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BOOK REVIEWS 111 Edward Larrissy. The Blind and Blindness in Literature of the Romantic Period. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007. Pp. viii+229. $99.99. Concerned with the figure of the blind man and with representations of blindness in Romantic-period poetry, Edward Larrissy’s is an intricate and subtle study. For Larrissy, blindness is a term open to much inflection. There is “the ‘ancient’ topos of the blind seer” (3), where the quotation marks round “ancient” serve less to scare than to open our eyes to the cul­ tural shaping involved in the notion of “ancientness.” There is the Enlight­ enment’s multi-faceted concern to “release all the blind from the dangers of that solipsism which might be encouraged by the privation of the most useful and informative of the senses” (24). And there is a Romantic-period sense that blindness is a condition that contrives to “mirror the complexity of contemporary accounts of. . . consciousness” (32). A dialectical argument half-shapes itself in the book, most fully articu­ lated in the fine chapter on Wordsworth, and yet is often dismantled before it is fully framed, partly because of Larrissy’s commendable reluctance to impose a simplifying scheme on his topic or texts. This dialectical argument proposes that the “inwardness of modernity” sets itself against, often in an “ironic and melancholy” way, what Larrissy calls “the power and con­ fidence of the ancient bard’s inward vision” (2—3). Modernity (that is, Ro­ manticism), for Larrissy, recognizes its historically relativistic situatedness. It is aware that it is engaged in “an exchange, involving both gain and loss, of ancient for modern inwardness” (3). The idea of such an “exchange” sur­ faces intermittently; it does not dominate or drive the book’s readings, and yet it is not a necessarily adverse criticism to say that the book’s underlying thesis is not always immediately apparent. Even in the first two pages, one is conscious of a struggle to define the guiding theme: Larrissy defines what his book is not about with the half-beleaguered clarity of someone deter­ mined not to be misunderstood, even as he amusingly worries lest his col­ lection of associated topics resembles “a Cubist collage”: This book, then, claims a significant influence of literary representa­ tions and philosophical discussions of the blind on Romantic-period writing, but does not claim that this is a matter of the frequent occur­ rence of the image of the blind visionary used in a straightforward fashion. Rather, it seeks to demonstrate the sometimes complex re­ lationship between this topos and other ways of representing the blind. (2) Appropriately, Larrissey refuses to settle for straightforwardness since the book is and is not a study ofRomantic debts and resistance to the Enlight­ enment. Drawn to this topic, the book remains fascinated by a wider pen­ umbra of concerns. It finds its pivot in the idea that the Romantics posSiR , 51 (Spring 2012) 112 BOOK REVIEWS sessed “a sophisticated sense” of the “historical situatedness and relativity” of the “inner self” (2). Larrissey argues that the Romantic period is the very reverse of an ahistorical Nirvana in which “dehistoricising lyricism” calls the shots. Rather, the book contends in its treatment of blindness that the Romantic period shows itselfunable to “conceive the lyrical impulse in a non-historical form” (32). Making this emphasis, it joins forces with those critics who have argued that the Romantic ideology, to the degree that it represents absorption in a supposedly false state of consciousness, is a be­ lated and itself misleading chimera. McCann’s The Poetics ofSensibility, it should be noted, makes an approv­ ing appearance in Chapter 2, “The Celtic Bard in Ireland and Britain,” where his application of the phrase “materialized mentality” to Janies Macpherson’s Ossian poems wins both praise and further reflection: “men­ tality” reasserts itself in Larrissy’s reading, which points out that “the very fact that readers feel compelled to debate the insubstantiality or otherwise of Ossian is in itselfsignificant” (46). The moment illustrates Larrissy’s abil­ ity to move with quick-footed agility between metaphysical and literary matters, and between particulars and generalizations in such a fashion that any resulting conclusion subjects itselfto...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2330-118X
Print ISSN
0039-3762
Pages
pp. 111-114
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-19
Open Access
No
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