The long-established scholarly project of a specifically literary history has often been called into question in recent decades, whether through challenges to the idea that literature constitutes a separate and distinct strand of culture or through critiques of the ideological and exclusionary bias in the concept of history itself. This is nowhere more the case than in literary studies of Romanticism, a period of Western culture whose intellectual coherence has been debated ever since its inception but which has been subject to particularly strong skepticism since the late 1960s. We have been shown through intricate close readings of its texts, that the “rhetoric of Romanticism,” anticipating late 20th-century poststructuralist theory, undermines belief that language can provide anything other than figures of speech; we have been told that this radical rhetorical shiftiness means that the major poetry of this period can do nothing more than gesture toward self-contradictory meanings, even as it does so with brilliant insight into its own blindness. We have also been told by critics engaged in cultural studies and ideology critique that the ideas of nature, myth, and the symbol-making imagination, unifying concerns of the Romantic movement for critics in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, are part and parcel of a self-mystified, politically reactionary “Romantic ideology.” A recent essay by Jerome McGann, who coined the latter phrase, asks bluntly, “Is Romanticism Finished?”
more from Walter L. Reed at nonsite here.