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A book like The Romantic Ideology, it has been argued, implicitly rei¬es
this kind of Romantic dynamism as a transcendent aesthetic form or set
of procedures. The charge is that The Romantic Ideology at times simply
replaces Wellek™s tripartite structural representation with a dialectical
view that is, ¬nally, no less conceptual, for all its appeal to dynamic
forms. I have come to think this criticism a just one.· I also think it
an important criticism, for it exposes a residual investment in a type of
interpretive thought that I was explicitly trying to avoid.
As I see it, criticism should be seeking a dialectical philology that is not
bound by the conceptual forms it studies and generates. The paradox
of such a philology is that its freedom would be secured only when it
accepts the historical limits of its own forms of thought. It is not bound
by its theoretical forms because it holds itself open to the boundary con-
ditions established by other conceptual forms. This is a theory imagined
not as a conceptual structure but as a set of investigative practices “ and a
set of practices that play themselves out under a horizon of falsi¬ability.

II

If we take such an approach to a topic like “the romantic period,”
then, our object will not be to “de¬ne” the period but to sketch its
dynamic possibilities. In this frame of reference it helps to remember
that “periodization” is itself a critical tool fashioned in historicality as
such. Periodization is a possible form of historical thinking that has
been realized under speci¬c socio-historical conditions of the European
Enlightenment. We do not, after all, have to think in such terms. A
current world-historical perspective will not sweep off the periodic table
“Medieval, Renaissance, Enlightenment, Romanticism, Modernism,”
but it will certainly execute radical and across-the-board changes and
options of meaning.
Modern historical method is a tool for bringing order “ I would rather
call it “possible order” “ to cultural change and cultural difference. We
want therefore to bear in mind the historicality of the method in order
to hold it open to the full range of its possibilities, which necessarily
 Byron and Romanticism
entail the limits it is perpetually constructing and discovering. When we
focus attention on a topic like the Romantic period, we may willingly
(though perhaps not consciously) suspend our disbelief in the period
as such, and hence take our studies in the period for pursuits of an
Urph¨ nomen. This is, in effect, what we observe in Wellek™s approach
a
to Romanticism and the Romantic period. The problem with Wellek™s
formulation is not so much that it is a limited view “ all views are limited “
but that it holds out against the possibilities of its own limitations. It
does not invite a “suspension of disbelief for the moment” but for good
and aye.
At issue here is how we pursue a historical method of literary
investigation. Because historical method is strictly a form of compar-
ative studies, its goal is not the recovery of some lost originary cultural
whole. The presumption must rather be that the object of study is volatile
and dynamic “ not merely that it (in this case, “the romantic period”)
was an unstable and con¬‚icted phenomenon, but that it continues to
mutate as it is subjected to further study; indeed, that its later changes
are the effects of such studies. (This situation explains why the basic form
of historical studies is not positivist but radically dialogical.)
Thus the standard dates for the Romantic period “ let us say, ±·“
± “ cannot be read as a mere statement of fact. Scholars of course
understand the signifying mechanism involved here. “±·” stands for
the coming of Lyrical Ballads, and “±” stands for the death of Byron.
But those events merely de¬ne the critical materials in terms of a simple
historical allegory. Most scholars are also aware that the dates could
be shifted “ typical shifts at the terminus a quo are “±·,” “±·,”
and “±°°,” while at the terminus ad quem the dates “±°,” “±,” and
“±·” (among others) are common enough. All signify some event that is
implicitly being asked to carry important cultural meanings. The “facts”
come legend-laden through the forest of history. We have to translate
those legends, but we also have to realize what is implicit in the fact of the
legends: that a historical moment (so-called) can and will be (re)constructed
in different ways.
That realization should not be left to fend for itself, as it were. We
want to get beyond assenting to “the play of difference,” beyond describ-
ing instances of that play. A fully developed historical method ought to
encourage the exploration of alterities. That goal would entail, however “
to borrow a thought from Shelley “ imagining what we know: construct-
ing and deploying forms that will be equal to the pursuit of differential

