Vous êtes sur la nouvelle plateforme d’Érudit. Bonne visite! Retour à l’ancien site

Romanticism and its Others - A Special Issue of Romanticism On the Net

  • Neville Newman

…plus d’informations

  • Neville Newman
    McMaster University

Corps de l’article

The fifth annual conference of the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism in 1997 was a success by any standards. Under the rubric of "Romanticism and its Others," the gathering was notable for both the rigorous definition and re-definition of otherness. Citing Simone de Beauvoir, the introduction to another journal's special issue arising out of the conference observes "'Otherness is a fundamental category of human thought. Thus it is that no group ever sets itself up as the One without at once setting up the Other over against itself'".  [1] Thus the conference title's inclusion of "Others" was particularly apt, given that the diversity of opinion, while obviously Romantically informed, resisted a homogenization into a single group against which one single Other could be identified. "Defining 'others' and 'otherness' in the broadest possible sense, the papers presented made it abundantly clear that there is no one single "other." The essays in this particular issue are further testament to that. The life of the conclusions and suggestive arguments made at the conference was not limited to four days in the Fall two years ago. A considerable amount of the work to which attendees were exposed has found, and continues to find, expression in scholarly journals as readers are no doubt aware. It is a privilege, then, to be part of the conference's aftermath by participating in the continuing promulgation of some of the papers in this edition of Romanticism on the Net.

The articles that follow demonstrate the eclectic definitions of otherness to which I have alluded. There is an "other" form of publication to whose further legitimacy we all contribute by reading an electronic journal. Considerations of the hypertext and its implications for educators are the subjects of David Miall's essay. For his part in an article which he makes clear is not a psychoanalytical reading, Joel Faflak deals with what he calls the "other" Wordsworth when he provocatively asserts that the poet "encounters a struggle between psychic determinism and self-making to which, for him, philosophy offers a limited response. And finally there is the historically interesting essay by John Hodgson on the subject of ventriloquism, an essay that deals not only with the otherness of an alternatively embodied voice, but also with the significance of ventriloquism to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's dramatic theory.

It is particularly germane, then, that included in this edition is David S. Miall's "The Resistance of Reading: Romantic Hypertexts and Pedagogy," the hypertext of which may be accessed at an address "other" than that which this issue of Romanticism on the Net may be read. Concerned in part with the ways in which all of us in the teaching professions need to embrace the potential of hypertext, Miall (con)fuses theoretical deliberation with an account of his own practical application. And true to the hypertextual capability, provides, as one might expect, links to sites where readers may witness the results of his—and his students'—efforts in this medium. Miall's thought-provoking essay acknowledges that "the question of what it means to read literature is a long way from being settled," and then goes on to address a further—albeit related question—what does "reading" mean in the non-spatial and virtually non-delimited environment of electronic media. This leads Miall to pose a number of questions that are important for educators, and he introduces his subject with a broad review of current theoretical musings on the subject of hypertext. Quoting George Landow and Stuart Moulthorp, Miall refers to some of the criticism that these authors have attracted. Always ready to inject practical concerns where they are germane, Miall introduces his central issue at this point: that what he describes as a "speculative genre of theoretical writing about hypertext" misrepresents that act that we recognise as "literary reading". Consequently, an area with which we should be concerned—a consideration of those "learning processes appropriate to the literature classroom are left obscure." It is this assertion that drives Miall's essay, the purpose of which is to" argue for an alternative view of literary hypertext that will facilitate student learning."

Referring to Jay David Boulter's assertion that "'there is a solemnity at the center of printed literature . . . because of the immutability of the printed page," and to Moulthrop and Kaplan who see the book's complicity in "hegemony and monologue," Miall alludes to what is seen by some as the liberating quality of hypertext, its vaunted ability to free us "from the hierarchical and confining textuality" of that artifact that we are accustomed to calling the book. Miall quotes the premises upon which these claims are made, and then provocatively challenges them on the ground that "hypertext is still at a pre-paradigmatic stage," and that there are no established points of reference that allow us either to locate or evaluate it. He questions also the legitimacy of an approach that sees parallels between the operation of hypertext and the working of the mind. He shows that despite having largely been discredited, the image of the mind as a variety of computer still re-emerges as theorists try to define the potential of hypertext. The difficulty facing commentators is clear when Miall shows that hypertextual processes have been parallelled to "the mind's associative processes." Not only does Miall remind us of the dangers of thinking of the mind in associative terms, he also alludes to the impossibility of a hypertext that could accommodate the nuances of individual associative differences.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, Miall includes Roland Barthes in his theoretical overview, considering hypertext against Barthe's definition of the text as "a multi-dimensional space," which may be "ranged over, not pierced." It is a metaphorical description that becomes literal, Miall argues, in accounts of hypertext that have followed. And Miall also alludes to that feature which he sees as being fundamentally attractive to apologists of current hypertextual theory: "the abandonment of linearity." Non-linear it may be, but whether, as some of its supporters claim, it can set us free from the restrictions imposed on us by an adherence to the much criticised but largely definition-evading literary "canon" remains in dispute, it seems to me. It is, perhaps, worth pondering upon the claims for liberation that attend a consideration of hypertexts. After all, the freedom to pursue one's line of thought in the environment about which Miall writes (in precisely the very environment in which you are reading this introduction) is conditioned to a certain extent by the hypertextual links deemed by the hypertext's creator to be worthy of a double-click. To be sure we may choose not to exercise that option, but in the absence of other coded passages in the hypertext we are, at the end of it all, reduced to that with which we are all familiar—the pursuit of words on a page, by reference to other words on a page even if the pursuit is electronically aided in some way or another.

