Romanticism's Moving Bodies: Literary Embodiment and Affect
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Romanticism’s Moving Bodies examines the centrality of the material body to poetry, prose, and visual culture of the so-called Romantic project in British Literature. In this project, I bring together the movement of body representations (how bodies move) and affect theory (how bodies move each other) to demonstrate that movement characterizes much of the thinking in the period about the problems and potentials of embodiment. I first explore body displacements and fantasies of disembodiment in Burke, Percy Shelley, Radcliffe, and Byron, which I posit as aesthetic experiments that hesitate to locate knowledge in a mutable, subjective body or that want to mount an imaginative escape from a body that feels too much. Next, I turn from individual concerns with embodiment to social anxieties about embodiment in public spaces and in the changing landscape of labor by analyzing “indeterminate,” or unpredictably affected, mob and worker bodies, whose corporeality is emphasized because their embodied reactions to new circumstances are unknown. Thereafter, I explore the conceit of the hand to identify movements toward inter-subjective connection by reading Frankenstein and The Last Man as Mary Shelley’s projects of sympathetic inquiry, and I argue that these novels make a case for the centrality of tactile sympathy to human experience and the distress caused by its failures or foreclosures. Finally, I provide an extended reading of William Blake’s Milton to examine the body’s potential as an affective and transformative strategy that can engage and challenge the reader to contemplate their own transformation. Methodologically, this project merges corporeally-focused theories of affect with phenomenological theories of embodiment, a number of which are drawn from dance studies, to account for the circulation of affect in and among bodies and inside and outside of the text. This approach seeks to uncover examples of how sustained attention to the material body produces illuminating readings of canonical and non-canonical texts of the period, to help advance affect theory as an important intervention in literary criticism, and to better understand how British Romantic literature moves its readers.