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I take it, approximately what Aristotle meant when he said that poetry
is more philosophical than history and more concretely engaged than
philosophy. Its philosophical (critical) task could not be executed, how-
ever, if poetry took its direction from the orders of reason rather than
from the orders of facticities and minute particulars.
If poetry operated solely within physical and biological horizons, we
would perhaps say that it represents a kind of Second Nature, with
the matter of its universes disposed according to a human rather than
a divine consciousness. But the horizon within which poetry operates
is sociological (or, more strictly, socio-historical). It represents not the
natural but the human world, an eventual ¬eld with two important fea-
tures that distinguish it from a natural world: ¬rst, it functions within
the complex networks of various conscious agencies, and second (but con-
tradictorily), those networks undergo constant and arbitrary change.
This means, among other things, that whereas such a world is always
both re¬‚exive (like God) and integral (like Nature), its consciousness and
integrity are both indistinguishable and incommensurable.
The antithesis of poetry displays that world for us through its spe-
cial modes of acting within such a world. The clearest way I can think
 Byron and Romanticism
of to explain this is to contrast what I would call “poetry in action”
with what Bruno Latour has called Science in Action. The latter involves
consciousness in immensely complex sets of goal-directed operations:
literary criticism (including this essay) is a perfect instance of “science
in action.” The object of these activities is knowledge. Latour uses
the analogy of a road map to de¬ne the complex networks of sci-
enti¬c activities, because the road map is for him the sign of the
human preoccupation with destinations and the desire to be master of
destinations.
When science is in action, the best road map is the one that most
clearly de¬nes the relative importance of different places on the map
and the relative mobility which comes with the various roads. Old maps
and new maps, good maps and bad maps, none of these are prima facie
without importance or interest to science in action. Everything depends
upon the object in view, the goal, the destination. An old map might be
more useful, might function with more useful information, than a new
one “ depending on your goals and purposes.
When poetry is in action, the situation appears quite different. The
poetical object in view is precisely not to set limits on the objects in
view. Of course, poems will always have very speci¬c goals and ob-
jects set for themselves “ by the original authors, by various readers,
early and late. Poems do not achieve their vaunted universality from
the fact that their authors set out for themselves transcendental goals:
were this the case, we would have no mute inglorious Miltons (Milton
Friedman, Milton Eisenhower, Milton Berle? or perhaps Alexander
Hamilton). Nor is it that they af¬rm nothing and deny nothing “
explicitly didactic poetry is merely the index of the ideological dimension
which is a necessary component of any use of language, including poet-
ical language.
The poetical use of language is special insofar as it preserves materials
which “ according to any of the work™s possible sociologics “ may be
experienced, through a poetical deployment, as heterodox, irrelevant,
contradictory, enigmatic. Poetry operates with the same kind of socio-
logics which Latour observes in Science in Action, but it veers away from
the pragmatistic horizon of scienti¬c knowledge. It is consequently the
framework within which a critique of scienti¬c knowledge is alone possi-
ble, for this reason: only a poetical deployment of language can make one
aware how every ordering of knowledge is at the same time, and by the
very fact of its orderliness, a calling to order of what must be experienced
simultaneously as noncongruent and irrational.

History, herstory, theirstory, ourstory
Near the outset of this essay I mentioned Byron™s “Fare Thee Well!”
as a kind of epitome of the factive poem “ a work fairly de¬ned by what
Blake called “minute particulars.” Some have taken those particularities
as a sign of the poverty of the poem™s merely local habitations. Others
have read those particulars with a different negative twist: the poem
is bad not because it is full of particularities, but because it is absurdly
sentimental. But though Ronald Reagan has imagined, and said, that
“facts are stupid things,” they are by no means stupid “ nor are they
¬xed and dead, as Coleridge thought. Byron understood, as all poets
more or less consciously understand, that facts are what Blake would
call the “vehicular forms” of social events. They are neither dead nor
stupid, and “Fare Thee Well!” illustrates that fact very well.
Many “ myself included “ have missed the factive life of Byron™s
excellent poem because we have imagined its facts were, perhaps like
the poem™s author, “stupid things,” and hence have imagined the poem
to be as stupid and sentimental as this way of reading the poem. In fact,
the poem is as much a work of revenge, hatred, and hypocrisy as it is
a work of suffering, love, and cant-free talk. Its minute particulars tell a
set of contradictory stories, and ¬nally make up one story whose central
subject is contradiction itself “ a contradiction we know as the torments
of love and jealousy which were realized and played out through the
break-up of the Byron marriage. This poetical work is at once a part
of and a re¬‚ection upon that immensely complex set of connected and
contradicted events.
“Fare Thee Well!” tells HIStory, then “ let us call it Byron™s story, pre-
tending that even his-story is unitary and uncon¬‚icted. But in venturing
Thatstory the work also calls out HERstory “ let us call it Lady Byron™s
story, on a similar heuristic pretense. Because neither of Thesestories
are simple or commensurable (and least of all pretty or sentimental), in
thosestories the work develops Theirstory as well. Theirstory, however,
never belonged entirely to H I M and H E R; from the outset it comprised
numerous otherstories which wove themselves into the fantastic network
of Thesestories. As the locus of Thistory, “Fare Thee Well!” makes pos-
sible a number of other stories, which we would probably not be entirely
wrong to call ourstory. All Thesestories began among the ¬rst transmit-
ters of the poem, and they continue to work their ways down to and
beyond ourselves.
But that is what poetry is supposed to do. What we forget sometimes
is the fact that it will do so only as it works with minute particulars “
with those hard facts (linguistic, bibliographical, sociological) which can
° Byron and Romanticism
never be made commensurate with the meanings we lay over them.
It is in this context that we should say, therefore, after Lyn Hejinian™s
excellent prose sequence, that “Writing is an aid to memory.”· Normative
histories and memorial forms tend to use writing in order to disable the
contradictions and differentials which constitute the ¬eld of memory. But
writing in Hejinian™s poetical imagination functions to multiply those
differentials, and thereby to increase our potential access to ranges and
ways of remembering we might otherwise have hardly known.

