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

By Forest Pyle | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Eliot Sympathy, Or the Imagination of Community

"The Extension of Sympathies"

I have argued in the preceding chapters for the existence of a significant faultline in Romantic discourse, fully on the order of an "epistemological break," that is linked to the figure -- and failure -- of the imagination. To describe this as an "epistemological break" in the Althusserian sense is, I believe, the most accurate and productive way of describing what takes place in and after Romanticism. To call it an "epistemological break," then, and to name Shelley and Keats, as poets of the break, "materialist" poets, is not to assert in the Kuhnian sense the appearance of a new poetic "paradigm." The radical break we have described in Romantic discourse is just that, a rupture that remains the condition of social and cultural discourse. "Obviously," writes Althusser in "Lenin and Philosophy," the "epistemological break [that he attributes to Marx] is not an instantaneous event. . . . Whether or not we accept the fact, we are still inscribed in the theoretical space marked and opened by this break today. . . . [T]his break inaugurates a history which will never come to an end." 1 What we find in the Romantic poets of the "break" is not the announcement of a new poetics but -- now paraphrasing Althusser -- the declaration of a rupture with the imagination that opens the space for a new poetics.

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