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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Romancing modernity : poetry, process, and postsecularism Rubel, William Ilan


This study reads key British Romantic texts (The Prelude, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, The Book of Thel, Jerusalem, The Fall of Hyperion, The Triumph of Life, and Frankenstein) through the lens of integral philosophy, radical aesthetics, and speculative feminism. Its primary theoretical context is a postsecular shift in recent speculative realist thought, which is making the etho-ecological metaphysics of romantic poetry newly legible. As the term speculative realism remains ill-defined, in this context it should be understood in the “organic realist” tradition of aesthetic ontologists such as Massumi and Stengers, inspired by Whitehead and Deleuze, rather than the tradition of object-oriented ontologists such as Harman and Morton, inspired by Heidegger. A key claim of this study is that these versions of speculative realism constitute two different kinds of materialism, one of which might be called critical materialism (optics) and the other speculative materialism (haptics). The critical materialist approach, it is suggested, has dominated the affective turn in romantic studies, in ways that perpetuate skepticism about the more-than-human etho-ecological mode of attention presented in romantic poetry. To clarify the confused model of affect that results from the conflation of these materialisms, this study attempts to flesh out the difference that speculative materialist and critical materialist perspectives make to the interpretation of romantic poems. It finds that the latter perpetuates a modern private optics and centered metaphysics while the former ventures toward a postsecular haptics or etho-ecological metaphysics. This study has been entitled Romancing Modernity: Poetry, Process, and Postsecularism, to engage the widest possible audience. The title foregrounds the argument that the British Romantics challenged the modern bar on etho-ecological attention, advancing an alternative modernity that speculative feminists and ecosophical thinkers are now restoring to view. An alternative title, which would draw attention to its more specific argument about romantic poetry, is “Earth’s Answer”: Etho-ecological Modernity and Haptic Aesthetics in Blake, Wordsworth, and the Second-Generation Romantics.

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