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All dormant or destructive: he will perish . . . .
(III, ±, ±°“±·)
± Byron and Romanticism
This description of Manfred™s mind is a ¬gural de¬nition of the play™s
own medleyed and “deliberately defective” style. When Manfred calls
the dead in the drama™s central scenes “ Act II Scenes “ “ he moves to
bring the uninhibited “chaos” of this mind into full play.
Manfred plunges suddenly into its Goethean Walpurgisnacht with the
entrance of the Three Destinies, who sing their reckless comic lyrics about
an amoral disordering order that in their view is the ground of existence.
Historical nightmares return “ a distorted and grotesque Napoleon, for
instance “ but here they come resurrected in even more shocking and
ambiguous forms:

The captive Usurper,
Hurl™d down from the throne,
Lay buried in torpor,
Forgotten and lone;
I broke through his slumbers,
I shivered his chain,
I leagued him with numbers”
He™s Tyrant again!
With the blood of a million he™ll answer my care,
With a nation™s destruction”his ¬‚ight and despair.
(II, , ±“µ)

These summary words of the First Destiny epitomize the argument made
in the play™s set of ludic songs: “This wreck of a realm “ this deed of my
doing “ / For ages I™ve done, and shall still be renewing!” (µ“µ). These
ideas and images culminate in the monstrous joke on the word “awful,”
where the play™s anarchic revelations achieve their self-conscious and
deconstructive climax. The more Gothic paraphernalia Byron brings
forward, the more ludicrous and “awful,” in both senses of that word,
does the action become. Like Samson, Byron is pulling down every
conceivable Temple of Fame and Delight, most importantly the Temple
of his own work and the Idea of Art that it instantiates. The paradox of
the work is thus extreme and ¬nally incommensurable. And if we think,
like Carlyle, that its program amounts merely to some “Everlasting Nay,”
we will want to re¬‚ect on the Nietzschean implications of wrecks that
are at once ageless and “renewing.”
These are, quite simply, the wrecks of a new order of the Romantic
imagination, for which Manfred is both argument and example. Instead
of proposing as the rule of art a “willing suspension of disbelief ” Byron
offers a rule founded in the deliberate installation of disbelief. Manfred™s
±
Byron and Wordsworth
¬nal address to the setting sun emblemizes this demand for enlighten-
ment: “Most glorious orb! Thou wert a worship ere / The mystery of thy
making was revealed” (III, , “±°). At such moments one realizes the
af¬nities that put Blake and Byron in their critical relation to Wordsworth
and Coleridge: “God appears and God is Light / To those poor souls who
dwell in Night / But does a human form display / To those who dwell
in realms of day.” The paradoxical result of Byron™s skepticism is the
emergence of a non-natural, a wholly poetical and imaginative world.
This new world appears as the enactment of the form of Manfred, which
unravels itself as the mystery of its making gets revealed by its own maker.
In this new order, forms of worship are translated back to poetic tales,
their primal state. Purged of the obscurities of suspended disbelief, the
human imagination discovers an ultimate, perhaps therefore a terrify-
ing, freedom. After Manfred there are no redemptive schemes because
the play gives it allegiance only to “this deed of my doing” and not to
the rules that set limits to such deeds. The play knows the rules and
acknowledges the power of those “dead, but sceptred sovereigns, who
still rule / Our spirits from their urns” (III, , °“±). Acknowledging is
not the same thing as obeying, however, and obedience itself may be a
choice to be made or unmade at discretion (or indiscretion). If Manfred
(and Manfred) (and Byron) are defeated by what Foucault called “The
Order of Things,” they all also show how one might engage a process of
“making death a victory” (“Prometheus,” µ).
No gods, human or transhuman, survive the coming of this work,
where pictures of the mind revive only from a speci¬c mind, reminding
us that words like “wreck” and “renewing” reference particular, mortal
events. These events will be as simple and as catastrophic as the break-up
of a marriage or an exile from home. If a play like Manfred suggests that
these events also involve some kind of cosmic meaning, that is because
the play attaches ultimate value to quotidian human emergencies.
Among those emergencies Death has been set apart as a summary and
standard, a kind of ultimate sign that “The Order of Things” must be
obeyed. Manfred argues a different view. Death in this play, as Manfred™s
death shows, need be no more imposing or terrible than the mortal
person who undergoes its momentary authority “ unless of course, as
the Abbot™s life shows, the individual imagination assents to the Myth
of Death. Death does not have dominion in Byron™s play, Manfred
does; and Manfred™s victory, which arrives with his death, becomes
the ¬nal exponent and symbol of Byron™s art of “deliberate defects.”
One may perhaps think forward to those ¬erce and clari¬ed lines that
°° Byron and Romanticism
climax Byron™s great lyric “On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth
Year”:
If thou regret™st thy Youth, why live?
The land of honourable Death
Is here:”up to the Field, and give
Away thy Breath!

