The Ideology of Imagination: Subject and Society in the Discourse of Romanticism

The Ideology of Imagination: Subject and Society in the Discourse of Romanticism

The Ideology of Imagination: Subject and Society in the Discourse of Romanticism

The Ideology of Imagination: Subject and Society in the Discourse of Romanticism


Exploring how the concept of the imagination is figured in some principal texts of English Romanticism, this book convincingly argues that this figuring is a deeply ideological activity which reveals important social and political investments. By attending to the textual figures of the imagination, the book sheds critical light not only on Romanticism but on the very workings of ideology.

To demonstrate his thesis, the author undertakes critical re-readings of four major Romantic authors - Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley, and Keats - and shows how the legacy of ideology and imagination is reflected in the novels of George Eliot. He shows that for each of these writers, the imagination is neither a faculty that can be presumed nor one idea among others; it is something that must be theorized and, in Coleridge's words, "instituted." Once instituted, Coleridge asserts, the imagination can address England's fundamental social antagonisms and help restore national unity. More pointedly, the institution of the imagination is the cornerstone of a "revolution in philosophy" that would prevent the importation of a more radical - and more French - political revolution.

In the process of re-reading the Romantic tradition, the author undertakes a critical reconsideration of the articulations between Marxism and deconstruction, particularly as expressed in the work of Louis Althusser and Paul de Man.


On the back cover of Arabesques -- Anton Shammas's fine and difficult novel about the politics of memory, language, and identity between Palestine and Israel -- one finds among the enthusiastic notices the following excerpt from a review in the Seattle Times Post: Arabesques, writes Richard Wakefield, "is a triumph of the healing power of the imagination over the fragmenting force of politics."

The remark does not address the role of the imagination in Romantic, discourse, nor does it tell us anything interesting about the role of the imagination in contemporary literature or culture. And readers of Arabesques will note immediately how the remark misses everything at stake in Shammas's compelling novel. But I preface my study with such a passage because of its value as a symptom: it demonstrates the tenacious purchase that the inherited notion of the imagination continues to maintain on our models of culture, interpretation, and evaluation. The imagination is often taken without question by the journalist or critic or teacher to be the guiding principle of literary production. Few received ideas of literary history have become more inflated by the nature of their circulation or have had a more mystifying effect than the "imagination," but its persistence as received idea is precisely a testimony to its ideological force, in this instance as a "healing power," as an agent of meaning and redemption.

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