Cultural Studies

Theories of Regulation
& the Romantic Poets: Wordsworth as a example 
9/24, '97  
Prophet or salesman?
"every author ......has had the task of creating the taste by which he is to be enjoyed..." 
(Supplementary Essay to Lyrical Ballads 195) 
 I. Theories of Regulation: (Media pp. 15-18)

A. Economic regulation (p. 15)

  • Marxist view: culture as a superstructure whose shape is determined by the economic base.
  • Gramsci's mechanical version of regulation: "Fordism=an American way of life".
  • recent theories: a regime of accumulation maintained or regulated by non-economic (i.e. cultural) regulation;
  • moral regulation.
    B. Foucault's theory of power and discourse: three types of power (p. 16-17):
  • institutional power (exercised through rules and regulations),
  • economic power (as in the class system),
  • and subjective power (in which the individual struggles against discourses orgainzed around the self.
  • literature as discursive formation
  • C. Althusser's theory of ideology and social formation
    ideology: "ideology represents the imaginary relations of individuals to their real condition of existence."
    social formation: The social formation is a structure in which the various levels exist in complex relations"of inner contradictions and mutual conflict; its contradictions are never simple but 'overdetermined.'  This structure of contradictions may be dominated at any given moment by one or other of the levels, but which level it is is itself ultimately determined by the economic level II. Regulation in the Fields of "Literature": Romantic Quest Poetry
  • economic regulation: from patronage to the unpredictable reading public in the book market.
  • regulating power in the literature as a discursive field: publishers, reviews, prefaces, etc.
  • the poets' creation of "taste" and their self-construction as poet-prophet

  •     differentiation: >A HREF="#expansion of self">the ideal self, male quester and female companion/object; the People and the public III. Wordsworthian discourse
  • the prefaces to Lyrical Ballads: from "household" to "kingdom"
  • his poems on women and the rustics
  • Culture Talk: Contemporary publishing business: who control and regulate iv?  The publisher, the author, the reviewer, the newspaper editor, or the readers?

    The Lyrical Ballads in the book market:
    Wordsworth's  letters to the publisher, Joseph Cottle, show his need for money and concern"with the sale of The Lyrical Ballads.  During the period from 1780 to 1810, The Lyrical Ballads was remaindered, while exotic verse tales of the East sold in the thousanfs.   After the publisher of the 1798 edition handed back the copyright to Wordsworth, he managed to find publishers to produce many successive collected editions.  Also, his attempts at chapbook circulation of the ballad-poems like "We Are Seven" evidence his wish to reach the lower classes.  His efforts, however, did not pay: all his writings before 1835, as he confessed to Tom Moore, had not earned him above 1,000 pounds.

    cultivating the reader's taste; setting up his poetry as an independent discipline
    To facilitate the readers' reception of the roems, Wordsworth asks the readers in the Advertisement of the 1798 Lyrical Ballads, "for their own sakes," not to approach his work with some "pre-established codes of decision" but with the questions he himself offers them.  Also, to prevent the readers from oaking rash judgment, Wordsworth reminds them that "an accurate an acquired talent, which can only be produced by severe thought, and a long continued intercourse with the best models of composition."

    Wordsworth's prefaces: 1. self-defense
    Wordsworth asserted his autonomy in stronger terms in the prefaces to the 1800 and 1802 editions, as he felt his reputation threated by the negative reviews of the first editions.  The reviewers then were mostly criticizing Wordsworth's use of the conversational language of the lower classes in his poetry and his use of their passions as his subject matter, which, to them, "degrades poetry" and makes his poetry "uninteresting" .  The two main subjects in these prefaces, the poet's language and his subject matter, are in this sense an answer to the negative reviews of the first edition in 1798 and 1799. 

    2. approaching the reader in familial terms
    1802 preface: The poet, he claims, should "descend from [a] supposed height" and be "a man speaking to men" (255-56).&nbsr;  In poetry as "a household of man," the roet "[keeps his] reader in the company of flesh and blood."
    --"Eliminating kinds makes sympathetic identification possible; positing degrees makes it desirable" (Siskin 53).

