Introduction: Multi-Media Romanticisms

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This introductory essay of Multi-Media Romanticisms explores the central concepts that emerge from the individual essays contained in the volume. These concepts include: the multiplicity of Romantic-era media technologies and theories; the conceptual models of network, assemblage, and ecology used by contemporary scholars to map the relations between media; Romantic valorizations of noise as a benign register of materiality, singularity, and finitude; and the turn to questions of affect and emotion as a way to describe the position of the subject within extended networks of mediation. These conceptual clusters seem to us the most knotty and generative issues within Romantic-era media studies today.

Multi-Media Romanticisms

James Brooke-Smith
University of Ottawa

Andrew Burkett
Union College

1.        This volume began with a call for papers that prompted our contributors to reflect on the interactions among the diverse media forms of the Romantic age and to explore the connections between those old media forms and today’s dynamic new media ecologies. It thus seems appropriate to open our introductory remarks with a brief description of what we might call the “scene of mediation” in which this collection of essays has taken shape. Our gambit was born out of a desire to build on pioneering work by scholars such as Kevis Goodman, John Guillory, Celeste Langan, Maureen McLane, Andrew Piper, Clifford Siskin, William Warner, and others who have explored a range of Romantic mediologies, including the intermedial relations of print and orality; genealogies of media discourse in the pre-electronic era; emergent conceptions of channel, information, and noise; the complexity of the book as a media object; and the dynamics of a saturated print culture. [1]  Our aim, inchoate and speculative as it was at the start of the process, was to invite scholars working in the field to reflect on the new tools, methods, and theories available to us to map the multiple relations between media formats in the Romantic period. As we put it in our abstract, our goal has been to explore the full range of technologies, both past and present, through which Romantic-era cultural production was and is organized, sequenced, networked, processed, mediated, remediated, disintermediated, etc., etc.

2.        Since drafting that first document, our investigations have taken many different forms and circulated through a variety of different channels. Three of our contributors—Yohei Igarashi, John Savarese, and Kate Singer—delivered papers at a special session at the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism’s 2014 conference in Washington, DC. Discussion of these papers took place in the formal setting of the conference panel, the informal setting of the pub, and the digital setting of numerous email, Twitter, and other online exchanges. After the success of the panel, we decided to extend our call to other scholars and received excellent proposals from Emma Peacocke and Brian Rejack. The finished essays in this volume are themselves multi-media objects, which make use of a range of new digital tools for mining, mapping, and mediating historical documents (e.g., Singer’s use of Voyant’s suite of online tools; Savarese’s employment of Romantic Circles’s audio resources, etc.). And our own work as editors took place in the form of shared Google docs and a series of multiply-interrupted Skype conversations during a severe Northeastern winter. Now our findings are made available in the form of an online, open-access essay collection. Nary a drop of printer ink was spilled in the production of this document.

3.        We take our cues in describing this scene of mediation from the essays contained within the volume, all of which display various forms of self-reflexivity about their own hyper-mediated means of production. Rejack and Peacocke both begin their essays with “thick” descriptions of the scene of mediation. Rejack describes the range of computational devices in his office, as well as the multi-media assemblage of Lord Byron’s Don Juan (1819-1824), with its dense intermedial relations among the poetic text, the printed object, Byron’s celebrity persona, various pirated editions of his works, and the “withdrawn” metaphysical essence of the object itself. For her part, Peacocke narrates the scene of mediation within the museum at night. She opens her essay with the National Gallery’s (London) podcast tour of the institution, in which the narrator describes the liveliness or animation of the artworks in the absence of chattering crowds and then moves back to the prosopoeic writing of the Romantic era, which imagined a similar enlivening of the museum after dark. In both cases, Peacocke points out the multi-media assemblage of text, speech, and visuality through which authors, past and present, simulate a “Night at the Museum.”

