After Romantic Ideology - A Special Issue of Romanticism On the Net[Notice]

  • Michael John Kooy

…plus d’informations

  • Michael John Kooy
    University of Warwick

This February issue of Romanticism on the Net takes its title, and indeed most of the seven articles, from a conference held in Oxford in April 1998. What we sought to consider then, and seek to consider now, might best be conveyed by suggesting what is not meant by this rather proud title with its provocative, millenarian ring: "After Romantic Ideology". We did not seek to address that large and politically contentious issue, posed by some postmodern thinkers following Althusser, that the age of tenable ideological critique (if there ever was one) has now passed, giving way to a time when ideology itself constitutes subjectivity, a time when false consciousness is the only consciousness. Nor did we look specifically at the relationship between ideological criticism and the aesthetic, or even try to defend, as George Levine has done, the latter from the former—though I suspect that at least some of the contributors would be sympathetic to that program. Nor, finally, did we set out to assess how romanticism in particular (or rather romanticisms?) stands up to the ideological critique that has been made of it. (This, for example, was the subject of a recent issue in Studies in Romanticism, edited by Susan Wolfson.) Less programmatically than any of these discussions, we asked ourselves the broad question: what shape is literary criticism of romantic period writing now assuming, given that it is no longer organized around the ideological critique of the High Romantic Argument. The "After", then, of the title should be understood in terms of succession rather than causality, and the whole of it should be read in an interrogative rather than affirmative mode. In a recent article published in Textual Practice Paul Hamilton observed wryly that nowadays "literary critics of Romanticism have mostly given up excoriating its philosophical sublimation of real issues and just get on with interpreting the neglected archives." But what are the assumptions, aspirations and defences of a critical project aiming to "just get on with interpreting the neglected archives"? That question is what lay behind the conference and this special issue. What we deliberately chose to avoid, though, was a metacritical or exclusively theoretical discussion of the issues. Instead, keeping an eye on the texts at hand (whether from the neglected archives or not), contributors engaged obliquely with the question of the status of their work. One of the assumptions uniting all the contributors to this issue is precisely this: that criticism need no longer labour the point about how Romanticism occluded the historical (political, social) with aesthetic and metaphysical razmataz. That is a recognition shared more broadly by many in the profession who can now only regard with irony the claim (did anyone really believe this?) that poetry "can set one free of the ruins of history and culture", to borrow McGann's famous phrase. Of course "they" did and what's remarkable is how quickly so many of these Old Believers have disappeared from sight, no longer keen to defend publicly the coherence of the Romantic aesthetic project. Scholars trained up on Frye, Abrams and Bloom retire while a new generation of ideologically alert Romantic scholars (who never really took seriously Shelley's claim about "legislators of the world" in the first place) go on to cut their teeth on new material. It is now clear that this plurality of romanticisms has effectively succeeded what had been a single-minded, albeit controversial, project: that of exposing the romantic ideology. David Chandler, in an essay published here, makes just this point when he contrasts the coherence of 1980s historicism, which was expressed in confident and comprehensive …

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