To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Reconfiguring Romanticism (32): from “Against Romanticism” by Joe Safdie

Nine excerpts from a sequence of twenty quasi-sonnets


Remember, the Romantics also brought us Malthus,
who made war, vice, misery, and starving the poor
seem OK (published the same year as Lyrical Ballads,
the superior mind of Coleridge sacrificed

to “undemanding” verse) and evangelical Christianity,
energetic, pious, vehement, sincere (a bumper sticker
the other day read “Born fine the first time”) –
the new moral religion, heavy on lower class depravity,

lighter on child labor – even the end of the slave trade
was championed by those who felt Napoleon had been
sent by the Lord, angry at the Sabbath’s violation,
who would dismiss him when that practice ceased,

as Hannah More, “tireless, tiresome, with a small literary gift”
consoles the poor, god’s creatures, and Huckabee wins Iowa . . .


Walter Benjamin wrote:
I have nothing to say, only to show
I will make off with nothing valuable
and allow myself no clever turns of phrase

only the refuse and waste
which I will not inventory
but instead allow to come into their own
in the only way possible:

I will make use of them.
This work must raise the art
of citing without quotation marks
to the highest level,

its theory most intimately linked
to that of montage.


Readers of the world unite –
all you can lose is your mystery,
the shimmering individual contact
of your eyes with a writer’s mind,

usually trumped by recession
or the fears of it, a “stimulus package”
now debated, lower taxes and/or interest rates
more cash flowing through the hands

of eager consumers, no mention of course
of sensual stimulation or unlocking
the doors of perception, no one cares anymore
how alive anyone is, in fact that’s

a completely useless impediment
as long as we’re not spending money

People who have been robbed of their history, who have no history, who have no moral base, who are . . . interested only in shopping and who are only capable of shopping, and whose only product is shopping, are obviously going to be simple to program.
---Edward Dorn


“By the early nineteenth century
their era of profound hope was in eclipse . . .
in favor of evangelical religion, land speculation,
bargain corn whiskey, kaleidoscopes,

and the reigns of Terror, Bonaparte, and Pitt
the Younger”* aka romanticism, kids,
brought to you by the Reign of Terror,
then and now, and yes, Jerry, I get it,

“a challenge to closure, defamiliarization,
alternative states of mind”**
but all that was in another century
when the I-Phone didn’t sell for a c-note . . .

a republic lost to empire
awash in our precious sensibilities


*Thomas Paine, by Craig Nelson

**Poems for the Millennium, Volume 3, ed. Jerome Rothenberg and Jeffery Robinson


navigating the aisles at Home Depot
is romantic, anti-depressants
are romantic, we live
in a romantic century, we’ve now lived

in three romantic centuries,
Byron was romantic
Sylvia Plath was romantic
John Ashbery is romantic

the painstaking and exquisite
examination of one’s own life
ala Rousseau is definitely romantic
memoirs are romantic

not caring about politics is romantic
from the older form of roman, a novel


which means that novels are romantic
but “creative non-fiction” is also romantic
and poetry is always romantic
“that imagination which is most free” (OED, 1659)

“These things are almost romantique, and yet true” (Pepys 1667)
“Romances and novels are often writ in this mixt language, between Poetry
and Prose: and hence it is sometimes called the Romantick Stile.” (1749)
“In romantic music content is first and form subordinate” (1885)

“Having no real existence; imaginary; purely ideal” (obsolete)
“A tale in verse, embodying the adventures of some hero of chivalry,
esp. of those of the great cycles of medieval legend, and belonging
both in matter and form to the ages of knighthood;” (OED)

The only national literature that didn’t have a romantic period
was American, but we’ve made up for it by now . . .


the Reign of Terror was romantic
Rousseau leads straight to Robespierre
a republic lost to empire
tres romantique

a nation of sensibility
(invasion is romantic)
(beheadings are romantic)
Paine fought for Louis XVI’s life

Mary Wollstonecraft cried
for his dignity
while on vacation with her American lover
on the run from debt and land speculation

who would later desert her
and cause her to try to commit suicide


“the machine”
the guillotine
(the family later changed their name)
death is romantic

just ask Rilke
an ABC news poll says
91% of Americans
believe in God,

but 21% are “less certain”
(negative capability!)
God is definitely romantic
as is every religion on the face of the earth

even atheists are romantic
worshipping at the church of rationality


the nation-state is romantic
nationalism is romantic
war is romantic
fame is romantic

“social programs” are romantic
the middle class is romantic
being rich is romantic
progress is romantic

soul-mates are romantic
simultaneous orgasm is romantic
I’m romantic
you’re romantic too

we’re all romantic
and all equally screwed

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