Romanticism and Language Essay

3394 WordsOct 27, 201214 Pages
Romanticism and language William Keach Questions about linguistic theory have assumed striking prominence in recent work on Romanticism. This is in part because literary criticism over the past two decades, has taken a distinctly linguistic turn. But in addition to the pervasive preoccupation these days with theoretical understandings of the linguistic sign and of verbal representation, more particular circumstances, at least in the United States, have focused attention on Romanticism and language. Romantic texts, most notably Wordsworthian texts, were among the first to be read through the linguistic turnings of poststructuralist criticism in its American guise. Jacques Derrida's extended critique of Rousseau's Essay on the Origin of Languages in Of Grammatology, along with his readings elsewhere of Shelley and other eighteenth- and nineteenth-century writers, have cast an even greater glamour on Romanticism's role in current theory. And since many Romantic texts, verse as well as prose, turn out to contain powerful, agitated broodings on their own status as language, poststructuralist readers have often found their theoretical concerns anticipated, not merely reflected back to them, in Wordsworth or Coleridge or Shelley. The primary aim of this essay is to establish a historical sense of how Romantic writers themselves conceptualized key issues of verbal representation. Such a historical sense can make us critically aware of our distance from Romantic theorizing about language, while at the same time giving us a fuller, more accurate understanding of the ways in which important, unresolved questions in current theory and criticism were already at stake in the Romantics' rethinking of the philosophies of language they inherited from the Enlightenment. With its emphasis on the empiricist tradition in Britain and France, the approach here is deeply indebted

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