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Reviewed by:
  • Romanticism and Postromanticism
  • Sara Pappas
Moscovici, Claudia. Romanticism and Postromanticism. Lanham: Lexington, 2007. Pp. ix + 123. ISBN 978-0-7391-1674-6

Romanticism and Postromanticism undertakes an ambitious project: to argue for the continuing importance of Romanticism in the arts, even after modernism and postmodernism, and to support the idea of the relevance of Romanticism with an examination of a contemporary group of artists who call themselves "postromantic."

Relying mainly on Gombrich's notion of there being only Romantic writers and artists (as opposed to "Romanticism") and Abrams' theory of Romanticism as an orientation rather than a unified historical movement, Moscovici sees Romanticism as a general quality that crosses time as well as typical categorizations of artists and writers. In her study we find the more anticipated figures in discussions of Romanticism (Rousseau, Staël, Gautier, Wordsworth) but also figures who would not normally be considered true "Romantics": Diderot, Zola, Manet, Baudelaire, and Rodin. Especially in her discussions of Rousseau, Staël, and Diderot, passion emerges for Moscovici as the primary component of Romanticism, uniting these writers in a Romantic "orientation." Instead of arguing for the primacy of emotion and passion over an Enlightenment ideal of reason, however, Moscovici contends that each author negotiates the space between passion and some other more rational mode, creating different sorts of duality in which passion is the most important but not the only ingredient. In her discussion of Rousseau, Staël and Diderot, it is the coming together of objective and subjective, personal and rational, that informs Moscovici's discussion of Romanticism; however, while the "rational" takes on different forms for each author (ethics for Rousseau, epistemology for Staël, beauty for Diderot), the importance of passion is what unites them in their Romantic orientation.

For Moscovici, the link between art and emotion is what has made Romanticism so vulnerable (51-52). The emphasis on emotion has been seen as naïve by both modernism and postmodernism. Moscovici attempts to refute the idea of this naïveté with an analysis of Wordsworth's Preface to the Lyrical Ballads. In Moscovici's reading, Wordsworth presents a paradoxical vision of the artist that, for Moscovici, persists today, especially for Postromantic artists. She argues that Wordsworth's artist seeks to convey meaning yet has no faith in objectivity or the universal; Wordsworth's "Romantic" gives up on objective truth yet searches for an "elusive human essence" in whose existence the Romantic writer does not fully believe (56). Moscovici relates this paradoxical split to Baudelaire's notion of the éternel and the transitoire as she establishes a very [End Page 335] interesting interpretation of Baudelaire's famous theory of modern art. According to Moscovici's reading, Baudelaire gives up on demonstrating the eternal value of art yet he still wants to claim that eternal value as a hope or aspiration. Baudelaire's paradox led to a split in two directions: the giving up gave way to modernism and Postmodernism while the hope paved the way for artists like the Postromantics, though it is a hope that carries a hint of skepticism. The term "postromanticism" was coined by Moscovici herself in a piece she wrote online. Moscovici contended that modern art had gone too far into abstraction in the name of originality and autonomy such that art could no longer innovate or renew itself. She called for a return to figurative and representational art. Mexican artist Leonardo Pereznieto read Moscovici's piece and recognized his own æsthetic, adopting the name "postromantic." Other artists have followed (they can be found at Postromantic artists have three primary tenets: versimilitude, expression of emotion, and an emphasis on beauty and sensuality.

Moscovici is a strong reader of texts and she has some impressive analyses of familiar authors. She offers the possibility of an interdisciplinary way to view both the nineteenth century as well as those movements that followed. In general, however, Romanticism and Postromanticism is under-researched. Moscovici tends to give canonical accounts of authors and artists that ignore the vast corpus of criticism that has challenged and expanded on the canonical view. Her account of Impressionism, for example, almost resembles a canonical cliché. She writes that...


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