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Animality in British Romanticism: The Aesthetics of Species
 0415507308, 9780415507301

Table of contents :
Title Page
Copyright Page
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Aesthetics of Species
1 The Environmental Ethics of Alienation:The Ecological Sublime
2 Green Masochism:Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
3 Hunting for Pleasure: Wordsworth’s Ecofeminism
4 Humans and Other Moving Things:Wordsworth Visits London (with Deleuze and Guattari)
5 The Cute and the Cruel:Taste, Animality and Sexual Violence in Burke and Blake
6 A Problem of Waste Management:Frankenstein and the Visual Order of Things
7 Revelation, Reason, Ridicule: The Scientific Sublime
8 A Taste of God:Natural Theology and the Aesthetics of Intelligent Design
9 Beauty with a Past: Evolutionary Aestheticsin Erasmus Darwin’s The Temple of Nature

Citation preview

Animality in British Romanticism

Routledge Studies in Romanticism

1 Keats’s Boyish Imagination Richard Marggraf Turley 2 Leigh Hunt Life, Poetics, Politics Edited by Nicholas Roe 3 Leigh Hunt and the London Literary Scene A Reception History of his Major Works, 1805–1828 Michael Eberle-Sinatra 4 Tracing Women’s Romanticism Gender, History and Transcendence Kari E. Lokke 5 Metaphysical Hazlitt Bicentenary Essays Uttara Natarajan, Tom Paulin and Duncan Wu 6 Romantic Genius and the Literary Magazine Biography, Celebrity, Politics David Higgins 7 Romantic Representations of British India Edited by Michael J. Franklin 8 Sympathy and the State in the Romantic Era Systems, State Finance, and the Shadows of Futurity Robert Mitchell

9 Thomas De Quincey New Theoretical and Critical Directions Edited by Robert Morrison and Daniel S. Roberts 10 Romanticism and Visuality Fragments, History, Spectacle Sophie Thomas 11 Romanticism, History, Historicism Essays on an Orthodoxy Edited by Damian Walford Davies 12 The Meaning of “Life” in Romantic Poetry and Poetics Edited by Ross Wilson 13 German Romanticism and Science The Procreative Poetics of Goethe, Novalis, and Ritter Jocelyn Holland 14 Colonialism, Race, and the French Romantic Imagination Pratima Prasad 15 Keats and Philosophy The Life of Sensations Shahidha K. Bari 16 Animality in British Romanticism The Aesthetics of Species Peter Heymans

Animality in British Romanticism The Aesthetics of Species

Peter Heymans



First published 2012 by Routledge 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Simultaneously published in the UK by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2012 Taylor & Francis The right of Peter Heymans to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark Notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record has been requested for this book. ISBN: 978-0-415-50730-1 (hbk) ISBN: 978-0-203-11486-5 (ebk) Typeset in Sabon by IBT Global.

Printed and bound in the United States of America on sustainably sourced paper by IBT Global.

For Jonathan, Stijn and my parents


Acknowledgments Introduction: The Aesthetics of Species

ix 1




The Environmental Ethics of Alienation: The Ecological Sublime


Green Masochism: Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”


Hunting for Pleasure: Wordsworth’s Ecofeminism





Humans and Other Moving Things: Wordsworth Visits London (with Deleuze and Guattari)


The Cute and the Cruel: Taste, Animality and Sexual Violence in Burke and Blake


A Problem of Waste Management: Frankenstein and the Visual Order of Things



Revelation, Reason, Ridicule: The Scientific Sublime


viii Contents 8


A Taste of God: Natural Theology and the Aesthetics of Intelligent Design


Beauty with a Past: Evolutionary Aesthetics in Erasmus Darwin’s The Temple of Nature


Notes Bibliography Index

185 205 216


This book has its roots in the doctoral dissertation which I wrote at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel between 2006 and 2010. I owe a tremendous intellectual debt to the two supervisors of that project, Oskar Wellens and Johan Callens, whose ideas have shaped my thinking in crucial ways. Thanks also go to my brother Stijn, who triggered my interest in animal ethics and academic research. On a more logistical level, I am greatly indebted to the Research Foundation—Flanders for its generous grant and to my parents for their unflagging care and interest, especially during the year that I wrote this book. It is difficult to overstate Jonathan’s contribution. Without his meticulous proofreading, incisive comments and ongoing support, this book would have been much less readable (or more unreadable). At the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, I would like to thank Liesbeth Bekers and Ann Peeters for their down-to-earth advice on everything academic. Thanks also to the members of my dissertation committee—in particular to Franca Bellarsi, Noel Jackson and Jürgen Pieters—whose encouraging reviews inspired me to upgrade my dissertation into this book. I am also extremely grateful to Greg Garrard, Janelle Schwartz and Philip Shaw for reviewing my book proposal for Routledge and for their thoughtful comments. Two chapters in this book originally appeared elsewhere, albeit in very different forms. Chapter 2 is a major update of the article “Reading the Animal: An Ecocritical Approach to the Discourse of the Sublime in Coleridge’s ‘Ancient Mariner,’” which was published in The Coleridge Bulletin 30, no. 2 (2007). And Chapter 5 expands my article “Eating Girls: BecomingAnimal and the Romantic Sublime in William Blake’s Lyca Poems,” which appeared in Humanimalia: A Journal of Human/Animal Interface Studies 3, no. 1 (2011). I am very grateful to Graham Davidson, Sherryl Vint and Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr. for their comments and for granting me permission to recycle this material here. Final credit goes to Jonathan, my parents, Stijn, Melanie, Ann, Rebekka, Emma and my friends at the University (Bieke, Julie, Liesbeth, Marie-Eve, Sabah and Simon) for creating an environment that is incredibly loving, supportive and inspiring.

Introduction The Aesthetics of Species

When Frankenstein’s Monster fi nally opens its “dull yellow eye,” its creator instantly falls into a fit of histrionic madness.1 What leaves him so overwhelmed is not a feeling of fatherly pride or medical accomplishment, but a visceral disgust at the creature’s ugliness—skin too transparent to conceal its underlying arteries and muscles, a pair of glistening teeth set in stark contrast against its black lips, eyes that look watery and jaundiced. Frankenstein never recovers from this aesthetic shock. Too disappointed and disturbed by the cosmetic failure of his project, he neglects to appreciate its scientific success and realise that the creature’s disfigured face actually disguises the humane mind of a noble savage. What Mary Shelley’s novel thus forcefully demonstrates is the extent to which the classification of species is an aesthetic activity, a simple matter of specere (the Latin verb from which the term species derives, meaning “to look at”). It is this importance of the aesthetic that I investigate in this book. Focussing on the beautiful, ugly and sublime, I argue that the Romantics’ aesthetic perception of animality both influenced and was influenced by their ethical, scientific and religious understanding of species. Several studies within the fields of ecocriticism and animal studies have recently called attention to the integral part that the animal played in British Romantic thought. All canonical Romantic poets, Christine Kenyon-Jones and David Perkins have shown, emphasised the need to treat animal life with more respect. 2 They composed elegies for deceased pets (such as Byron’s epitaph for his dog Boatswain), lamented the exploitation of work animals (Coleridge’s “To a Young Ass”), urged readers to consider even the rights of insects (Blake’s “The Fly”), criticised the sadistic pleasures of hunting (Wordsworth’s “Hart-Leap Well”) and published pamphlets promoting vegetarianism (Percy Shelley’s “A Vindication of Natural Diet”). One reason for the Romantics’ commitment to animal welfare was the growing scientific insight into the anatomical and psychological continuity between human and non-human animals. In his 1790 study The Philosophy of Natural History, the Scottish naturalist William Smellie recognised that “man, in his lowest condition, is evidently linked both in the form of his body and the capacity of his mind, to the large and small orang-outangs,” an idea that,


Animality in British Romanticism

despite its religious and popular controversy, gained increasing currency in Romantic-period science, most notably in the writings of James Burnett (Lord Monboddo), Erasmus Darwin and Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. 3 That Frankenstein collects both human and non-human organs to assemble his creature clearly evinces this growing understanding of human-animal similarities, but his panic-stricken abandonment of the Monster also symbolises the reluctance of many Romantics to accept evolutionary theory in the flesh. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, for one, ridiculed the belief that “contemplates Man as the last metamorphosis, the gay Image, of some lucky species of Ape or Baboon” and still held fast to biblical creationism.4 Coleridge’s adamant rejection of evolutionary thought was rooted in a more wide-ranging social anxiety that the “sacred distinction between things and persons” was crumbling. 5 The end of the eighteenth century witnessed a general loss of taxonomic stability, whereby the universal and static character of social, political and biological laws was increasingly disputed. Changeability and evolution had become keywords not only in the biological sciences, but also in the radical liberal politics of William Godwin and Thomas Paine, who criticised the conservative ideology underlying class divisions and the dehumanising labour conditions that these divisions appeared to authorise and nourish in an early-capitalist economy. In the disappointed assessment of many fi rst-generation Romantics, however, the liberal revolutions sweeping through Europe and the United States with the aim of emancipating the working classes had given rise to a renewed devaluation of human life. In his conservative pamphlet against the French Revolution, Edmund Burke famously complained that the superior values of the ancien régime had been “trodden down under the hoofs of a swinish multitude” and that the revolutionaries had stripped the state of its “pleasing illusions,” now revealing that “a king is but a man; a queen is but a woman; a woman is but an animal; and an animal not of the highest order.”6 Although it is important to examine the socio-historical contexts in which ideas of species were formulated and received, such an investigation is not my principal concern here. This study fi rst and foremost explores the aesthetic representation of these ideas and the complex interaction between the aesthetic, the ideological and the biological. In doing so, it explicitly responds to the call voiced by an increasing number of ecocritics and animal philosophers to take the aesthetic seriously.7 More than previous ecocritical studies of Romantic conceptions of animality, this book interprets species as a pliable ideological concept used to rationalise or redefi ne the moral, political and theological status of human and non-human animals. For this reason, it pays as much attention to culturally animalised humans and humanised animals as to biological categories. This is not to suggest that I take the notion of species to be a purely ideological construct unconnected to biological reality. When Charles Darwin in On the Origin of Species (1859) interpreted the term species “as one arbitrarily given for the sake



of convenience to a set of individuals closely resembling each other,” he may likewise have recognised the social fabrication of scientific discourse, but that does not mean that he denied the objective difference between cats and dogs.8 My focus on aesthetic ideology aims to underline that our conception of species is the result of a complex historical process, whereby rival discourses competed for epistemic dominance and either evolved into more successful forms of thought or became extinct entirely. For eighteenth- and nineteenth-century biologists, species was far from a well-defi ned analytical category.9 Whereas Georges Cuvier was still convinced that God had designed all animals as fi xed and unchangeable, Erasmus Darwin already understood that animal species had gradually evolved to assume their present form. And if James Burnett thought that orang-utans were a variety of humans, the historian Edward Long still cast doubt on the human nature of Hottentots. What unites these disparate views is the emphasis each put on the visible or phenotypic resemblances between animals, an emphasis that often inspired scientists to judge the visual appearance of organisms not just in a biological sense but in an aesthetic sense as well. According to Michel Foucault, the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries marked a watershed in zoological research as scientists moved their attention away from the immediately visible characteristics of animals towards less palpable functional and structural attributes. “From Cuvier onward,” Foucault claims in The Order of Things (1966), “it is life in its non-perceptible, purely functional aspect that provides the basis for the exterior possibility of a classification. The classification of living beings . . . now arises from the depths of life, from those elements most hidden from view.”10 Although this shift from the visible to the invisible was less radical and comprehensive than Foucault suggests, Romantic-period scientists, poets and philosophers did indeed express an increasing sense of unease about the influence of aesthetic perception on the taxonomisation of animal species, an unease that probably found its most trenchant articulation in Mary Shelley’s warning not to take monsters (human or non-human) at face value. Since the writings of Pierre Bourdieu and Terry Eagleton, it is a commonplace that, aside from being socially determined, taste is also a powerful ideological determinant capable of manipulating our political ideas without our awareness.11 In “The Effects of Blackness,” a seemingly innocuous chapter in Burke’s aesthetic treatise A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), the Irish philosopher recorded the experience of a blind boy who, after regaining his eyesight, encountered a black woman for the fi rst time. The boy, Burke wrote with an air of scientific objectivity, “was struck with great horror at the sight,” a reaction that incidentally offers a clear precedent for Frankenstein’s puerile hysteria.12 Although Burke intended to make an aesthetic rather than political point, he tacitly suggested that the boy’s racism was essentially a sensory response and, therefore, as natural and excusable as an aversion


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to vinegar. Paradoxically enough, this naturalisation of political belief is made possible by the assumption that our taste is apolitical and ahistorical. Our aesthetic judgments, Burke stressed, lie deeply buried in our bodies among our most primal impulses, where they are immune to ideological appropriation and even rational contemplation. “It is not by the force of long attention and enquiry that we fi nd any object to be beautiful,” he asserted; “beauty demands no assistance from our reasoning; even the will is unconcerned” (Sublime 84). If we think pandas look cute, anteaters look ridiculous and Tom Hanks looks trustworthy, in other words, this is supposedly not through conscious choice or political ideology (in which cases, our judgment would be considered disingenuous), but just because the feeling spontaneously and physically occurred to us, like an erotic infatuation or viral infection. So far, critics have primarily discussed the social, racial and gender politics of aesthetic judgment. They have demonstrated how we consciously and subconsciously employ the notion of taste to define both our own and the other’s gender identity, social class and ethnic background. It is the ideology of the aesthetic that leads us to believe that women like romcoms, lower-class people like tracksuits, African Americans like ostentatious jewellery and that gay men like interior design. With this book, I hope to show that in the Romantic period taste was also frequently used to define the species identity of the self and other. Considering that, for Burke and many other Romantic-period theorists, aesthetic judgment was a uniquely human faculty and non-human animals did not have a sense of beauty, it is easy to see how the notion of taste can be drawn upon to dehumanise certain groups in society. Unlike a long lineage of critics (from Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno to Paul de Man), however, I do not interpret the aestheticisation of ideology (or the politicisation of the aesthetic) as a necessarily reactionary or mystifying manoeuvre, for such an interpretation would insinuate that it is entirely possible to put together a non-aesthetic system of politics, speaking univocally to the mind instead of the heart. If Derrida’s writings should have taught us anything, it is that we should be suspicious of such a discourse that purports to offer a non-aesthetic and literal representation of reality. Bearing in mind that all languages and all politics are aesthetic, we might as well look for what Eagleton in his criticism of de Man has called “the potentially positive dimensions of the aesthetic” (10). One of the aims of this book, then, is to demonstrate how for the Romantics the aesthetic was not only the site where political bias was naturalised into biological truth, but how it was also a deeply moral place where one’s supposedly intuitive perceptions of reality were exposed as cultural products of social inculcation and habit formation. I focus on the British Romantics in this book not only because their interest in animality was less anecdotal and more philosophically grounded than the concerns of previous generations, but also because they showed greater sensitivity to the workings of the aesthetic. The study of aesthetics



as an independent field of philosophical investigation, divorced from ethics, politics and theology, is generally believed to have emerged around the beginning of the eighteenth century, reaching its momentum in the Romantic period and most conspicuously in Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment (1790). One of the Critique’s central and ground-breaking ideas pertained to the autonomous or disinterested nature of taste. When we call an object beautiful, Kant believed, we do so not because this object satisfies a particular interest (moral, fi nancial, dietary, scientific), but because it pleases in our abstract and independent psychological judgment. Although Burke located aesthetic feeling in human physiology rather than psychology, his empirical theory lent a similar autonomy and universality to taste. For an object to be beautiful, he claimed, it should give pleasure to our sensory organs and need not cater to our moral intuitions or accord with scientific truth. In fact, the popular tendency to identify beauty with virtue and anchor moral action in aesthetic sensation rather than rational thought, Burke argued, is in every respect “fallacious” and “has given rise to an infi nite deal of whimsical theory” (Sublime 102, 101). Considering this emphasis on the autonomy of taste, it may seem counterintuitive to study the ideology of the aesthetic in British Romanticism. Yale School critics such as Harold Bloom and Paul de Man, after all, have repeatedly insisted that the Romantics were mainly interested in the transcendental fl ights of the aesthetic imagination and only turned to their physical environment when it could serve as a vehicle for introspection and self-empowerment. In what reads like a caveat against ecocritical interpretations of Romantic literature, Bloom has memorably argued that “Romantic nature poetry, despite a long critical history of misrepresentation, was an anti-nature poetry, even in Wordsworth who sought a reciprocity or even a dialogue with nature, but found it only in flashes.”13 As Eagleton has pointed out, however, the notion of aesthetic autonomy and of an apolitical art is deeply ideological in itself, contrived by bourgeois capitalism in an attempt to camouflage the social conditions in which both the artwork and the bourgeois artist came into being (8–9). New Historicists such as Jerome McGann and Marjorie Levinson, too, have interpreted the Romantics’ increasing orientation towards a subjectivist aesthetic and an ahistorical psychology as a conservative suppression of political and socioeconomic reality.14 If Wordsworth’s poem “Tintern Abbey” was engrossed in the ruin’s pastoral surroundings and their elevating effects on the poetic imagination, Marjorie Levinson has argued in her influential essay “Insight and Oversight,” it was primarily to direct attention away from the homeless people living around the abbey and the environmental damage caused by the local iron industry. For both Eagleton and Levinson, then, the Romantic depoliticisation of the aesthetic was a profoundly political act. The Kantian belief in perceptual autonomy, however, can also be construed as part of a moral, if slightly naive, strategy to rescue the aesthetic from political appropriation and from the physiognomic thinking that