4.        Other contributors allude in more oblique ways to the scene of mediation. In his exploration of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s media aesthetics, Igarashi describes the modern condition of “disconnectedness in concentration/connectedness” (par. 9), which resonates with contemporary concerns about social alienation in our hyper-mediated world. In his analysis of William Wordsworth’s early Spinozistic poetry, Savarese invokes the array of digital gadgets available to us today that, in the panpsychist model of the extended mind hypothesis, not only serve as aids to reflection but also externalize our minds in the material world. Finally, Singer marshals a whole range of digital metaphors to capture the “non-linear media archaeology” (par. 2) that Letitia Elizabeth Landon conducts in her prolific verses.

5.        But what is the value or purpose of these self-reflexive descriptions of the scene of mediation? What is their specific relevance to our scholarly attempts to understand the past? How do they help us to understand better the literature and culture of the Romantic era? During the early years of media studies, Marshall McLuhan and Walter Ong stressed the value of self-reflexivity when they pointed out the difficulty of analyzing the effects of a print-saturated culture from a critical perspective that is itself the product of that very same print-saturated culture. We need not share McLuhan’s or Ong’s sense of media-driven heteronomy—with the Gothic imagery of “the mesmerism of print” and “zombies” (McLuhan 279; Ong 68)—to accept the basic point that our scholarship is always already conditioned by its own media of transmission: our interpretive methods are themselves conditioned, at least in part, by our media of communication—a point that Friedrich Kittler famously stressed in his work in media theory. [2] 

6.        The sharp and sustained increase in the volume of printed material available in Great Britain at the turn of the nineteenth century—an increase driven by a range of factors, including copyright law, printing technologies, and social institutions—helped to shape the modern institutions of literary criticism: the canon, the university department of English, and close reading. [3]  Today, with another epochal media shift underway, those institutions are changing once again. New digital tools enable a redrawing of disciplinary lines, the capacity to build new connections between fields, and a new range of methods for reading at the macro scale. The effects of digital media on critical practice are felt both in the form of practical tool use (Voyant, for example) and in the form of the metaphors and models with which we think. Our new technologies of digital networking, information transmission, and online self-fashioning not only reshape contemporary society and culture but also enable us to see aspects of previous social and cultural organizations that we might otherwise have missed.

7.        In the remaining sections of this introduction, we group our contributors’ work into a series of conceptual and thematic clusters that we think best express the common concerns of these essays. Rather than discussing each essay in linear order, we have chosen to foreground the multiply overlapping patterns within the group of essays as a whole, in part as a response to Romantic Circles’s on-line format. We began our project with a series of questions: what are the implications for literary studies when we open up our field of inquiry to include not only printed books, journals, and pamphlets, but also panoramas, magic lantern shows, theatrical productions, lecture halls, museum displays, scientific demonstrations, etc.? How does this broad attention to Romantic intermediality impact our received narratives about the history of print culture? Romantic poetics? The hierarchy of genres? The Romantic subject? Romanticism itself as an historical, intellectual, and generic category? And where was Romantic media theory in its own time? What philosophical, affective, neuro-sensory, biological, or mathematical models lay ready at hand to model mediation during the period? The thematic clusters described below may not amount to complete answers to these questions, and the essays themselves are envisioned as critical provocations rather than conclusive statements, but they do seem to us to represent the most generative and knotty issues that face scholars of Romantic media today.

The Multiplicity of Media

8.        Why do we frame our work in terms of multi-media and not in more familiar media theoretical terms such as remediation, intermediality, new media, or just simply media? As Rejack notes at the beginning of his essay on Byron’s Don Juan and Object Oriented Ontology (OOO), the phrase “multi-media” most often conjures for contemporary readers images of virtual reality headsets, video game consoles, and immersive digital environments. But for Rejack, as for all of our contributors, the concept of multi-media extends beyond contemporary digital media and encompasses the inherent multiplicity of all media objects. This multiplicity splits at least three ways.

