Cosmopolitan Romance: The Adventure of Archaeology, the Politics of Genre, and the Origins of the Future in Walter Scott's Crusader Novels

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Cosmopolitan Romance: The Adventure of Archaeology, the Politics of Genre, and the Origins of the Future in Walter Scott's Crusader Novels

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Title: Cosmopolitan Romance: The Adventure of Archaeology, the Politics of Genre, and the Origins of the Future in Walter Scott's Crusader Novels
Author: Ocheltree, Matthew Neal ORCID  0000-0003-3131-9711
Citation: Ocheltree, Matthew Neal. 2015. Cosmopolitan Romance: The Adventure of Archaeology, the Politics of Genre, and the Origins of the Future in Walter Scott's Crusader Novels. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
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Abstract: Romanticism is the only literary-historical period defined by its privileged relation to a single genre: romance. This dissertation reorients our understanding of Romanticism’s posture toward the problem of origins, which the recursive movement of romance rendered indispensible for modern philosophies of history, by examining Sir Walter Scott’s treatment of chivalry in Ivanhoe, the Tales of the Crusaders, Tales of My Landlord (Fourth Series), and The Siege of Malta. I argue that Scott seized on the Crusades to work through moments of artistic and cultural crisis, and to carry the ordeal of romance into the crucible of the Orient, where the extravagant origins of chivalry and the decadent ends of empire converged. The perspective of orientalism, I argue, yielded unique insights into the prehistory of both nationalism and cosmopolitanism, provoking Scott to revise the sentimental historicism that he had perfected in his domestic fictions and that still figures prominently in recent accounts of the genealogy of modernity.
By reading Scott’s chivalric romances through the lens of late style, we recover the ambivalence that was always present in his dialectical approach to sovereignty and subjectivity, nation and empire, culture and capitalism, and that led to the creative dissolution of the literary form that his prior achievements had popularized. In Ivanhoe, I argue, Scott’s critique of political economy and national historicism indicted the logic of requital and redemption by which Christian chivalry ushered in the era of modern civility; it also exposed the foundations of a culture predicated on the denial of the universal claims of nature as much as the exclusion of difference, both exemplified by the novel’s Jewish characters. In The Betrothed and The Talisman, Scott’s deconstruction of sovereignty took on new cosmopolitan dimensions as he explored alternative paradigms for the construction of subjectivity and the governance of the imperial state through the absolute, universal imperatives of hospitality and sacrifice. In his final novels, Count Robert of Paris and Castle Dangerous, the collapse of the aesthetic spelled the end of empire, but also promised new opportunities for the extravagant renovation of romance and the revitalization of the late romancer.
The version of Scott I present is not the writer the canon recognizes, but a restless innovator who ranks among the foremost poets, philosophers, and prophets of the age, from Blake and Shelley to Southey and Byron: a radical thinker who engaged profoundly with questions of ethical responsibility and the conditions of political action, as well as with the limits of historical representation in a world exposed to the contradictions of global life. The new form of romance Scott fashioned to confront these challenges reveals an ironic, even baroque countercurrent in Romanticism that interrogates the shifting grounds of radicalism and resists the closed economies of conservatism without necessarily calling for political revolution. Drawing on thinkers such as Walter Benjamin, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Paul de Man, Fredric Jameson, Giorgio Agamben, and Alain Badiou, I argue that the method of archaeological regression Scott developed in his chivalric romances offers prescient lessons for contemporary political theory and historical ontology, and that his vision of global change helps us reimagine the ruins of the past as a horizon for the unlimited potential of the future to be otherwise.
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Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:23845442
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