Miall's review then makes clear that much critical commentary "problematizes understanding of what it means to read literature." Establishing as a major concern the definition of reading in a hypertextual environment, he then asks a series of significant questions that bring us back to the practicalities of teaching, not the least important of which deals with the implications of resituating the classroom in a computer or on the Internet. At this point, Miall provides a most interesting account of his experiences in producing a CD on Romanticism that he has made available to his students. The result is, as he puts it, " a view of reading that differs significantly from the hypertext theorists" to which he refers. Most appropriately, it seems to me, because of the implications for the workings of the mind, he chooses William Wordsworth's account (in Book VI of The Prelude) of his passage through the Simplon pass to establish that account's resistance "to being read." Miall's purpose here is not to provide an interpretation, an authoritative analysis of the account, but to consider "what it means to read it." What follows in this article makes clear what reading, for Miall and others is, and it is the cognitive and inductive processes and their myriad interactions that for him, highlight one of the limitations of current hypertext systems: their inability "to represent individual responses." It is here also, that he invokes a consideration of the limitations imposed on the hypertext reader's freedom, a concern of my own that I mentioned earlier. These problems and the challenges he faced inform the remainder of Miall's essay. It is tempting to provide a summary, but given the environment in which we are "reading" and writing it is perhaps more appropriate to insert the address where the essay may be found and to invite mouse and digit interaction in order that the results—and they are extremely interesting—may be viewed.

Joel Faflak's essay, "Analysis Interminable in the Other Wordsworth", concerns itself with Reason and ambivalence when he sees Wordsworth as resorting to "'the steadiest mood of reason'" as a refuge from the confrontation with the psyche which his self-observatory works like The Prelude, and The Recluse seem to promise. In the first section of his four-part essay, Faflak persuasively argues that rather than constituting a record of "the growth of a poet's mind," The Prelude functions as "the analytic scene of [Wordsworth's] inability to proceed with The Recluse." Confronted with its essential interminability, Wordsworth, Faflak maintains, "turns to 'Reason in her most exalted mood'" precisely to bring about the termination that would otherwise be denied him. It is in his investigation of The Recluse and of fragments that Wordsworth includes in it, that Joel Faflak engages with Wordsworth's otherness. Thus he explores The Recluse "as the primal scene at which (the subject of) romantic psychoanalysis as an analysis interminable—an "'other'" Wordsworth—first emerges." Fundamental to Faflak's thesis is his observation that "Wordsworth, the poet of romantic interiority, also spends a great deal of time, from very early on in his writing, avoiding the work of the psyche."

Of central significance to the second part of the essay is Faflak's tracing of the genealogy of The Recluse. These complete and fragmentary works, he argues, constitute "the unconscious of [The Recluse] an unconscious with which," he somewhat provocatively asserts, "[Wordsworth's] later corpus, most problematically The Prelude, is a missed encounter." Concentrating on "Incipient Madness," "The Baker's Cart," and the original manuscript versions of "The Ruined Cottage" Faflak concludes that "Wordsworth . . .was necessarily fascinated with and simultaneously feared, the other within himself." And it is this "otherness" to which he attributes the "double-consciousness" with which, he argues, The Prelude is concerned. Out of this consciousness arises, he further states, "a creative schizophrenia between writing an allegory on the Mind of Man and analyzing this mind's often disturbing growth."

In part three of his essay, Faflak concentrates on various manuscripts of "The Ruined Cottage." Importantly, he identifies a decentering of authority when Margaret's "psychological case history" becomes incorporated within the conversation between the Narrator and the Pedlar. However, as the essay's author points out, the attempt of the text to repress psychic content is not entirely successful. The dialogue that would otherwise seem to be designed to keep a consideration of Margaret's psychology at bay results, despite itself, in our return to its contemplation. Faflak continues in this section with his identification of Wordsworth's ambivalence when engaging the psyche. He shows, for instance, how the Pedlar's appeal to lyric in MS. D "closes off the poet to a dialogue with himself and with others," implicitly suggesting a protection of the self from investigation of any kind, if I read Faflak correctly. On the other hand, though, Faflak points out that elsewhere "lyric is disrupted by the internal otherness of its own solitude, suggesting that he has encountered the unreason within Reason." It is an observation that complicates Wordsworth's relationship with and dependance upon Reason.

