The State of the Art1
Chapter 3 pursues Chapter 2’s immanent critique of the new historicism. Whereas new historicism’s bedrock is epistemology—questions about the domain of rationality—metaphysics is the province of questions about reality. The change in Romantic poetry crystallizes in effects that resist our codes not through denial, displacement, or repression—the conditions for a hermeneutics of suspicion—but through something like indifference. We see a new kind of negativity. This version of Romanticism verges on withdrawal from the scene of interpretation, resistance to the depth hermeneutics of earlier Marxist criticism. It is enabled by Spinoza’s theory of conatus; the work of Sebastiano Timpanaro, whose Marxist historicism arises from the nature and biology side; and the notion of autopoeisis of neurophysiologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela. The relevant patterns in Romantic poetry are then illustrated through a reading of Wordsworth’s “Old Man Travelling: Animal Tranquillity and Decay.”
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