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Reviews385 Preromanticism, by Marshall Brown; xiv & 500 pp. Stanford : Stanford University Press, 1991, $45.00. Preromanticism is a period designation that has generally fallen into disfavor as too teleological, but this very aspect of the term is what attracts Marshall Brown to it. In this fine book Brown argues that the later eighteenth century was preromantic "precisely because it was notyet romantic" (p. 2); it was a period in which the "great authors were striving ahead for something new, and when they failed to identify a goal, they were left powerless" (p. 3). What hindered the age's great writers from writing was the absence of concepts and styles of expression adequate to the problems they confronted: the articulation of selfconsciousness , the delineation of transcendental forms of time and space, the demarcation of internal divisions within a totality of sensibility, the rapprochement of objective world and subjective self. These problems Brown traces in masterful analyses of several of the period's major figures—Gray, Collins, Young, Cowper, Goldsmith, Sheridan, Beaumarchais, Schiller, and Sterne— concluding that it is only in Wordsworth and the romantics that these questions are given a stylistically and conceptually satisfactory response. Yet Brown's account is no mere repetition of earlier regressive and reductive dismissals of sensibility as failed romanticism, for he excels at capturing the specificity of the age's imagination. His analysis of the "urbane sublime," for example, is a superb apologia for the poetics of Gray, Collins, and Young, revealing as it does the discretion, sociability, informality, and variability of a style in which "everything is intermediate, nothing absolute; everything in flux, nothing fixed" (p. 35). Likewise, his extended discussion of The Vicar ofWakefield makes understandable—and defensible—the eighteenth century's enthusiastic reception of Goldsmith's novel, which provided "a new kind of spatialized story whose beginning, middle, and end are all surveyed from a timeless controlling vantage point, and a new kind of temporalized character that develops without a fixed essence" (pp. 179-80). Brown excels as well at close readings of individual texts, and his broadly comparativejuxtaposition of philosophical and literary works often yields startling and compelling insights. His discussion of hope in Bowles, Hölderlin, and Marcel, for instance, establishes an unexpected and highly suggestive context for an extended treatment of the imagery of stones in Wordsworth's poetry. Kant and Rousseau help clarify Cowper's achievements in The Task and, in perhaps the most daring section of the book, after establishing Sheridan's complex relationship to neoclassical conventions, Brown argues—convincingly, I believe—that Deleuze and Guattari's schizoanalysis brings to light central aspects of The Schoolfor Scandal. If Brown is to be challenged, it will have to be on the broadest grounds, for if one accepts his central presuppositions, the conclusions he reaches are per- 386Philosophy and Literature suasive. His "postdialectical" method, which values "consciousness as much for what it saves or restores as for what it produces" (p. 377), allows him a flexibility and subüety that softens the edge of his essentially teleological historiography, since it enables him to account for writers' synoptic appropriations of the past as well as their synthetic gestures toward the future. Yet finally one must decide whether the later eighteenth century was indeed struggling with problems that romanticism eventually solved, or whether a more decisive break must be established at the end of the century, one that divides the preromantics and romantics along a fault-line of incommensurable questions and incompatible projects. Preromanticism is no light after-dinner read. Dense, learned, and spare in its citation of primary texts, it presupposes considerable familiarity with the works of the period and with a broad range of issues in contemporary literary theory. Yet ifits demands are heavy, its rewards are substantial. This is a major achievement , an artfully written and carefully articulated contribution to the theory of literary history, and a powerful interpretation of eighteenth-century literature with which all scholars in the field will have to contend. University or GeorgiaRonald Bogue Political Theory and Postmodernism, by Stephen K. White; xiv& 153 pp. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991, $39.50 cloth, $12.95 paper. Suppose we were to cross Jürgen Habermas with Martin Heidegger...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 385-386
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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