The fourth section of the essay explores significances to Faflak's thesis of the manuscript and 1814 versions of "The Recluse." In this final section, the essay's author asks some searching questions. Considering the Prospectus to "The Recluse," for example, he asks "Is the Prospectus Wordsworth's prolegomena for a future romantic metapsychology or an epitaph to its demise?" This question constitutes an implicit call for a response. Faflak's position that Wordsworth is ambiguous, necessarily precludes the essay providing an answer. Its author does, though, provide further evidence of what he sees as Wordsworth's resistance to psychoanalytical engagement when he considers the implications of Wordsworth's substitution of "Thinking in solitude" in the manuscript by "Musing in solitude" in the 1814 work. That is to say, the act of "Musing" turns away from an analytical introspection to pay homage to that "Intelligence that governs all." Having begun with an identification of The Prelude as the site of analysis which denies its own objective, and having traced the genealogy of "The Recluse" in an attempt to perform the analysis that he maintains Wordsworth was reluctant to complete, Faflak concludes his article by identifying as a primal scene "the fear of being alone with one's mind." From this fear comes the motivation for avoidance, a rationalizing that seeks success in Reason as opposed to psychology, that posits contemplation as an answer to an investigation that has been aborted.

It is entirely appropriate that this issue of Romanticism on the Net should contain an article on an other voice. John Hodgson's article begins by reminding us of the sudden interest that ventriloquism aroused in the nineteenth century. Interestingly, he shows that the voice of this "other" found its way into the critical vocabulary while not establishing a notable presence within literature itself. And it is the critical significance to which Hodgson initially refers when he identifies the ambivalence that ventriloquism, "'one of [Coleridge's] favourite terms'", had for the author and critic. Hodgson's article reveals that ventriloquism for Coleridge, while "consistently negative" in his critical application of the term, also appears as a "compelling figure for [the] transcendent voice." His identification of Coleridge's uncertainties causes Hodgson to raise a number of questions concerning ventriloquism's significance, questions that implicitly request us to consider the significances that have been buried by the more common association of ventriloquism with its vaudevillian stage personas.

The essay asserts that ventriloquism unsettles critical boundaries. When Hodgson asks whether the dramatist is puppeteer or ventriloquist, it is obvious that ventriloquism involves more than the "throwing" of a voice. In its own way, it also "throws" an identity. Hodgson's treatment of his subject is especially interesting when he traces the transition of ventriloquism from simply being "the voice of an absence" to its later evidence of an other's existence. As he writes, "The ventriloquist's is always an other's voice," but what occurs in the early nineteenth century is the emergence of that other. Enlivened by humorous anecdotes, the essay traces the origins of ventriloquism as a performance in America to the pioneering efforts of two Scots' brothers whose initial collaboration eventually yielded to professional jealousy with resultant confusion concerning one or the other (br)other. It is through the brothers' exploits though, that Hodgson follows the change in the ventriloquist's voice from that of evidence of that which is not there to that which is obvious. The other becomes apparent, and he treats this in the second part of the essay.

Again punctuated with humour, this section identifies the significance of this otherness on dramatic performance. Initially, he points out, the other voice spoke not to a paying audience, but rather to a potential paying audience. The voice's purpose was to advertise and to publicise. Coming from a place that was always elsewhere, it spoke out of its otherness and obscurity to engender interest in that which would eventually be made manifest. Coincidentally, however, this other voice which could be made to attach itself to any object, was slowly becoming identified with the doll with which it is now most closely associated. The illustrations that accompany the article provide compelling evidence of the metamorphosis of voice into permanent body.

In the third and final section of the essay, Hodgson returns to Coleridge and his critical application of the term ventriloquism. Typically for Coleridge, I would argue, he did not always "mean the same thing" when he used the term. While the quality of the ventriloquists' performance to which Coleridge might have been exposed are open to doubt, according to Hodgson, there is no question that "ventriloquism made a powerful impression on Coleridge," whose use of it in the Biographia Literaria, Hodgson argues, is responsible for its contemporary critical currency.

Hodgson concludes his article by recognising that for Coleridge there was "no true otherness" in the ventriloquist's doll. For reasons unknown, a gap would always exist for Coleridge between what Hodgson terms "the ideal" on the one hand, "and the performance of ventriloquism" on the other. Nevertheless, he argues, a lesson emerges from ventriloquism's history, a lesson reflected in Coleridge's Shakespeare lectures: that effective dramatic form is contingent upon the projection of the other on stage. Hodgson concludes: "[When] the audiences remember the doll as well as the ventriloquist, [then] ventriloquism becomes truly dramatic." It was Shakespeare's ability in this projection that Coleridge admired, and Hodgson's reminding us of it causes us to consider again the origins and continuing influences of various others in our work.

Clearly, the variety of otherness that typified the successful 1997 conference also inform the contributions to this special issue. That the contents of this issue of Romanticism on the Net will engender future discussion I am certain, and I look forward to seeing the resulting debates in an other time and in an other place.

Parties annexes