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11 - The sister arts in British Romanticism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 January 2011

Stuart Curran
Affiliation:
University of Pennsylvania
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Summary

Which first, the good news or the bad news? In honor of optimists who test their commitments by rising above the worst, I submit a three-part package of disheartening wisdom. W. J. T. Mitchell on pictures and words: “The history of culture is in part the story of a protracted struggle for dominance between pictorial and linguistic signs, each claiming for itself certain proprietary rights on a 'nature' to which only it has access.” John Barrell on efforts to shelter the two arts of picturemaking and wordmaking under one critical label: “ 'Romanticism' has never become a well-established term in the discussion of English painting, and art historians do not seem, on the whole, to have found the term of great explanatory power even when applied to such obvious subjects as Turner, Palmer, or Blake himself.” And finally, the most quotable line ever written about all relations among all arts, Susanne Langer's heartstopping proclamation that “there are no happy marriages in art - only successful rape.” These warnings open suitably dark themes that we would be mistaken to bypass, because they are fundamentally true to life. Awesome combinations of failure, difference, distance, lag, divergence, and conflict establish the relations of texts and images in the Romantic period to such a degree that we cannot hope to understand those relations without them. Any elevation of spirits about the future of scholarship in “literature and the visual arts,” as it has come to be standardized in a phrase, can only be achieved by climbing a mountainous collection of depressing realities.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2010

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