Romantic Nationalisms and Transnationalisms

Instructor: Prof. Martin Procházka

This series of three lectures will offer a different perspective on individual, European and American, Romanticisms than that focused on their “national” features or character. In contrast to the study of individual romantic movements and their historic contexts (e.g., in Part II, “Region and Nation” of the Oxford Handbook of British Romanticism) it views Romanticism in a comparative perspective informed by Foucault’s theory of “discursive formations” or “discursive objects” emerging because of specific, repeating “discursive practices”.  

Common features of Romantic discourses will be identified and explained in the first lecture,  dealing with the transformation of the perception and invention of individual and collective identities, especially the development of patriotism towards nationalism as outlined by Marilyn Butler’s “Romanticism in England” (in Porter and Teich’s Romanticism in National Context). A critical reflection of Benedict Anderson’s view of nations as “imagined communities” will deepen the approach to Romantic nationalisms. It will demonstrate, on the one hand, their affinities with religious (especially apocalyptic) imagining (evident, e.g., in P.B. Shelley’s political poetry), and, on the other hand, a paradoxical connection between nationalism and transnationalism (evident in Romantic Hellenism, Pan-Germanism or Pan-Slavism, as well as in Emerson’s Transcendentalism or Walt Whitman’s poetry). As a result, nationalism and transnationalism are inseparable and Romantic transnationalisms often generate aggressive imperialist ideologies, which can also be seen as results of Romantic inventions of national identity and uniqueness.

The second lecture will focus on the most problematic example of the interrelation of Romantic nationalism and transnationalism, the poetry of Lord Byron, and, in particular, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage II, The Giaour and Don Juan X containing reflections on Byron’s relationship to Greece (and Romantic Hellenism) and England (as well as Scotland). It will show that Byron’s representations of communities, their internal heterogeneity and tensions, as well as the subversion of nationalist imaginary in Byron’s poetry and its repudiation in his pragmatic politics, seem the most efficient Romantic response to the strengthening pressures of nationalist and imperial ideologies in post-Napoleon Europe. In contrast to Byron’s poetry and political stances, one can see the exhaustion of the Enlightenment universalism and Romantic utopianism in such works as Shelley’s “Triumph of Life”.

The third lecture will discuss the invention of a global empire as a Romantic Pan-Slavic utopia developed (in the Czech and Slovak Romantic poetry of Jan Kollár) under the influence of Pan-Germanism. It will also describe the Romantic resistance against Pan-Slavic ideology in the works of Karel Hynek Mácha, the continuity of the nineteenth-century Pan-Slavism with the imperial discourse in the Soviet ideology of Eurasianism and, most deplorably, with the perverse ideology used to misrepresent Putin’s war crimes. The questions concluding the three lectures may be: “What is the future of Romanticism? Can it still exist in a sublimated form of an aesthetic ideology of artistic creation (e.g., the description of novel writing as a musical composition in Milan Kundera’s essay on his novel Immortality)? Or have we entered a violent post-Romantic age, inaugurated already in Byron’s late poetry (later cantos of Don Juan) and politics (his attitudes to the Greek war with the Turks)?”