Romanticism & Contemporary Culture


Laura Mandell, Miami University of Ohio

  1. On June 17, 2000, the Romantic Circles MOO hosted a conference called "Romanticism and Contemporary Culture." The papers appearing in this issue by Ron Broglio, Jay Clayton, Atara Stein, and Ted Underwood were first "delivered" at that conference. That is, shorter versions of these essays were posted on a web site, and then approximately ten people met in the MOO at a specific time to discuss them. Our discussion was extensive. We discussed how copyright law affects readings of contemporary cultural artifacts (it is extraordinarily expensive to quote contemporary musical lyrics); we thought about how methods for raising and lowering cultural capital differ between the Romantic era and our own time. The essays themselves are primarily about teaching Romanticism in the context of popular culture. During our virtual discussion, Atara coined the term "fan/academic" to describe similarities between the kinds of emotional cathexes fixating students to popular culture and academics to Romantic studies. In various ways, each one of these essays offers a plan for capitalizing on students' emotional investments in contemporary cultural artifacts as a way of bringing them to understand the past and then using that understanding to gain critical insight into the present.

  2. Broglio, Clayton, Stein, and Underwood describe what are clearly delightful pedagogical moments in the field of Romantic Studies. As ballast, then, we have added to this special issue a section titled "Presentism versus Archivalism" in order to address theoretically the problem of how the present moment enters into Romanticists' pedagogy and research. Not surprisingly, theory offers a darker view of fan/academicism, complicating our understanding of possible relations to the past. A separate introduction by Laura Mandell describes the debate more specifically, but basically we have reproduced in this issue of Praxis an essay by David Simpson attacking presentism, and then four defences of it by Phillip Barrish, Gregory Tomso, Jon Klancher, and Jerome McGann. Since Barrish and Tomso work in the field of nineteenth-century American literature, we can call this theoretical interlude "transatlantic."

  3. Both practically and theoretically, then, all the essays in "Romanticism and Contemporary Culture" try to think about the similarities and differences between the fan's love for pop culture and the academic's love for literary history. Fan/academicism is indeed a love story, Romantic to the core.