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encouraged Frankenstein to invest ugliness with moral significance. More importantly, we need to reconsider the widely accepted assumption that the British Romantics uncritically adopted this belief. As Peter de Bolla and Andrew Ashfield have amply demonstrated, the idea of aesthetic autonomy never gained much of a foothold in British theory, which continued to assert the interplay among beauty, truth and moral integrity in a variety of fields, including politics, ethics, science and theology.15 Burke, for instance, may have cautioned readers against loading aesthetic characteristics with moral freight, but this did not stop him from claiming elsewhere in his Enquiry that beauty is “a social quality,” capable of inspiring “sentiments of tenderness and affection” (39). Even Coleridge, the most Kantian of Romantic poets, still believed in a “close analogy of Love and Beauty,” and in his poem “Dejection: An Ode” ascribed the perception of ugliness in nature to a lack of moral imagination and coldness of feeling.16 Far from dissociating thinking from feeling, the Romantics were prone to conflating the two and rendering everything aesthetic. This conflation was especially pervasive in the political discourse produced in the wake of the French Revolution. Burke’s Refl ections on the Revolution in France (1790) interlarded its conservative narrative with such an abundance of aesthetic arguments that the Revolution came to constitute a crime against good taste and, as Burke regarded aesthetic feeling as instinctive and universal, a crime against natural law. Just as significantly, theological writings frequently infused aesthetic sentiment with religious meaning by interpreting one’s sensory admiration for natural or artistic beauty as a mystical avowal of the magnificence of God’s creation. William Paley’s treatise Natural Theology (1802), for instance, suggested that the gratuitous beauty of “the plumage of birds, the furs of beasts, the bright scales of fishes” was purposefully designed by a supernatural intelligence for no other reason than to gratify human senses.17 That aesthetic sentiment figures prominently in reactionary and religious discourse should not imply that a rhetorical emphasis on feeling mainly serves to conceal a poverty or absence of rational thought. Humphry Davy, a chemist perhaps best known for his invention of the gas-detecting mine lamp and as President of the Royal Society, correlated scientific with aesthetic experience when he suggested that “the perception of truth is almost as simple a feeling as the perception of beauty,” a claim that resonates with John Keats’s idea that “what the Imagination seizes as Beauty must be Truth” and with his more famous but rather less subtle analogy that “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”18 Of course, the Romantics were not the fi rst to predicate political, religious or scientific thought on aesthetic sensation. What was groundbreaking, though, was their exceptional critical insight into the ideological purposes of this aestheticisation. For many liberal philosophers, indeed, Burke’s high-pitched emotionalism and persistent sentimentalisation of political thought were as reprehensible as his traditionalist ideology. In a response to Burke’s Refl ections, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote: “Man preys



on man; and you mourn for the idle tapestry that decorated a gothic pile.”19 And Thomas Paine, a self-declared supporter of literalism and rationalism, formulated a very similar criticism, arguing with an interesting animal metaphor that Burke “pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird.”20 This insight into the ideological recuperation of aesthetic feeling was stimulated by the growing awareness that aesthetic qualities do not reside in the physical object itself, but are subjectively created and manipulated. “All things exist as they are perceived: at least in relation to the percipient,” Percy Shelley argued in his Defence of Poetry (1821). 21 In reaction to John Locke’s understanding of the brain as a passive organ determined by sense perceptions, the Romantics highlighted the active and creative power of the imagination and its ability to resist, in Percy Shelley’s words, “the curse which binds us to be subjected to the accident of surrounding impressions” (Defence 698). This subjectivist interpretation of the imagination was most emphatically formulated in Kant’s Critique of Judgment. Kant, however, did not allow for individual variation in taste and still believed in a common aesthetic sense. If something is labelled beautiful, he stressed, it must be so for everyone at all times. Such a universalist position received little support from the British Romantics, who emphasised the individual character of sense perception and especially the superior aesthetic sensibility of the poet. In his Preface to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth asserted that poets possess “more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness” than the general public and have “a greater promptness to think and feel without immediate external excitement.”22 Once taste is deprived of its validity as an objective and universal standard of knowledge, it also loses its authenticating function in ideological discourse. The disgust that Burke expressed at the mob violence of the French Revolution, then, simply becomes a matter of personal taste, as subjective and fickle as an aversion to Bach or Brussels sprouts. This is not to suggest that the Romantics drained the aesthetic of its wider political relevance. Rather than something to be wary of, the union of aesthetic feeling and philosophical thought was for many Romantics a poetic ideal that few could consistently attain. Coleridge asserted that “a Poet’s Heart & Intellect should be combined, intimately combined & unified, with the great appearances in Nature,” and he praised Wordsworth as “the only man who has effected a compleat and constant synthesis of Thought & Feeling.”23 Instead of grounding their ideology in a common aesthetic sense, however, the Romantics placed to the fore the poet’s uniquely individual subjectivity as a superior source of knowledge uncorrupted by the received ideas of collective and dogmatic thinking. This was the age of the poet as visionary genius, someone who is able, as Keats put it, “to see as a God sees” and to reveal the truths and prejudices to which habituation has turned us blind.24 I will focus in this book mainly on the aesthetic categories of the beautiful, ugly and sublime. With a critical history spanning two millennia, the sublime is a versatile and frustratingly complex concept. Especially in


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recent years, it has entered so many disciplines and media that it has metastasised and mutated beyond our critical grasp. The past decade alone has witnessed the emergence of a sweatshop sublime, a holocaust sublime, a queer sublime, a capitalist sublime, a digital sublime and a pornographic sublime, and the list—which has the air of being generated by an academic spambot—seems limitless. 25 As tautological as it may sound, it seems that the concept of the sublime has come to constitute a source of sublimity in itself. A compact but unavoidably simplified defi nition of the sublime would be: an overwhelming experience produced by a phenomenon that is too large or terrifying to be represented and, as a result, makes one feel insignificant and impotent in comparison. The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in Manhattan on September 11, 2001, have already become a textbook example of the sublime, illustrating its political implications and often violent character. But I am also thinking here of less dramatic or obviously politicised experiences, such as an unexpected encounter with a grizzly bear in a suburban park or a visit to a hectic shopping centre on the fi rst day of the sales. It is with such unsettling and potentially traumatic confrontations with human and non-human corporeality that I am concerned in this book. The sublime was fi rst theorised by the Greek critic Longinus in his fi rstcentury rhetorical treatise Peri Hypsous (On the Sublime), which examined the stylistic qualities and psychological effects of overwhelming language. “By true sublimity,” Longinus asserted, “our soul somehow is both lifted up and—taking on a kind of exultant resemblance—filled with delight and great glory, as if our soul itself had created what it just heard.”26 Although Longinus also attends to the beauty and power of nature, it is essentially human language that transports both speaker and listener, writer and reader out of their bodies and beyond material reality: “sublimity,” then, “is the resonance of greatness of mind” (51–52). As critics have shown, however, Longinus’ subjectivist theory did not instantly become the dominant model when it reached Britain in 1554, and aesthetic taste in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries remained more focussed on impressive natural objects than the impressive rhetorical or rational power of the human subject.27 It was mainly under the influence of Burke’s and Kant’s theories that the sublime came to be seen as a quality lying in the eye of the beholder rather than in the object itself. In his empirical study A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, Burke interpreted the sublime as a psychologically and physiologically disturbing experience of terror. “Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger,” he wrote, “that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime” (36). Although the English literary critic John Dennis had already signalled the importance of terror in the psychology of the sublime, it was Burke who popularised the view of the sublime as an oxymoronic sensation, inducing both attraction and repulsion or what



he described as a “delightful horror” (67). 28 Burke’s theory emphatically distanced itself from earlier objectivist models in its focus on “the ideas of pain, and danger” and in its interpretation of material nature as only “a source of the sublime.” And yet, his compulsive interest in the classification of these natural sources, in conjunction with his frequent backsliding into a materialist idiom, shows just how difficult it was to disengage oneself from the natural sublime. Although Kant, too, still referred to volcanoes, thunderclouds, waterfalls and hurricanes as triggers of elevation, his “Analytic of the Sublime,” published in the Critique of Judgment, rejected the natural sublime more categorically. “Sublimity,” he unambiguously stated, “is not contained in anything in nature, but only in our mind.”29 To better understand the workings of Kant’s sublime, I should fi rst touch upon his transcendental idealism and its relation to his theory of cognition. Kant posits a Platonic split between empirical reality, or the world of the senses, and an idealist reality that transcends the material world. The faculties of imagination and understanding operate within the fi rst realm and mainly derive their knowledge from physical experience. Reason, on the other hand, is a socalled supersensible faculty and has no roots in material nature. Imagination represents sensory impressions or intuitions and thus synthesises world and word; understanding subsequently turns these feelings and intuitive ideas into more general concepts. It is the smooth interaction between these two faculties that allows us to understand and represent the phenomenal world. Reason, in contrast, does not supply empirical concepts but transcendental or universal ideas, such as ideas of God, morality or freedom, which exist prior to and completely independent of experience. The sublime, then, creates a conflict between imagination, understanding and reason, ultimately demonstrating the absolute autonomy and superiority of the ideal over the physical. To explain this more clearly: when we encounter an object that is too vast, numerous or terrible to apprehend, we fi rst experience a moment of mental blockage. Our empirical faculties fail to connect matter to consciousness and the world stops making sense: it appears, Kant writes, “unsuitable for our faculty of presentation, and as it were [does] violence to our imagination” (129). This moment of blockage urges us to find in our own mind a power that is “superior to nature within us and thus also to nature outside us” (147). The discovery of that power, the transcendental faculty of reason, does not enable us to represent the natural object, but at least we can now represent the mind’s failure of representation. Just as in Socrates’ maxim, the highest attainable knowledge for Kant is an insight into our lack of insight. In this paradoxical way, nature’s impenetrable otherness elevates human cognition to a self-conscious plane from where it can evaluate its representational shortcomings and watch—with a sense of masochistic satisfaction—its downfall. Kant’s sublime is thus, like Burke’s, a very mixed experience. It allows us to transcend material reality, but at the same time drives home our powerlessness as physical beings. “Since the


Animality in British Romanticism

mind is not merely attracted by the object,” Kant writes, “but is also always reciprocally repelled by it, the satisfaction in the sublime does not so much contain positive pleasure as it does admiration or respect, i.e., it deserves to be called negative pleasure” (129). Influential twentieth-century critics of the sublime such as Samuel Monk, Neil Hertz and Frances Ferguson have generally interpreted Burke’s empiricist and Kant’s transcendentalist theories as the main inspirational models for the Romantic sublime.30 In his 1989 study The Discourse of the Sublime, however, Peter de Bolla has called into question this “widely unexamined Kantian appropriation of sublimity” and urged scholars to disentangle British aesthetics from the high-flown subjectivism of German idealism.31 Since then, objectivist readings of the Romantic sublime have gained increasing ground in aesthetic philosophy, especially in those fields with traditionally strong materialist leanings, such as ecocriticism and cognitive literary theory. Working in the former field, Onno Oerlemans and Christopher Hitt have pointed out that the sublime frequently appears in Romantic environmentalist writings where it dramatises the impossibility of rational transcendence and bears out nature’s radical resistance to idealist domestication.32 More recently, Alan Richardson’s The Neural Sublime: Cognitive Theories and Romantic Texts (2010) has argued that the poets’ overwhelming confrontations with their environment not only expose the irreducible materiality of nature but also render them acutely aware of the physical wiring of their minds, and—in contrast to Kant’s disembodying experience—entrench the imaginative process resolutely in the grey matter of the brain.33 There is a growing tendency to politicise the sublime and interpret its confl ict between self and other as a tug-of-war in which power relations are negotiated and fi nally reversed or consolidated. Feminist, post-Marxist, postcolonial and queer theorists have discerned in the sublime a discourse that aptly addresses their concerns with the politics of representation and the discursive repression or emancipation of otherness. 34 In The Feminine Sublime: Gender and Excess in Women’s Fiction (1995), Barbara Freeman argues that “the canonical theories that seem merely to explain the sublime also evaluate, domesticate, and ultimately exclude an otherness that, almost without exception, is gendered as feminine.”35 Offering a postMarxist perspective, Eagleton’s The Ideology of the Aesthetic asserts that the sublime exploits the aesthetics of awe and wonder for political effect. With its masochistic indulgence in authority, pain and violence, Burke’s sublime in particular, Eagleton believes, artfully seduces the subject into a pleasurable submission to and even admiration for the power that exploits it. This study emphatically engages with these moral interpretations of the aesthetic by exploring how the sublime represents and either neutralises or emancipates animal otherness. By focussing on the significance of species in the aesthetic experience, I do not simply intend to add yet another parameter to the field of ideological criticism, but hope to demonstrate how



the concept of species interacts with the more academically established categories of race, class and gender. Several chapters in this book thus consciously locate themselves at the intersection of these critical perspectives: my discussion of Wordsworth’s “Hart-Leap Well” in Chapter 3 combines ecofeminist and eco-Marxist viewpoints to explain how the aristocratic abuse of animality relates to the sexual exploitation of woman; in Chapter 5, I show how Burke’s Refl ections on the Revolution in France conflated discourses of class, race, animality and gender to invoke a sense of universal malaise and taxonomic breakdown; and my reading of Erasmus Darwin’s philosophical poem The Temple of Nature in the fi nal chapter demonstrates how Charles Darwin’s grandfather provocatively represented the reproductive potency of woman as a force so powerful that it could endanger human existence in a sort of Malthusian sublime. Both Romantic and postmodern theorists have tended to privilege the sublime at the expense of the categories of the beautiful and the ugly, arguably because these are typically interpreted as much less ambiguous categories and, for that reason, also less theoretically appealing. The belief, however, that the sensation of the beautiful or ugly is an intuitive and selfevident experience that precedes and even precludes conscious reflection mainly rests on Burke’s and Kant’s own assumptions and therefore must be handled with critical care. On Burke’s account, beauty inheres in the physical object itself and refers to sensory qualities such as smoothness, smallness and fragility. The ugly receives much less discussion in his Enquiry and is somewhat hastily defi ned as a negative aesthetic that “proceeds from causes opposite to those of positive beauty” (95). It can, however, also be a source of the sublime when it is so excessive and overpowering that it induces feelings of terror. Although Kant shares Burke’s belief in a common aesthetic sense, he rejects his objectivist interpretation and argues that beauty creates the impression of an objective quality only because everyone reacts to it in a comparable way. Like Burke, he interprets judgments of beauty as uncritical and relates them to the intuitions of the imagination rather than to the conceptual or scientific knowledge provided by the faculty of understanding. Whether we find an object beautiful, in other words, depends on the feelings it inspires, not on our insight into the object’s technical workings. In common with Burke, Kant pays hardly any attention to the ugly, and when he does so it is mainly to showcase the power of the subjective imagination to transcend material ugliness. “Beautiful art,” he writes, “displays its excellence precisely by describing beautifully things that in nature would be ugly or displeasing,” such as “the furies, diseases, devastations of war, and the like,” an idea that clearly demonstrates the amoral character of Kant’s aesthetic theory (Judgment 190). Although Romantic aestheticians usually oppose beauty (or ugliness) to sublimity—the former a spontaneous sensation that circumvents rational reflection, the latter a critical experience hinging on the deus-exmachina appearance of reason—I will argue in this book that this aesthetic