9.        In the first instance, the multiplicity of media refers to the relations between distinct media technologies. This is one of the long-standing insights of media studies: that distinct mediums never exist in isolation from one another. Orality, manuscript production, print, image making, the visual arts, electronic broadcast technologies, and digital technologies form networks of relations among themselves. “Remediation,” “intermediality,” and “new” media are all terms that have been used to trace these relations in particular historical and cultural contexts. Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin’s influential work on “remediation” analyzed the “double logic” whereby new media technologies incorporate the forms of old media as their content in order to generate a sense of immediacy while also creating the conditions for hypermediacy. [4]  We can detect this pattern when we scroll through scanned images of printed texts on digital screens, hear radio-phonic voices on television sets, or silently read oral ballads in printed books. Departing from Bolter and Grusin’s stress on novelty and linearity, N. Katherine Hayles uses the term “intermediation” to denote the recursive interactions between the diverse elements of a media ecology. “Complex feedback loops,” she notes, “connect humans and machines, old technologies and new, language and code, analogue processes and digital fragmentations” (My Mother Was a Computer 31). Bolter and Grusin and Hayles stress the multiplicity of relations between media and the inextricability of individual mediums from those relations.

10.        In the second instance, ‘multi-media’ refers to the multiplicity of individual mediums themselves. Lisa Gitelman has described how the “technological nucleus” of a medium can never be separated out from the social protocols that shape users’ interactions with media. Gitelman defines “media” as “socially realized structures of communication, where structures include both technological forms and their associated protocols, and where communication is a cultural practice, a ritualized collocation of different people on the same mental map, sharing or engaged with popular ontologies of representation” (7). This definition resists the tendency to essentialize technology, to grant it a coherence and stability that enables it to exercise causal agency over the cultural content that flows through it. Instead, the medium is itself a complex, shifting, and multifarious construct that is shaped by social and cultural protocols of use. Rejack and Singer both stress the multiplicity of individual mediums, the way in which they contain in their constituent parts traces of other media forms. Rejack casts print as itself a multi-media assemblage (par. 1), and Singer shows how Landon’s verse samples, archives, and plays back the ancient songs of the past. This is what Langan and McLane have in mind when they state that “Romantic poetry might even serve as a synonym for what we mean by multimedia” (239). It might also explain the surprising absence of Kittler from our contributors’ work. Perhaps this absence is a register of unease with Kittler’s tendency to ascribe a powerful determining agency to technological structures. “Media,” claims Kittler, “determine our situation” (Gramophone xxxix).

11.        The third sense in which our contributors use “multi-media” is to refer to the multiplicity of the Romantic media concept itself. Inspired by scholars like Piper and Leah Price, many of the essays work back and forth between questions that arise from our contemporary awareness of the profound social and cultural effects of media shift and an historical era that did not share our conceptual and rhetorical means of discussing media. As many of our contributors remind us—invoking the transformative work of Guillory—the modern notion of a “medium” as a technological channel of communication was a product of the later-nineteenth century. While Romantic authors reflected on the new technologies of communication that were available to them in a rapidly industrializing nation, they used a conceptual and rhetorical repertoire that was radically different than our own. The diverse phenomena of multi-media Romanticisms are all the more fascinating for the breadth and range of what could count as a medium during the period: from printed books and poetry to museum visits, ancient songs, Cumberland beggars, and much else besides.

12.        Of course, Romanticism has long been a fruitful site for media studies scholarship. Giants of the field such as Ong and Kittler both identified the Romantic era as a moment of profound social and cognitive reorganization that was precipitated, at least in part, by changes in society’s technological means of communication. The contributors to the present volume tend to avoid such grand narratives of media shift in favor of more local and detailed analyses of specific texts and problems within Romantic-era media discourse. What makes the Romantic era such a productive site for their reflections on multi-media is the open-endedness of what could count as a medium. This in itself can be a salutary lesson for our own times, obsessed as we often are with the ostensibly all-conquering power of the universal medium of zeros and ones. One of the more unexpected patterns within these essays is the concluding turn to the political in Singer’s and Rejack’s essays, as well as its implicit relevance to Igarashi’s and Savarese’s work on Shelley and Wordsworth, respectively. In their different ways, each of these contributors makes an argument in favor of the productive multiplicity—the generative noisiness—of Romantic media, a multiplicity that is all too easily foreclosed by the language of seamlessness, efficiency, and progress that dominates today’s popular media discourse.