Rethinking Romanticism
attention. We shall not advance the knowledge we desire, therefore, by
continuing to work almost exclusively within the most traditional generic
conventions of academic discourse. These forms, after all, evolved from
nineteenth-century historicist philology and hermeneutics. As such, they
are structurally committed to holistic accounts of history and integrated,
self-consistent acts of interpretation.
Derrida has been a great spur (so to speak) to new kinds of critical
in(ter)ventions. (The use of dialectal forms that give momentary ex-
posure to language™s differential possibilities is now common.) But the
academy™s turn in the past twenty-¬ve years toward various philoso-
phies of differential attention has remained largely conceptual. Not many
critics or scholars have tried to translate these commitments into equiv-
alent generic forms. The most innovative work here has come from
extramural writers. Scholars could learn much from the criticism of
contemporary poets like Susan Howe and Charles Bernstein.±° Howe™s
exploration of My Emily Dickinson, for example, is an astonishingly inven-
tive work of historical scholarship. The book™s collage format permits
her to deploy and then explore a series of nonlinear historical relations.
Pivoting about a close reading of a single poem (“My Life had stood “ a
Loaded Gun”), the book slowly explores multiple intersections of public
event and private life “ intersections in the past as well as between the past
and its possible futures.
When academics have tried to escape the limitations of traditional
critical forms, response tends to be at best interested and wary, and at
worst hostile or indifferent. In Renaissance studies one thinks immedi-
ately of Randall McLeod, perhaps the most innovative textual scholar
of our time (in any period of work.)±± In the Romantic period I would
instance the recent work of Jeffrey Robinson, or Donald Ault™s struggles
(they recall McLeod™s work) to force the physical medium of the text to
become a critical tool and form of expression.± In my own criticism,
especially during the past ¬ve years, I have been exploring the resources
of dialogue as a mode of scholarly investigation.±
One thinks as well of the important New History of French Literature, which
has made a deliberate effort to surmount the limits of narrativized history
by subordinating narrative form to an incipient dialectic licensed by the
discontinuous chronicle organization of the materials.± The New History
does not seek a synthetic historical account of French Literature. On one
hand the work underscores the limits of historical vision by emphasizing
the extreme particularity of various accounts. On the other it tries to
 Byron and Romanticism
induce imaginations of new sets of historical relations between different
and competing views of the material.
Implicit here is a general critical idea that has great power: to display
the constructed and non-natural status of historical information. Insofar
as narrative history aspires to a ¬nished account, its rhetoric tends to
represent the past as completed “ a complex set of “facts” that require
thorough research and fair disclosure. The New History is an index of
a contrary view: that history is a continuous process, and that the past
itself is, like the future, a serious possibility. The New History subordinates
narrative (closure) to dialectic (engagement).
Its general procedures, however, can sometimes be as well or perhaps
even better pursued in other expository modes. Consider the critical
possibilities of the anthology form. These ¬rst became apparent to me
in Yeats™s great Oxford Book of Modern Verse, ±“±µ (±). By opening
his collection in ± with a (re)constructed text of Pater™s prose, Yeats
announced the arbitrary and polemical character of his work. At that
point I began to realize the virtues to be gained by “writing” literary
history in the editorial structure of the anthology. Several years later,
when I was asked to edit The New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse,
I seized the opportunity. Concealed within this project was the chance to
give a practical demonstration of certain theoretical ideas about history,
on one hand, and literary form on the other.
An anthology of this kind necessarily constructs a literary history, but
the historical synthesis is subordinated in the formalities of the collec-
tion. The anthology focuses one™s attention on local units of order “
individual poems and groups of poems. As a consequence, these units
tend to splinter the synthetic inertia of the work-as-a-whole into an in-
teractive and dialogical scene. Possibilities of order appear at different
scalar levels because the center of the work is not so much a totalized form
as a dynamically emergent set of constructible hypotheses of historical
relations. Built into the anthology form are what topological mathemati-
cians might call “basins” of contradiction: orderly, expository, and linear
arrangements that stand at a perpetual brink of Chaotic transformation.
As I began studying the anthology form more closely, I was struck by
one of its dominant modern conventions. Since Tottel™s Miscellany (±µµ·)
literary anthologies “ even when they are trying to display some more
or less comprehensive historical order “ tend to arrange themselves by
author. Palgrave™s Golden Treasury (±±) might seem a great exception to
this rule, but it isn™t. Although poems by different authors are scattered
through each of the anthology™s four great books, Palgrave™s Introduction
µ
Rethinking Romanticism
makes its author-centered form very clear. The four “Books” of the
Golden Treasury locate the four great periods of what Palgrave calls “the
natural growth and evolution of our Poetry.” The periods roughly cor-
respond to the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth
centuries. For Palgrave, however, each of these four evolutionary phases
have unfolded under the sign of a single dominant author “who more
or less give[s] each [phase] its distinctive character.”±µ Consequently,
Palgrave tells us that each of the four books of his anthology “might
be called the Books of Shakespeare, Milton, Gray, and Wordsworth”
respectively.
Yet even as Palgrave™s great anthology connects its Romantic-
evolutionary account of English literary history to certain epochal
¬gures, it deploys two interesting and antithetical forms of order. First,
the anthology is formatted into four abstractly arranged “Books.” Each
book carries no heading other than “Book First,” “Book Second,” etc.,
without historical labels of any kind. Second, no effort is made within
each book to foreground a local evolutionary cycle, or “ for that mat-
ter “ to isolate individual authors, not even the epochal authors. Each
poem comes forward under a title and the author™s name is tagged at
the end. Neither are an individual author™s works grouped into a subunit
within the horizon of a particular “Book.” The poems are arranged, so
far as one can tell, by random and personal choice “ Palgrave says sim-
ply that he has avoided “a rigidly chronological sequence” in order to
pursue what he calls “the wisdom which comes through pleasure.” That
idiosyncratic remark underscores the anthology™s deep commitment to a
principle of subjectivity: “Within each book,” Palgrave adds, “the pieces
have . . . been arranged in gradations of feeling or subject.”
What most strikes one about Palgrave™s anthology, therefore, is not
its rather (in)famous Arnoldian determination toward “the best origi-
nal Lyrical pieces and Songs in our language.” Rather, it is the book™s
complex structure. Palgrave puts into play several competing and even
antithetical forms of order and attention. While the implicit con¬‚ict of
these forms does not overthrow the book™s ultimately Hegelian organiza-
tion, it allows the reader recurrent waylayings from Palgrave™s imperious
instruction in his version of a “great tradition.” For Palgrave™s own project
is built upon internal con¬‚ict and self-contradiction. On one hand he
tells us that local randomness comes from a poetical desire towards “the
wisdom which comes through pleasure.” On the other hand he asso-
ciates the “poetical” experience with total form. “In the arrangement,”
he says, “the most poetically-effective order has been attempted” “ by
 Byron and Romanticism
which he means, explicitly, an evolutionary wholeness that he equates
with and calls “the sense of Beauty.”
And it is hoped that the contents of this Anthology will thus be found to present
a certain unity, “as episodes,” in the noble language of Shelley, “to that great
poem which all poets, like the co-operating thoughts of one great mind, have
built up since the beginning of the world.”