    3. offering the reader "divine" pleasure and asking them to distinguish it from the pleasure offered by contemporary literature
    1802 preface: Wordsworth claims that his poetry will give the reader immediate pleasure, which he regards as the poet's only restriction.  The pleasure his poetry provides, he asserts, is the divine essence of human existence, comprehending and transcending all the other knowledge of mankind.
    Further demand is made on the reader as Wordsworth distinguishes his pleasure from the pleasure offered by contemporary literature.  To him, contemporary literature is either "sickly," "frantic" or artificial, satisfying people's need for "gross and violent stimulants," while the pleasure his poetry offers is "purer, more lasting, and more exquisite." (249; 272).

    In arguing for the pleasure he offers and asking the reader to choose between the two kinds of pleasure, Wordsworth is actually trying to construct the reader's taste.  This argument for taste is implicitly an argument for exclusiveness: it serves for Wordsworth to set up his poetry as a "discipline."

    Wordsworth and the object of his poetry--the rustics
    When the poet describes and imitates the rustics' passions, Wordsworth admits, his situation is "altogether slavish and mechanical" (1802 Preface 256).  To avoid this passivity, the poet identifies his own feelings with those of the persons he describes.  He then overcomes this dependency by claiming he can "surpass the original" occasionally, and that the object of his description is not actually individual persons, but "general and operative truth" (257).

    negative reviews
    During the years of the publications of Lyrical Ballads (1802), Poems (1807), Excursion (1814), both Wordsworth's poetry and his roetic theory were severely attacked.  His language was accused by several reviewers as being "prosaic, flat"; "too simply simple," and his poetry "written for no purpose at all."  The traits of feelings Wordworth exhibited, moreover, are "a stumbling block to the ignorant, and follishness to the learned."  On the other hcnd, his theoretical prefaces, with which he constructs his reader and claims his autonomy as a professional poet, is regarded as "mistaken"; "frigid, extravagant," and merely a "mysticism" (Bauer 7-9; Harris 396; Hayden 25-38).
    Moreover, the Edinburgh Review, one of the most influential periodicals in early 19th-century England, launched a systematic campaign against Wordsworth.  In this periodical, negative reviews were written on Wordsworth by Francis Jeffrey consecutively in 1802, 1807, 1814, 1815 and 1822.

    Wordsworth's reactions
    1. classify the readers in order to reject some of them.
    Francis Jeffrey, inevitably is singled out to be the reader Wordsworth rejects.  In 1814 Wordworth claims that he held Jeffrey's views "in entire contempt" and therefore would not "pollute [his] fingers" to read his reviews only"to expose his stupidity to his still more stupid admirers" (Letters 1811-1820 620).
    In the 1815 Essay Wordsworth not only classifies his readers, but he also hierarchizes them.
    4 classes: those who"treat poetry as a passion, as a recreation, as a protection and consolation(religious reader), and as a study.   "From the last only can opinions be collected"of absolute value, and worthy to be depended upon" (Literary Criticism 168)
    The "People" in his mind, therefore, is actually a very limited group of people with a corresponding power, "adequate sympathy" and  "elevated or profound passion" (197).

    Bibliography and Further Reading:
    Bauer, N. S.  William wordworth: A Reference Guide to British Criticism 1793-1899.  Boston, Mass: G. K. Hall &cmp; Co., 1978.
    Harris, Laurie Lanzen, Charlie D. Abbey et al.  Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vol 12.  Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Co., 1986.
    Hayden, John O.  Romantic Bards and British Reviewers: A Selected Edition of Contemporary Reviews of the Works of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Keats and Shelley.  Lincoln: U. of Nebraska P, 1971.
    Mellor, Anne K ed.  Romanticism and Feminism.  Bloomington : Indiana UP, 1988
    Siskin, Clifford.  The Historicity of Romantic Discourse.  New York: Oxford UP, 1988.
    Wordsworth, William and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  Lyrical Ballads.  London: Methuen & Co, 1963.