Network, Assemblage, Ecology

13.        Central to several of our contributors’ essays is the attempt to describe the connections between things as well as the things themselves, and these contributors are concerned with the relational qualities of networks, assemblages, or ecologies. Rejack, for example, casts print as itself an assemblage of multifarious objects and the different sensory registers they address (par. 1). This assemblage might encompass everything from the text itself, to pulped rags, ink, and glue of the material object, to pirated editions, to Byron’s celebrity persona, etc. Each of these objects forms relations with other objects but can never fully be reduced to those relations. Rejack thus focuses on the relationship between text and physical object and on book history as an area of media studies out of sync with the discipline of media studies proper (a discontinuity that he seeks to correct in his work on Byron). Indeed, Rejack is less interested in interpreting Byron’s poem and its parasitic pirated editions and satirical extensions than in establishing the object relations between the disparate elements of the Byronic assemblage. Drawing on the object-oriented ontologies of Graham Harman, Levi Bryant, and Timothy Morton and linking OOO to some of the central concerns of media studies, Rejack resists the understanding of media as processes or activities—a claim that has been promoted by a number of influential theorists such as Craig Dworkin, whose focus on process ontologies is reversed by Rejack when he claims instead that “media are things, not activities” (par. 14). According to Rejack, Byron’s work itself performs something like an OOO view of literature, which includes both the poetic text and the material object of the book within the same complex assemblage of multifarious bibliographic forms.

14.        In a related though altered context, Savarese sees mind and world as part of an ecology rather than as discrete entities distanced from one another. In his reading of Wordsworth’s “Lines Written in Early Spring,” Savarese draws on the philosophical theory of panpsychism, which argues for a strong model of the extended mind hypothesis, whereby thought is not only aided by tool use but actually inheres in the technologies through which we perform cognitive work in the world. “Despite all that he does to distance poetry from mass media, Wordsworth invests it with a similar task,” writes Savarese; “poetry is itself a mode of communication” that improves a reader’s understanding, aesthetic taste, etc. (par. 1). The ultimate result here, for Savarese, is that—according to the poet—an individual’s mental capacities are habituated and conditioned by their “media situation” (par. 1). Following the work of Langan and McLane, Savarese reminds us that the human sensorium is itself something like a media technology, a radically complex multi-media phantasmagoria that, through a process that remains one of the abiding mysteries of contemporary neuroscience, converts external stimuli into first-person experience of the world. [5]  Because the mind and the sensorium were seen anew in relation to a rapidly expanding communications technology (circa 1800), the notion of mental life came to expand beyond the borders of the skull and beyond the individual body. Mind functions as part of an ecology that is itself comprised of natural objects and technological artifacts. In his reading of “The Old Cumberland Beggar,” Savarese explores the provocation that, for Wordsworth, the loss of the figure of the beggar as external repository (or “offloaded” [par. 13] site) of memory flags the arrival of a distinctively modern form of cultural amnesia.

15.        Savarese points out, moreover, that this is a stronger claim than the familiar posthumanist argument that cognition is enabled by technological/medial prostheses. For Savarese and the extended mind theorists, our computers are neither machines for thinking with, nor thinking machines, but actually contain parts of human minds: “mental activity takes place in multiple media, including those located in the mind’s material correlates as well as in writing, print, and the other communication technologies more traditionally associated with media studies” (par. 7). It is a delightful irony of Savarese’s essay that his account of the “out-there-ness” of mind is generated through a close reading of Wordsworth’s poems. Is Savarese’s mind present in the poem as he interprets it, extended into Wordsworth’s metrical patterns and supported on the printed page? I. A. Richards famously characterized the book as a “machine to think with” (vii), but maybe we can revise that to a “machine to think in.” The choice of preposition is important here: in a similar fashion to Igarashi’s exploration of Shelley’s conception of poetry as a productively cloudy medium, Savarese helps to install the literary text as part of a broader media ecology—not just in terms of describing the intermedial relations between technologies but also in the more acute sense of serving as vehicle in which mind moves throughout the world.

