Romanticism and the Idea of Literature

Instructor: Professor Tilottama Rajan.
Fall Half Course.

This course will focus on ideas of the aesthetic in Romanticism. The word Romanticism was not used in reference to the period 1790-1832 in British literature until much later, and while it was used in Germany during the early nineteenth century, Romanticism was a modal rather than chronological term, connoting a certain incompletion and restlessness of the negative. But whether because the New Critics traced their notions of organic form back to Coleridge, or because later critics have centred British Romanticism around the Regency or absorbed it into a “Nineteenth Century” that professionalized the category of literature, criticism has often attributed socially or philosophically conservative conceptions of literature and/or the aesthetic to the period. In contrast, I will suggest that new conceptions of historicity, changed  conceptions of organic life, and events like the French Revolution had a deeply unsettling, if indirect, impact on the Romantic practice and (in Germany) theory of art. In the light of an expanded sense of what constitutes life and organized bodies, as well as new conceptions of history as a working out of an unprocessed “idea,”  the period witnessed a profound revolution in its sense of what counts as literature and the intertextual relationships between the parts of an author’s corpus. In the context of literature’s resistance to inheritance, canonicity, and totalisation, some of the topics to be explored will include the  breaching of form and genre; the (non)publication of texts; the writing of minor literature (in Deleuze and Guattari’s sense of literature wn from a minor position in a major language); the role of “poetry” in a world increasingly dominated by prose; and conversely the role of prose fiction in relation to the emergent social discipline of the Novel.