Imagination under Pressure, 1789-1832: Aesthetics, Politics, and Utility

Imagination under Pressure, 1789-1832: Aesthetics, Politics, and Utility

Imagination under Pressure, 1789-1832: Aesthetics, Politics, and Utility

Imagination under Pressure, 1789-1832: Aesthetics, Politics, and Utility

Synopsis

This ambitious study offers a radical reassessment of one of the most important concepts of the Romantic period--the imagination. In contrast to traditional accounts, John Whale locates the Romantic imagination within the period's lively and often antagonistic polemics on aesthetics and politics, focusing in particular on British responses to the French Revolution and the ideology of utilitarianism. Through detailed analysis of key texts by Burke, Paine, Wollstonecraft, Bentham, Hazlitt, Cobbett and Coleridge, this book seeks to restore the role of imagination as a more positive force within cultural critique.

Excerpt

The aim of this book is to offer a new understanding of the way in which 'imagination' functions in key texts of the Romantic period and in particular of the way in which it is involved in two moments of cultural crisis: the British response to the French Revolution and the reaction to utilitarianism. Imagination thus figures in this study as a point of access to larger definitions and arguments about aesthetics and 'representation'. My contention is that imagination is an integral and still undervalued component of cultural critique, both in this particular historical period and beyond. My chosen texts, with the possible exception of those by Coleridge and Hazlitt, are not the ones usually mustered to write a sympathetic and celebratory history of the creative faculty. Indeed for some of the writers I focus on, 'imagination' is predominantly a negative term; while for all of them it is problematic. My concentration on non-fictional prose writers in itself offers a revealingly different generic history of Romantic aesthetics, one which depends upon the necessarily discursive nature of such writing and one which avoids a preemptively celebratory account. It is a choice which I hope will implicitly and explicitly challenge some of our accepted notions of 'literariness' through this discursivity of both approach and materials. To see the production of different, often contradictory, notions of imagination in relation to cultural crises will enable us to uncover a sense of 'imagination' as an integral figure in cultural critique and as a complex, often creative, response to cultural change. in this respect, I hope that this study will enable us to see the particularity of different imaginations in the period rather than simply to replicate 'the Romantic Imagination' and its undeniably powerful history of appropriations. What follows then is offered up as a deliberate resistance, a strategic particularity, to the homogenising power of that intellectual, historical, and still active idea of 'the Romantic Imagination' and its associated Romanticism.

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