NOTES

± Marshall Sahlins, Islands of History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
±µ).
 See chapter , above. See also David V. Erdman, “ ˜Fare Thee Well!™ “ Byron™s
Last Days in England,” in Shelley and His Circle: ±··“±, ed. Kenneth Neill
Cameron (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, ±·°), IV, “µ;
and W. Paul Elledge, “Talented Equivocation: Byron™s ˜Fare Thee Well!,™ ”
Keats“Shelley Journal, µ (±), “±.
 See Biographia Literaria, ed. James Engell and W. Jackson Bate (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, ±) ±, ·.
 The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, rev. edn. by David V. Erdman,
with commentary by Harold Bloom (Berkeley: University of California
Press, ±), µ“µ.
µ Of course some poems solicit an incommensurable reading more actively
and thoroughly than others; moreover, certain texts which are not formally
poetical “ Plato™s dialogues, for example, Gibbon™s Decline and Fall, the essays
of Montaigne, Herodotus™ Histories, and so forth “ are highly “poetical” in the
sense of the term that I am using here (where, if metaphor remains the central
sign of a poetical text, it is taken to be the ¬gure which holds “opposite and
discordant qualities” together in an antithetical and unresolved state). Poetry™s
central function, in this view, is to expose the differentials which play within
the apparitions of wholeness and order.
 See Bruno Latour, Science in Action (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
±·), esp. ±µ“.
· See Lyn Hejinian, Writing Is an Aid to Memory (Great Barrington, MA: The
Figures, ±·).
±
CHAPTER


Literature, meaning, and the discontinuity of fact




Textual studies and editing are two exemplary ¬elds of historical criti-
cism. They are also fundamental, since all literary work is grounded in
them. These subdisciplines of historical criticism have been dominated
for many years by empirical and even positivist methods and goals, some-
times for good, sometimes for ill. That general context has led me to
concentrate much of my work in textual criticism and theory. I have done
so with two particular goals in view.
First, I wanted to attack traditional historicism in what has always
been regarded as its fastness of strength, its (hitherto) impregnable inner
tower: textual studies and editing. Second, I wanted to open a parallel
critique of contemporary theory and hermeneutics, which has largely
avoided a serious engagement with the problem of facticity and positive
knowledge. The unwillingness or inability of most in¬‚uential literary
theoreticians of the past twenty-¬ve years to enter the ¬elds of textual
criticism and editing is an eloquent historical fact. Even when theoret-
ically sophisticated critics moved beyond a “hermeneutics of reading”
into various kinds of “new historical” and “cultural” studies, they did
so typically without having addressed the con¬‚icting claims of fact and
idea, writing and reading, history and interpretation.
In textual studies and editing, however, these issues cannot be evaded,
because the editor™s and textual critic™s literary works are always encoun-
tered as speci¬c, material historical forms. They have what Paul de Man,
speaking for hermeneutics generally, said “literary texts” cannot have:
“positive existence.”
The condition of positivity led traditional historicists, including textual
critics, to conceive their obligation as recuperating phenomena that had
slipped into the past. Though the theoretical impossibility of such a
goal was always acknowledged, its heuristic operation was pursued. The
idea was to try to make as close an approach to the lost phenomena as
one could manage. Moreover, the pursuit
±
 Byron and Romanticism
(What mad pursuit? What struggles to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?)

