Constellations of a Contemporary Romanticism

Constellations of a Contemporary Romanticism

Constellations of a Contemporary Romanticism

Constellations of a Contemporary Romanticism

Synopsis

Constellations of a Contemporary Romanticism takes its title and point of departure from Walter Benjamins concept of the historical constellation, which puts both contemporary and romanticism in play as period designations and critical paradigms. Featuring fascinating and diverse contributions by an international roster of distinguished scholars working in and out of romanticism from deconstruction to new historicism, from queer theory to postcolonial studies, from visual culture to biopolitics this volume makes good on a central tenet of Benjamins conception of history: These critics grasp the constellation into which our own era has formed with a definite earlier one. Each of these essays approaches romanticism as a decisive and unexpired thought experiment that makes demands on and poses questions for our own time: What is the unlived of a contemporary romanticism? What has romanticisms singular untimeliness bequeathed to futurity? What is romanticisms contemporary redemption value for painting and politics, philosophy and film?

Excerpt

Jacques Khalip and Forest Pyle

In his theses “On the Concept of History,” the final text he bequeathed to the future, Walter Benjamin proposed a model of historical thought quite different from a historicism that tells “the sequence of events like the beads of a rosary.” More kairological than chronological, Benjamin’s understanding of history postulates that “the past carries with it a temporal index by which it is referred to redemption.” According to Benjamin, any “document of culture” from any historical epoch may be redeemed in the constellations that crystallize between past and present. “There is,” writes Benjamin, “a secret agreement between past generations and the present one” (390). the task of the critic, according to Benjamin, is to make good on the terms of that agreement and, in the process, to conjure something mutually illuminating in the two-way street of past and present.

This collection of essays takes its title and its point of departure from Benjamin’s concept of the constellation, a concept that puts both historical terms, “contemporary” and “romanticism,” in play as period designations, critical dispositions, and aesthetic practices. Indeed, there are as many “romanticisms” as there are “Romanticisms,” and one small but telling index of this multiplicity is the variation in lower-and uppercase deployments of the term. Like the “a” in différance, the r/R is read but not heard, unnamable (and uncontainable) even as it is named. Despite the diversity of methodological orientations on display in the book, each of the chapters realizes and explores, in various modes and cumulatively across a wide range of texts, a central tenet of Benjamin’s conception of history, “the constellation” that our “own era has formed with a definite earlier one” (397), in this case the era we designate as Romantic. For Benjamin, the constellation as image served less as the temporal measure of the difference between the past and the present (and, as a consequence, of their inextricable relationship) and more as a structure for interpreting the “now” as the event of a seizure, a grasping . . .

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