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  • A Blue Delphinium
  • Jacques Khalip (bio)

In the midst of the end of the world, it's hard not to reflect urgently on the end of a field, even if something like the extinction of romantic studies seems to weigh less in our current meltdowns. But it would only weigh less if we were to think that what we write about is merely a neoliberal, bureaucratized preoccupation that is cut off from the world. In fact, we write and think within this inescapably antagonistic world, one of viral infection, anti-Blackness, and class inequality. This world saturates romanticism, and, in turn, romanticism has always responded with a sense of its own complicity and its difference, its complicated refusal to be not at one with itself. It is also important to think for whom the question of the end of a field matters, to be sure, and how it unequally affects us as scholars—graduate and undergraduate students, tenured/tenure-track/non-tenure stream faculty, readers, and writers. Institutional crises about the end of the field aren't new, and have been debated for decades. I do not wish to rehearse them, even though I think that these emergencies have often been met with ineffectual protestations or a shrug of the shoulders. What I do want to insist upon is the necessity of reading the end of the field as a problem of and for romantic thinking, not one to be easily overcome through administrative effort (we haven't succeeded), but rather one that deserves to be dwelled within its own rubble. What does it mean to think with and through a field at an end, and what kind of thought does that end demand?

In my book Last Things, I cited a passage from William Godwin's Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) where he imagines a kind of immortalized thinking taking place under extreme conditions of planetary refusal:

The men therefore who exist when the earth shall refuse itself to a more extended population, will cease to propagate, for they will no longer have any motive, either of error or duty, to induce them. In addition to this they will perhaps be immortal. The whole will be a people of men, and not of children. Generation will not succeed generation. … There will be no war, no crimes, no administration of justice as it is called, and no government… Every man will seek with ineffable ardour the good of all. Mind will be active and eager, yet never disappointed.1 [End Page 133]

Returning to this passage now, I am simultaneously outraged and moved by Godwin's masculinist fantasy, and it is important to keep these two dispositions together. Outraged because the remains of thinking and world-building are afforded by Godwin's inhuman characters for whom the fantasy of mind overcoming the body occurs in the face of their alienated status on Earth. In this way, they are not merely last men, but an anointed clerisy—the 1 percent of a staid romantic future. But what also moves me is that these thinkers are not curators or stewards of a "field," but rather figures for thinking ruinously, which is to say a thinking that is non-reparative, derealizing, and permeable to the non-developmental differences that damage brings. Their thinking bears no proper end, and it necessarily occurs at the end: they think the queer ruination of propagation, redemption, the narrative of the "life" and "death" of a field, all without the retrospective stances of loss. Godwin's dwellers abjectly survey a waning field not through curatorial recoveries of the past, re-periodizations (dissolving the specificity of romanticism in the solvent of "the long nineteenth century"), or normative prescriptions of relevant or irrelevant approaches, but by taking seriously what ruined thinking dissembles, and what kinds of inequalities, inadequacies, and unraveled relationalities it lays bare. What does it mean to think with and through ruin otherwise, not as false consciousness or an ideology of evasion, but as the site of compromise and of romanticism's ruination?

Jacques Khalip

Jacques Khalip is Professor of English at Brown University, and the author of Anonymous Life: Romanticism and Dispossession (2009) and Last Things...


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pp. 133-134
Launched on MUSE
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