Animality in British Romanticism

dichotomy serves to conceal the intimate relationship between these categories and, more precisely, the inception of the beautiful in the experience of the sublime. The beautiful, ugly and sublime, I believe, often form part of one and the same aesthetic process, whereby the sublime operates as a repressive mechanism domesticating the ugly and transfiguring it into an easy-to-handle object of beauty. The aesthetic of the beautiful, in turn, mystifies this cultural repression or what Theodor Adorno has called “the cruelty of forming” behind a discourse of objectivity, naturalness and ahistoricity, so that beauty comes to be perceived as the “pure beginning,” a quality that is not fabricated or culturally imposed, but that has always existed and needed only to be discovered.36 The beautiful thus erases the traces of human domestication and turns nature into a zoo behind barely visible bars or—to use a more modern and more telling image—behind plate-glass windows. This study falls into three closely interrelated parts, each of which addresses a different dimension of the aesthetic experience: morality, identity and epistemology. Focussing on the moral implications of taste, Part 1 investigates how the beautiful, ugly and sublime functioned in animal rights discourse. More than in the following two parts, my argument here shares and further develops the ethical concerns of ecocriticism, a fairly young branch of literary theory that examines the representation of nature in literature and recently also in other media.37 Like gender and queer studies, ecocriticism has its philosophical roots in the activist movements of the sixties and pairs its cultural analysis with a pronounced moral commitment. Although it arose in tandem with modern environmentalism as a response to the increasing exploitation of nature in late-capitalist industrial society, it only started to flourish and even break into mainstream thought in the early 1990s as a reaction against the neo-Kantian idealism of the Yale School critics and the New Historicists’ persistent politicisation of nature and nature writing. For New Historicists, nature was primarily a historical construct encrusted with so many political ideologies and cultural meanings that its objective reality remained frustratingly out of reach and perhaps did not even exist. In particular Alan Liu’s claim that “there is no nature except as it is constituted by acts of political defi nition made possible by particular forms of government” provoked the indignation of green theorists and is still regularly sampled in ecocritical discourse. 38 Taking issue with Liu’s subjectivist conception of nature, studies such as Jonathan Bate’s Romantic Ecology (1991) and Karl Kroeber’s Ecological Literary Criticism (1994) insisted on the physical reality of nature as something that exists outside and independent of human experience. 39 If Part 1 focuses on ecocriticism, it does so in a spirit of agnosticism and challenges two particular trends of thought in ecological literary theory. In reaction to the reality-denying readings of New Historicists (Liu: “there is no nature”) and Yale School critics (Bloom: “Romantic nature poetry . . . was an anti-nature poetry”), ecocritics tended to rebound into the opposite



extreme, adopting a rigorously materialist position that assumes that it is our knowledge that alienates us from nature and that only a return to a prelinguistic and pre-technological world will be able to arrest the industrial exploitation of our environment. “Once, we were powerless to challenge nature,” the Canadian ecophenomenologist Neil Evernden has claimed with a characteristic sense of pastoral nostalgia in his 1992 study The Social Creation of Nature. “But all of creation became our object when the Greeks were able to capture it in a word-cage.” If we want to cleanse nature of this “conceptual pollution,” Evernden suggests, we will need to experience our natural environment anew in its astonishing, unknowable materiality—not unlike the young boy experienced the black woman in Burke’s anecdote.40 It is no coincidence, then, that ecocritics have recently gained interest in the ecological potential of the Romantic sublime, which—inducing an alienating insight into reality’s resistance to human representation, politicisation and historicisation—accommodates exactly the sort of purging encounter that Evernden believes to be crucial to environmental consciousness. This ecocritical belief in the possibility of an unmediated contact with nature, outside reason and language, is deeply problematic, however. At best, it fails to recognise that humans (and many other animal species, in fact) are always already reasoning beings, who cannot just switch off their rationality like a light bulb. At worst, it is an ideologically fraught pose that occults its rationalist and self-empowering workings behind a mystical rhetoric of self-loss and epiphany. Aside from reconsidering the green ethics of materialist philosophy, I also suggest in this part that Kant’s idealist understanding of nature and the Romantic emphasis on the aesthetic imagination may have greener implications than ecocritics have so far assumed. Given that our belief in human exceptionality and concomitant exploitation of nature are, if not produced, then at least legitimated by our subjective imagination, it is vital to be a poet of the imagination in order to be a poet of nature—a fact of which the Romantics were very much aware. The second ecocritical trend of thought I tackle in this part, and in fact throughout this book, involves the reductionist tendency of ecocriticism to treat the non-human world as a uniform entity and to gloss over the ontological and moral distinctions between plant and animal organisms. In this way, ecocriticism not only replicates the anthropocentric and dualistic thinking it seeks to explode, it also tacitly ignores a whole range of questions that are central to its argument, questions such as: What is the difference between a human, a dog, a tree and a robot? What would a tree or a lion say if they could talk, and would they speak a different dialect or language? And why do I feel more embarrassed when I am naked in front of my cat than in front of my cactus? Although they may sound too frivolous to deserve careful academic contemplation, these questions address deeply relevant issues pertaining to non-human subjectivity, morality and epistemology, and are therefore entitled to a place in ecocritical debate. The field of animal studies (also referred to as human-animal studies, animal


Animality in British Romanticism

philosophy or zoocriticism), by contrast, has foregrounded and thoroughly problematised these issues, and for that reason offers a more comprehensive understanding of nature and its cultural representation.41 Like ecocriticism, animal studies developed as the academic offshoot of a wider social movement, which revolted against the abusive deployment of non-human beings in industry and science. Its emergence was also a scholarly reaction to those academic disciplines that continued to work within an anthropocentric and humanist framework, even though an array of biological sciences had already discredited and outmoded the premises of that framework. Cary Wolfe provocatively opened his study Animal Rites (2003) with the indictment that “debates in the humanities and social sciences between wellintentioned critics of racism, (hetero)sexism, classism, and all other -isms that are the stock-in-trade of cultural studies almost always remain locked within an unexamined framework of speciesism.”42 Providing a counterweight to the ecocritical neglect of the animal, Part 1 shows how the nonhuman animal presented the Romantics with a unique sense of subjectivity and agency, distinct from both human and plant experience. I am particularly interested in how the animal embodies what Derrida has called “the point of view of the absolute other” and in how the Romantics vested this alien and alienating perspective with moral significance (“Animal” 380). At the same time, my readings of Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and Wordsworth’s “Hart-Leap Well” demonstrate that if ecocriticism has generally overlooked the animal’s uniquely singular point of view, this can often be attributed to the literary material on which it tends to focus. Although both Coleridge’s and Wordsworth’s poems, for instance, initially portray the abuse and killing of an animal, that portrayal only prefaces an exploration of human responsibility to everything that lives—and for Wordsworth and Coleridge that includes plants as well as animals. If Part 1 is still fi rmly anchored in the ecocritical tradition, Part 2 owes more to animal studies and shares its reliance on postmodern philosophy (Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s theory of becoming-animal in this case), its interest in human-animal rather than human-nature relations, and also its deconstructive readings of texts that do not articulate an explicitly environmentalist message, such as Book 7 of Wordsworth’s The Prelude and Burke’s Refl ections on the Revolution in France. I investigate here how Romantic aesthetics both registered and shaped the crisis of human identity caused by the rise of the industrial metropolis, the French Revolution and early evolutionary theories. My focus is on that disruptive encounter with the animal, both within and without the self, which undermines the subject’s centralised, unitary identity and creates a hybrid creature, fragmented between its humanity and animality—at times even physically, as in the case of Frankenstein’s Monster, whose body crudely combines human and non-human organs. Whereas for Wordsworth this fragmentation entails an aesthetic and moral threat to the autonomy of his humanist subject, for Burke the hybrid body also endangers the unity of the body politic. Both



authors, in reaction, seek to repress the fragmented or animalised human by calling for a return to natural beauty and physical homogeneity. More liberal Romantics such as William Blake and Mary Shelley, on the other hand, interpret hybridity and its resistance to biological representation as a moral opposition to the oppressive and homogenising subjectivities promoted by the family and the state. In their writings, I will show, the inbetween functions not as a site of abnormality but as an emancipating free zone where the subject is immune to the patriarchal procedures of dualisation, centralisation and marginalisation. Concentrating on the interplay between aesthetic and scientific representations of animality, Part 3 shifts focus away from ecocritical and zoocritical territory towards the field of literature and science studies. It does not, however, entirely abandon the moral concerns of ecocriticism and zoocriticism, but seeks to supplement literature and science studies with an ethical viewpoint that scrutinises the reciprocal relationship between aesthetic, epistemological and moral judgments. Mad scientists such as Dr Frankenstein have fi rmly fi xed in the popular imagination the idea that the Romantics generally adopted quite negative attitudes to Enlightenment science, ranging from scepticism and ridicule to outright hostility and rejection. Although such negativity certainly existed, the mad scientist and the Romantic poet were often also seen as products of the same obsession with genius, solitude and the prophetic powers of the imagination. Since the publications of Trevor Levere, Noah Heringman, David Knight and Richard Holmes, among many others, the notion of Romantic science appears to have gained ground in both Romantic studies and the history of science.43 Rejecting the central thesis of C.P. Snow’s famous 1959 lecture “The Two Cultures,” these studies have convincingly argued that no clear divide existed between the humanities and sciences in the Romantic period and that both disciplines continued to cohabitate until well into the nineteenth century. “Much of what we now call ‘science,’” Heringman asserts in Romantic Science, “was embedded in a cultural network more established and more vast than what has emerged in the revealing literary scholarship on [Charles] Darwin.”44 This intellectual circle brought together a vibrant and heterogeneous mixture of scientists, poets and philosophers, who frequently ventured into each other’s fields of expertise to borrow and adapt each other’s ideas and idiom. Focussing on this early-nineteenth-century interaction, Part 3 studies how the Romantics’ aesthetic perception of species influenced its scientific understanding and vice versa. Whereas Parts 1 and 2 provide the psychological, social and political backdrop against which the Romantics developed their attitudes towards animality, Part 3 thus historicises the scientific ideas that underpinned the Romantics’ moral, aesthetic and epistemological judgments. This part also widens the scope of this book to texts that straddle literature and science, such as William Paley’s treatise on natural theology and Erasmus Darwin’s philosophical poetry.

Part I


The Environmental Ethics of Alienation The Ecological Sublime

That Davis Guggenheim’s An Inconvenient Truth (2006) became one of the highest grossing documentaries in US fi lm history may have had as much to do with its reliance on the aesthetics of popular disaster fiction as with the topicality of its subject matter (the damaging environmental impact of global warming). Its trailer lured potential viewers with a fastcut montage of natural catastrophes, some dramatic taglines advertising the fi lm’s shock value (“By far, the most terrifying fi lm you will ever see”) and more questionable selling techniques bordering on emotional blackmail (“If you love your children . . . You have to see this fi lm”).1 Although its popularity has risen in tandem with the increasing urgency of our environmental problems, the genre of eco-disaster or eco-horror is by no means a twenty-fi rst-century invention. Blockbusters such as the Godzilla series (which started in the 1950s) and the Jurassic Park trilogy (1990s) already played upon the fear that our reckless tampering with nature would backfi re, annihilating humanity completely. The progressive urbanisation of Western society inspired similar, if less surreal, scenarios of impending doom in twentieth-century British poetry. Commissioned by the Department of the Environment in 1972, Philip Larkin’s “Going, Going” suggested that our relentless drive to domesticate and consume was bound to culminate in environmental apocalypse, reducing England to a wasteland of “concrete and tyres.”2 Its lethargic invitation of environmental destruction harked back to John Betjeman’s misanthropic poem “Slough” (1937), a bleak portrait of a city that was so industrialised that “there [wasn’t] grass to graze a cow,” and to Byron’s “Darkness” (1816), which meditated on the possibility of a global cataclysm leaving the world “Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless.”3 Written two years later, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein shared Byron’s tragic vision, but scaled down its ecological disaster to family size and placed individual responsibility on Frankenstein. His Promethean act—the creation of new life without divine or even female involvement—produces a monstrous creature that embarks on a killing spree throughout Europe, eventually murdering several of Frankenstein’s friends and family members.