    Ross, Marlon B.  "Romantic Quest and Conquest: Troping Masculine Power in the Crisis of Poetic Idenitty"   Romanticism and Feminism.  Ed. Anne K. Mellor. Bloomington : Indiana UP, 1988: 26- (underline added)

    Romantic Quest-the egotistic sublime and negative capability
    p.  26  Romantic poets are driven to a quest for self-creation, for senf-comprehension, for self-positkoning that is unprecedented in literature.
    "The internalization of Quest-Romance"  [Bloom ] points out that the Romantic poets moves farther and farther within, in an attempt to find the source of the self, in an attempt to embrace all that is without.  Imagination, that capacity which apotheosizes individual vision, is also a going out of self; it is simultaneously the egotistical sublime and negative capability.  Imagination ks the attempt to stabilize the world by (or whatever one calls that external expanse that delimits selfhood) by destabilizing the self that seems to block the potential for total vision, the potential for totally embraing that outer expanse.  ...Solipsistically magical, the "self" can transform any external object into an aspect of itself while pretending to deny the externality of that object...

    Rule by ideas; expansion of self p.  31
    Just as economic power becomes primarily constituted by abstract transactions of capital rather than by the immediacy of agricultural and mercantile bartering, so political power becomes metonymic and abstract, the province of literacy (broadly defined) and intellect.  ...
    More than any poets before them, the Romantics believe that power is constituted by ideas ...And they believe that to govern these ideas-to wrestle them into an organic whole that seems to make sense in universal terms-is to govern the world itself.  In a very real sense the Romantics, some of them unwittingly, help prepare England for its imperial destiny.  They help teach the English to universalize the expereignce of "I," a self-conscious task for Wordsworth, ...

    Romantic poets and women    p.30; and the People
    It is no mistake that these women are written into the men's poems as"extensions of themselves', but when these men need conversants and rivals, they turn to their fellow (i.e. male) poets, ...Dorothy and Mary serve to represent William's and Bysshe's better half, a visionary ideal, a goal to achieve, an object to desire.

    Romantic quester  p. 32
    Like the medieval knight, the Romantic poet arms himself to compete for the collective good.  He attempts to stand out as the best, as the strongest, for the sake of all who are weak and neef protection; medieval peasants and ladies are replaced with the lower classes, orphans, beggars, widows, idiots, virgins, and those particular women in the poets'  lives who inspire them to greater heights of self-possession.

    [Like a scientist and capitalist]
    The poet wants to claim to same powers: mastery"over nature, originality, and capacity to transform the material conditions of society through his poetic inventions.-

    p.  33 The Romantics have to contend, more than any writers before their time, with a market-based readership that always threatens to undermine the myth that poetic influence derives from self-generating power that transcends all variables of time, place, and mere human assent.
    As the contest moves from the court and the patronage of gentlemen to the publishing house and the market of the common reader, the poet*s success becomes literally more dependent on the power of self-possession, the potency of his individual vision, his ability to captivate and rule a diverse, saturated, and fickle public, and part of his appeal will depend on the newness and originality of his appeal among readers.
    The people and the public                p.41
    It is not the "public," but the "People" that "preserve" great poetry.  ...It would seem that the people are as divinely inspired as the poet himself, "their intellect and their wisdom" being neither of "transitory" nor of "local" origin, whereas the public consists of the "clamour of that small though loud portion of the community, ever governed by facticious influence, which, under the name of the Public, passes itself, upon the unthinking, for the People."

    Wordsworth must repress the actual power possessed by the public and he must suppress the relation of identity between his "Public" and his "People" because it is the readers themselves who pose perhaps the greatest threat to the myth of poetic divinity, to the myth that the poet, a little self-engendering god, transcends place and time.

    "In spite of difference of soil and climate, of language and manners, of laws and customs: in spite of things silently gone out of mind, and things violently destroyed/ the Poet binds together by  passion and knowledge the vast empirg of human society, as it is spread over the whole earth, and over all time.":