Romanticism: A State of the Union

Inspired by the President’s recent State of the Union address, I have decided to offer you, my Romantic brethren, a review of the state of Romantic studies. Despite our brooding Byronic ways, our Union is getting stronger. The house of cards may indeed have fallen, but our field is not languishing on the marble steps. Moneta will come!
::obligatory applause break::
The 2010 NASSR Conference in Vancouver, British Colombia took the idea of “Romantic Mediations” as its theme. Participants were encouraged to submit proposals that explored communication technologies and print culture. As the call for papers makes clear, “The era that saw the invention of semaphore, telegraphy, the continuous-feed press, and the difference engine, the Romantic in all its senses might be characterized as a period of significant experimentation in media and ideas of mediations” (NASSR). While many papers engaged with new inventions and their effects on Romantic era works – I heard an excellent paper regarding the influence semaphore had on theatrical gesturing practices – others utilized the concepts and language of media and mediation in order to offer new and perhaps more precise ways of engaging with and understanding key Romantic writers and texts.
The issues and concerns of last year’s NASSR conference are also being addressed by McGill University’s ongoing collaborative endeavor “Interacting with Print: Cultural Practices of Intermediality 1700-1900.” Founded in 2005, the interdisciplinary and interinstitutional research group headed by Susan Dalton, Andrew Piper, Tom Mole and others sets out to investigate “how people interacted with printed matter, how they used print media to interact with other people and how printed texts and images interacted within complex media ecologies.” The group focuses on the relations and interactions between various media. In order to more accurately, in its terms, “situate” print, the collaborative group sets out to debunk three prevalent scholarly “myths”: that print displaced other media, that print equals letterpress or engraving, and that print culture is national culture. In the online manifesto for “Interacting with Print,” the group claims that their “research activities will provide a more specific understanding of print’s place in the production, dissemination and reception of culture in a period that saw the development of mass media.” Print, as this quotation makes clear, was only one of many mediums for producing and disseminating culture and oftentimes incorporated other forms of media such as printed images.
Together, the conference and working research group speak to a set of issues being addressed by current critics of the Romantic period. Many scholars, including myself, have asked why this interest in media and mediation is emerging at the present moment. I believe that the answer, at least in part, lies in the new descriptions and definitions of the Romantic period and Romanticism offered by thinkers like Walter Ong and Friedrich Kittler. In his 1982 work Orality and Literacy, Ong claims that the Romantic desire for “autonomous utterance” is facilitated by print and speaks to the “alliance of the Romantic movement with technology” (158). That is, print mediates the Romantic desire for interiority and individuality. According to Ong, there is a clear correlation between the mediums of Romantic art, in this instance print, and the prevalent artistic ideology of the period. Relying on and citing Ong’s work with notable frequency, John David Black’s recent book The Politics of Enchantment: Romanticism, Media, and Cultural Studies labels Romanticism as one of the effects of print: “Coming some three centuries after the invention of the mechanical press, romanticism was the mature cultural expression of the cumulative effects of Gutenberg’s breakthrough” (134). This quotation makes Romanticism the result of the proliferation of print that started with Gutenberg’s press.
Similarly to Ong, Kittler’s landmark work Discourse Networks 1800/1900, published in 1985 in the original German and translated into English in 1990, draws attention to the relationship between media and Romanticism. Especially important to Kittler’s text is Foucault’s essay “Maurice Blanchot: The Thought from Outside.” In this early work, Foucault develops what David Wellbery calls “a lexicon of exteriority” (xii). The French thinker sets out to distinguish between language itself and “the apparatuses of power, storage, transmission, training, reproduction, and so forth that make up the conditions of factual discursive occurrences” (Wellbery xii). Like Foucault before him, Kittler’s work situates what is said or written in a secondary position and instead focuses on these “apparatuses.” His decision to title his 1987 follow up work Gramophone, Film, and Typewriter further underscores the important role communication and storage apparatuses play in his thinking. For Kittler, scholars are always dealing with media, with the technological possibilities of any given epoch because it is through the media of a given moment that “something like “poetry” or “literature” can take shape” (Wellbery xiii). As Thomas Streeter points out, Kittler “suggests that one should understand romanticism, not as a collection of texts or a historical period, but as a way of organizing discourse through practices of writing, reading, and relating” (777). Streeter and other critics, however, also feel that Kittler’s work often places too much emphasis on technologies and, at times, veers towards techno-determinism. Yet, these criticisms aside, the German thinker’s influence over contemporary literary studies in general as well as Romantic criticism is undeniable.
Clifford Siskin and William Warner’s collection of essays, This Is Enlightenment, elaborates upon the ideas present in Discourse Networks as well as Gramophone, Film, and Typewriter. The two critics argue that every history constructed by literary scholars has its benefits but a history of what they term “mediation” has the potential to “clarify both the singularity of each local event and what those events have in common” (11). They “use “mediation” here in its broadest sense as shorthand for the work done by tools, by what we now call “media” of every kind – everything that intervenes, enables, supplements, or is simply in between” (4). In this passage we can begin to see the similarities to Ong, Foucault, and Kittler’s focus on the technologies and “apparatuses” of given historical moments. Siskin and Warner, who were the keynote speakers at the NASSR conference referred to at the start of this post, show that “mediation was always necessary but the forms of mediation differ over time” and therefore there exists “a history of mediation” (9). Under this new framework, the Enlightenment becomes “an event in the history of mediation” (1). The Enlightenment was facilitated by a historically specific set of forms of mediation such as print, reading, writing, and other associational and relational practices.
Naturally, redefining the Enlightenment in such a manner leaves critics of the Romantic and Victorian eras asking what place in the new history their own periods hold. Siskin and Warner address this question in their 2011 article in The European Romantic Review, “If this is Enlightenment, Then What Is Romanticism?” According to the article, “Enlightenment is an event, Romanticism is an eventuality, and Victorianism is a variation” (290). The forms of mediation do not change or proliferate in equal measure. That is, some moments, in this instance the Enlightenment, have both a greater variety and number of forms of mediation than others. The claim that Romanticism can be seen as an “eventuality” also reflects John David Black’s claim that Romanticism is the “mature cultural” result of the Gutenberg press.
If the “apparatuses” of storage, transmission, communication, etc. are worthwhile objects of inquiry and if the Enlightenment is an event in the history of mediation, then how is the current scholar of the Romantic period to engage with and comment upon a work or a collection of works? Or, as John Richetti asks in his review of the This Is Enlightenment collection, “How would foregrounding mediation change the kinds and areas of inquiry in our own epoch?”
Yours in Romanticism,
Randall Sessler, NYU