20 Animality in British Romanticism Moral as its intentions may be, the eco-horror genre remains a dubious aesthetic tool with which to raise awareness of environmental issues, not least because its sensationalist portrayal of natural disaster capitalises on the problem it is meant to remedy. More problematic still is its reliance on the psychology of alienation. Environmentalism generally promotes the idea that problems such as global warming and the erosion of biodiversity are caused by our estrangement from nature. If industrialisation and the ensuing urbanisation allowed us to live a comfortable homely life, removed from nature’s hardships, our retreat into the city and suburbia is also believed to have rendered us increasingly myopic to the environmental impact of our behaviour. Whether it is the exotic houseplants we buy for our homes or the hyper-stylised wildlife documentaries we watch on TV, nature has become an abstract consumer product, something that is somewhere out there but never quite here, let alone in ourselves. Paradoxically enough, eco-horror now aims to demonstrate our rootedness in nature and induce feelings of environmental empathy by presenting an overwhelming display of eco-disasters that make nature look only more alien. It thus applies the psychology of alienation as a homeopathic remedy and creates the impression that we are in fact not alienated enough. There is an important socio-historical reason to assume that environmental alienation can generate feelings of identification. When tracing the genealogy of our contemporary animal rights movement, we see that its ideas fi rst began to gain ground towards the end of the eighteenth century, a time in which humans had become more estranged than ever from nature and animality. While the Industrial Revolution, in conjunction with a number of agricultural laws such as the Enclosure Acts, forced rural labourers to migrate from the country to the city, the mechanisation of the production process markedly reduced the need for animal power and ostracised working animals from city life. With humans moving into the city and animals moving out, the latter were increasingly looked upon as alien creatures, belonging to a different time and place. This economic and geographical marginalisation of the animal appears to have stimulated its emancipation, leading as it did to a sense that animals were independent organisms rather than simply created for agricultural or industrial purposes. Moral historians have indicated that the animal rights issues did not arise from the farmer’s pragmatic, fi rst-hand experience of nature but came about in the intellectual circles of the urban bourgeoisie, which could afford— fi nancially and socially—to oppose cruel farming practices and advocate more compassionate attitudes towards animal life.4 For the middle classes, moreover, animal rights philosophy functioned as a powerful instrument of self-defi nition. It offered them a social narrative with which they could distance themselves not only from the proletarian enjoyment of blood sports and the aristocratic taste for hunting, but also from the dog-eat-dog business of the natural world at large. To abstain from animal products, indeed, was to escape social and biological determinism and to flaunt the absolute

The Environmental Ethics of Alienation


autonomy of one’s bourgeois subjectivity. Of course, urban alienation by itself could have merely reinforced the indifference towards non-human animals that already existed. The marginalisation of nature was counteracted by the relatively new fashions of pet-keeping and zoological gardens, which increased the number and visibility of animals in the city. These urban animals satisfied an important psychological need by reconnecting metropolitan citizens to a sense of nature that had been repressed by the Industrial Revolution, albeit one that was based not on biological reality but on a highly sentimental view of country life. This eighteenth-century urban alienation from nature also laid the groundwork for a revolution in the biological sciences. For centuries, plants and animals had been categorised in terms of their practical, aesthetic or dietary use for humanity rather than in terms of their objective characteristics. Nature now came to be seen as a self-regulating system that was not created to satisfy man’s gastronomic or economic needs but that existed in its own right. Together with an increase in vivisection experiments, this more detached and objective view of the natural world provided scientists with new insights into the anatomical and emotional similarities between species, which in turn amplified the call for a more sympathetic treatment of animal life. The rise of animal rights philosophy in Romantic-period Britain was thus a deeply paradoxical development, whereby the growing detachment from non-human animals brought about an understanding of our similarities to them. Although the environmentalist reliance on the aesthetic of eco-disaster has received ample attention in ecocritical studies, most ecocritics have traced this reliance back to the religious discourse of apocalypticism rather than to the sublime. 5 That environmentalism frequently taps into apocalyptic rhetoric should not be too surprising. Because biblical apocalypse is by nature an aesthetic of eco-disaster, manifesting itself through thunder, lightning, a hailstorm, some earthquakes and a plague of locusts, it requires little stylistic modification or allegorical interpretation to channel an environmentalist message. With its violent subversion of an old corrupted world order and advent of a new utopian regime, moreover, apocalypticism has always lent itself easily to political appropriation, whether by anarcho-pacifist groups anticipating the nuclear selfdestruction of the military state apparatus or communists hoping for the Second Coming of Marx. The ecocritical focus on apocalypticism has greatly contributed to our understanding of the eco-horror genre, clarifying its distinctive chronology of environmental ruin and millennial rebirth as well as its continuing appeal to the fearful and the paranoid. It has, however, paid little attention to the paradoxical role of alienation in environmentalist discourse. Instead of interpreting eco-horror as an outgrowth of biblical apocalypticism, I therefore suggest a different genealogy with secular roots running back to Longinus’ rhetorical sublime. As an introspective investigation into mental rather than physical breakdown, the aesthetic of the sublime can arguably teach us more about


Animality in British Romanticism

the complex psychology underlying environmental alienation and redemption than the discourse of apocalypticism. A focus on the sublime also allows us to look at texts that share the revelatory power of apocalypticism without displaying the hackneyed violence that tends to trivialise its moral message. The following interior monologue from The Body Artist (2001), a novel by the postmodern American author Don DeLillo, not only shows how these private moments of disintegration and insight (or interiorised apocalypses, if you will) are crucial to environmental consciousness, it also demonstrates the pivotal role that non-human animals play in these moments. Whereas biblical apocalypse takes little interest in the animal and employs nature merely as a stick with which to punish humanity, in the secular drama of the sublime it is precisely the animal’s alien existence and its ability to view us from a perspective unsullied by human concerns that restores natural balance. DeLillo’s fragment is worth quoting at length, as it draws on an ecological sublime that was first developed in Romantic writings: When birds look into houses, what impossible worlds they see. Think. What a shedding of every knowable surface and process. She wanted to believe the bird was seeing her, a woman with a teacup in her hand, and never mind the folding back of day and night, the apparition of a space set off from time. She looked and took a careful breath. She was alert to the clarity of the moment but knew it was ending already. She felt it in the blue jay. Or maybe not. She was making it happen herself because she could not look any longer. This must be what it means to see if you’ve been near blind all your life.6 The young blind boy of Burke’s racist anecdote has returned, albeit in a much more moral and surprisingly green shape. I am also thinking here of poems such as William Blake’s “The Fly,” in which the encounter with an animal provokes a similar redemptive reflection on the meaning of human and non-human life: Little Fly, Thy summer’s play My thoughtless hand Has brushed away. Am not I A fly like thee? Or art not thou A man like me? (1–8)7

Admittedly, few critics would associate DeLillo’s or Blake’s scene with the shock-and-awe experience of the sublime, which—as Burke reminds

The Environmental Ethics of Alienation


us—“comes upon us in the gloomy forest, and in the howling wilderness, in the form of the lion, the tiger, the panther, or rhinoceros,” not in the unthreatening shape of a pretty blue jay or dead fly (Sublime 60–61). And yet, there is reason to interpret these scenes in the light of the sublime rather than the beautiful. Despite the Romantics’ great interest in the physical reality of their environment, their aesthetic philosophy turned increasingly inwards, privileging the subject’s psychological response to the exterior world over that world’s objective characteristics. This subjective response, they believed, could radically transform one’s routinised understanding of nature, so that one would come to perceive nature as though—to return to Burke once more—one had regained one’s eyesight after a period of blindness. Emphasising the importance of such a perceptual renewal, Coleridge argued that “the character and privilege of Genius” is “to combine the child’s sense of wonder and novelty with the appearances which every day for perhaps forty years had rendered familiar.”8 In A Defence of Poetry, Percy Shelley similarly stressed that “poetry . . . makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar” (681). By challenging our habituated patterns of perception, the poetic imagination alienates us from our conventional view of reality, so much so that even the most mundane display of pastoral kitsch can inspire sublime wonder. This is precisely what occurs in Blake’s and DeLillo’s fragments, which invest a relatively ordinary scene with an alienating and cathartic power to which usually only the sublime can lay claim. The result is a double estrangement, calling into question both our subjective construction of nature and our objective relation to animality. That the sublime can leave a lasting impact on our moral attitude towards animality has attracted some ecocritical interest. Mary Midgley’s 1979 study Beast and Man was the fi rst to theorise an ecological sublime, even if it never paired those exact terms.9 Her green model took shape as a reaction against Kant’s idealist sublime and its tendency to reduce nature to a prop against which transcendental reason could flaunt its superiority. Midgley’s ecological sublime, alternatively, dramatised that moment when the animal appeared too inhumanly different to be conceptualised. This cognitive failure to transcend our natural surroundings, she believed, makes us instantly aware of our rootedness in biological reality and of our vulnerability as physical beings. This awareness does not throw us into a state of permanent alienation as we might expect from such a traumatic experience, but inspires a deeply moral recognition of biological interdependence. To illustrate the moral workings of this ecological sublime, Midgley draws attention to an anecdote in Iris Murdoch’s The Sovereignty of Good (1970), in which Murdoch’s awareness of “the sheer alien pointless independent existence of animals, birds, stones and trees” nudges her out of her self-centred perspective and provides her with an insight into the proper proportions of things. The scene brings to mind Blake’s “The Fly” and the bird encounter in DeLillo’s The Body Artist:


Animality in British Romanticism I am looking out of my window in an anxious and resentful state of mind, oblivious of my surroundings, brooding perhaps on some damage done to my prestige. Then suddenly I observe a hovering kestrel. In a moment everything is altered. The brooding self with its hurt vanity has disappeared. There is nothing now but kestrel. And when I return to thinking of the other matter it seems less important.10

Midgley’s theory was not without its shortcomings, addressing as it did the sublime in a rather cursory, hit-and-run way at the end of a voluminous study.11 By reducing the sublime to a uniformly positive experience, she denied the ambiguity that inhered in Burke’s and Kant’s theories as one of the earmarks of the sublime. The question of whether the sublime is a moral, immoral or amoral experience has in fact long puzzled scholars. Jean-François Lyotard, one of its most Kantian twentieth-century interpreters, claimed that the sublime is “close to insanity” and “irreducible to moral feeling.”12 Paul Crowther, by contrast, went so far as to suggest that Kant “reduces the sublime to a kind of indirect moral experience,” which unites us in our communal admiration for the powers of reason and thus fosters a feeling of respect for other humans.13 The scholarly consensus that appears to be emerging is that the sublime constitutes an extremely protean discourse that covers the entire political spectrum and whose meaning depends on its interaction with a number of subjective parameters. While it occasionally functions as a potent environmentalist aesthetic capable of emancipating nature from our domesticating desires, at other times the sublime only seems intent on inviting and catering to those desires.14 The tiger, for instance, one of the animals Burke characterises in his Enquiry as particularly prone to producing the sublime, has been time and again portrayed as an object of admiration (think of Blake’s “The Tyger” or Henri Rousseau’s jungle paintings). Aesthetic feelings of respect, however, can yield various moral implications. Arguably, it is our admiration for the tiger’s power and beauty that explains its desirability among wildlife hunters and circuses and that has driven the species to the brink of extinction. At the same time, it is precisely by virtue of its aesthetic appeal that the animal ranks so high on the agenda of conservationists and that it has become a powerful symbol of our ruthless exploitation of wildlife. Even if an animal manages to provoke an unambiguous aesthetic judgment, this does not mean that the moral response to this judgment will be as consistent. The same holds, in fact, for the aesthetic of the beautiful. Pointing out the casual and subjective relationship between aesthetics and morality, the early-nineteenth-century natural theologian James Lawson Drummond claimed that we “are just as eager to destroy an animal for its beauty as for the reverse. When a brutal man sets his foot upon a frog, and crushes it to death, why does he so? Because it is ugly in his eyes. And when the same shoots a kingfisher why does he perform that act?—‘Why,’ he will tell you, ‘because the bird is so pretty.’”15

The Environmental Ethics of Alienation


The sublime not only lacks inherent moral meaning; it does not even proceed along a fi xed trajectory. Most critics agree that the initial response to the awareness of nature’s inscrutability is a feeling of humiliation and alienation. Even Kant admits that impressive natural scenes “make our capacity to resist into an insignificant trifle in comparison with their power” (Judgment 144). Theories start to diverge when it comes to categorising the mind’s possible reactions to this loss of rationality. There are two ways to cope with the threat of the sublime: either we surrender to nature and succumb to its fundamental meaninglessness or we transcend the biological world and saturate it with anthropomorphic significance. In the fi rst—typically postmodern—scenario, the subject fails to recover from the trauma of the sublime and is left estranged from reality, unable to take in its brutality and chaos. Let down by the Enlightenment project and its belief that our moral sensibility would keep pace with our technological progress, postmodernists have opted for an anti-nostalgic and at times celebratory acceptance of reality’s intrinsic absurdity. If the Kantian subject could still control reality’s chaos, not by representing it but by articulating the idea of its unrepresentability, postmodern art fails to achieve such a transcendental perspective and only exhibits, as Lyotard puts it, “the unpresentable in presentation itself.”16 It is a frustratingly abstract art, which no longer attempts to capture the excessive, but incorporates this excess into its aesthetic economy (think of the monolithic colour blocks of Mark Rothko’s paintings). With threats like global warming and nuclear terrorism looming large, the problem of the real became too acute and physical in the twentieth century to be rationally controlled, or as William Faulkner phrased it more forcefully in his 1954 Nobel Prize acceptance speech: “Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: when will I be blown up?”17 Rather than presenting a radical departure from Kant’s model, the postmodern aesthetic constitutes a beheaded sublime, cut off just before the climactic return of reason. In Thomas Weiskel’s trendsetting interpretation, the Kantian sublime exhibits a tripartite structure, consisting of (1) a preliminary moment during which mind and matter are in a state of equilibrium, (2) a violent confrontation with an otherness that abruptly unbalances this equilibrium, and (3) an uplifting phase that aggrandises the ego and transports it beyond material reality.18 This final stage, Kant believes, inverts the self’s degradation and “reveals a capacity for judging ourselves as independent of [nature] and a superiority over nature on which is grounded a self-preservation of quite another kind than that which can be threatened and endangered by nature outside us” (Judgment 145). Like the postmodern sublime, Kant’s aesthetic thus also dramatises nature’s unrepresentability and the ensuing breakdown of subjectivity, but mainly in order to cast the subsequent domestication of nature and recovery of subjectivity as even greater achievements. To demonstrate the self-empowering workings of the


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Kantian sublime, suffice it to look at a fragment from Coleridge’s lectures, which recounts a visit to a Gothic cathedral that is so overwhelming that his self mystically dissolves into its surroundings: “Gothic art is sublime. On entering a cathedral, I am fi lled with devotion and with awe; I am lost to the actualities that surround me, and my whole being expands into the infi nite; earth and air, nature and art, all swell up into eternity, and the only sensible expression left is, ‘that I am nothing!’”19 We should not mistake Coleridge’s insight into his nothingness for an unconditional surrender to material reality. In a very Kantian fashion, Coleridge here manages to introject the cathedral’s imposing architecture, so that it comes to symbolise his own epistemic power and subjective autonomy. The key for this recuperation lies in the utterance “I am nothing,” which paradoxically yokes together the complete devaluation of his subjectivity with the reinstallation of his rationality. That Coleridge is able to verbalise his dissolution in nature signals a re-empowering distancing from its threatening reality: dead subjects, after all, are not known for declaring their own death—let alone in such a jubilant manner. Needless to say, neither the postmodernist’s nihilistic deflation of subjectivity nor Kant’s solipsistic denial of the real has much ecological benefit. In both cases a reconciliation between matter and consciousness seems impossible, because in the former there no longer exists a subject capable of admiring nature and in the latter there is no longer an objective world to be admired. For the sublime to be ecological, it requires a reconciliation between humanity and animality like the one Midgley has in mind, but while the outcome of her sublime is deeply moral, combining as it does a humbling awareness of the animal’s independent existence with an exhilarating recognition of biological interdependence, her choice to hide its rational workings behind a discourse of mystical revelation is more dubious. Her belief that certain natural objects—the ocean, the whale, the albatross— are inherently sublime, moreover, not only brushes aside more than two centuries of subjectivist aesthetic philosophy; it also fails to explain why the same natural scene will not always inspire the same ecological insight. In the light of her materialist beliefs, it is only surprising that Midgley chooses a kestrel to symbolise natural sublimity, an animal whose beauty and agility are undoubtedly impressive but whose power does not jeopardise our physical survival like, say, a tiger or great white shark might do. In an age in which visual media have habituated us to even the rarest natural phenomenon, we might well respond to the sight of a real kestrel with a shrugging sense of indifference, believing that the copy was more impressive than the original—more in focus, better lit and accompanied by a more poignant soundtrack. In contrast to Midgley, DeLillo realises that whether or not an animal evokes sublime wonder hinges less on its intrinsic qualities than on a subjective receptivity to natural grandeur or a desire to be overwhelmed. “She felt it in the blue jay,” DeLillo writes in The Body Artist, a claim that is immediately called into doubt: “Or maybe not. She was making it

