Romantic Moods: Paranoia, Trauma, and Melancholy, 1790–1840
JHU Press, 2005 M10 20 - 572 páginas
Thomas Pfau reinterprets the evolution of British and German Romanticism as a progress through three successive dominant moods, each manifested in the "voice" of an historical moment. Drawing on a multifaceted philosophical tradition ranging from Kant to Hegel to Heidegger—incorporating as well the psychosocial analyses of Freud, Benjamin, and Adorno—Pfau develops a new understanding of the Romantic writer's voice as the formal encryption of a complex cultural condition.
Pfau focuses on three specific paradigms of emotive experience: paranoia, trauma, and melancholy. Along the trajectory of Romantic thought paranoia characterizes the disintegration of traditional models of causation and representation during the French Revolution; trauma, the radical political, cultural, and economic restructuring of Central Europe in the Napoleonic era; and melancholy, the dominant post-traumatic condition of stalled, post-Napoleonic history both in England and on the continent.
Romantic Moods positions emotion as a "climate of history" to be interpretively recovered from the discursive and imaginative writing in which it is objectively embodied. Pfau's ambitious study traces the evolution of Romantic interiority by exploring the deep-seated reverberations of historical change as they become legible in new discursive and conceptual strategies and in the evolving formal-aesthetic construction and reception of Romantic literature. In establishing this relationship between mood and voice, Pfau moves away from the conventional understanding of emotion as something "owned" or exclusively attributable to the individual and toward a theory of mood as fundamentally intersubjective and deserving of broader consideration in the study of Romanticism.
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Excerpt from review by Tom Duggett in 'Romanticism' (13:1), 90-92; full text available at:
This innovative book seeks to gain ‘access to history’ through the ‘(re-)construction of emotion as an aesthetic form’ (24), with the foundational premise that the ‘formal consistency’ of every cultural artefact and historical narrative necessarily bears the legible imprint of ‘missed’ historical experience (25). As Pfau puts it (in prose both bureaucratic and baroque):
"When approached as a latent principle bestowing enigmatic coherence on all social and discursive practice at a given moment, ‘mood’ opens up a new type of historical understanding: no longer referential, thematic, or accumulatively contextual. Rather, in its rhetorical and formal-aesthetic sedimentation, mood speaks – if only circumstantially – to the deep-structural situatedness of individuals within history as something never actually intelligible to them in fully coherent, timely, and definitive form." (7)
The resulting approach is frequently highly productive. Particularly impressive are the second and third chapters that relate a broad sample of 1790s ‘social and discursive practice’ (the Revolution pamphlets of Burke, Wollstonecraft and Paine, the prophetic poetry of William Blake, William Godwin’s ‘terrorist novel’ Caleb Williams (1794), the cartoons of Sayers and Gillray, and the legal arguments of the 1794 treason trials) to a prevailing ‘mood’ of paranoia. Chapter six, focused on melancholy and the deconstruction of high Romantic interiority in Keats, argues persuasively against the historicist tendency to correlate a poem like ‘To Autumn’ with specific events like the Peterloo massacre, since ‘the very particularity of that calamitous event … renders it ill suited as a semantic framework’ for such a ‘carefully stylized’ lyric (341).
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