NOTES

± See my “The Book of Byron and the Book of a World,” in The Beauty of In-
¬‚ections. Literary Investigations in Historical Method and Theory (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, ±µ), ··“.
 De Sta¨ l, ±. Her entire discussion of Faust (·°“) is deeply relevant to an
e
understanding not only of Manfred, but of Don Juan as well. Byron was clearly
much in¬‚uenced by De Sta¨ l™s view of Romanticism. Her analysis of Faust
e
hinges on her insights into the play™s deliberated violations of decorum and
mixtures of different styles (see De Sta¨ l, especially pp. · and ±). Manfred
e
is thus in every sense a continuation of Faust along lines that De Sta¨ l™s brilliant
e
interpretation suggested to Byron. He ¬rst read her book in ±± or ±±.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cooke, Michael G. “Byron and Wordsworth: The Complementarity of a Rock
and the Sea,” in Lord Byron and his Contemporaries, ed. Charles E. Robinson.
London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, ±, pp. ±“.
Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things. An Archaeolog y of the Human Sciences. New
York: Vintage Books, ±·.
Garber, Frederick. “Continuing Manfred,” in Critical Essays on Lord Byron, ed.
Robert F. Gleckner. New York: G. K. Hall and Co., ±±, pp. “.
Gill, Stephen, ed. William Wordsworth. Oxford Authors Series. New York: Oxford
University Press, ±.
Johnston, Kenneth. The Hidden Wordsworth. Poet. Lover. Rebel. Spy. New York:
W. W. Norton & Co., ±.
Levine, Alice, and Robert N. Keane, eds. Rereading Byron. Essays Selected From
Hofstra University™s Byron Bicentennial Conference. New York and London:
Garland Publishing Inc., ±.
Lovell, Ernest J., Jr., ed. His Very Self and Voice. Collected Conversations of Lord Byron.
New York: Macmillan, ±µ.
Medwin™s Conversations of Lord Byron. Princeton: Princeton University Press,
±.
Marchand, Leslie A., ed. Byron™s Letters and Journals. ± vols. London: John Murray
Ltd., ±·“±.
Martin, Philip W. Byron. A Poet Before his Public. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, ±.
°±
Byron and Wordsworth
McGann, Jerome. The Beauty of In¬‚ections. Literary Investigations in Historical Method
and Theory. Oxford: Clarendon Press, ±µ.
ed. Lord Byron. The Complete Poetical Works. · vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press,
±°“±.
McVeigh, Daniel M. “Manfred™s Curse,” Studies in English Literature  (±),
°± “±.
Moorman, Mary. William Wordsworth. A Biography.  vols. Oxford: Clarendon
Press, ±µ.
Sperry, Stuart M. “Byron and the Meaning of Manfred,” Criticism ± (±·),
±“°.
De Sta¨ l-Holstein, Madame Anne Louise Germaine. De L™Allemagne. Paris:
e
Didot, ±µ.
West, Paul. Byron and the Spoiler™s Art. London: Chatto and Windus, ±°.
P A R T II
±°
CHAPTER