The Environmental Ethics of Alienation


happen herself because she could not look any longer.” With its focus on an animal as underwhelming as a dead insect, Blake’s “The Fly” made it even more evident that these sublime moments of empathic revelation require little sensory stimulation and are ultimately self-generated. If we want to understand how an ecological sublime works, then, we need to factor the interpreting subject into our analysis, addressing its socio-historical, psychological and biological make-up. Christopher Hitt’s essay “Toward an Ecological Sublime” (1999) is one of the fi rst sustained attempts to acknowledge the sublime’s alienating psychology and integrate it into an environmentalist theory. Unlike Midgley, Hitt is aware of the sublime’s historical use as the self-justifying myth of Western environmental colonisation and realises that its estranging effects and tendency to self-apotheosis might turn out more harmful than beneficial to nature. At the same time, he is convinced that its aesthetic concern with natural beauty, together with its interest in the limits of rationalisation and its potential to inspire admiration, makes it worthwhile to study the sublime as a tool of environmental emancipation. Hitt strives to assemble an eco-sublime that follows Kant’s tripartite trajectory without including its fi nal elevating phase, because this usually announces the return of the anthropocentric subject and a renewed domestication of nature. He recognises, however, that it would be theoretically unfair to bypass Kant’s concluding stage, for then there would be no transcendence or epiphany, which remains crucial to the sublime’s psychological development (which is not exactly true, as most postmodern models lack such a transcendental phase). In Hitt’s fi nal stage, therefore, it is not reason that transcends nature, but nature that overpowers and humiliates reason. A patent distrust of rationality runs through Hitt’s ecocritical discourse, a belief that reason and language are by defi nition fraught with an anthropocentric conception of nature and that only a mystical understanding or not-understanding of nature will promote more moral attitudes to the environment. The idea that the ecological sublime can only be felt and never rationally conceived of not only mystifies its workings and inoculates it against critical scrutiny, it also degrades every environmentalist to a raving lunatic, whose logical faculties were short-circuited by a dangerously close contact with natural sublimity. It is difficult to imagine how this ecological insight into nature’s resistance to rational insight might manifest itself. How to represent an experience that defies linguistic representation without relapsing into Kantian transcendentalism? In reaction to Kant’s model, Hitt defi nes his ecological sublime not as a conceptualisation of a failure of representation but simply as a failure of representation, something “only possible outside the realm of conceptualization.”20 Of course, Hitt realises that the dumbstruck nature enthusiast, rendered speechless and thoughtless by the splendour of the natural world, will never make a very articulate green poet, let alone a convincing green politician. He therefore puts forward a mode of representation that would not conceptually

28 Animality in British Romanticism domesticate material reality. This non-conceptual language would respect nature’s unfathomable otherness by negating human domestication (as in “this is not a garden”) or with a lexicon that is as neutral and acultural as possible (including words like matter). The problem is that even a language representing its own bankruptcy—no matter how neutral or ramshackle its vocabulary—remains a form of mediation and even an insight into nature’s resistance to rational insight is a rational insight. As Kant and the British Romantics well knew, the moment when the subject manages to understand the breakdown of its subjectivity and verbalise the failure of representation is also the moment when the subject returns with a vengeance. This is the paradox of the Kantian sublime, a model whose sway Hitt never really manages to elude. Since Hitt recognises that the alienating awareness of nature’s independence more often provokes resistance than pious compliance, it is all the more surprising that he does not clarify the underlying rationale when this awareness does encourage a reconciliation with nature. It might be helpful to consider how critics without a green agenda have explained the abrupt psychological turnaround at the heart of the sublime. Working within a psychoanalytic framework, Thomas Weiskel construes the sublime as an Oedipal crisis in which we would identify with a repulsive yet desirable patriarchal force only to save ourselves.21 Weiskel’s interpretation takes its cue from Friedrich Schiller’s claim in his essay “On the Sublime” (1793) that sometimes man has “no other means of withstanding the power of nature than to anticipate her, and by free renunciation of all sensuous interest to kill himself morally before some physical force does it.”22 The sublime, as other critics have also pointed out, tends to function as a masochistic performance during which the ego anticipatively infl icts the violence of the real upon itself, thus becoming both victimising subject and victimised object.23 This masochistic aspect of the sublime explains why the Romantics’ self-annihilation is rarely just a painful experience and more often than not occasions hysterical outbursts of delight. A key concept in both the sublime and the masochistic, this delight denies the power of the physical and declares the superiority of the subjective imagination. Masochists, the Austrian psychoanalyst Theodor Reik has stated epigrammatically, achieve “victory through defeat” and establish their subjectivity through extreme subjection: “I will bear everything, pain, suffering, humiliation, and disgrace, but I will not renounce my satisfaction.”24 From this Oedipalmasochistic perspective, the self-denying identification with nature mandated by the ecological sublime would have little to do with respect or admiration, but would mainly serve to guarantee one’s survival. Both Edmund Burke and John Dennis already suggested that the sublime has its biological origin in instincts of self-preservation. Positing an empirical theory of the aesthetic of terror, Dennis argued that “the care, which nature has inrooted in all, of their own preservation, is the cause that men are unavoidably terrified with any thing that threatens approaching

The Environmental Ethics of Alienation


evil.” One of the goals of his treatise, then, was to explain how fictional representations of “serpents, lions, tigers, &c.” can alarm these self-preservative instincts in the absence of any real danger. 25 Kant, too, interpreted the sublime as an ingenious tool of self-protection, yet in his idealist theory the sublime was not so much an instinctive reflex as a very rational method of securing our survival as reasoning subjects rather than as merely physical beings. It is this model that Terry Eagleton follows in his interpretation of Arthur Schopenhauer’s aesthetic theory. For Schopenhauer, Eagleton argues, the key to the subject’s self-preservation lies in its power to aestheticise and even take delight in its own demise: the subject cannot be entirely negated as long as it still delights, even if what it takes pleasure in is the process of its own dissolution. The aesthetic condition thus presents an unsurmountable paradox, as Keats knew in contemplating the nightingale: there is no way in which one can savour one’s own extinction. The more exultantly the aesthetic subject experiences its own nullity before the object the more, by that very token, the experience must have failed. (163–64) Eagleton’s casual reference to Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” should remind us of the lyrical tradition to which DeLillo’s and Murdoch’s bird scenes owe an obvious debt. In this tradition, the poet’s encounter with an oscine bird prompts a meditation on literary production and its relationship to the bird’s natural song. Reaching momentum in the Romantic period, these odes became markedly less metafictional, exhibiting a growing interest in the animal’s biological nature and moral rights (especially in John Clare’s rural poetry) as well as a more scrupulous concern with human psychology. For the Romantics, these bird encounters no longer underlined the organic affiliation between the poet’s verse and the bird’s song, but exposed an alienating rift between the writer’s ephemeral composition and the animal’s seemingly unchanging tune, and thus also between humanity and nature at large. In Keats’s ode, the timelessness of the nightingale’s song throws into relief the transient character of the poet’s verse and life. The poet, however, embraces this insight into human mortality and longs for a self-denying union with the bird: “That I might drink, and leave the world unseen / And with thee fade away into the forest dim” (19–20). In Wordsworth’s “To a Skylark,” similarly, the animal’s transcendental beauty underscores the inferiority of our earthly existence and elicits an almost suicidal desire for ascension: “Up with me! up with me into the clouds!”(1). Unlike some ecocritics, I would not go so far as charging these odes with great environmentalist significance, as they are primarily concerned with the animal’s symbolic meaning rather than its material presence. 26 All the same, something interesting is going on here that links these poems to the ecological sublime. Although these songbirds are typically glorified to the point of deification, they are actually rather annoying creatures. Their songs


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render poets conscious of their mortality, mock the inferior artificiality of their verse and underline their alienation from both the natural and the supernatural. So why do poets masochistically identify with these animals instead of simply pleading them to be quiet? Coleridge is quite clear on this. In his poem “The Nightingale,” a criticism of the tradition’s anthropomorphic tendency to fi nd human meaning in nature, he interprets the poet’s identification with the bird as a crafty means of self-empowerment. In his account, the poet advertises his kinship with nature so his fame Should share in Nature’s immortality, A venerable thing! and so his song Should make all Nature lovelier, and itself Be loved like Nature! (30–34)27

Whereas Christopher Hitt suggested that the subject effaced itself in order to save nature, Eagleton now shows how our deaths might rescue both nature and ourselves: suicide as a means of self-preservation and environmental conservation. This suicide, of course, is only an aesthetic performance, a masochistic theatre of self-destruction not that different in fact from environmental apocalypticism, which similarly indulges in our total annihilation in an attempt to secure our survival. Although this is probably not what Jonathan Bate had in mind when he urged critics to “move from red to green,” Eagleton’s post-Marxist interpretation of Schopenhauer’s aesthetic allows us to outline an ecological sublime that would incorporate a fi nal transcendental stage without including the anti-environmental politics that this stage usually entails.28 The subject now regains control over itself not by domesticating the natural world but by surrendering to and identifying with its superior power. That the sublime plays on feelings of self-preservation explains why we admire nature and retrieve beauty from its destructiveness, yet it does not clarify why this admiration would motivate a particularly moral reconciliation between the human and the non-human. Since Charles Darwin’s The Descent of Man (1871), however, we know that self-preservative instincts do not exclude moral action but can, strangely enough, encourage us to behave ethically towards other humans. Moral behaviour creates the climate of stability necessary to reduce the risk of premature death and to raise our chances of successful reproduction. Because Darwin believed in the common origin of all species, he emphasised that this moral sympathy would in due course extend to all living beings, fi rst “to the men of all races, to the imbecile, maimed, and other useless members of society, and fi nally to the lower animals.”29 This theory that self-preservation provides the main impetus for moral action is clearly seen at work in eco-horror films such as An Inconvenient Truth, which—hardly concealing its sociobiological opportunism—argues that if we want to survive global warming

The Environmental Ethics of Alienation


and to pass on our genes, we will need to become more moral creatures: “If you love your children . . . You have to see this fi lm.” That our moral behaviour is an evolutionary product of natural selection does not imply that every moral act in which we engage is geared toward preserving our genes or, conversely, that every act of self-preservation is automatically moral. It needs no argument that the sublime, although mainly concerned with securing our survival, will not always trigger an empathic response. Our ability to behave both more and less morally than evolutionarily necessary clearly demonstrates that there is no one-to-one relationship between ethics and self-preservation. Geographical, historical, cultural and individual variations in ethical beliefs, moreover, point out that our shared genetic material has not created a shared system of morals and that biological factors alone do not account for the complexity of our moral behaviour. If sociobiology allows us to explain the ecological sublime in its more apocalyptic manifestations (and will in fact prove crucial in Chapter 2), it is unnecessarily reductionist to apply Darwinian paradigms to Blake’s “The Fly” or DeLillo’s and Murdoch’s bird scenes. Of course, our ability to view birds as morally relevant creatures goes back to an uncontrollable instinctive drive, deeply buried in our selfish genes. But this view cannot explain why we occasionally take a self-denying interest in the bird’s autonomous existence and at other times take no notice of the animal’s presence—or even prefer to shoot it down, stuff it and put it on display on our mantelpiece. I am not gesturing at a more mystical or religious explanation of human morality that would please Midgley (who, incidentally, is involved in an ongoing battle with sociobiologists), but simply aim to make clear that, aside from taking into account the larger Darwinian picture, we also need to look at the cultural, historical and psychological particulars that condition our day-to-day behaviour. More precisely, I am interested in those moments when we act more morally towards other animals than is genetically required, or what the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins calls “misfi rings, Darwinian mistakes: blessed, precious mistakes.”30 Before explaining why this ecological sublime occurs, let us look at how. It is worth revisiting Schopenhauer’s idea of aesthetic suicide (as interpreted by Eagleton), which—unlike Weiskel’s Oedipal model—has surprisingly moral consequences. Schopenhauer, interestingly, construes sublime self-loss as a state of compassionate selflessness that allows us to act more empathically towards other humans. What is alienated in this moment would be not so much our subjectivity itself as our subjectively limited perspective. Sublime estrangement, in this view, is tantamount to a spasmodic moment of insightful detachment during which we adopt a more objective perspective on reality and become what Schopenhauer describes as a “pure knowing being.”31 In Eagleton’s words: Just as all true knowledge springs from the death of the subject, so too does all moral value; to act morally is not to act from a positive


Animality in British Romanticism standpoint, but to act from no standpoint at all. The only good subject is a dead one, or at least one which can project itself by empathetic indifference into the place of every other. It is not a question of one individual behaving considerately towards the next, but of bursting beyond the whole wretched delusion of “individuality,” in a flash of what Walter Benjamin would call “profane illumination,” to some non-place unutterably far beyond it. (164–65)

As Eagleton notices, however, Schopenhauer’s moral theory is fatally undermined by the paradox that “there can be no practice without a subject; and with subjects come domination and desire” (165). This profane illumination, moreover, leans dangerously close to the anti-rationalist epiphanies we came across in Hitt’s and Midgley’s theories and ultimately appeared to be nothing less than double-dealing poses adopted to reempower the reasoning subject. Because we can never really evade our cognitive faculty, I wonder, is it not possible to fi nd in Romantic writings a consciously rather than surreptitiously rational ecological sublime, in which our insight into the animal’s independent existence results not from a failure of our logical thinking patterns or a profane illumination but from a very rational thought experiment enabled by these patterns? Indeed, could it not be that, as Hegel suggested, “the principle of restoration is found in thought, and thought only: the hand that infl icts the wound is also the hand that heals it”?32 What I have in mind here is an experience like the one Blake described in “The Fly,” during which we are startled out of our self-centred viewpoint, not into some mystical, nonconceptual condition but into a profoundly rational space, configured by reason and only possible within its confi nes. The idea of a rational sublime, triggered by a balanced mental exercise, may sound oxymoronic, considering that in both Burke’s and Kant’s aesthetic theories sublimity is essentially defined by a frustrating feeling of cognitive blockage and mental instability. For the Romantics, however, the sublime did not always entail a violent subversion of reason. In his fragmentary essay “The Sublime and the Beautiful” (ca. 1811), for instance, Wordsworth argues that “it is certain that [our] conceptions of the sublime, far from being dulled or narrowed by commonness or frequency, will be rendered more lively & comprehensive by more accurate observation and by encreasing knowledge,” a theory that runs counter to the Burkean idea that the sublime hinges on obscurity and novelty. The sensation of the sublime, Wordsworth adds, results from the complex interplay between an immediate sensory response and a more reflective reaction, which relates one’s spontaneous aesthetic feeling to one’s rational memory and scientific knowledge. To illustrate his theory, Wordsworth analyses his experience of the Rhine Falls near Schaff hausen in Switzerland: “there is a most complex instrumentality acting upon the senses, such as the roar of the Water, the fury of the foam, &c.; and an instrumentality still more comprehensive,

