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Conclusion: Post-meat

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 January 2018

Ted Geier
Affiliation:
Ashford University
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Summary

Animals and other nonhumans course through literature long before the British Romantic and Victorian periods of British literature, but literary works through the long nineteenth century take as their frequent task an articulation of nonhuman forms marking increasingly abjected modes of modern life and negotiating the attending anxieties through the ambiguities of Romanticism. This includes experimentation with narrative authority, irony and fragmented forms that veer often into apparent poetic failure – certainly their themes dwell on human failures, at least – in a broad project on the human being as a concept. This turn to literary form and to philosophical rumination on the status and prospects of the human responds directly to the historical conditions of industrial modernity, but then it also attempts to resist such decisive triangulations of a condition; history, science and narrative each imply some frame of coherence that Romantic authors are highly suspicious of. A broken narrative voice would thus be capable of performing an ethical or political abjection such as Burns's speaker and the mouse upturned in ‘To a Mouse’, but then only as an indicator of the historical situations in question.

Romantics were associated with radical traditions resisting infringements on the rights of marginalised classes, which also must have some relation to a sense of individual freedom such as the Romantic poet's creative spontaneity. Coleridge's political projects with Robert Southey and he and William Wordsworth's early alliances in Lyrical Ballads on the heels of the new Poor Laws show a coherent and principled political commitment during a period that has often been studied for its incarnations of radicalism, populism and general political activism. This suggests that the literary works, which frequently engage political issues directly alongside recurring themes of human fragility and inconsistency, attempted a precise form of address that does not submit to the very nonhuman conditions that seem to motivate them. As Chapter 1 suggested, literary works mitigate those conditions even where they suggest an incommensurable divide between history and subjects, science and life, society and individuals. The form by which they attempt to do so, however, is generally an individuated voice or agent failing, in various ways, to resolve the conflict or circumstance a poem or novel constructs.

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Meat Markets
The Cultural History of Bloody London
, pp. 168 - 180
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2017

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