16.        Igarashi addresses topics of assemblage, network, and ecology by way of proto-sociology and analyses of the division of labor. Playfully drawing from the work of both conjectural historian Adam Ferguson and recent media theorist Nancy K. Baym, Igarashi announces his concerns with what he calls “Personal Connections in the Age of Separations” (par. 1). This is a sense of alienation that is born not of raw isolation but instead of feeling isolated amidst a culture of ubiquitous but unsatisfactory mediation: intensified communication in the absence of social coalescence. In making these claims, Igarashi explains through a reading of Shelley’s essay fragment “On Love” (comp. 1818) that, although much recent scholarship shows that communicative networks and media developments of the period brought individuals in society increasingly together, this was not necessarily the case in the Romantic period, a time in which these networks might actually have participated in further fracturing the social body. However, according to Igarashi, Shelley ultimately revises his earlier beliefs from “On Love” in Epipsychidion (1821), a text proposing (Igarashi following Émile Durkheim’s concept of social “agglutination” here [50]) that if social connectivity is left unchecked, it can create the opposite social problems of the division of labor—“homogeneity and social stasis” (Igarashi par. 11).

17.        By placing sociology, the modern discipline that takes social structure as its object of knowledge, alongside poetry, the preeminent Romantic model for and discourse on communication, Igarashi constellates a set of concerns at the heart of Shelley’s poetry and thought in a stimulating new way. The Shelleyan text, with its beguiling difficulty and ostensible opacity, becomes a model for social relations in a highly differentiated modern society—one in which opacity in communication enables interpersonal connectivity while retaining a core of irreducible otherness and thus avoids the dissolution of identity in a soup of weak connections. The Shelleyan text, in short, aims to retain the intensity of love in a world of facile “likes.”

18.        Meanwhile, Singer’s analysis of Landon’s repeated use of the tropes of lyre, song, divining rod, and other forms of inspired orality shifts from the “agon between the sister arts” to a “dynamic method of ‘remediation’” both within Landon’s text and within Singer’s own scholarly practice (par. 3). In Landon’s corpora, the heteronomy of ostensibly mindless female sentiment is exchanged for an agential media practice of sampling and remixing, as Landon’s poetics of media archaeology turns ancient song into useable software objects as well as the “technological operating system of easily read modern verse” (par. 11). This form of media agency is replayed at the level of Singer’s own tool use in producing the word frequency clouds that enable her to see Landon’s work at a “greater distance” (par. 17), as agency emerges not through unmediated will or strength but instead through our contemporary use of (and embedded-ness within) networks of mediation. For these and related reasons, Singer’s paper includes a political turn at its conclusion, as do a number of other essays in the volume. Tying together her focus on gender, print, and the digital, Singer’s articulation of Landon’s media archaeology provides “alternatives to empirical notions of historicity that bind the woman writer to the nineteenth century’s cultural and social prohibitions on her writing” (par. 25). In this context, Landon’s media assemblage enables an historical breadth and scope that liberates her from modern scholarship’s narrow focus on socio-cultural constraints on female writing. This is not to dismiss those constraints as having no purchase but instead to articulate Landon’s own strategies for flying free of them.


