Vol. 05 no. 1

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

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.

Steven E. Jones, Satire and Romanticism

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.

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

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.

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

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

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.

Jonathan Bate, The Song of the Earth

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).

Subscribe to RSS - Vol. 05 no. 1