- Vital Romanticism
Romanticism is vital. By this, I don't mean that the Romantics were all vitalists—although studies like Robert Mitchell's Experimental Life: Vitalism in Romantic Science and Literature certainly make the case for the concept's centrality to the Romantic era. I mean, instead, that Romanticism has an incredible, almost uncanny ability to remain vital to contemporary theoretical and sociopolitical concerns. My vision for the future of Romantic studies, then, is simple: that we remain committed to Romanticism's vitality. Among the many epochal turning points we face today, global warming and anti-racism are arguably the most critical. Fortunately, Romanticists need not abandon our field of expertise to address them.
The movement to expand the Big Six beyond its canonical boundaries to better recognize and interrogate the range of voices and worldviews in the Romantic era is already well under way. Manu Samriti Chander's Brown Romanticism: Poetry and Nationalism in the Global Nineteenth [End Page 110] Century, for example, expertly introduces a range of brown voices into our usual, more restricted Romantic conversations. Along similar lines, Katherine Bergren's The Global Wordsworth: Romanticism Out of Place looks at the repurposing of Wordsworth's voice in works by J. M. Coetzee, Lydia Maria Child, and Jamaica Kincaid. The work of making Romanticism equal to the pressing questions of anti-racism and globalization in our day must continue, and these studies show us the way.
Along an overlapping trajectory, Romantic scholars must also continue to shed light on the long-durational history of global warming, which is too frequently still considered to be only a contemporary problem. By showing how a volcano halfway around the globe caused the "Year without a Summer" that in turn inflected such works as Byron's "Darkness" and Keats's "Ode to Autumn," Gillen D'Arcy Wood's Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World expertly demonstrates the folly of trying to keep Romanticism within strict national or temporal boundaries. Similarly, David Higgins's British Romanticism, Climate Change, and the Anthropocene: Writing Tambora does yeoman's work showing how that eruption affected geohistorical as well as poetic accounts of extinction that continue to reverberate today. Such reverberations are perhaps nowhere better explored than in Chris Washington's Romantic Revelations: Visions of Post-Apocalyptic Life and Hope in the Anthropocene, wherein contemporary theory and geohistory combine to render a picture of Romanticism thoroughly invested in querying the possibilities for renewed life in modernity's always-already ruined contours.
What makes Romanticism so ripe for revaluation in ways that show its continued relevance to our own time? I don't claim to have a complete answer to this question—nor could I, since, as Joan Copjec has observed, the inability of any historical moment to completely articulate its own conditions is an unconditional fact of historical consciousness. The Romantics continually attempted such descriptions, however, and perhaps that is what makes their moment so germane to ours: in the midst of social and environmental upheavals, they strove to describe the coordinates of their era in terms both imaginative and clear-sighted. The best way to honor that commitment is to keep our scholarship as vital as their productions. [End Page 111]
Evan Gottlieb is Professor of English at Oregon State University and the author, most recently, of Engagements with Contemporary