MY HEART IS A BOMB! (Some thoughts about Romanticism)

by on Sep.30, 2013

I’m thinking about this today in a cloudy Stockholm attic room: The way that academic discussions of literature (and poetry in particular) often veer into morality, some kind of justification for poetry, for style, or – its opposite – a rejection of it (usually as kitsch, immoral, schlocky).
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I’m also thinking about how this relates to Lars Norén. As I wrote in my last post about Norén’s corpse, there’s this violence that permeates his work, from his early lyrics to his – almost up-to-date – diaries. There’s this sense of struggle: the desire to eradicate the poetic, the kitsch, but also the sense that poetic pulls you back in, damages you right back. I suppose this has something to do with Romanticism. In his diaries, I just read him reminiscing about reading Hölderlin, Novalis, Celan.

Novalis:

Aside I turn to the holy, unspeakable, mysterious Night. Afar lies the world — sunk in a deep grave — waste and lonely is its place. In the chords of the bosom blows a deep sadness. I am ready to sink away in drops of dew, and mingle with the ashes. — The distances of memory, the wishes of youth, the dreams of childhood, the brief joys and vain hopes of a whole long life, arise in gray garments, like an evening vapor after the sunset. In other regions the light has pitched its joyous tents. What if it should never return to its children, who wait for it with the faith of innocence?

[It’s worth noting that Aase Berg’s Dark Matter begins with a Novalis quote.]

Noren’s constantly caught in a battle with his art, and his art is caught in a battle with Auschwitz (“Auschwitz is the capitol of the 20th century,” he notes.), with American imperialism, with the Israeli attacks on Palestine. Is he aestheticizing politics? Is he playing “ruin porn,” “empire porn”? Is he immoral? Is he a vampire? Is Romanticism Norén’s downfall?

Romanticism still seems to play such a large part in how we view poetry: there’s something inherently Romantic about poetry, something we have to discipline because it is also of questionable morality. There was that movie the other year about Keats: how his pale body was covered in butterflies drawn by the smell of rotten fruit (butterflies which I then lured to my room for The Sugar Book).

But obviously also everything from “Berlin”:

I’m thinking back to when I was in college, when I was in a supposedly “quietist” grad workshop: the teacher brought in Language poetry and essays about language poetry and everybody thought that was all good. They were perfectly acceptable. But in discussions of poetry the “Romantic” was always what had to be rejected. This also went by the phrase “too much.” There are too many metaphors in this poem, this speaker is megalomaniacal, seems fake etc.
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At the same time I read a lot of postmodern criticism: it was all about the rejection of the “Romantic I.” Supposedly this was what the Quietists practiced: but they too were rejecting the “Romantic.” I smelled a rat. But I couldn’t tell where. I still can’t.

Just that it’s stinking worse than ever.

(Or has the rat already been found? Did my generation of poets devour it without knowing it? Am I puking up something I’ve already eaten a million times? When I come across so many of the 20-something poets they seem unencumbered by all of this, free to write awesome poetry.)

I think of Saul Friedlander’s description of kitsch as “debased Romanticism,” and his whole link of Romanticism, Nazism, stunted-ness and death. It all starts to sound vaguely Frankenstein-ey.

I don’t know all that much about Romanticism even though it was largely the stuff that got me into poetry as a teenager. There’s something teenagery about Romanticism. “I love Shelley” written in a bathroom stall (oh, that Shelley). Or, this morning on the official sign that read “This Area Is Under Surveillance” somebody had slapped a sticker that said “MY HEART IS A BOMB!”

4 comments for this entry:
  1. Johannes

    I think this might be in conversation with what I was trying to say here (but more intelligent, learned): http://htmlgiant.com/random/felix-bernsteins-reponse-to-vanessa-place-slavoj-zizek-trisha-low-and-more/

    J

  2. Joseph Young

    Think the need to root out the romantic is next door to the desire to professionalize the arts. Grow up, art, it’s time to get a job.

  3. David Need

    I have a long standing suspicion of straw man status of the romantic/romanticism in critical discourse of the last twenty years. Whatever the politics–and there are those who think melancholia is a form of loyalty/witness–its a critique of affect, and that is always part of a disciplinary agenda of some kind. Is the critique/ban on romanticism something one hears in Europe? I know in America its tied to the way we like to see ourselves as plain-spoken, classless (a double irony), and perhaps to MFA professionalization of “creative writing”. Doesn’t necessarily make for a better music or a better poetry.
    I use affect here instead of aura, because aura is so specular, and the specular is always utopian. But I may also mean something like interiority, or the interior disclosed as resonant by affect… we are not simply surfaces, some surfaces fold sufficiently, make hollows along the lines of surrounding shapes–sky, horizon, ball…

  4. Johannes

    Yes, I think you are right. But the critique of the romantic is also invested usually in agency – the romantic is out of control or grotesque or not real, suggesting it’s not of interiority. Or too much interiority. Perhaps that is where affect comes in – I think of Brian Massumi’s description of affect vs emotion (affect that has been stabilized, brought into the ego).
    What do you mean by aura and why is it specular? Why utopian?
    Thanks,
    Johannes