Rereading Palgrave made me understand that the differential order
achieved (perhaps not altogether consciously) in his book might be
deliberately essayed in my New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse. I have
therefore made several important departures from the conventional for-
mat of a “New Oxford Book” anthology. The most signi¬cant departure
involves the collection™s general historical horizon. The historical scene
is more atomized than it is cumulative or developmental: as it were, thir-
teen ways of looking at the Romantic period (or, in this case, forty-seven
ways). Not unlike the New History of French Literature, the anthology follows
a simple chronicle organization, year by year from ±·µ to ±. Within
each year the poems are also arranged by elementary chronological
sequence.
As a consequence, different authors appear recurrently rather than
as coherent authorial units. Wordsworth and his poetry, for example,
continually reemerge in new and perhaps unexpected sets of relations.
Narrativizing literary events, by contrast, tends to rationalize such his-
torical intersections under the laws of an expository grammar. Similarly,
by making individual poems the base units of a “literary history” “ as it
were the “words” of its “language” “ the New Oxford Book anthology cuts
across what Palgrave called the “certain unity” of literary history. Trac-
ing a historical course by spots of poetical time (rather than by unfolding
expository sequence) entails a necessary fall from the grace of one great
Mind into the local world of the poem, where contradiction “ the cease-
less dialectic of “opposite and discordant qualities” “ holds paramount
sway.
The anthology pursues this dialectic in one other important respect.
It takes a consciously antithetical point of view on the materials to be
included. At the outset of this essay I mentioned the sharp difference
between Wellek™s synthetic view of Romanticism and various earlier
views. The anthology re¬‚ects that differential in three principal ways.
First, it includes a good deal of poetry “ some of it, like Crabbe™s, among
the best writing of the period “ that is not Romantic. Second, it gives
a prominent place to work that was famous in its time but that later
·
Rethinking Romanticism
fell from sight. Third, it represents two key transitional moments of the
Romantic period “ the decades (roughly speaking) of the ±·°s and the
±°s “ more completely, and hence more problematically, than is done
in narrative literary histories or anthologies of the period.
Synthetic historians tend to view their worlds in great sweeps.
The Romantic period thus typically comes to us through a gradual
“pre-Romantic” evolution mapped by now familiar signs (for instance,
Gray, Collins, Chatterton, Macpherson, and perhaps Cowper). Nor do
I mean at all to disparage such a view. But it is only a way of seeing
things. One gets a very different vision from a tighter focus. At least
as important so far as ±·°s writers were concerned, for example, was
the immediate impact of Sir William Jones™s annotated translations of
Persian poetry and the spectacular onset of the Della Cruscan move-
ment. By foregrounding Jones™s work and the Della Cruscans the New
Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse invites some alternative imaginings of
our historical evidence and understandings.
Because a sense of historicality is so closely connected to causal mod-
els, early or precursive materials have always occupied the attention of
critics. So Romanticism™s relation to the late eighteenth century, if still
inadequately treated, is a scene of deep scholarship compared with what
we think about the ±°s. The anthology intervenes by printing a good
deal of poetry that once occupied the center of cultural attention in the
±°s. These texts represent a small but serious effort toward a great
need: the reconstruction of what was being written and read up to the
passage of the ¬rst Reform Bill and the publication of Tennyson™s ±
Poems.
Situating the Romantic period and its literary works ¬rmly within
the latter perspective affords some startling views and insights. What

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