Reviews

Jerome Cristensen. Romanticism at the End of History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2000. ISBN: 0-8018-6319-8. Price: £35.50 (US$50.00).[Notice]

  • Dino Franco Felluga

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  • Dino Franco Felluga
    Purdue University

In properly Romantic fashion, Jerome Christensen has written a new book in which form reflects content. Christensen argues that Romanticism resists the maneuvers of corporate global capitalism, which, he argues, seeks to naturalize injustice by reading our current form of global capitalism as the inevitable and irrevocable course of things. Such naturalizing maneuvers are aided by arguments like those of Francis Fukuyama, whose contention that we may have reached the end of history after the fall of Communism Christensen counters in this book. While he allows that the period surrounding the Napoleonic wars saw rhetorical maneuvers akin to recent claims for the “end of history,” Christensen believes that the poets associated with the Romantic movement provide us with a way to combat both such ideologies about the end of ideologies and the dangers associated with capitalism. According to Christensen, “The Romantic Movement sounds along its dim and perilous way as the willful commission of anachronism after anachronism linked by bold analogy” (41). In a stunning and daring anachronism of his own, Christensen argues that such willful anachronisms, which work against the idea that history is chronologically inevitable, provide the proleptic answers to both Fukayama and global capitalism. In unabashed fashion, Christensen pursues a similar methodology for his own book, which proceeds from one willful anachronism to another, often joined by bold analogies. Such a methodology makes the reader’s way through Christensen’s arguments at times dim and perilous but also full of wonder, surprise, and hope. The ultimate goal, as Christensen states, is “to develop not only the way in which Romantic ethics can be practically applied to the service of critique but also the way in which ethics can be practically applied as a policy within postmodern culture and especially within the university, where I make my living” (2). Christensen asks us to imagine “poets as the unacknowledged conspirators of a future in which poets will openly rule” (2) and he asks us to be complicit in the conspiracy he proposes. For such a claim, Christensen should be applauded; the argument about Romanticism’s continuing relevance to contemporary issues makes his book a fascinating read and a refreshingly original approach to the issues he analyzes. Of course, taking Romantic poets as one’s ethical models also raises certain problems, given their tendency to inefficacy and even apostasy; however, Christensen remains attuned to the contradictions of the period’s authors even as he makes bold claims about practical aspects of our profession and even world order. Whether he succeeds any more so than the Romantic poets he takes as his models is certainly debatable but one can admire him for assuming an idealistic stance that runs counter to the hermeneutics of suspicion more common in the criticism of the last two decades. The chapters attempt to stay attuned to three historical dates, 1798, 1802, and 1815, even as Christensen resists the methodologies and chronologies of New Historicism. (As he puts it, “Being antihistoricist does not entail a denial of history but a rejection of the inevitability of history, then, now, and for the future” [2].) The three dates correspond to Britain’s conflict with France, a brief truce following the 1802 Treaty of Amiens, and the final incarceration of Bonaparte in 1815, “when commerce first conquered conquest” (10) as a principle of political control. The period is significant, according to Christensen, because for the first time the state needed to mobilize the people “into a totality, whether as audience, nation, or social class” (4); because wartime became “spectacular” through the increasing importance of the newspaper; and because ideological battles were increasingly fought through language and …