Graduate Program

350:633 - Seminar: The Politics of Romanticism

Course No:  350:633
Index: 18109
Distribution Requirement:  A4, B
Thursday - 4:30 p.m.
MU 207

Seminar:  The Politics of Romanticism

Colin Jager

The story of politics and romanticism is a long and complicated one. As a form of “aesthetic politics,” romanticism has been indicted for versions of nativism and proto- fascism; at the same time, the romantic age is also the age of the great democratic revolutions and the struggles to abolish slavery, emancipate women, and celebrate the working class. This seminar will investigate the conceptual and historical roots of both aspects of this dynamic period. To set the scene, we will read some foundational documents from the period (Schiller, Hegel, Godwin) and from current philosophers and historians (Berlin, Thompson, Bilgrami, Taylor). But our primary work will consist of two “case studies” with contemporary resonance: the Haitian Revolution and the Anthropocene.

The question of romanticism and politics typically turns on the French Revolution and its reception in England. After reading some of the period’s most influential accounts of the French Revolution (Edmund Burke, William Wordsworth, Mary Wollstonecraft), we will ask whether the politics of romanticism looks different if we shift our attention to the Haitian Revolution, the other revolution of the romantic era, and still very much understudied in the field. Asking this question (much less answering it) will mean engaging with the history and politics of race, anti-slavery, and slave rebellion in the period; our focus, though, will be on a set of major theoretical texts that will help us to “read” Haiti within the context of romanticism. Alongside shorter pieces by Marlon Ross and Michel-Rolph Trouillot, these will include CLR James (The Black Jacobins), Susan Buck-Morss (Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History), David Scott (Conscripts of Modernity) and Jared Hickman (Black Prometheus). Primary texts for this section of the course will include Obi, or The History of Three-Fingered Jack, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, Percy Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, as well as shorter poems by Wordsworth and Coleridge and sections of Wordsworth’s Prelude.

The second case study will be the romantic roots of the environmental crisis and environmentalism. Earlier generations of eco-critics often looked to romantic accounts of nature for inspiration and for historical grounding for the modern environmental movement; more recently, ecofeminists have re-thought the relationships of gender and nature, several prominent accounts of the Anthropocene have located its origins in the romantic period, and a now-ascendant strand of eco-criticism claims that we have reached the end of nature and that romantic nostalgia for it is an ideological dead-end. Primary texts will again be drawn largely from the Shelley / Godwin circle, and will include works by Mary Wollstonecraft (Letters Written During a Short Residence…), Mary Shelley (The Last Man), and Lord Byron (Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage). Again, however, our chief focus will be on an intensive engagement with theoretical texts that confront the problems of nature and scale raised by both romanticism and the Anthropocene: Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, Carolyn Merchant’s Death of Nature, Gillen Wood’s Tambora, and Tim Ingold’s Being Alive, as well as shorter texts by Dipesh Chakrabarty and Anne-Lise Francois.

Requirements: active participation, annotated bibliography, class presentation, conference paper, final seminar paper