The Cast of Consciousness: Concepts of the Mind in British and American Romanticism

The Cast of Consciousness: Concepts of the Mind in British and American Romanticism

The Cast of Consciousness: Concepts of the Mind in British and American Romanticism

The Cast of Consciousness: Concepts of the Mind in British and American Romanticism


The contributors to this volume represent acknowledged experts in the field as well as a number of promising young scholars. They provide a thorough examination of how Romantic authors grappled with the problem of describing the connections between consciousness, unconsciousness, and language in their endeavor to capture this interplay in their art.


The nature lyric in Romantic poetry, Geoffrey Hartman observed, is "as much about consciousness as about nature," and "often about the development of consciousness." This concern with consciousness suffuses Romantic writing to an extent not seen before in Western literature. On both sides of the Atlantic, Romantic writers probed the capacities, limits, experiences, and mysteries of the mind.

Reacting to the revolutionary political, economic, social, philosophical, and religious movements of the period, Romantic authors questioned in new ways just what human beings could know, be, and do. Their investigations of awareness, understanding, and invention challenged particularly the theories of modern science and progress. In their explorations of dreams, visions, and the role of the unconscious in the creative process, Romantic writers not only refuted Locke, Hartley, and other Empiricists who regarded the operations of the mind merely as chemical and mechanical responses to sensory stimuli, but also anticipated the theories of Freud and Jung, especially Jung's theories of the collective unconscious and archetypal patterns.

The essays in this volume investigate the ways Romantic writers used language to try to capture the nature of knowing (consciousness) and the mysteries of the unknown or slightly seen (the unconscious). The title, The Cast of Consciousness, is purposeful. As the word cast suggests, these revolutionary writers sought to discard old ideas about language and literature and to mold new forms as they searched to recover in both literature and life the senses of human possibility and perversity in all their shapes. As these essays show, the Romantics puzzled over the shape of consciousness, the shadings of the individual and collective mind, and the molding energy of the mind that creates its own realities and delusions. These writers exposed the castings of the mind as it tests and fails. They pondered the mind that like Whitman's noiseless, patient spider casts its filaments exploratively for anchorage, the mind that violently erupts onto externals, and even, in the theatrical sense, the mind that assigns roles to itself and others in life as drama.

Among British Romantics, Wordsworth addressed the notion of consciousness most directly and frequently. Whereas the word consciousness does not figure significantly in the poetic vocabularies of Keats and Shelley, variations of the term occur prominently in the writing of Wordsworth, who has been called "our first and greatest border poet" in "the realms of . . .

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