The Environmental Ethics of Alienation


furnished by the imagination, & drawn from the length of the River’s course, the Mountains from which it rises, the various countries thro’ which it flows, & the distant Seas in which its waters are lost.”33 As I will show in more detail in Part 3, Wordsworth’s belief that rational abstraction heightens rather than diminishes the sensation of the sublime reflects the increasing tendency in Romantic aesthetics to correlate scientific and sublime experience. Instead of looking for moral meaning in the Romantic sublime (as ecocritics usually do), we should perhaps look for traces of the sublime in the Romantics’ moral philosophy and especially in their theories of empathy. In a letter to William Sotheby, Coleridge stressed how difficult it is to inhabit the perspectives of other beings and experience life as they do: “It is easy to cloathe Imaginary Beings with our own Thoughts & Feelings; but to send ourselves out of ourselves, to think ourselves in to the Thoughts and Feelings of Beings in circumstances wholly & strangely different from our own / hoc labor, hoc opus / and who has atchieved it? Perhaps only Shakespere.”34 Coleridge’s idea recalls Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s more moral argument in Emile, or On Education (1762) that sympathy emerges by “transporting ourselves outside of ourselves and identifying with the suffering animal, by leaving, as it were, our own being to take on its being.”35 With its emphasis on sensory transportation and a sort of ethical ecstasy, this empathic role reversal clearly evokes the out-of-body experience of the sublime and suggests how a moral sublime may function. That Coleridge locates this empathic ability only in Shakespeare underlines how for the Romantics moral and aesthetic judgments resided in the same faculty. In his Defence of Poetry, Percy Shelley similarly paired the aesthetic with the moral, asserting that poetry “awakens and enlarges the mind itself by rendering it the receptacle of a thousand unapprehended combinations of thought. . . . A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own.” And he concludes tellingly: “The great instrument of moral good is the imagination” (681, 682). Contrary to what Hitt and Midgley suggest, the sympathetic insight into the other’s moral value does not present itself in ready-made epiphanic form; it has to be forged by exercising our aesthetic imagination or, as Coleridge believes, through a Kantian tour de force of reason. We need not feel, he stresses, but think ourselves into the other’s thoughts and feelings. This identification originates in the subject’s rational mind and never surpasses its subjective limits completely. In The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), Adam Smith repeatedly argues that we can only conjecture the emotions of other humans by extrapolating our own feelings, not through actual access to their experiential reality: “It is the impressions of our own senses only, not those of [other beings], which our imaginations copy.”36 Because, as Coleridge points out, it is excruciatingly difficult to enter the other’s private perspective, a representation of its unrepresentability might


Animality in British Romanticism

be the closest we come to understanding it. Such a Kantian interpretation is also what Thomas Nagel has suggested in his well-known essay “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” (1974).37 Nagel’s article starts from the realisation that it is fundamentally impossible to experience existence in the way nonhuman creatures such as bats do. We could adopt a diet of insects, become nocturnal or sleep hanging upside down, but we still would not understand what it is actually like to be a bat, only what it is like for humans to imitate bats. As in Kant’s sublime, Nagel recognises that some natural phenomena will simply always lie beyond the compass of human reason, regardless of scientific progress. In a very Kantian way, however, he couples this humbling insight into our cognitive limitations with a re-empowering view that emphasises our ability to know that the unknowable exists. Although our minds are inadequately equipped to gain access to the bat’s experience of reality, this does not preclude us from recognising that it is in all likelihood as complex and multidimensional as our own. Unlike in Midgley’s and Hitt’s theories, this sublime insight does not hinge on a mystical merging with nature (even though its interest in the exchange of viewpoints may suggest otherwise). It involves a profoundly rational understanding, which asserts precisely the impossibility of merging with the animal’s perspective and supplies us only with the knowledge that this unrepresentable perspective truly exists. That this ecological sublime has a rational infrastructure should not suggest that it leaves no room for doubt or wonder. Even the most rational scientists—and perhaps especially they—are aware of their cognitive limitations. The difference from Midgley’s or Hitt’s theories is that in this rational sublime these limitations are not mystically intuited but rationally hypothesised. Rather than material nature, it is human reason itself that exposes our rational shortcomings and opens up a territory beyond scientific understanding and anthropomorphic meaning. The rational ecological sublime, then, not only exhibits our cognitive limitations and nature’s resistance to interpretation, it should also prevent us from relapsing into the naive ecocritical materialism that assumes that we can strip off our rationality like a dress and go completely natural. However wild or inhuman nature might be, it will always remain fenced in like a national park by our rationality and by our anthropomorphic conceptions of what it means to be wild and inhuman. The human—and here we should probably include non-human primates and any other organism with a degree of self-consciousness—is a fragmented subject, caught between the materiality of nature and its inescapable subjective interpretation. It is because of its rational workings that this ecological sublime carries more moral weight than Midgley’s experience, which inspires a kind of moral animism that ultimately proves self-refuting. “Not only does our natural sympathy reach out easily beyond the barrier of species,” Midgley argues in Beast and Man, “but we rejoice in the mere existence of plants and lifeless bodies—not regarding them just as furniture provided to stimulate our pampered imagination.”38 Midgley’s sublime, like Wordsworth’s,

The Environmental Ethics of Alienation


grants her an insight into the life of things that have no life, or at least no conscious experience of life, to the extent that even the inanimate furniture she is alluding to may start to have a pulse. When everything becomes morally relevant, nothing is moral and we descend into Disney’s nihilistic utopia, where toys and trees are infused with as much moral value as human and non-human animals and, by reverse implication, the life of an animal becomes as trivial and exchangeable as that of an object. A rational ecological sublime, by contrast, allows us to speculate on what it would be like to experience pleasure and pain as a lifeless body or even a toy, but it also bears out the dangerous absurdity of such propositions, heading as they do to a moral cul-de-sac. As Blake suggests in “The Fly,” it is not our reason but our lack of rational insight or “thoughtless hand” that brushes away and kills. The poem’s fi nal stanzas elaborate on this moral role of human rationality in more ambiguous terms: If thought is life And strength and breath, And the want Of thought is death; Then am I A happy fly. If I live, Or if I die. (13–20)

Blake here is obviously versifying the Epicurean advice that we should not fear death, because we will never experience it consciously. Alternatively, we could read the lines “the want / Of thought is death” as a variation on his idealist claim in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell that “where man is not, nature is barren” (plate 10, line 8). In reaction to the objectivist scientific theories of Bacon, Newton and Locke, Blake argued that it is our subjective perception that determines nature, rather than the other way around. Because consciousness and life are inextricably intertwined, Blake seems to say, the only way to experience nature “outside the realm of conceptualization,” as Hitt put it, would be through physical death, a paradox that foregrounds the very impossibility of sensing nature’s otherness in its stark materiality. According to Mark Lussier, however, Blake’s statement should not be read along rigorously idealist lines, but suggests an awareness of the dualistic yet mutually dependent relationship between consciousness and matter: “Just as ‘nature is barren’ in the absence of man, so too, by necessity of the proverb’s own symmetries, man is barren in the absence of nature.”39 We should remain careful of loading rational insight with too much moral baggage and, for lack of a better alternative, sliding back into a Kantian notion of reason as a faculty that transcends all subjectivity, history


Animality in British Romanticism

and ideology. History shows that although increasing scientific understanding of the animal’s point of view has fostered more sympathetic attitudes to animality, it certainly has not criminalised animal cruelty altogether, and in some respects has even exacerbated animal suffering. A painful irony, indeed, is that the growing awareness of the animal’s anatomical and behavioural similarities to Homo sapiens has only rendered it a more suitable subject for medical experimentation. Given that the experiential reality of many animal species is probably as meaningful and deep as ours, the proper attitude to take to their lives is surely one of moral respect. This is also what Derrida argues in his lecture “The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow),” which takes Nagel’s idea of perspectival exchange to its logical ethical conclusion. Derrida’s article spirals around the unusually intimate confession that he feels deeply unsettled when his cat sees him naked. What follows is a rambling meditation on, among many other things, nudity, shame and the animal’s unique point of view. Most relevant for my discussion here is his exploration of what it means (epistemologically as well as morally) to be looked at by a non-human animal. Derrida, interestingly, represents the confrontation with his cat in the paradoxical terms of the sublime, characterising the animal’s gaze, for instance, as “a gaze that is vacant to the extent of being bottomless, at the same time innocent and cruel perhaps, perhaps sensitive and impassive, good and bad, uninterpretable, unreadable, undecideable, abyssal and secret” (381). One would expect this exchange of glances between housecat and naked philosopher to produce feelings of identification. That is, after all, what usually occurred in Romantic writings, which charged the animal’s gaze with great moral force. In Percy Shelley’s Queen Mab (1813), as Timothy Morton has signalled, it is the meeting of the butcher’s and the lamb’s eyes that reveals a sense of kinship and renders the animal’s slaughter immoral: “no longer now / He slays the lamb that looks him in the face” (8:211–12).40 In Wordsworth’s “Peter Bell” (1819), conversely, it is the failure to establish an optical relationship between Peter and the donkey that underlines the former’s alienation from nature: As gently on his side he fell; And by the river’s brink did lie; And, while he lay like one that mourned, The patient Beast on Peter turned His shining hazel eye. ‘Twas but one mild, reproachful look, A look more tender than severe; And straight in sorrow, not in dread, He turned the eye-ball in his head Towards the smooth river deep and clear. (431–40)

The Environmental Ethics of Alienation


If Wordsworth finds moral relevance in the animal’s eyes (“Such life is in the Ass’s eyes” [566]), Derrida mainly spots unrepresentable otherness in its gaze, an abyss dividing him from the animal’s world. This is not an abyss estranging human from non-human animals like Heidegger’s speciesist “abyss of essence.”41 Derrida’s “infinite space” separates all species from one another and inspires, aside from an awareness of our rational limitations, a general respect for “the absolute alterity of the neighbor” (“Animal” 402, 380). Derrida’s insight is crucial in that it suggests that moral respect need not emerge from an ideologically suspicious anthropomorphisation of the animal, but can also arise precisely from recognising the distance that divides human from non-human animals. It is easy to sympathise with wide-eyed puppies, chimpanzees dressed in striped pyjamas or, as Coleridge suggested, imaginary beings. But animal rights are also and perhaps principally a matter of acknowledging the moral relevance of the absolute other, of those creatures whose horrifying ugliness and utter uselessness throw us into a state of alienation and moral trauma. “One species of Egotism,” Coleridge writes, “is truly disgusting; not that which leads us to communicate our feelings to others, but that which would reduce the feelings of others to an identity with our own.”42 In a very similar vein, an increasing number of critics have recently questioned the ecocritical tendency to favour monistic mush over alienating dualism. Timothy Morton, for one, has urged ecocritics to be “unafraid of difference, of non-identity” and to stake out a viable place of moral practice in the distance that separates us from the non-human. “If we try to get rid of distance too fast, in our rush to join the nonhuman,” he claims, “we will end up caught in our prejudice, our concept of distance, our concept of ‘them.’ Hanging out in the distance may be the surest way of relating to the nonhuman.”43 A similar insight is reached in a fragment from John Aikin and Anna Barbauld’s Evenings at Home; or The Juvenile Budget Opened (1792–96), a collection of didactic stories written in conversational form. When the little girl Sophia wonders what the raison d’être of flies is, which mainly seem to exist to annoy her, her father reverses species perspectives with a thought experiment in which the fly wonders why God created humans: Suppose a fly capable of thinking; would he not be equally puzzled to fi nd out what men were good for? This great two-legged monster, he might say, instead of helping us to live, devours more food at a meal than would serve a whole legion of fl ies. Then he kills us by hundreds when we come within his reach, and I see him destroy and torment all other animals too. And when he dies he is nailed up in a box, and put a great way under ground, as if he grudged doing any more good after his death, than when alive.44 This role reversal recasts the human as an object of sublime horror and alienates us from ourselves. An illuminating experience, this alienation

38 Animality in British Romanticism teases us out of our comfortable human perspective and provides us with a more objective lens through which to examine human and non-human existence. This lens bears a remarkable resemblance to Adam Smith’s “looking-glass.” For Smith, too, morality involves an exchange of perspectives whereby “we suppose ourselves the spectators of our own behaviour, and endeavour to imagine what effect it would, in this light, produce upon us. This is the only looking-glass by which we can, in some measure, with the eyes of other people, scrutinize the propriety of our own conduct.”45 In this moment of moral detachment, however, we do not gain insight into what it is actually like to be a fly. The father’s perspectival exchange may suggest that the animal’s experiential reality is as complex as ours, yet it is drawn in such hypothetical and self-consciously anthropomorphic ways that the fly’s actual point of view remains inaccessible to human comprehension. In the same way, Blake’s “The Fly” only conjectures the reciprocity between the human and non-human in a number of suggestive questions (“Am not I / A fly like thee?”) and hypotheses (“If thought is life . . .”); it never posits their similarity as an empirical fact. In doing so, the poem opens up a sublime space where the fundamental incomprehensibility and unrepresentability of the animal’s perspective can be rationally explored and represented. Although we will never understand what fl ies actually think, Aikin and Barbauld stress, we should still show respect to their lives. Many species, they point out, serve no obvious human purpose and appear even hostile to our interests: “there are vast tracts of the earth where few or no men inhabit, which are yet full of beasts, birds, insects, and all living things. These certainly do not exist for his use alone. On the contrary, they often keep man away” (216). This estranging insight into the animal’s independent existence inspires the surprisingly utilitarian conclusion that God created these animals simply “to be happy” (217). This fi nal resort to transcendental morality illustrates that although the insight into the animal’s independent value results from a rational thought experiment, it ultimately still requires the stamp of divine authority. So far, I have explained how this ecological sublime works, but not why it works and why it often does not. Why do we willingly engage in these alienating mental exercises? And why are we interested in what it is like to be a bat or fly in the fi rst place? To answer these questions, we need to understand the general appeal of the sublime. Although the sublime triggers our instincts of self-preservation, Burke and Kant emphasise that in order to enjoy the experience, our survival can never actually be at risk. An overwhelming scene, Kant argues, “becomes all the more attractive the more fearful it is, as long as we fi nd ourselves in safety” (Judgment 144). There is something profoundly gratuitous and playful about the sublime, an aspect that critics have generally overlooked. Like the bungee-jumper, we simulate a life-threatening situation only to activate our instincts of self-preservation and enjoy the adrenaline rush that this usually provokes. We fool our selfish genes into thinking that their survival is threatened,

The Environmental Ethics of Alienation


knowing all along that an elastic cord will prevent us from actually hitting the ground. If in the Burkean or Kantian sublime we play with our evolutionary survival mechanisms, in the ecological sublime we experiment with evolution’s moral misfi rings. We stretch our empathy to see how far it can reach, identifying with blue jays, flies, and even with trees, toys and lifeless bodies. This freewheeling and subjectivist character accounts for the unpredictability of the ecological sublime and explains why the sight of a dead insect or kestrel will not always inspire a sense of environmental reconciliation or ecological euphoria. That “the danger is not serious,” as Kant puts it, should not imply that the experience of the sublime is funny or morally meaningless (Judgment 145). Derrida’s close encounter with his housecat may well send him back to a childlike state of naivety, but this is “a child ready for the apocalypse” (“Animal” 381). The eco-horror genre transports us to an equally ambiguous state, in which it is unclear whether the spectacular violence with which we are confronted is real or merely the aesthetic product of an imagination in overdrive. The trouble with global warming, to return to An Inconvenient Truth, is that its effects are so subtle that they require imagination and dramatisation, if not to be observed, then at least to attract popular attention. It is only by collecting fragmentary data and organising computer-based climate simulations into a coherent and aesthetically appealing narrative that we realise that the threat of global warming is in fact all too real. The ecological sublime thus functions as a vital moral exercise, allowing us to anticipate and solve environmental problems in a state of relative safety before they become unsolvable. We may merely be playing apocalypse, but as anthropologists know, play is serious business. This is also what Percy Shelley argues in his Defence of Poetry. In a theory that suggests a prudent understanding of the physiological working and developmental function of aesthetic play, he asserts that “poetry strengthens the faculty which is the organ of the moral nature of man, in the same manner as exercise strengthens a limb” (682). Poetry’s moral value, put differently, lies not so much in the concrete socio-historical ideas it presents or problematises as in the deeper neurological workings of the aesthetic. There is also a psychological or therapeutic reason for the Romantic interest in the ecological sublime. Obviously, these moral exercises do not trigger the same adrenaline rush as bungee jumping, but they can feel as cathartic and empowering. In line with the homeopathic principle, Burke argued that the sublime causes a brief moment of mental instability that eventually may cure us of a “dangerous and troublesome incumbrance” and provide us with feelings of relief and omnipotence (Sublime 123). In his neurological theory of the aesthetic, Alan Richardson has argued to similar effect that the sublime subversion of our tenacious belief in human exceptionality can have an intensely liberating outcome.46 Once we no longer cling to our special status in nature and the immense responsibility it carries, even the prospect of our own death becomes bearable. The sublime, in

40 Animality in British Romanticism this view, can release us from the narcissism that makes us such tragically frustrated figures, fretting alone at the centre of the world. It “calls forth our power,” Kant maintained, “to regard those things about which we are concerned (goods, health and life) as trivial” (Judgment 145), an idea that was echoed in Schopenhauer’s claim that “aesthetic pleasure in the beautiful consists . . . in the fact that, when we enter the state of pure contemplation, we are raised for the moment above all willing, above all desires and cares; we are, so to speak, rid of ourselves.”47 It is this therapeutic use of the sublime to which Murdoch’s scene alluded, where the sight of a kestrel helped her forget “some damage done to [her] prestige.” And in Blake’s “The Fly,” the realisation that human life is neither more nor less important than the insect’s leads to a similar but more hedonistic sense of fearlessness: I dance And drink and sing, Till some blind hand Shall brush my wing. (9–12)

For the Romantics, these sublime confrontations with nature and animality functioned as a form of self-medication. Think of Wordsworth lying on his proto-Freudian couch “in vacant or in pensive mood” and recollecting his mystical union with the daffodils, a memory that instantly relieves him of his loneliness and melancholy.48 Of course, the fearlessness that these sublime thought experiments instill can easily lapse into a nihilistic apathy towards life, a risk of which Kant and Blake seemed insufficiently aware. If our life becomes as valuable as the fly’s, this might encourage us to approach animals with the respect they deserve, but also to treat humans in the same unprincipled way we usually deal with flies. Moreover, this sublime transportation from a human to a non-human viewpoint can simply reinforce our anthropocentrism. We travel (physically and mentally) for many reasons, and although the disorientating contact with a foreign perspective often deepens our empathy towards the other, at times we seem only to abandon the familiar in order to return to it and rediscover its safe and comfortable beauty.


