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Seminar 1 – “When foresight sleeps”: Hope, Progress, and The Prelude
Seminar Leader: Mark Canuel, University of Illinois at Chicago
Respondent: Mary Favret, Johns Hopkins University
Time: Thursday, August 13 @ 2:45 p.m.
This seminar concentrates mainly on the “Revolutionary” books of the 1805 Prelude, along with the residence in Cambridge in book 3. I depart from two prominent modes of addressing the politics of Wordsworth’s great poem, as either reflected in overt claims of affiliation or as submerged by the imagination (the two prominent alternatives provided by new historicism). I argue instead that Wordsworth’s work is absolutely “political,” but only insofar as political progress—a movement from one state of affairs to another better one—is an object of hope rather than expectation or action. So resolute is Wordsworth in viewing politics as hope—theoretically midway between Richard Rorty’s liberal hope and David Harvey’s more activist “spaces” of hope—that even ideal educational and ecclesiastical institutions in book 3 are ideal insofar as they are hopeful rather than completely realized by an agent or group of agents. I discuss the implications of this for Wordsworth’s political-aesthetic project in The Prelude (its connection to epic as a nation- and empire-building genre) and beyond.
Seminar 2 – Romantic Historicism and Its Discontents
Seminar Leader: Nicholas Halmi, Oxford University
Time: Friday, August 14 @ 1:15 p.m.
This seminar will consider what I take to be the central paradox and a defining characteristic of Romantic historicism, namely its resistance to the implications of its own principle of the historicity of culture. Emerging as a critique of an Enlightenment universalism, it assumed the form of a self-critique, the burdensome inheritance of which can be seen much later in the lamentation by Wilhelm Dilthey, one of the first academics to study Romanticism as a period, of the “irreconcileable contradiction” between the finitude of historical phenomena and “universally valid cognition”. James Chandler has rightly emphasized an analogy between Romantic anthropology and historiography in their frustration of universalizing judgements about human nature. But the notions (singled out by Chandler) of culture in the one and of epochs or periods in the other afforded early historicizing thinkers with the means of recuperating, if incompletely and never in entirely good faith, the very universalist claims that their historicism undermined. Looking at some foundational figures in the historicist interpretation of culture, like Winckelmann, Herder, Buffon, and Thomas Warton, I want to explore manifestations of Romantic historicism’s anti-historicist tendencies and to propose a new definition of nostalgia for the period’s intense preoccupation with the past.
Seminar 3 – Village Politics and the Power of the Labouring-Class Word
Seminar Leader: Lisa Vargo, University of Saskatchewan
Time: Saturday, August 15 @ 12:45 p.m.
This seminar considers a work that was intended to curtail rights—Hannah More’s 1792 Village Politics, which was written to oppose Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man. More creates a dialogue between sensible Jack Anvil the blacksmith and Tom Hod the mason who has become an advocate of liberty and Paine addressed to “all the mechanics, journeymen and day labourers in Great Britain.” Jack repeatedly exposed Tom’s naivety and the error of his views. The pamphlet inspired More to create The Cheap Repository Tracts which did their share to bring Britain away from revolutionary ideas to political conservatism. It is interesting to note that Village Politics went through a number of revisions and updating on More’s part into the nineteeth century. She seems to have felt that it was a key text among her writings that might sway public opinion.
While this might seem a rather perverse choice of texts for a conference devoted to Romanticism and Rights, I would like to explore how her text unwittingly demonstrates an unacknowledged power of the labouring-class word. An irony exists in that through the adoption of labouring-class rhetorical strategies—More suggested the work “ is as vulgar as heart can wish”—her message is undone by her adoption of the labouring word and ultimately suggests its power and efficacy and rich potential for change. I wish to test this argument through a close examination of the text including its revisions. Potential seminar participants are likely familiar with “Village Politics”; electronic copies can be found at http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/ecco/004847021.0001.000/1:2?rgn=div1;view=toc and https://archive.org/details/villagepolitics00moregoog.