General Notes on the Proceedings of the Vancouver 2010 Meeting

Notes on the Proceedings of the NGSC Caucus Meeting
August 21, 2010 – Vancouver, BC
A special “thank you” to all who attended our inaugural NGSC meeting at the NASSR conference in Vancouver last weekend! The general interest and enthusiasm expressed by those present bodes well for the future or this organization.
With many helpful suggestions from attendees, we accomplished the primary task of the meeting: to review, amend, and ratify NGSC bylaws. These bylaws will soon be posted on the NGSC blog and website in their updated form, and will remain in effect for the coming year.  Amendments may be proposed via email for consideration at next year’s caucus meeting.
We also announced the need to fill several positions on the NGSC Executive committee (visit this blog post for details).  Those interested should submit a CV and Statement of Purpose addressed to our Faculty Advisors (Jill Heydt-Stevenson and Deidre Lynch) by Friday September 10th, 2010. Submit your application materials to
Finally, the meeting witnessed a grand unveiling of the NGSC website. This will eventually replace the blog, and will be linked to the main NASSR page.  For now, it remains hidden from search engines and will undergo some further construction before going completely live. Those interested in viewing the website and making suggestions for items to include on it should visit the blog for details.
In addition to the caucus meeting, The NGSC hosted a special session at the NASSR Conference titled “’What is now proved was once only imagin’d’: or, What Every Graduate Student Should Know About Journal Publication.”  Featuring panelists from the editorial boards of several prominent journals, the session explored graduate students’ most frequently asked questions about publishing. A distillation of notes from the panel will be posted on the NGSC blog.
Thank you again for your enthusiasm, energy, input and support! As always, we invite your suggestions on all subjects related to the NGSC, by email, blog comment, or Facebook Group. With your help, we look forward to a productive and dynamic new year of building and improving the NASSR Graduate Student Caucus.
Kelli Towers Jasper, Secretary
and the NGSC Executive Committee
August 25th, 2010

Inaugural Meeting of the NGSC!

The inaugural meeting of the NGSC has been scheduled to immediately follow the roundtable on journal publication.
Date: Saturday, August 21st
Time: noon – 1:30.
Location: same room as roundtable on journal publication
At this meeting we’ll introduce and vote on the bylaws, announce interim positions that will be open for application, demo our web presence, and discuss the future of the caucus and ways for you to get involved!

Our Abstracts – Send Us Yours!

In an effort to start sharing our vast collection of graduate work and ideas, a few of us on the NGSC board would like to share with you our abstracts for the upcoming NASSR conference. They are posted below, just click on the “read more” button to see them.
Please send us your abstracts (see my email below) that have been accepted *for any conference* – it doesn’t have to be NASSR – and I’ll post them to the blog. Please include your name, institution, conference title, and email. I think we’d all love to know more about each other’s work and we can also look for each other’s presentations to support our grad colleagues at professional events.
Thanks! Kirstyn (
[abstracts are in alphabetical order by author ] Continue reading “Our Abstracts – Send Us Yours!”