Green Masochism Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

Coleridge’s literary self-criticism was often tinged with a ruthlessness that betrayed a deeper psychological anxiety. “I do nothing,” he complained in a letter, “but almost instantly it’s defects & sillinesses come upon my mind, and haunt me, till I am completely disgusted with my performance.”1 This compulsive, almost masochistic discontent drove him to annotate, revise and reject his writings throughout his life. It explains in part why he is such a frustratingly inconsistent thinker, whose enthusiasm easily wore thin and sank into indifference or even resentment. Although this inconsistent nature of his thought, together with the complexity of his philosophical vernacular and the intimidating breadth of his oeuvre, challenges any scholarly study of his work, it also creates a certain interpretive elbowroom which allows us to tailor an image of Coleridge in accordance with our own critical agenda: Coleridge as a free-thinking feminist or Coleridge as a Burkean misogynist; Coleridge as an armchair anarchist or Coleridge as a sulky “Tory pensioner.”2 It requires little effort, similarly, to present him as a green poet: reference some lines from his schmaltzy and shamelessly unironic “To a Young Ass” to illustrate his moral outrage at the abuse of work animals, add the didactic fi nale from “The Ancient Mariner” (“He prayeth well, who loveth well / Both man and bird and beast”), and cast his fuzzy “One Life” philosophy in such a light that it comes to prefigure a contemporary understanding of nature as a precariously balanced and tightly interconnected system. It is just as easy, however, to profi le Coleridge as a militant humanist pushing Kant’s anthropocentric idealism to its phallocentric and solipsistic extremes. “I am not the creature of nature merely, nor a subject of nature,” he claimed in a lecture spurning mechanistic philosophy, “but I detach myself from her. I oppose myself as man to nature, and my destination is to conquer and subdue her.”3 It is hard not to be reminded here of Francis Bacon’s equally sexually loaded scientific project to unravel and dominate nature completely. Much of the subtle complexity of Coleridge’s thought is lost, however, when we linger too long on such phrases in isolation and fail to see how they cover only parts of a lifelong philosophical struggle to conceive of the relationship between mind, body and nature in a way that would affi rm


Animality in British Romanticism

human uniqueness as well as organic coexistence. More than Wordsworth, it seems to me, Coleridge was a poet of environmental disorientation, who felt torn between an idealist impulse towards transcendence (which exhibits the extraordinary powers of the mind, but leaves us alienated from the natural world) and a materialist desire for a complete immersion in nature (which mystically suspends our alienation, but at the cost of denying human autonomy and superiority). In a telling reference to the Neoplatonic philosopher Plotinus, he observed: “‘Poor Man! he is not made for this world.’ Oh! herein they utter a prophecy of universal fulfi lment; for man must either rise or sink.”4 In this chapter, I do not intend to settle, once and for all, whether Coleridge was a green poet or not, and if so, whether his environmentalism was accomplished by rising over nature or sinking into it (in fact, I will argue that sinking, at times, can amount to a sort of rising and that rising can be a sort of sinking). Instead, I aim to show how his views on animal rights were integrally bound up with questions of selfhood, aesthetics and religion, and ultimately had less to do with asserting the moral relevance of the non-human animal than with fi nding a satisfying place for humanity in the order of things. Unlike Burke or Kant, Coleridge never collected his ideas on the beautiful and sublime in a lengthy or systematic study. It is mainly his “Essays on the Principles of Genial Criticism” (1814) that offer a rare coherent glimpse of his aesthetic philosophy. 5 In line with Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry, Coleridge here interprets beauty as a quality intrinsic to the object itself. The sublime, he claims in a later fragment, refers to the subjective mental power to reconcile consciousness and matter by investing the physical object with higher, symbolic significance: “I meet, I fi nd the Beautiful—but I give, contribute, or rather attribute, the Sublime. No object of Sense is sublime in itself; but only as far as I make it a symbol of some Idea. The Circle is a beautiful figure in itself; it becomes sublime, when I contemplate eternity under that figure.”6 Like Burke, Coleridge takes an interest in the aesthetic categorisation of animality and in the decisive role which culture assumes in this categorisation. Just as Burke claimed in his Philosophical Enquiry that farm animals lack the otherness and aggression to engender a sublime sensation, Coleridge’s aesthetic resolutely favours wildness over domesticity.7 The ox or ass, he argues in the conclusion to the third essay “On the Principles of Genial Criticism,” will never be as beautiful as the “cruel and cowardly Panther, or Leopard, or Tiger.”8 That Coleridge fi nds beauty in the cruel and cowardly exemplifies his belief that aesthetic judgments are divorced from moral feeling, a belief which he had already voiced in 1811. “The gate of an Inquisition may excite a thousand painful associations,” he had argued, “but if built in consummate architectural perfection, I cannot but allow it to be beautiful.”9 Coleridge’s defence here of the autonomy of the imagination, however, is far from representative of his aesthetic philosophy and poetry, which very much underlined the continuity between aesthetic and moral judgments.

Green Masochism


With its Neoplatonic tendency towards transcendence and symbolic abstraction, Coleridge’s sublime bears a conspicuous resemblance to Kant’s idealist aesthetic. Because he was one of the few canonical Romantic poets to have actually read and acclaimed the Critique of Judgment, calling it “the most astonishing of Kant’s works,” critics have been understandably eager to classify his aesthetic philosophy as a mere British spin-off of German idealism.10 In recent years, however, his aesthetic theory has been increasingly construed as a reaction to rather than a continuation of Kant’s transcendentalist model.11 Coleridge’s sublime, Seamus Perry has observed, occasionally appears “fi rmly counter-idealist,” concluding as it does not with a rationalist departure from material reality but with a quasi-Burkean awareness of cognitive obstruction and physical rootedness.12 In The Friend, for instance, Coleridge argues that the sublime “utterly absorb[s] the mind’s self-consciousness in its total attention to the object working upon it,” an idea which seems to draw its inspiration from Burke’s neurophysiological theory that during the experience of astonishment “the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other, nor by consequence reason on that object which employs it” (Sublime 53).13 Whereas Kant’s sublime enacts a violent, if liberating, divorce from physical nature, Coleridge’s seeks to forge a harmonious dialectic between mind and matter and to “destroy the old antithesis of Words & Things, elevating, as it were, words into Things, & living Things too.”14 At times, he does not only “take nature along in the experience” of transcendence, as Raimonda Modiano has argued, but goes so far as to place the sublime on a par with a mystical sinking into the materiality of things, as when he writes that the sublime is a “faculty, by which a great mind becomes that which it meditates on.”15 In a notebook entry, he expands on how such a far-reaching reconciliation might come about: “To make the object one with us, we must become one with the object—ergo, an object. Ergo, the object must be itself a subject—partially a favorite dog, principally a friend, wholly God, the Friend.”16 If Coleridge’s argument sounds confusing, to the point of comical absurdity, this is not just because of his usual obscurantist turn of phrase, but more because it suits his philosophical project to fuse and confuse thing and thought, material reality and human subjectivity. According to Paul de Man, however, Coleridge does not reconcile subject with object here, but “simply substitutes another self for the category of the object and thus removes the problem from nature altogether, reducing it to a purely intersubjective pattern.”17 For de Man, Coleridge—and those critics believing in the feasibility of a balanced relationship between thing and thought—fail to understand that this relationship is merely an effect of human language and can never develop into something less than human.18 But although de Man rightly exposes the naively anti-dualistic thinking that underpins much of Coleridge’s aesthetic philosophy, his accusation is not exactly flawless itself, failing as it does to recognise that thought and language are not airy, transcendental faculties, but are invariably embodied in


Animality in British Romanticism

the fleshy materiality of the brain, something which Coleridge, too, seemed to realise at times. In his poem “Constancy to an Ideal Object” (1804– 1807), for instance, he takes Kant’s transcendental idealism all the way down to its neurobiological essentials, boldly suggesting that “THOUGHT . . . liv’st but in the brain” (4). It is illustrative of literary criticism’s long-standing apathy towards everything non-human that a poem as concerned with animal cruelty and ecological interdependence as Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” was, until recently, rarely read as an environmentalist text. Following a moral trajectory of crime, punishment and redemption, Coleridge’s ballad centres on the Mariner’s killing of an albatross, an unexpected and seemingly unmotivated act of violence that triggers an eco-apocalypse of sorts and leaves the Mariner drifting alone around the Antarctic until he is struck by an insight into the “One Life” he shares with some water-snakes and fi nally repents. What makes Coleridge’s text so pertinent to ecocritical readings is its tendency to deploy animals not as mere background puppets against which human tragedy unfolds, but as crucial, if persistently vague, characters pushing the plot towards its redemptive conclusion. A seminal turning point in the poem, indeed, is the Mariner’s double encounter with the water-snakes. In the fi rst encounter, these slimy and strangely luminescent animals are described as horrifying creatures that precipitate the Mariner into a state of environmental alienation. In the second experience, by contrast, the Mariner praises their inexpressible beauty and instantly becomes aware of nature’s independent moral value. Although Coleridge’s “Ancient Mariner” has recently invited ample ecocritical attention, some readers have expressed scepticism about its green credentials.19 Grappling with the poem’s hermetic symbolism, Christine Kenyon-Jones is not entirely convinced of its ecological message and seems to throw in the towel at the end of her discussion: “Although an emblematic significance or ‘moral’ seems to be constantly intimated for the albatross and the water-snakes,” she concludes, “no single, constant meaning can be reliably allocated to them.”20 This lack of a solid moral anchor, however, need not rule out a green reading. In fact, it is in its resistance to moralisation, I believe, that the poem’s powerful moral message resides. My interpretation takes its cue from a letter Coleridge wrote to William Sotheby in 1802, in which he warned against “moralizing every thing” in nature and becoming bogged down in our limited human point of view: “never to see or describe any interesting appearance in nature,” he argued, “without connecting it by dim analogies with the moral world, proves faintness of Impression.” It is also in this letter that he puts his philosophy of biological interconnectedness to the service of an aesthetic theory as part of a polemic against what John Ruskin would later call the “pathetic fallacy” (the description of nonhuman phenomena or beings in human terms). Coleridge writes: “Nature has her proper interest; & he will know what it is, who believes & feels, that every Thing has a Life of it’s own, & that we are all one Life.”21 The

Green Masochism


tendency to humanise nature and infer moral purpose from its biological workings, Coleridge believes, marks a serious paucity of aesthetic vision that can easily erupt into physical violence. To read an animal as an omen or literary metaphor is to reduce it to a mere tool for human communication without value or purpose of its own. If tools no longer work, throw them away; if albatrosses no longer make sense, shoot them. It is against this consumerist logic of meaning-making that Coleridge reacts. I read “The Ancient Mariner,” then, as a poem about the violence of interpretation, a text which calls into question our obsessive search for meaning in nature and proposes scepticism as a moral remedy. The sceptical mood that Coleridge has in mind is not a crippling realisation of human ignorance. Much more Kantian, it is a sublime and self-empowering insight into our lack of insight, which prompts us—in an attitude of fearful wonder—to keep our hands and minds off the non-human animal. It is only logical that a poem which offers a sceptical interrogation of human cognition also resists narrative closure itself and appears, as Coleridge phrased it, “incomprehensible / And without head or tail.”22 Admittedly, such a sceptical eco-reading falters at Coleridge’s bumper-sticker conclusion that “He prayeth well, who loveth well / Both man and bird and beast” (612–13), which instantly buries the poem’s obfuscating ambiguities under the simplistically unifying theme of Christian repentance and salvation. It is well known, however, that Coleridge came to regret the poem’s moral didacticism. “The fault of the Ancient Mariner,” he noted in 1830, “consists in making the moral sentiment too apparent and bringing it in too much as a principle or cause in a work of such pure Imagination.”23 And in reply to Anna Barbauld, who had taken aim at the ballad for having no moral, he claimed that it had “too much moral” and that “it ought to have had no more moral than the story of the merchant sitting down to eat dates by the side of a well and throwing the shells aside, and the Genii starting up, and saying he must kill the merchant, because a date shell had put out the eye of the Genii’s son.”24 I am interested here in “The Ancient Mariner” not simply for its touchyfeely animal rights message, but also because it interlocks this moralistic concern with a more sophisticated examination of the ways in which nature is aesthetically received and constructed. Although Harold Bloom dismissed such an aesthetic interpretation, claiming that “The Ancient Mariner is not . . . a poem about poetry,” there are several reasons to assume the contrary. 25 In his Biographia Literaria (1817), Coleridge briefly alluded to his plan to prefi x an essay on “the powers and privileges of the imagination” to “The Ancient Mariner,” an essay that was either lost or never written. 26 At least as significant is that the water-snakes in the poem call to mind Coleridge’s idea (in William Hazlitt’s slightly derisive account) that “the principle of the imagination resembles the emblem of the serpent . . . with undulating folds, for ever varying and for ever flowing into itself,—circular, and without beginning or end.”27 Most likely, Hazlitt took