involved an engagement to recover not so much the lost phenomena
as their lost meanings. The works of the past survive in documentary
forms. In their historical passage these documents appear to grow more
distant and dif¬cult to understand. The traditional historicist “ and here
the textual critic stands as the supreme model “ works to clear the doc-
uments of their accumulated detritus and obscurities, ideally exposing,
and explicating, an original and complete truth that lies in the eternity
of the past. Strict constructionists of the Constitution express an anal-
ogous goal when they speak of adhering to what the Founding Fathers
intended.
Without arguing the matter “ I have done so often elsewhere “ let me
say that this is not my view of what either textual criticism in particular or
historical criticism generally entails. Historical method is for me strictly a
form of comparative study. From that vantage, a historical criticism does
not imagine that its object is to recover some lost original text or meaning.
Such goals lie within neither its province nor its power. Normative goals
of these kinds are hypothesized, as one commonly sees in the case of
editing and textual studies. Norms are constructed, however, only to set
in motion the special critical dynamic peculiar to every historical proce-
dure: the method of comparative analysis. The basic form of historical
method is not positivist “ positivism is one of its Kantian “moments” “ it
is dialogical.
The points of departure for such a dialogue are, in the most general
sense, the present and the past. The more deeply the dialogue form
is engaged, the more clearly we perceive the multiple possibilities for
situating what might be understood as the loci of presentness and past-
ness. Texts, for example, like the readings of the texts, are invariably
multiple. When criticism constructs a “textual history” or a “reception
history,” the differential of the here and now is forced to confront a
host of earlier, analogous differentials. The dialogue of history is end-
less both between the present and the past and within the present and the
past.
Implicit in any historical criticism of literature is a crucial assump-
tion: that literary works are certain human acts carried out within a
larger world of other human acts. In this respect historical criticism dis-
tinguishes itself from hermeneutics, which is a method for elucidating
symbolic forms. For historical criticism, “in the beginning was the deed”;

Literature, meaning, and discontinuity of fact
and if that deed is an act of language “ if we could also call it a “word” “ it
has to be ¬rst engaged as a rhetorical event rather than as a symbolic
form. Though we may be interested in how a novel or a poem is a
“virtual world” calling for an interpretation of its inner structure of re-
lations, we cannot neglect in what ways and to what ends its virtualities
have been deployed. A novel is also, necessarily, a certain kind of book
(in fact, many kinds of book) written and disseminated in many different
kinds of ways. The (formal) category we call “the novel” (as opposed
to “the story”) presupposes the institution of book production. For the
historical critic, meaning(s) that might be educed from “the novel” are
subsumed within a larger arena of meaningfulness: the social world of
writing and reading books, the institutions for transmitting and retrans-
mitting them.
In an epoch like our own, where the limits of knowledge are mapped
onto models of language, the special character of historical criticism
(as opposed to literary hermeneutics) may be clari¬ed by asking the
following question: must we regard the physical channels of communi-
cation as part of the message of the texts we study? Or are the channels
to be treated as purely vehicular forms whose ideal condition is to be
transparent to the texts they deliver? How important, for the reader
of a novel or any other text, are the work™s various materials, means,
and modes of production? Does a work™s bibliographical existence, for
example, seriously impinge upon its symbolic form and meaning?
Normally, criticism leaves the documents to the bibliographers and
the texts (so called) to the critics. In all of my works I have been arguing
against this habit of thought “ have been arguing that “reading” must
cover the entirety of the literary work, its bibliographical as well as its lin-
guistic codes. A recent essay on James™s The Ambassadors brings an espe-
cially clear focus to the issues at stake.±
The key fact is that the ¬rst English edition and the ¬rst American edi-
tion, published within a month of each other in ±°, have chapters 
and  in different orders. Until ± the two orderings were not no-
ticed, and the novel was read in the order printed in the ¬rst American
edition (which was canonized in the ±° New York edition and all sub-
sequent printings to ±). In ±, however, critical opinion reversed
itself and decided “ it was a scandalous moment in American literary
studies “ that the order in the ¬rst American edition was a printer™s
mistake. Editions after ± change the chapter order to the sequence in
the ¬rst English edition. As it happens, a close critical study of the biblio-
graphical materials reveals no mistake in the ¬rst American edition. The
 Byron and Romanticism
scandal turns out to be worse than was imagined in ±. The scandal is
that the novel makes sense no matter which order the two chapters are
put in.
What is startling here is that both ways of reading the novel are autho-
rized at the bibliographical level, not at the hermeneutic level. Our imag-
inations do not impose a meaning upon the work; it imposes meanings
upon our imaginations. The originary work seems to have transcended,

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