“Turn thine angel eyes upon our western isle
which in full choir hails thy approach, O Spring”
-William Blake, “To Spring”
How true Blake’s words ring for this Chicagoan continuing to warm following the coldest winter on record. And so I write to wish all involved in the romantic studies blog(e)sphere a very collegial start to spring! Unsurprisingly, over the last few months, NGSC authors have continued to produce innovative work at a highly energetic pace. In what follows–and in my final such post of the year–I look back at some of what I found to be among the more incisive thoughts and ideas disseminated on the NGSC blog from January through April. NGSC authors wrote on topics of critical importance to a range of our constituents across the humanities (and beyond), covering such subjects as collaborative modes of engagement, the process building a trajectory of thought and insight between one’s undergraduate training and studies at the graduate level, to the place of economics and literature. We also published advice from established scholars in the field on preparing for comprehensive exams. The winter writing season was an important one for the NGSC.
The start to the year saw the publication of the blog’s first collaborative post, composed by Arden Hegele, artist in (e-)residence Nicole Geary, and myself on Romanticism and Geology. The piece took the form of a free flowing conversation, and ended up centering on how the material forms and discourses surrounding geology become factors of both romantic literary and contemporary art production. This allowed connections between nineteenth- and twentieth-century art and literature to become visible for us, particularly as creative investments in geology inform shared concerns with respect to art and politics. At an especially illuminating juncture in the dialogue, Arden acted as interlocutor for Nicole with the question of how she sees “geologically-inspired works of art,” including Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, as “engaging with the materiality of literary texts.” Nicole, in her response, connected geological form with the materials of textual production, observing that its “remarkable when you come upon stacked strata in the field and see rocks lined up like books on a shelf.” Importantly–and this accounts for one reason I find Nicole’s work as a sculptor and printmaker so fascinating–Nicole draws our attention so effectively to the way in which the earth itself comprises a geological field of signification to be made legible. Yet, like any text, it resists complete interpretation, offering breaches, lacunas, and other absences of meaning. “Volumes go missing,” Nicole reminds us. Excitingly, the series will be continued in May with a piece on the close reading of anatomical texts by Arden, NGSC Co-Chair, long time blog contributor, and Gothic studies specialist Laura Kremmel, as well as the ASU19C Colloquium member and specialist on romantic ideas of the undead Emily Zarka. So, look out for that.
Likewise, on the collaborative side of things, newly minted Ph.D. Candidate Kaitlin Gowan (also of the extraordinarily enterprising ASU19C contingent) wrote a fabulous and timely post on life after exams. There Kaitlin shares how she overcame the challenges of composing her dissertation prospectus. In doing so she made the vital point that, when faced with a daunting writing exercise, we so often do best to proceed by working ideas out out loud, with our colleagues. If, as Kaitlin reminds, our work depends on the passion we bring to it, and our colleagues prove crucial to reminding us of the enthusiastic group of scholars we’re part of as romanticists, the simple act of talking becomes a matter of tantamount importance for success in arriving at the point of being ABD.
In yet another innovative and inspiring post on the methods of literary analysis, Deven Parker’s January piece looked at Media Archaeology. There Deven nicely highlights processes of intellectual expansion in precisely the sort of seminar (in her case, “Media Archaeology” led by Lori Emerson) one might think at first unrelated to one’s earlier period-based work. Deven takes a point of departure from media archaeology’s imperative that we “expose structures of power embedded within the hardware of modern technology, revealing the ways in which media exert control over communication and provide the limits of what can be said and thought.” The result Deven extrapolates is an impetus to consider “texts from the inside out.” In turn, we are to question what books “tell us about the cultural conditions and constraints imposed by the media in which they were (and are) written, manufactured, and consumed.” It seems to me that the move to consider contemporary modes of production, and the theoretical modes of discourse they generate, so frequently proves critical for thinking about one’s own scholarship, even if it is primarily concerned with earlier periods. In addition, I would very much like to hear more from those of you reading the blog on what modes of contemporary media you enjoy thinking about, and the theoretical frameworks you utilize to do so.
Equal in brilliance for its bringing of the interdisciplinary to the fore of the blog, Renee Harris in a March post on “Use Value and Literary Work” zeroed in on how interests in romanticism and economics prove mutually illuminating. In a show of how the milestones in a graduate program lead one to the ideas that sustain important long-term work, Renee shared her justifications for her chosen comprehensive exam lists. At a key point, Renee contends that “The writers we study desire a lasting cultural influence. They seek to shape and correct, to play a significant role in cultural formation and the national story. I argue that this desire to influence and make a mark is a symptom of economic insecurity.” Indeed, it would seem that we need to understand to a much larger extent than we do the way in which such a bourgeois condition of pragmaticism informs the conditions of production with which we are concerned in the nineteenth century. I can’t wait to see how Renee will light the way to precisely this important frame of reference.
Last, on a similar front, blogger and interviewer extraordinaire Jennifer Leeds compiled words of wisdom from five scholars in our field on preparing for comprehensive exams. Perhaps the best of which comes from the medical humanities scholar Brandy Schillace, currently at Case Western University. Dr. Schillace made the salient point, which she was led to by her studies in theology, that “disciples ‘not worry’ about what they would say in advance. When the time came to speak, they would.” While I can only admit to my own experience in this regard, too often I feel as though I attempt to plan everything I say in advance, particularly with regard to my qualifying exams. This usually leads to unnecessary anxiety and less than fulfilling results. Hence, I find Dr. Schillace’s rejoinder a great one. We spend a good deal of time with ideas. Why wouldn’t we be heartened to know, and be confident that when we need them, the ideas will be there.
And with that I can sincerely say I look forward to another quarter of writing on the blog!
“Turn thine angel eyes upon our western isle