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558 BOOK REVIEWS Evan Gottlieb. Romantic Realities: Speculative Realism and British Romanti­ cism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016. Pp. 235. $130. Evan Gottlieb’s Romantic Realities: Speculative Realism and British Romanti­ cism is a timely arrival for many reasons, not only because it intervenes in the critical conversation over what exactly “Speculative Realism” is but also because it makes a case for what can be done with it in literary scholar­ ship. For those not currently familiar with Speculative Realism, or SR, it might be useful to establish its central idea, “correlationism,” even as we should heed Gottlieb’s reminder, per M. H. Abrams on Romanticism, that Speculative Realism is “no one thing” (8). Correlationism, Gottlieb writes, is “the belief—enshrined in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason . . . that we can only ever talk or think about reality in relation to our human subjectivity” (2). The result of correlationist thinking, so the argument goes, leaves hu­ mans stuck in an epistemological cul-de-sac, eternally wondering about our own thoughts and existences without being able to think ontologically about the larger world outside of those thoughts and existences. As Gottlieb points out, this is not philosophical ado about nothing, but rather a philosophy with sweeping implications for how we understand our rela­ tion to the world as well as how we think the humanities: “the problems we face today—especially the increasingly likely prospect of worldwide ecological catastrophe due to anthropogenic global warming—have mate­ rial dimensions that simply exceed the purview of the linguistic, critical, and epistemologically oriented approaches that have directed the humani­ ties for some time now” (4). By putting Speculative Realism into conversa­ tion with British Romanticism, Gottlieb throws these problems into relief while simultaneously roadmapping how humanistic study can think onto­ logically inside and outside of the correlationist circle. After all, Gottlieb reminds us, “striving to get our ontological accounts right can only help us improve our epistemological critiques” (234). One way to understand his book, then, is that it offers a kind of prolegomenon for how future literary study can profitably put Speculative Realism to work in service of the hu­ manities in general. Gottlieb’s contextualization of his book illuminates its distinctiveness in this regard. He briefly sketches the history ofRomantic criticism of the last fifty years, noting that it has been characterized by deconstructive theory before more recently being overtaken by New Historicist and ideological critiques. This critical turn, from the linguistic to the cultural, let’s say, reflects larger trends in literary studies, and also, to an extent, in the hu­ manities as a whole. In positioning his work as deviating from this trend, as well as from both deconstructive and cultural studies methodologies, Gottlieb explores a form of literary criticism that is only now beginning to SiR, 56 (Winter 2017) BOOK REVIEWS 559 make waves in Romanticism. And yet, while the trajectory of Romantic studies certainly supplies a historical literary-critical snapshot useful as a stand-in for other literary periods, it is not clear why British Romantic lit­ erature is of especial merit in demonstrating “ontological description” over epistemological or cultural or historical understanding ofthe world. Would not this be the case for all periods of literature, all writers? Gottlieb argues that turning to British Romanticism supplies a special case-study for this kind of ontological description because “the Speculative Realists jointly seek to break thought out of its Kantian prison and free us to speculate once more on reality itself” and, “since they were writing at a moment when Kantianism was not yet hegemonic, the Romantic poets already en­ joyed such freedom, albeit to varying degrees” (231). Perhaps so. But following such logic further suggests that other literary periods prior to Romanticism, and, hence, historically prior to Kantianism, would also be free from such correlationist constraints (as Gottlieb notes, Meillassoux identifies Berkeley, and not Kant, as the initial source of Kantian correlationism). Indeed, medieval scholars have been working with Specu­ lative Realism for some time. But this is a larger humanities disciplinary problem that Gottlieb’s book alone cannot solve. What Gottlieb’s book does brilliantly, though, is suggest a new approach to thinking about Romanticism and other...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2330-118X
Print ISSN
0039-3762
Pages
pp. 558-561
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-06
Open Access
No
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