of disastrous affect register a traumatic apprehension she cannot otherwise articulate - not even in her Historical and Moral View of the Origins and Progress of the French Revolution (1794). Devastated by a wounding realization of revolutionary hope, Wollstonecraft is "[h]aunted by what was to have been the future," and weaves "the time of revolutionary politics with what we might call 'species time,' resulting in forms of untimeliness that figure as disaster without end." Her sense of this disaster, so threatening to the value of individual lives, is attuned to the discovery of a planetary "deep time" that took place in the decades before and after the 1790s and to the prospect, articulated two years later by Malthus, of an ongoing "disaster of sensation and feeling that paradoxically moves the species toward life rather than death." Yet all these untimely reflections may enable her to avoid confronting the disasters of the present, such as the consequences of the fire that destroyed large portions of Copenhagen just before her arrival there; the thought of disaster, she suggests, would relieve her from the task of treading on "live ashes," on ills not yet reduced to scenes in fancy. Ultimately, Juengel argues, these movements of disastrous thought may all speak of what Reinhardt Koselleck describes as the radical temporalization of revolutionary time, a temporalization to which Wollstonecraft ultimately responds with a generous passivity, with a more-than-Kantian hospitality to disaster itself.
January 2012

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