Post-Romanticism: Are We There Yet? -- Special Issue of CounterText
Romanticism has not yet come to its end.
–Heidegger, Contributions to Philosophy
What interests us in romanticism is that we still belong to the era it opened up.
– Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy, The Literary Absolute
What is ultimately at stake here can be formulated in terms of the following question which weighs upon us and threatens to exhaust us: can we be delivered, finally delivered, from our subjection to Romanticism?
– Badiou, Theoretical Writings
'Post-Romantic' is, in its way, as uncertain and fluid a term as 'Romantic'; it is a necessary term, however…'
– O'Neill, The All-Sustaining Air
What will become of the poem after Heidegger, after the age of poets, in other words, in what will a post-romantic poem consist?
– Badiou, Conditions
An invitation to focus on yet another 'post-', particularly in light of exhortations such as Mikhail Epstein's recent call for a discursive shift in the humanities away from the ubiquitous 'post-' prefix (understood in all of its Lyotard-inflected complexity) to the 'proto-', may seem neither auspicious nor inspiring. What is more, of the plethora of 'post-'s that have dominated the theoretical humanities in recent decades—postmodernism, poststructuralism, post-marxism, post-feminism, postcolonialism, post-theory, posthumanism etc—post-romanticism has undoubtedly attracted the least interest and provoked the least commentary. This is perhaps due partly to the lack of certainty about its referent. But might that, in itself, be a reason for treating it as significant and for considering it more closely? It is, after all, a term that, though uncommon, persists—is even deemed 'necessary' according to one of our epigraphs—and yet it names something that is still not completely apparent, something that either has not yet materialised fully or something that exists but which we do not yet properly understand, obscured, perhaps, by our investments in alternative cultural histories. The term post-romanticism, then, holds open a space of artistic and cultural production that refuses easy assimilation into the comparatively conventional paradigm of modernism and its postmodern futures.
When the term 'post-romantic' is used, it is often in a rather unimaginatively chronological way to indicate literature, music and other art forms produced in the latter half of the nineteenth century, after the high-water mark of romanticism but still bearing many of its traits. Of far greater interest than this, however, is the possibility that post-romanticism might refer to something—an aesthetics or poetics—that marks simultaneously a rupture and, in some sense, a continuation of romanticism. Thus understood, though in a manner yet to be determined, post-romanticism would exist in what might be called, following the title of the journal in which this special issue will appear, countertextual—existing, that is, both with and against romanticism. But here O'Neill's epigraph highlights a problem that further compounds the difficulties of definition and understanding, namely that romanticism itself can often prove to be a frustratingly, wanderingly nebulous concept. So, we might ask: in considering post-romanticism, which understandings of romanticism compete for relevance? Which, if any, ultimately succeeds? One of the strongest contenders, perhaps because it emerged as the most sophisticatedly theorised, is the romanticism of the early German romantics, which was as much a philosophical intervention as it was a literary one. It is to this conception of romanticism, which can trace an august twentieth-century lineage through the work of Benjamin, Heidegger and Blanchot, that the other three epigraphs—by Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy and Badiou—refer. Broadly, this romanticism seems to offer a sort of aesthetics of failure, a confrontation with the limits of human reason accompanied by rather unhopeful gestures to a beyond of some kind. Using a term recently associated with Quentin Meillassoux, a thinker whom can be considered among the vanguard of a recent, Badiou-inspired rejection of romanticism, this sort of romanticism might be understood as a deeply dissatisfied aesthetic acknowledgment of correlationism, the idea that what we know is always conditioned by our way of knowing it. What remains just beyond reach, but which art can strive to approximate, is the unconditioned or absolute. It is from this romanticism that a despairing Badiou, judging it to be saturated and exhausted, wishes to be delivered.
However, given the stubborn persistence of this and other conceptions of romanticism (to echo the title of Richard Eldridge's book), in spite of Badiou and, indeed, in spite of Hegel's famously damning assessment of romanticism, might talk of post-romanticism actually be premature? Admittedly, there seems to be a canon of literary works produced over the past century that could conceivably, if presented in a particular way, be seen as something like a distinct, though perhaps relatively meagre, post-romantic canon (one might think of T.E. Hulme, Pessoa, Beckett, Larkin, de Man, Badiou, and so on—a grouping that seems to exist perilously somewhere between the disparate and the desperate); but would such a canon indicate the fragments of an existing post-romanticism that has not been thoroughly identified and properly mapped, or are these perhaps post-romantic texts avant la lettre, or can they, in fact, be accommodated quite comfortably in modernism's capacious folds without the need for the countertextualising category of post-romanticism? And, in any case, might this focus on a decidedly philosophical romantic tradition foreclose other post-romantic possibilities? Furthermore, what kinds of philosophical and political commitments might be implicit—or might we expect—in a post-romanticism worthy of the name? Finally, then, to reiterate Badiou's question that so succinctly seems to encapsulate all of these issues, 'in what will a post-romantic poem consist?'
Abstracts should be approximately 500 words in length and should be submitted with a brief bionote to James Corby (email@example.com) by 30 April 2013. Please write "POST-ROMANTICISM" in the subject field of your email. Authors of selected abstracts will be notified by 31 May 2013 and invited to submit full-length articles by 31 January 2014. Final acceptance of articles will be subject to editorial screening and peer review. CounterText is a peer-reviewed journal that will be launching in 2013 (see here for more details http://www.um.edu.mt/arts/english/countertext).