ICR 2009 - Cities and Citizens

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Gerard Cohen-Vrignaud
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We invite submissions for a special panel titled, "Cities and Citizens: Romanticism in the Liberal Metropolis," part of this year's International Conference on Romanticism, to be held November 5-8 in New York City.

This session explores the connection between the rise of political and economic liberalism and the Romantic movement in the arts, specifically by examining the city as a site where a liberal body politic first took root and from which it derived its forms. We begin with the observation that leading Romantics of the 1810s and 1820s explicitly foregrounded their kinship with the doctrines of the nascent liberal party in France, itself inspired by the liberales of Napoleonic Spain. We ask why Byron and Shelley felt the need to found a journal named "The Liberal" in 1823 or what led Victor Hugo to affirm, in his 1830 preface to Hernani, that "romanticism is but liberalism in literature." To what extent do Romantic aesthetics engage with liberal political principles and economic theories? And how does the notorious capaciousness of Romanticism and liberalism as categories relate to their rapprochement?

The centrality of urban culture to Romanticism has been demonstrated by recent scholarship on so-called plebeian social movements in London, Birmingham and Manchester. Cosmopolitanism, religious and ethnic toleration, the commodity pleasures of the market, the normalization of wage labor, the rise of mass media – all these historical epiphenomena suggest that liberalism, its practices and its values, had become inextricable from the urban experience in the decades following the French revolution. This panel tries to reconcile these emergent socio-political realities with the "infidel poetry," not to mention the infidel prose, that the Romantics produced. We ask whether the famously anti-modern elements of Romanticism – evidenced in the rural poetics of the Lake School, the archaisms of Keats, Beddoes, and Scott, and the metaphysical mysticism of Shelley and Coleridge – necessarily attest to its antipathy to liberal ideologies both past and present. We suggest, rather, that these aesthetic objects stage a negotiation between particularity and generality that provides insight into liberalism’s commitment to abstraction, especially with regards to discourses of citizenship and civil rights in the context of an urban political modernity.

Please send proposals of 500 words or less to Gerard Cohen-Vrignaud, gerard@uchicago.edu, or Anahid Nersessian, anahid@uchicago.edu. Be sure to copy the conference organizers at icrnyc@ccny.cuny.edu, indicating that you have submitted a proposal for this session. The deadline is May 1, 2009.

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