Romantic Poems, Poets, and Narrators

By Joseph C. Sitterson Jr. | Go to book overview


Introduction

Canonical Romantic poems have accumulated an unusually rich and complex history of readings over the past half-century, much of which is being ignored or misrepresented in contemporary criticism, theoretical and practical alike. If, as Jerome McGann has argued, “meaning, in a literary event, is a function not of 'the poem itself but of the poem's historical relations with its readers and interpreters,” then more is at stake than the history of criticism.1 Throughout this book I shall be representing these relations in terms very different than those deriving from, as Chris Baldick puts it, “market-driven notions of obsolescence and supersession” along with a “model of Oedipal conflict between individual critics”—both of which, he continues, encourage us “to believe that any older form of criticism is, once challenged by a newer rival, simply either bankrupted or buried.”2

The recent critical history of Romantics studies in particular may seem exemplary: new criticism is bankrupted by deconstruction, which in turn is bankrupted by new historicism; or, Cleanth Brooks is buried by Paul de Man, who in turn is buried by McGann. Baldick's own argument is, to the contrary, that “critical discussion at any given time” is characterized by “the simultaneous currency of several incongruous styles, methods, and schools of thought, some of them old enough to be

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