This essay examines the cognitive underpinnings of affect circulation in the poetry of Coleridge and Keats, poets who sought to shape the reading experiences of their contemporary and future audiences. Both poets utilized the automaticity inherent in reading popular genres like the Gothic and Romance, as they immerse their readers in a flood of sensation. Yet, interruptions to the narrative flow complicate moments of composition and reading, ultimately highlighting a complex cognitive and affective work happening through passive reading. While such sensational forms of reading were often disparaged during the Romantic period, modern cognitive psychology shows these “passive” or “immersive” forms are actually complex in their affective work. By structurally regulating the sensory experience, controlling the affective overflow, and calling attention to the cognitive and cultural processes at work underneath the fiction, these authors ensure we will not be caught in a dream world for long without awaking more enlightened.
This essay argues that recent criticism in affect theory emphasizing the “strictly biological portion of emotion” offers a new interpretive window into a much-neglected Gothic novel by an important though still relatively unknown writer. Its major claim is that Secresy’s emphasis on bodiliness, the extent to which characters share and absorb the same affective environment, undercuts important critical accounts of the novel—by Terry Castle, Patricia Cove, Julia Wright, and others—which claim that each of its characters occupies his or her own inalienable rhetorical or “generic” world to which the other characters have little or no access.
This volume presents new work by scholars working at the intersection of British Romanticism and affect studies. Each essay takes a different approach to affect and emotion, from a piece on Joanna Baillie’s passion plays, co-written by a literary scholar and a cognitive psychologist, to a piece that utilizes affect theory and rhythmic studies in a reading of William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. This volume does not propose a single definition of “affect,” but all of the essays share the conviction that the kind of interdisciplinary work demanded by affect studies is beneficial to both Romantic studies and affect studies. Much more than a passing trend, affect studies has transformed the study of emotion for a generation of scholars.
Taking as its main focus Shelley’s lyrical drama Prometheus Unbound, this essay examines the Romantic treatment of feeling as a kind of affective ecology sustained by love. The poem reconstitutes feeling, not as it indicates a subject formed by Enlightenment notions of words or looks, but as an unrestrained jouissance that constitutes the event of feeling itself. This event shatters the subject so that, as if to tarry with a Jupiterian desire to conscript meaning, the subject can feel its truth.
William Blake’s perpetually protean Marriage of Heaven and Hell has proven somewhat elusive for those seeking to articulate “what” the work means. Given its unusual form/s (organized along both verbal and visual axes), its visionary commitments (evoked through its apocalyptic imagery), and its intertextual engagements (from Aristotle and Jesus through Milton to Swedenborg [Blake’s primary focus]), one cannot arrive at a singular textual meaning. However, when one asks a different question—“How does the text make its meaning?”—the dynamic aims of the work do emerge. The fusion of these and other elements creates an art object with an overt gaze woven through affective textualities, and this dynamic and interactive presence strives to transform the very subjectivities of those readers who enter its entangled zones of semiotic operations. Thus, affect forms the boundary conception of such a textual condition, and its apprehension transforms them into subjective effects.
Sharing Contagion: Sympathetic Curiosity and Social Emotion Regulation in Joanna Baillie’s De Monfort
In her 1798 “Introductory Discourse,” Joanna Baillie argues that sympathetic curiosity is what makes us care about others in the world. In contemporary parlance, Baillie wants to use sympathetic curiosity for “emotion regulation,” a concept used in socio-cognitive psychology and neuroscience. In this essay, we analyze Baillie’s play De Monfort to critique models of emotion regulation by 1) positioning sympathetic curiosity as a tool for emotional education, 2) disentangling affect, emotion, and cognition, and 3) emphasizing the social in the management of emotion. Ultimately, we consider how the concept of emotion regulation informs conversations in affect studies.
This collection came together as the result of the annual Romantic Circles-NASSR (North American Society for the Study of Romanticism) Pedagogy Prize. Lindsey Eckert and Lissette Lopez Szwydky, co-winners of the 2014 prize, separately submitted projects that included technology as central components of their courses. Together, the six essays in this volume speak to the value of collaboration, interdisciplinary teaching, and public humanities. Underscoring all of the contributions is a belief that Romantic literature is uniquely suited to innovate pedagogical approaches that embrace new technologies because the historical period itself was characterized by questions about technology, its consequences, and its possibilities. As scholars and educators of Romanticism, we see strong parallels between the period that we teach and the age in which we live. Using multimedia projects, the essays in this collection approach themes central to Romanticism—nature, rights, collaboration, reading, the public sphere—through the Industrial Revolution at the turn of the nineteenth century and the digital revolution at the turn of the twenty-first century. This volume provides practical overviews of technical and digital alternative assignments that can be incorporated into Romantic-period courses, including critical reflection about the value of digital projects in the humanities.
1. The main text of this edition is a review of a hypothetical poem, ‘The Griffin’, the ‘maiden effort of an Indian Subaltern’s Muse’,
A “sound but half its own”: A Collaborative Exploration of Poetic Sounds in Literature and Electrical Engineering Classrooms
This essay explores a recent cross-disciplinary project aimed at bridging courses in English and Electrical Engineering at Union College. We conducted a dual exploration of the role of sound in Romantic literature, culture, and technology by the incorporation of Electrical Engineering practices and technologies into a Romanticism course, on the one hand, and, on the other, the introduction of Romantic poetry, theory, and technology into a course on digital signal processing. More specifically, we devised an interdisciplinary team experience bringing humanities and engineering approaches to the analysis of the phenomenon of sound as represented in poetry and technology of the Romantic period and used contemporary technology to measure poetic sound with scientific instrumentation. This trans-disciplinary lab required literature students to work in conjunction with their peers who specialize in signal processing for a dual investigation of the conceptual, aesthetic, and technological contexts of Romantic sound—not only of the poetry but also the age’s beloved Aeolian harp.
When teaching British Romanticism, cultivating student interest in the material often requires the educator to explain the relevance of texts that for many seem historically and linguistically remote. One way to help facilitate student engagement is to ask them to investigate the public impacts of the assigned texts and communicate those impacts to a public audience. Digital humanists often turn to established digital humanities projects or blogs to provide students a platform for this kind of work; however, we trialed using a public resource that didn’t require a curatorial investment or the development of strict editorial oversight. Wikipedia provided that opportunity: despite nearly 4.9 million articles and one of the most visited sites on the web, there are a number of gaps in Wikipedia’s coverage of British Romantic literature, including coverage of William Blake’s most taught collection of poems: Songs of Innocence and of Experience. For a series of coursework assignments on Romantic poetry, we asked students to fill those gaps. This essay details our implementation of Wikipedia article writing assignments over two semesters of a British Romantic poetry class, including both the digital pedagogy and design concerns shaping the assignment. We explore some of the missteps regarding the implementation of digital assignments and discuss how the experience not only provided our students with different types of learning opportunities, but also how such an assignment can become a tool for shaping the public reception of Blake, Romanticism, and humanities knowledge more generally.