19.        Rejack’s investigation of Don Juan through OOO implicitly raises another central question important to this volume: is withdrawal analogous to “noise” in information theoretical terms? Withdrawal refers to the quantum of thingliness, the metaphysical core of object-hood that escapes all relational connections to other objects. Relations can be formed between humans and humans, humans and objects, and, crucially, objects and objects (Harman, for instance, uses the example of the interaction between fire and cotton to stress the way in which each item retains an irreducible core of object-hood that is never exhausted in combustible relations [124]). However, in forming these relations, objects always withdraw; they retain a kernel of object-hood that is inaccessible to all other objects and their relations. Insofar as withdrawal lies by definition outside the realm of the comprehensible, it echoes the position of noise in the informational theoretical model of signal/channel/noise described quite some time ago by Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver in their groundbreaking The Mathematical Theory of Communication (1949). Within this model of information, noise is the register of the friction of the channel itself within the signal. It is the ineradicable drag, static, and patternless-ness that frets away at the edges of transmission, clarity, and order. This prompts an important question for Romantic media studies: how does the withdrawal of objects register within the realm of the sensible? Can we detect the noisiness of media objects within Romantic discourse?

20.        Igarashi probes this line of questioning via his analysis of Shelleyan opacity as a model for social relations: cloudiness and difficulty are cognate with noise, of course, as noise is a benign register of singularity. Citing Shelley’s famous statement in the Defence of Poetry (comp. 1821) that “poetic language can be ‘a cloud which enfeebles’ thought” (par. 3), Igarashi explains that what might initially appear as an obfuscating style in Shelley’s work is actually a complex set of functions—“at once a sociology and an aesthetics, including a media aesthetics” (par. 4) that might actually function to envision a future public. In so doing, he reframes Shelley’s poetics of “cloudiness” (par. 13) in terms of the division of labor and the pathos of communication: according to Igarashi, Epipsychidion seems to function with an inbuilt semantic “on/off switch” (dependent on readership) (par. 12), and it is for this reason that Shelley’s poetry can be “clear or cloudy or dark, and everything in between” (par. 13).

21.        Peacocke describes the shift from eighteenth-century “it-narratives,” which stage an object’s self-narration, to Romantic prosopoeia, which interposes a human narrator between object and audience, and hence introduces a further layer of mediation to the scene of the museum at night. Drawing on Langan’s account of “audio-visual hallucination” in Sir Walter Scott’s Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), Peacocke examines the dense intermediality of the hallucinatory museum visit as it was staged within Romantic-era periodical culture, a form of hypermediacy that is repeated in the contemporary National Gallery’s podcast tour. “[H]alfway between the hallucination and the gallery visit,” claims Peacocke (par. 3), Romantic prosopoeia trafficked in a form of dreamy cloudiness that offered readers access to historical antiquities and was all the more effective for its self-aware hypermediacy. Indeed, the connection between hallucination and mediation suggests, as it does in Langan’s analysis of Scott’s poem, a form of benign enchantment, transport, saturation, and artificiality that invokes the mediated quality of perception itself, the physiological channels through which experience is filtered and simulated within the mind. Once again, noise, opacity, distortion, and withdrawal function as necessary conditions for aesthetic experience within what the author posits as a characteristically Romantic media aesthetics.

22.        For Singer, the repetitive nature of Landon’s poetry is an integral part of its strategy of media archaeology. This is not a sign of deadening, mechanical, redundant iteration, but instead part of the enabling ground of noise against which the pattern of verse can establish itself; redundancy is itself an agent of clarification. To adapt a later poet whose anti-Romantic verse was haunted by the ghosts of tradition and the jargoning of nightingales, “human kind / Cannot bear very much clarity.” In so doing, Singer’s work reframes mechanical redundancy as a generative ground for Landon’s media aesthetics. To see these hyper-mediated texts as noisy, notes Singer, is to fail to see the works as complex mediations and especially to miss Landon’s attempt “to refocus the reader not so much on individual songs or precious voices but on the process of reproducing, comparing, and processing sound” (par. 12). Singer supplements and builds on her reading of noise in The Improvisatrice (1824) through her analysis of The Vow of the Peacock (1835) and ultimately suggests that Landon’s texts can be understood as complex experiments on the nature and function of poetic noise, redundancy, and remediation for a range of desired effects. Moreover, in the final section of her essay, Singer draws on the work of Stephen Ramsay to open up her analysis of Landon’s oeuvre through recent digital humanities techniques and methodologies. Singer processes Landon’s narrative repetitions that might initially appear as static but that, through forms of machine-assisted reading (e.g., Voyant’s word cloud visualizations, word frequency charts, lexical density tables, and force-directed graphs), “raise questions about how noise might frame productive, alternate readings and reframe Landon’s poems at large” (par. 17).