A point of reference




The concept “ and the problem “ of the referential aspects of literary
works is so central to an adequate literary theory and critical practice
that it must be addressed. Two things may be initially observed. First,
referentiality appears as “a problem” in formalist and text-centered
studies precisely by its absence. Though everyone knows and agrees that
literary works have socio-historical dimensions, theories and practices
generated in text-centered critical traditions bracket out these matters
from consideration, particularly at the level of theory.± Second, referen-
tiality appears as a problem in historically grounded criticism because
such criticism has thus far been unable to revise its theoretical grounds
so as to take account of the criticisms which were brought against it
in this [the twentieth] century, and in particular the criticisms devel-
oped out of the theory of literary mediations. Involved here is the view,
pressed strongly on various fronts in the past ¬fty years, that language
and language structures (including, perforce, literary works) are modeling
rather than mirroring forms. They do not point to a prior, authorizing
reality (whether “realist” or “idealist”), they themselves constitute “ in
both the active and the passive senses “ what must be taken as reality
(both “in fact” and “in ideals”). To the extent that traditional forms of
historical criticism have not been able to assimilate or refute such a view,
they have been moved to the periphery of literary studies.
In recent years, however, textual and intertextual approaches have be-
gun to yield up their own theoretical problems, and literary studies have
witnessed a renewed interest in various kinds of socio-historical critical
work. Marxist and Marxist-in¬‚uenced criticism has been an especially
important factor in this development, largely, I think, because the ques-
tions it poses are founded in a powerful and dynamically coherent tradi-
tion of critical inquiry. Feminist studies have also done much to expose
the socio-historical dimensions of literary work. Because both of these
critical approaches necessarily practice a hermeneutics of a repressed
°µ
° Byron and Romanticism
or invisibilized content, both have found no dif¬culty in assimilating
the basic poststructural programmatic. At the same time, the traditional
methods of historicist philology have also begun to reappear in interpre-
tive studies. Bibliography, manuscript studies of various kinds, analyses
of the forms, methods, and materials of literary production: these ma-
terialist and empirical branches of learning have been experiencing a
renascence and at the same time have begun to rediscover their theo-
retical ground. Hermeneutical studies are increasingly realizing that the
symbolic discourse which is literature operates with and through many
forms of mediation besides “language” narrowly conceived. The price
of a book, its place of publication, even its physical form and the institu-
tional structures by which it is distributed and received, all bear upon the
production of literary meaning, and hence all must be critically analyzed
and explained.
When we speak of the referential dimensions of literary work, there-
fore, we have in mind several different things. In the ¬rst place, literary
work can be practiced, can constitute itself, only in and through various
institutional forms which are not themselves “literary” at all, though they
are meaning-constitutive. The most important of these institutions, for
the past ±µ° years anyway, are the commercial publishing network in
all its complex parts, and the academy. The church and the court have,
in the past, also served crucial mediating functions for writers. Literary
works are produced with reference to these mediational structures, are in
fact embodied in such structures, and criticism is therefore obliged to
explain and reconstitute such structures in relation to the literary work.
As we now realize more clearly than ever before, criticism must factor
itself and its own mediations into its explanations. In the ¬nal accounting,
“the work” and its mediations are as inseparable as are “the (original)
work” and its (subsequent) critical explanations.

Historically considered, the problem of referentiality ¬rst appeared not
as a fault line in empirically based critical studies, but much earlier, in the
Kantian response to the philosophic grounds of empiricism. Derrida™s
in¬‚uential account of the textual dynamic (“the joyous af¬rmation of the
play of the world and of the innocence of becoming, the af¬rmation of a
world of signs without fault, without truth, without origin, offered to an
active interpretation”) recalls nothing so much as the opening of Kant™s
Critique of Judgment, in which not only is the radical subjectivity of the
esthetic event founded, but it is founded via an explication of the judging
subject rather than the “work of art.” Coleridge™s important variation
°·
A point of reference
on this Kantian move was to emphasize even more clearly the “ideal”
content which the poetic text constitutes. Poetical works do not “copy”
the phenomena of the external world, they “imitate” the ideal forms
which we know through the operations of the human mind. As a good
recent critic of Coleridge has put the matter: “The ˜reality™ that poems
˜imitate™ is not the objective world as such, but . . . the consciousness of
the poet himself in his encounters with the objective world . . . the poet™s
only genuine subject matter is himself, and the only ideas he presents
will be ideas about the activity of consciousness in the world around it.”
Coleridge™s critique of the insistently referential aspects of Wordsworth™s
poetry “ what he calls its “accidentality” and its “matter-of-factness” “
is merely the critical re¬‚ex of his positive position: that “poetry as poetry
is essentially ideal, [and] avoids and excludes all accident [and] apparent
individualities.”µ
Coleridge is himself an impressive historicist critic, as his commen-
taries on the biblical tradition show. Nevertheless, his theoretical ground
would eventually be appropriated by those idealist and subjectivist forms
of criticism which emerged out of twentieth-century linguistics and semi-
ology. If “poetry as poetry” has reference only to a ¬eld of subjectivity,
then the criticism and interpretation of poetry which pursue the acci-
dentalities and matters-of-fact of philology will themselves be necessarily
misguided.
Coleridge™s view is recapitulated, in a variety of ways, by all twentieth-
century practitioners of purely immanent critical methods. C. S. Lewis™s
remarks in “The Personal Heresy” in ±, and Cleanth Brooks™s in
The Well Wrought Urn (±·), typify the New Critical position on the matter
of poetry™s relation to socio-historical actualities. That is to say, while
the New Criticism was a vigorously antihistorical movement, and con-
sciously in reaction to the philological and historicist methods which had
come to pre-eminence in literary studies during the eighteenth and nine-
teenth centuries, it always made practical provision for certain “extrinsic”
materials in the poetic product. The position is epitomized in Wellek and
Warren™s widely used handbook Theory of Literature (±·), where the con-
cepts of “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” interpretation are enshrined. Equally
characteristic are formulations like the following by Brooks, who means

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