The Romantic Period
(“How Does It Feel?”)
Sometimes a feeling appears with great intensity; sometimes it’s so feeble, that its absence is experienced more keenly than the feeling itself. Some of the most famous feelings of European civilization—fear, for example, or anger, or even boredom—appeared in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth, during a time now identified as the “Romantic Era”. Poems were at this time one of the favored modes that writers like Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Byron (among the more canonical) used to objectify and then try to understand those feelings, as well as share them with others. There were of course, other forms—the novel, for example, or the essay or manifesto (think Shelley, Bronte, Austen, Mill, Smith and even Marx and Engels)—that preserved intense and not so intense feelings, as well as the ambivalence that characterizes coexisting, often oppositional feelings that often followed the recent revolutions, industrializations, and colonial projects taking place in Europe and around the globe. The literary-formal choices of these texts shaped the initial sentiment into a recognizable emotion, and they circulated those emotions among potential, often overlapping reading contexts—the household, the coffeeshop, the factory or the salon.
Through lectures and discussions, three papers, two quizzes and a final project, certain formal features will emerge as important conditions for making feelings intelligible—features as diverse as the number of syllables in a line, or the visibility or invisibility of a “narrator” in a novel. Alongside these features, more recent philosophers and theorists of feelings—from Sigmund Freud to Sianne Ngai, William James to Brian Massumi—to see how European civilization has reflected on and developed the Romantic spirit.