23.        Finally, Savarese’s work addresses forms of habituation as themselves modes of productive or benign redundancy in Wordsworth’s account of “The Old Cumberland Beggar.” Noise serves as a register of materiality, embodiment, and contingency within complexly distributed cognitive systems, and Savarese investigates the manner in which Romantic poetry foregrounds “the ways that the mind itself is mediated materially through the sensorium, the nerves, or the brain, which had come to appear as an assemblage of sensory channels” (par. 4). In effect, he implicitly follows in the footsteps of Hayles, who notes that

[e]mbodiment never coincides exactly with “the body,” however that normalized concept is understood. Whereas the body is an idealized form that gestures toward a Platonic reality, embodiment is the specific instantiation generated from the noise of difference. (How We Became Posthuman 196)
Indeed, as Savarese underscores in his reading of Wordsworthian forms of distributed cognition, noise serves as the productive ground without which pattern, order, message, or meaning are impossible. In doing so he simultaneously reveals that noise indicates a resistance to Romantic ideologies of transcendence, the egotistical sublime, the unified subject, etc.

24.        Rejecting the definition of noise as “irrelevant or superfluous information or activity,” the essays in this volume thus repeatedly emphasize the ways in which noise in Romantic cultural production must never simply be understood through its binary distinction with signal. [6]  Or, to state this otherwise, our contributors continuously refuse Shannon and Weaver’s dictum concerning the noise/signal binary (and especially the devaluation of noise in that dualistic cybernetic model of information) in favor instead of something like Jacques Attali’s famous aphorism that “[n]othing essential happens in the absence of noise” (3).

Liking/Loving: Affect Theory for Media Scholars

25.        Readers of the present volume will also likely notice a recurrence across these essays of the language of “liking” and “loving,” as well as authorial reflections on the positive affects of weak and strong connections in multiply mediated worlds. Igarashi, for example, focuses on Shelleyan love and the preservation of distance, cloudiness, and otherness in the context of ubiquitous but flawed connectivity. When Singer explores word frequencies within what Landon’s critics dismissed as her mechanically sentimental verse, she reveals that “love” and “like” feature near the top of all four sets of corpora that she investigates via Voyant’s online suite of tools (pars. 19-24). The shared predilection for the language of liking and loving on the parts of Landon, Felicia Hemans, Scott, and Byron seems to suggest a new way of appraising authors’ styles and interests that runs against the grain of our inherited literary categories and the cultural hierarchies they express. But what do we make of the relative infrequency of “love” within Scott’s border ballads and chivalric romances? Statistically, “love” occupies the same ground as “knight,” “death,” and “light,” somewhat below the higher elevations of “king,” “fair,” “lord,” and “hand.” Does this suggest a different way of forging relations within distributed networks of people and things to the one preferred by Landon, Hemans, and Byron?