Speakers Announced for NGSC Publishing Roundtable at NASSR

The NGSC is thrilled to announce that the following panelists will be leading the NASSR roundtable on publishing: “‘What is now proved was once, only imagin’d’; or, What Every Graduate Student Should Know about Journal Publication.”
Confirmed Panelists:
Charles Rzepka (Studies in Romanticism)
Michael Eberle-Sinatra (RaVoN)
Fred Burwick, Benjamin Colbert, Regina Hewitt, and Diane Long Hoeveler (all four representing European Romantic Review).
*Time: Friday, August 20, 8:30 – 10:00 am.
*Place: TBD
Official Affiliated Session Announcement
NASSR Graduate Student Caucus
“‘What is now proved was once, only imagin’d’; or, What Every Graduate Student Should Know about Journal Publication”
In today’s highly competitive academic job market, journal publications are an essential component of an applicant’s overall profile. For many graduate students, however, the prospect of submitting an essay for publication can be a rather intimidating one. The new NASSR Graduate Student Caucus has therefore invited editors from some of the leading Romantic-era journals to help demystify this process. These experts will address issues such as what makes an outstanding journal article, what weaknesses they find specific to graduate student submissions, how they would describe the specific focus of their journal, and what is their journal’s stance on reviews written by graduate students. There will also be a substantial amount of time reserved for Q & A. This special session ultimately aims to empower future Romanticists with the information required to contribute to the larger scholarly community.

Inexpensive Hotels in Vancouver

Looking for a place to stay, but you’re on a budget or perhaps can’t afford the Coast Plaza or the other conference-sponsored hotels?  Try one of the following:
1) University of British Columbia Conference Center. $39-139. 5961 Student Union Blvd. (888) 822-1000.
2) Hostelling International Vancouver Jericho Beach Hostel. $20-$80. 1515 Discovery St., Vancouver, BC, V6R 4K5. (888) 203-4303.
3) Hostelling International Vancouver Downtown Hotel. $28-$80.  1114 Burnaby St. (at Thurlow St.), Vancouver, BC V6E 1P1. (888) 203-4302.
4) The Kingston Hotel. $65-$170. 757 Richards St., Vancouver, BC, V6B 3A6. (888) 713-3304.
5) YWCA Hotel/Residence. $63-$139. 733 Beatty St., Vancouver, BC, V6B 2M4. (800) 663-1424.
6) Buchan Hotel. $53-$138. 1906 Haro St., Vancouver, B.C. V6G 1H7. (800) 668-6654.
Happy Hotel Hunting!

–Terry F. Robinson

Getting to NASSR on a Grad Budget

I just booked my ticket to the conference this morning (this is Kirstyn here). Partly, I’d been waiting in vain for plane fare from Denver to Vancouver to miraculously drop below $500, and for the conference program to come out. However, thanks to the genius suggestion from my fellow CU-Boulder colleague John Leffel, I have found a way to get to NASSR for under $350:
Fly into Seattle (Sea-Tac) airport, then take Quick Shuttle to my Vancouver hotel.
If you’re going to do this, be sure to leave about 5-6 hours for the shuttle ride. Luckily, they advertise having free wifi. And don’t forget your passport, as obviously you will be crossing the border on the shuttle.
My plane ticket to Seattle was $250, then it looks like a round-trip student commuter bus ticket from Sea-Tac to Vancouver (and back again on Sunday) is $70-ish. You can also get 5% off of your booking price if you book your shuttle ticket online. My math is pretty awful, but I’m certain that’s cheaper than a $500-600 plane ticket. Hope this helps!

Cheap Eats in Vancouver

Looking for good places to eat, but you don’t want to spend a fortune?  Try the following, courtesy of Frommer’s Travel Guide, where meals run from $5 to $15 CAN.
1) SCIUE (pronounced shoe-eh).  Italian/Desserts/Coffee. 110-800 E. Pender St. (at Howe St.) (604) 602-7263 /
1) INCENDIO. Pizza. 103 Columbia St. (604) 688-8684
2) JULES. French bistro. 216 Abbott St. (604) 669-0033
3) PHNOM PENH RESTAURANT. Vietnamese. 244 E. Georgia St., near Main St. (604) 682-5777.
4) SALT. Charcuterie. 45 Blood Alley, Gastown. (604) 633-1912
1) BANANA LEAF. Malaysian. 1096 Denman St. (604) 683-3333.
2) GYOZA KING. Japanese. 1508 Robson St.(604) 669-8278.
3) STEPHOS. Greek. 1124 Davie St. (604) 683-2555.
1) ANNAPURNA. Indian/Vegetarian. 1812 W. 4th Ave. (604) 736-5959.
2) THE NAAM RESTAURANT. Vegetarian. 2724 W. 4th Ave. (604) 738-7151.
3) RANGOLI. Indian. 1488 W. 11th Ave. (604)736-5711.
4) SHA-LIN NOODLE HOUSE. Chinese/Dim Sum. 548 W. Broadway. (604) 873-1816.
5) SOPHIE’S COSMIC CAFE. American. 2095 W. 4th Ave. (604) 732-6810.
–Terry F. Robinson

NASSR 2010 Program Posted

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s finally posted: the NASSR 2010 Conference Program.
(You can find this by going to the NASSR conference website, then clicking on the “program” tab.)
Note: the NGSC’s Rountable (” ‘What is now proved was once, only imagin’d’; or, What Every Graduate Student Should Know about Journal Publication”) is scheduled for Friday, August 20, 8:30 – 10:00 am. Please join us for this inaugural, and incredibly useful, NGSC event!