Celeste Langan. Romantic Vagrancy: Wordsworth and the Simulation of Freedom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. ISBN: 0-521-47507-4 (hardback). Price: £35 (US$54.95).[Record]

  • K. Oishi

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  • K. Oishi
    Keble College, Oxford

Walking is an inspirational habit for Wordsworth's imagination. De Quincey estimated Wordsworth's lifetime pedestrian distance at approximately 180,000 English miles. The image of walking permeates through the whole body of his poetry. In his first published poem Evening Walk , the peripatetic motion is accompanied by observations of the picturesque beauty of nature. Descriptive Sketches is a descriptive account of his walking tour on the Continent. Walking is certainly an epic adventure for Wordsworth, who in fact supplants the conventional style of epic with a new mode of narrative which traces his imaginative revisits to the 'spots of time'. Wordsworth's composition while walking up and down on a straight gravel is an act of recollection and reflection. The physicalism of walking spontaneously induces his mind into an imaginative trip to the spots of the past scattered in his mind. This conservative reading of walking in Wordsworth is radically pulled down by Langan in her Romantic Vagrancy. She offers a most 'liberal' interpretation of such a Wordsworthian phenomenon of walking. She deconstructs its significance on a highly sophisticated theoretical basis. Her companions to Wordsworth's poetry are Marx, Adorno, Derrida, Deleuze and Guattari. With them, we are taken through a twisted and lumpy grand neo-Marxist tour of the warped landscape in Wordsworth's mind. The stride of her intellect and the stretch of her imagination are so wide and vigorously quick that naive readers may find her an unfriendly, tough guide. We are shown into the shrines of modern or post-modern thinkers more often than into the historic spots which bear significant meanings in Wordsworth's poetic world. In the course of this metaphysical journey, we are shocked to find such an Adam Smithite, anti-Whiggish poet transformed and monumentally sanctified as a staunch defendant of liberalism. Langan's interest is in the study of the pathos of liberalism which surfaces in the phenomenon of Romantic vagrancy. Liberalism here means the 'negotiation' between economic and political liberalism, that is, between laissez-faire capitalism and representative democracy. By reading Wordsworth's walking with the help of Marxist theories, she attempts to subvert the common view that the poet was a radical in his younger days and a Tory in later years. Walking and Freedom are tautological equivalents; and she finds the liberal form of human society in this banal analogy. By singling out as significant those moments when the vagrant encounters the passer-by, she argues, Wordsworth gives a pathological expression to the shaping ideology of liberalism. It is a historical experience which forms the crux of social, political, and economic life. Adopting Adorno's terminology to describe Kant's transcendental idealism, Langan names this Romantic encounter 'a meeting of the transcendental surplus and the empirical deficit'. It presents the juxtaposition between the liberally educated poet as the private epistemological subject and the vagrant, a peripheral presence in society, as the aesthetic object. Romantic vagrancy is thus read as a political phenomenon in the literary text. In Chapter 1, the premise of Romantic vagrancy is applied to the reading of Rousseau. She detects a dichotomy of Rousseau's identity in his political and literary writings. In contrast to his political texts, Rousseau's identity in his literary texts is unsettled and blurred in the growing market of literature. Because of this, he is qualified to be a representative Romantic vagrant, an exiled and pedestrian citizen. He is a beggar pleading for the charity of the readers towards his lack of autonomy in his literary texts. The age of Romanticism certainly saw the beginning of the defacement and disfigurement of the authorial self in literary productions, as the capitalistic mode of consumption became dominant and …