Connected by the Ear: The Media, Pedagogy, and Politics of the Romantic Lecture by Sean Franzel (review)
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Connected by the Ear: The Media, Pedagogy, and Politics of the Romantic Lecture.
By Sean Franzel. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2013. x + 292 pages + 13 b/w illustrations. $39.95.

Sean Franzel’s illuminating and original study analyzes the institutions, cultures, and discursive practices of Romantic scholarly lecturing against the backdrop of contemporaneous concerns regarding political participation, national identity, social and medial change. The book is divided into two parts and six chapters. The first part, “Scholarly Persons, Scholarly Publics,” examines the relations between state and scholar, the subjectivities and rhetorical constructions of ‘public persons,’ and the role of the lecture in the transition to modern scholarly life. In framing his intervention in this section, Franzel gestures towards two closely connected sets of questions and intellectual traditions. On the one hand, he sees his work as a productive corrective to Jürgen Habermas’s classic study of the public sphere, which he faults for its lack of an “adequate account of scholarly and scientific life” (31). On the other hand, he addresses questions initially raised within the field of book history. If the period around 1800 witnessed the increased circulation of printed materials, which in turn transformed social relations and enabled new ways of thinking, how did this transition to a more modern medial environment modify scholarly discursive communities and modes of rhetorical performance?

The first chapter focuses on Kant’s influential conceptualization of the public sphere and print culture. Franzel’s central thesis is that, although Kant was crucial in reimagining knowledge production and the power of print, he held on to a “traditionalist view of lecturing” (43), which deprived the oral lecture of its public status and regarded the form as incapable of “generating a sense of membership in the virtual communities that print helped to create” (59). Kant’s views on scholarship and the [End Page 705] public sphere function as crucial points of comparison throughout the book, not least in the following chapter, which turns to the lecturing practices of Karl Philipp Moritz and his representation of public collectivities. Drawing on his published lectures, travelogues, and literary works, Franzel shows the extent to which Moritz reimagined the lecture as a “public, literary, and social event in its own right” (70) and broke with Kant’s understanding of popular discourse as “harmonizable with the aims of the absolutist state” (63).

If Moritz was an “important forerunner of subsequent experiments with the social, political, and aesthetic potential of public lecturing” (65), it is with Fichte that the Romantic lecture finds perhaps its most forceful, reflexive, and recognizable proponent. In the third chapter Franzel analyzes Fichte’s 1794 lecture series, Einige Vorlesungen über die Bestimmung des Gelehrten, as an attempt not only to transmit a set of ideas to his audience but, more radically, to enact “paradigmatic moments of interpersonal effectivity” (91) and inspire “a sense of common purpose and unified community” (93) through direct address and other rhetorical performances of social interaction.

Here Franzel raises additional questions about the medial status of the Romantic lecture, contrasting deconstructive approaches to Romanticism by figures such as Jacques Derrida and Paul de Man with the ‘double logic of remediation’ propagated by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin. What Franzel ultimately seeks to show—and this is what I would identify as one of the book’s most compelling claims—is that the deconstructive interpretation of Romanticism as a movement preoccupied with the voice and intent on feigning immediacy through various rhetorical operations tends to overlook the ways in which scenes of orality simultaneously drew attention to their own medial status and encouraged readers to reflect consciously on the act of mediation. According to Franzel, then, Romanticism is characterized not only by an active covering over of the materiality of print through figural attributions of voice. Fictional oral scenes reflect on and represent a kind of print logic, which foregrounds the movement of texts across space and time and acknowledges, even relies on, an indirect scene of address.

The entanglement of oral and print registers is explored in even greater detail in the second section of the book entitled “Fictions of Dialogue.” These final three chapters interrogate...