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296 KAREN A. WEISMAN Romantic Constructions KAREN A. WEISMAN Gilbert Chaitin, Karen Hanson, et aI. editors. Romantic Revolutions: Criticism and Theory Indiana University Press 1990 Herbert Lindenberger. The History in Literature: On Value, Genre, Institutions Columbia University Press 1990 Gene Ruoff, editor. The Romantics and Us: Essays on Literature and Culture Rutgers University Press 1990 Since the appearance in 1983 ofJerome McGann's The Romantic Ideology, it has been virtually axiomatic that literary criticism - especially the literary criticism of Romanticism- hasinadvertently relinquished theculturalself-consciousnesswhich defines responsible distance, as it were, between one's subject and oneself - one's literary critical self, that is.1 Indeed, if Romanticists are sure of nothing else these days, it is that the self, so lately under sentence of death, has received not only a reprieve, but an enthusiastic, if somewhat qualified, public vindication. For, whatever ideological commitments to the self's absorption within communal norms are current on the contemporary critical scene, it is self-consciousness that will save us from the sins of wholesale (and naIvely facile) appropriation of our inherited cultural contexts, and it is the critically situated self, which knows itselfas a situated self, that will provide us with the means with which to survey the 'spirit of the age' of Romanticism from within a hypersensitivity to the putative spirit of our own age.2 These three books attempt to engage the current debates over the ideological implications of Romantic criticism and of Romantic continuities within contemporary culture. All three bear testimony to the current predilection for situating the self, a self largely enmeshed within Romantic constructs of the interiorized self, of subjectivityl and of the internalized quest romance. We are virtually helpless to conceive of Romanticism because we have been.conceived by Romanticism. Almost everybody has something to say, then, about the dangers lurking within Romantic modes of discourse; very few have found a way to escape the rhetoric of negation by which the academy has lately been attending to the deconstructionofour culturally inherited ills. Like Shelley'5 exclamations about the simultaneous virtues and limitations of the 'intellectual philosophy/ this rhetoric 'establishes no new truth, it gives us no additional insight into our hidden nature, ' neither its action, nor itself ... It reduces the mind to that freedom in which it would have acted, but for the misuse of words and signs, the instruments of its own creation.,J What we must ask, finally and inevitably, is not 'Is there a text in this class?' but rather whether we even want any readers for the texts - the real, physical, printed texts - which we do teach in our classes anyway. ROMANTIC CONSTRUCfIONS 297 Herbert lindenberger's book is important because it marks something of a full critical circle, one which moves from readerly zeal to professorial scepticism and back again to hints of a renewed interest in actually reading canonized texts. lindenberger's work on Wordsworth and Romanticism during the past generation has been influential and important, but like most critics who have recently taken up the mantle of new historicism, he has recently sought to qualify his past ways, to make amends for a presumed naIvety which he has surely outgrown and which, so the familiar story increasingly goes, too many of us have not yet even recognized. Lindenberger attempts to distinguish 'old historicism' from what he prefers to call 'new History': old historicism, he explains, produced a critic who 'was essentially the guardian of tradition, a glorified custodian whose task was the preservation and transmission of what had long since passed as sanctified. Self-effacement was his characteristic stance as he confronted those great works he felt himself elected to keep intact for the posterity he could confidently assume would be revering them in future centuries' (191). How could we ever have been so stupid? Lindenberger is attacking the enemy at its weakest point, though he charitably frames the charge as the merely benevolent chastisement of the newly enlightened; he gives examples of how he himself used to teach Wordsworth's 'Resolution and Independence' in the bad old days of New Criticism (he sought to 'justify' its admixture of high and low styles and to celebrate Wordsworth's 'genius'), and...


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