26.        Furthermore, Rejack tracks along these lines by including the emoticon for Facebook’s “Like” function at the end of his paper (par. 15), and Savarese—in a related context—investigates the ways in which love for one’s neighbor can be embedded within the community as a kind of habituated mentation in his reading of Wordsworth’s figuration of the Cumberland beggar while also exploring how this love is withdrawn when poverty relief is institutionalized in the work-house. This recurrent focus on the affects that bind individuals together and their intensification or dilution into variably strong and weak forms stems from the concern with assemblages, networks, and ecologies addressed earlier in this introduction. The difference between liking and loving is one of agency and relation; one of weak or strong ties within a network; of directionality within systems; of how individuals form nodes, and from those nodes, clusters, groups, aggregations; and of how, ultimately, the objects within systems and networks remain separate—like but not the same as the other objects in the network. Indeed, although word clouds cannot adjudicate among the different possible meanings of words, the signification of the word “love” should nevertheless remain clear in most of its contexts. But the meaning of “like” splits at least two ways: into the weak bond of affection and the marker of similarity or resemblance. In this latter form, “like” splits even further, into a whole range of metaphorical or analogical resemblances, which is to say, differences. For instance, Robert Burns’s line “my Luve is like a red, red rose” is a statement that draws our attention to both the likeness and difference of love and roses, as well as the incommunicable quiddity of redness (178). The redundancy of Burns’s poetic phraseology foregrounds the un-likeness of all representation—the hypermediacy of all language use—an insight which hearkens back to Igarashi’s account of Shelley’s poetics of cloudiness. The capacity for love stems from a fundamental un-likeness between individuals, an irreducible difference that cannot be assuaged by the various forms of connectivity and similitude that are yielded by mediated communication.

27.        Crucially, these various treatments of Romantic in-betweenness, and the different conceptual paradigms available to us to model the modes of connection between things in complex systems, all deal with an historical period that lacked a specifically technological concept of the channel of communication, as noted earlier, but the multiplicity of Romantic-era media discourse was itself facilitated by the looseness of its conception of medium. This breadth or openness in Romantic-era media discourse is echoed in the range of different approaches, and the multiplicity of different objects of analysis, that our contributors bring to the current volume. These authors are all attuned to the multiplicity of media, both in the past and the present: the multiplicity of “withdrawn” objects that comprise Byron’s Don Juan; the lovely noisiness of Shelley’s ideal communication; the benign redundancy of Landon’s verse; the mind as extended in habituated forms of community life; the multi-media phantasmagoria of a night at the British Museum. There is, we conclude, a productive openness of Romantic-era media discourse—one that is neither bounded by the technological channel of communication nor by today’s reigning norms of hyper-efficient informatics.

Works Cited

Attali, Jacques. Noise: The Political Economy of Music. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1985. Print.

Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 2000. Print.

Durkheim, Émile. The Division of Labor in Society. Ed. Steven Lukes. Trans. W. D. Halls. New York: Free Press, 2014. Print.

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[1] Like many of our contributors, our work in the emerging subfield of Romantic media studies has been propelled by the following works (to name but only a few): Kevis Goodman’s Georgic Modernity and British Romanticism: Poetry and the Mediation of History (2004), John Guillory’s “Genesis of the Media Concept,” Celeste Langan’s “Understanding Media in 1805: Audiovisual Hallucination in The Lay of the Last Minstrel,” Langan and Maureen McLane’s “The Medium of Romantic Poetry,” McLane’s Balladeering, Minstrelsy, and the Making of British Romantic Poetry (2008), Andrew Piper’s Dreaming in Books: The Making of the Bibliographic Imagination in the Romantic Age (2009), and Clifford Siskin and William Warner’s co-edited collection, This is Enlightenment (2010). BACK

[2] See especially Friedrich Kittler’s Discourse Networks, 1800/1900 (1990). BACK

[3] See especially Andrew Elfenbein’s Romanticism and the Rise of English (2009), Siskin’s “More is Different: Literary Change in the Mid and Late Eighteenth Century,” and William St Clair’s The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period (2004). BACK

[4] See Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin’s “Introduction: The Double Logic of Remediation” in Remediation: Understanding New Media (2000). BACK

[5] For a recent overview of developments in the mind and brain sciences during the Romantic age, see Alan Richardson’s The Neural Sublime: Cognitive Theories and Romantic Texts (2010). BACK

[6] Oxford English Dictionary Online, s.v. “noise.” BACK

Published @ RC

November 2016