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this idea from Biographia Literaria, in which Coleridge had compared the dynamic operation of the imagination to the movement of water-insects— not serpents, however. These insects clearly resemble the spectral species in “The Ancient Mariner”—“blue, glossy green, and velvet black” (274): Most of my readers will have observed a small water-insect on the surface of rivulets, which throws a cinque-spotted shadow fringed with prismatic colours on the sunny bottom of the brook; and will have noticed, how the little animal wins its way up against the stream, by alternate pulses of active and passive motion, now resisting the current, and now yielding to it in order to gather strength and a momentary fulcrum for a further propulsion. This is no unapt emblem of the mind’s self-experience in the act of thinking. There are evidently two powers at work, which relatively to each other are active and passive; and this is not possible without an intermediate faculty, which is at once both active and passive. (In philosophical language, we must denominate this intermediate faculty in all its degrees and determinations, the IMAGINATION). 28 Coleridge’s belief that the proper working of the human imagination depends upon a delicate balancing act between the passive replication of thoughts and their active creation offers a variation on Wordsworth’s better known formulation in “Tintern Abbey” that the senses “half create” what they “perceive” (106–107). With this in mind, I think that “The Ancient Mariner” problematises a critical disturbance of this balance, presenting fi rst a sense perception that is too active and violently imposes its mental order upon nature, then one that is too passive and fails to psychologise the external world in a meaningful way. What is interesting and, in fact, runs counter to Coleridge’s later belief in aesthetic autonomy is that the poem also dramatises the deleterious moral impact of this imbalance and, in doing so, reveals that ethical and aesthetic judgments develop in close and continuous dialogue with each other. At the beginning of the poem, when the ship is depicted sailing towards the South Pole, a landscape completely devoid of familiar “shapes of men [or] beasts” (58), Coleridge portrays a mind that, in the absence of meaningful sensory stimuli, has completely fallen back upon itself and creates much more meaning than it perceives. In what seems like a futile attempt to make himself at home, the Mariner attributes animal qualities to the environment and vessel, so that the ice “roar[s] and howl[s]” and the ship moves like a frightened beast, chased by a “tyrannous” storm (61, 42). The vacuous, white space of the Antarctic provides the Mariner with a blank screen on which he can easily project his fears and fantasies. Coleridge’s protagonist has what Jean-Paul Sartre called in his critique of Kantian idealism a “spidery mind,” which “trap[s] things in its web, cover[s] them with a white spit and slowly swallow[s] them, reducing them to its own substance.”29 It is hardly

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surprising that when the Mariner spots the albatross, the first actually living creature he encounters, the bird is straightforwardly welcomed “as if it had been a Christian soul” (65). This personification is followed by a more mundane and physical act of domestication when the crew offers the bird human food—“It ate the food it ne’er had eat” (67)—and establishes, in James McKusick’s words, a “symbiotic exchange.”30 In return for food, the bird renders the desolate seascape less uncanny and momentarily relieves the Mariner of his idealist horror vacui. Soon afterwards, however, for no apparent reason, the Mariner takes his crossbow and kills the albatross. Critics tend to take it as a given that the shooting of the albatross is an obscenely gratuitous act of violence, placing the Mariner squarely in the company of literary sociopaths such as Shakespeare’s Iago or Milton’s Satan. That the poem affords little insight into the Mariner’s motive, however, need not imply that he is a recreational sadist who shoots sitting ducks for no other reason than to while away nautical boredom. One sensible explanation for the shooting lies in the Mariner’s assumption that the bird is a bad omen, responsible for the “fog and mist” hampering the ship’s progress (102). When the albatross fi rst emerges, the crew hails it as a good omen, which causes “the breeze to blow” and directs the ship away from the South Pole (96). After the Mariner has killed the albatross and the fog has dissipated, however, the Mariner’s shipmates change their minds and consider the animal a bad portent: “‘Twas right, said they, such birds to slay, / That bring the fog and mist” (101–102). To complicate matters further, the wind subsequently subsides, a clear indication that either the albatross paradoxically symbolised both a good and a bad omen, or that it simply encompassed no supernatural meaning whatsoever. Either way, nature now displays an error message, a blue screen of death: the ancient system of divinatory hermeneutics has crashed. At this moment, stripped of anthropomorphic projection, the natural world appears meaningless and mute, no longer speaking to the Mariner or providing him with navigational advice. “The silence of the sea” following the albatross’s death is ultimately also a reticence, a refusal of nature to talk to the Mariner (110). The murder of the albatross in this scenario would be a logical, if extreme, outgrowth of the Mariner’s idealist frame of mind, which leads him to read nature as a guidebook for the Antarctic explorer. Coleridge would thus anticipate Adorno’s criticism in his Negative Dialectics (1966) that idealism, despite its rarefied intellectualism, is an inherently violent ideology, whose deep-seated discomfort with the irreducible material otherness of nature is bound to spill over into physical aggression. “Idealism,” Adorno writes, “gives unconscious sway to the ideology that the not-I . . . and fi nally all that reminds us of nature is inferior, so the unity of the selfpreserving thought may devour it without misgivings. . . . The system is the belly turned mind, and rage is the mark of each and every idealism.”31 Coleridge, however, nowhere states that the Mariner’s violence originates in an accidental misreading of animal omens. It is the crew that offers

48 Animality in British Romanticism this explanation and their rationalisation is little more than a speculative attempt—no less questionable than my own—to make sense of the absurd. The whole point of the shooting, after all, is that it does not have a rational motive. It is obscene precisely because it is gratuitous. If the Mariner had shot the bird to pluck and cook it or to dissect it in a fit of scientific curiosity, it would not have been a criminal act in the fi rst place. At the same time, I think there is sufficient reason to assume that the Mariner killed the albatross under the delusion that it constituted a bad portent. In George Shelvocke’s Voyage Round the World by Way of the Great South Sea (1726), the travelogue from which the idea of the shooting was borrowed, a black albatross is killed because its colour is considered a sign of bad luck.32 Moreover, the perennial interest which Coleridge took at the time in the symbolic signification of animal behaviour lends credence to the idea that the albatross’s function as a totemic creature is seminal to understanding the Mariner’s act of aggression and Coleridge’s poem at large. In “The Nightingale: A Conversation Poem,” also published in Lyrical Ballads, Coleridge criticised the literary propensity to attribute human emotions to non-human animals and emphasised nature’s independent agency: “A melancholy bird? Oh! idle thought! / In Nature there is nothing melancholy” (14–15). Written in 1802, “A Soliloquy of the Full Moon” offers a more mocking but no less pointed take on the same subject. In this sardonically self-undermining poem, the moon charges those “Ventriloquogusty / Poets” (12–13) (including Wordsworth and Coleridge, in fact) for employing her as a literary metaphor for things she is not (a little canoe, an ostrich egg, half a piece of Cheshire cheese). The moon fi nally reclaims her autonomy with the tautological declaration of independence “I am I myself I, the Jolly full Moon” (66). In one of his notebook entries written in 1805, Coleridge more explicitly criticised the idealist tendency to project human meaning onto the natural world. He called it a “narcissine part of our nature,” which involves “the not me becoming great and good by spreading thro’ and combining with all things, but all becoming me and to me by the phantom-feeling of their being concentrated in me & only valuable as associated in the symbolical sense . . . with our own Symbol.”33 Predictably, Coleridge’s criticism of an anthropomorphic conception of nature was far from consistent. His 1798 poem “The Raven,” for instance, tells the story of a raven’s mate and nestlings which are killed after a woodman chopped down their tree in order to build a ship with its wood. Just as in “The Ancient Mariner,” nature avenges this act and the ship’s crew perishes in a storm. Originally, the poem precluded religious redemption and ended with an inappropriately cheerful sense of Schadenfreude: “Very glad was the Raven, that this fate they did meet: / They had taken his all, & REVENGE WAS SWEET!” (41–42). In 1817, however, Coleridge added a didactic corrective to the poem, writing that “We must not think so; but forget and forgive, / And what Heaven gives life to, we’ll still let it live.” In a later note, he dismissed these lines as well and took issue with his earlier

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Christian inclination to apply moral law to the conduct of non-human beings: “Added thro’ cowardly fear of the Goody! What a Hollow, where the Heart of Faith ought to be, does it not betray? this alarm concerning Christian morality, that will not permit even a Raven to be a Raven, nor a Fox a Fox, but demands conventicular justice to be infl icted on their unchristian conduct, or at least an antidote to be annexed.”34 After the albatross’s death, the Mariner enters what Thomas Weiskel has singled out as the second and most harrowing phase of the Romantic sublime, during which “the habitual relation of mind and object suddenly breaks down.”35 What is sublime is not the albatross itself, which evidently lacks the brutal force of Burke’s tiger or rhinoceros, but the silence of nature which the animal’s death initiates. As Burke remarked in his Philosophical Enquiry, silence can be a source of the sublime: “All general privations are great, because they are terrible; Vacuity, Darkness, Solitude and Silence” (65). The Mariner now experiences an epistemological dread, or what Vicki Hearne, drawing on Stanley Cavell, has described as the “skeptical terror about the independent existence of other minds.” The horror results from the realisation, Hearne explains, that both man and animal “know for sure about the other . . . that each is a creature with an independent existence, an independent consciousness and thus the ability to think and take action in a way that may not be welcome (meaningful or creature-enhancing) to the other.”36 Nature now appears as a self-regulating system, indifferent and even hostile to human understanding. A similar change of scenery, in fact, occurred in “The Wanderings of Cain,” a poem on which Coleridge had started working only a few months before “The Ancient Mariner,” but which was never fi nished. Following Cain’s murder of his brother Abel, the natural world is defaced and transformed into a sterile desert, populated only by serpents and vultures. “The scene around was desolate,” Coleridge writes, “the bare rocks faced each other, and left a long and wide interval of thin white sand. . . . The pointed and shattered summits of the ridges of the rocks made a rude mimicry of human concerns.”37 This awareness of nature’s independent existence mirrors a development in historical consciousness. Until the end of the sixteenth century, Michel Foucault has argued in The Order of Things, the natural world was conceived of as a complex fabric of analogies and resemblances, with “the earth echoing the sky, faces seeing themselves reflected in the stars, and plants holding within their stems the secrets that were of use to man.” One type of these resemblances, the “play of sympathies,” Foucault notes, “has the dangerous power of assimilating, of rendering things identical to one another, . . . of causing their individuality to disappear.” This homogenising dynamic was counteracted around the end of the sixteenth century by the play of “antipathy,” which emphasised the autonomy and singularity of things.38 This recognition that, to use Coleridge’s phrase, everything has a life of its own, however, had a considerable downside. The exchange of an immanent

50 Animality in British Romanticism god, employing animal and celestial bodies to represent divine intention, for a more transcendental figure, operating from behind the scenes, also cut off humanity from the supernatural and left it isolated and alone—very much like the Mariner, who reflects: “So lonely ‘twas, that God Himself / Scarce seemed there to be” (599–600). Not long after nature has fallen still and mute—“We stuck, nor breath nor motion; / As idle as a painted ship / Upon a painted ocean” (116–18)— the Mariner spots the water-snakes for the fi rst time in an encounter that brings his environmental alienation to a new pitch of intensity. In stark contrast to the idealist worldview presented earlier, Coleridge now displays the raw and sordid materiality of nature, which frustrates ideation and rational transcendence: The very deep did rot: O Christ! That ever this should be! Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs Upon the slimy sea. (123–26)

This fi rst confrontation with the snakes produces a nameless feeling of disgust, akin to the epistemic revulsion at the centre of Sartre’s Nausea (1938). In this novel, which transposed Sartre’s philosophical critique of Kantian idealism into fiction, the protagonist feels nauseated by his inability to abstract material things into functional concepts. “Objects should not touch because they are not alive,” he notes. “You use them, put them back in place, you live among them. They are useful nothing more. But they touch me, it is unbearable. I am afraid of being in contact with them as though they were living beasts.”39 The Mariner, too, feels sickened by the seeping materiality of nature, a materiality that cannot be quarantined or removed to a safe, representational distance. It is not that he loses grip on reality, but that he becomes stuck in its slimy existence.40 The Mariner’s schematic characterisation of the water-snakes as “slimy things . . . with legs” brings to mind what Bill Brown has called “Thing Theory.”41 Brown is fascinated by that moment when physical objects (including human and non-human bodies) are stripped of their conceptual significance and become mere forms without content, surfaces without soul. Typically, we gain this insight into thingness when objects lose their utilitarian or aesthetic purpose. It is the dysfunctional and the ugly that reveals the materiality of nature—its visual appearance, texture, smell and noise. A TV breaks down and becomes a black, angular thing; a severely disfigured face or just someone with a disproportionately large nose reminds us of their and our own fleshy existence. On a larger scale, it is environmental problems such as global warming that, in the past two decades, have made us acutely aware of the fragile thingness of nature. We only noticed nature when it stopped functioning and became ugly. The water-snakes, similarly, assert their independent material existence through the display of their

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ugliness and uselessness. Their power is a non-power, their activism a passive defiance. They look too alien to have divinatory meaning, too fluorescent to be edible, too ephemeral to be recuperated as junk art, and (at least for now) not even threatening enough to trigger a self-preservative and selfempowering sublime. And yet, as Bill Brown’s phrasing makes clear, the thing does engender a more sophisticated Kantian sublime: it is a liminal presence that exceeds representation and lies “both at hand and somewhere outside the theoretical field, beyond a certain limit, as a recognizable yet illegible remainder or as the entifiable that is unspecifiable.”42 Hitt’s ecological sublime, too, was concerned with things and thingness. The crucial point of difference between thing theorists or object-oriented ontologists (such as Bill Brown, Timothy Morton and Graham Harman) and ecocritical materialists (Hitt, Evernden and Midgley) is that the former group fully realises that we will never be able to bypass our conceptual mediation of nature and put ourselves into direct contact with its thingness.43 At best, the thing is a liminal entity, caught between its referential function and the inaccessible materiality of nature. Object-oriented ontologists generally do not believe that we can, as Merleau-Ponty put it, “return to things themselves,” a phrase which crucially informed Neil Evernden’s argument in The Social Creation of Nature.44 They reject such epistemological realism (that is, the assumption that we can acquire knowledge of things as they really are) and instead favour an ontological realism, which argues that things objectively exist but cannot be felt or represented independent of human or non-human perception: even the thing or thingness is a concept (and, conversely, concepts are things, too, travelling from brain to brain through physical space). By factoring in non-human as well as human perceptual perspectives, object-oriented ontologists also dispense with the anthropocentric conviction that materialist ecocritics surprisingly share with Kantian idealists. Like Kant, indeed, materialist ecocritics tend to regard conceptualisation as an exclusively human ability, as if nonhuman animals do not represent or—to use Evernden’s awkward phrase— conceptually pollute their environment. Chimpanzees, dogs and even bees do not have access to things-in-themselves either and socially create nature as much as we do.45 A stick for a dog is not a thing-in-itself, but it is a functional, conceptualised instrument that needs to be fetched and returned to that bipedal thing which keeps throwing the stick-thing away only to demand it back. Ecocritics should stop worrying about concepts. Of course, Coleridge was far from a materialist, let alone an objectoriented ontologist (if he had been, his ballad should probably have ended here). He still believed in the “sacred distinction between things and persons” and warned against becoming “lost and scattered in sensible Objects.”46 At the same time, he felt increasingly discomforted by the idealist inclination to view objects as mere materialised ideas and often seemed to desire a purely sensational awareness of nature’s thingness. In an incisive notebook entry recorded in 1804, he writes: “O! how quiet it

52 Animality in British Romanticism is to the Eye, & to the Heart when it will entrance itself in the present vision, & know nothing, feel nothing, but the Abiding Things of Nature, great, calm, majestic, and one.”47 It is not surprising that object-oriented ontologists, with their interest in non-human perspectives and the materiality of nature, have found themselves in close alliance with environmental philosophers and ecocritics.48 Coleridge’s “Ancient Mariner,” however, shows that the awareness of nature’s defiant thingness can be a repelling and visually exhausting experience, far removed from the ecological awareness in which environmental philosophers are interested. The Mariner now realises that animals have a life of their own, yet he feels too bemused and disgusted to act morally on this insight. But although it may lack instant moral relevance, his alienating encounter has substantive epistemic value. For all its melodrama, his clumsy shorthand characterisation of the water-snake as a viscous, crawling thing with legs is a more detached and, therefore, more accurate and scientific characterisation than his earlier, crudely anthropomorphic interpretation of the albatross as a “bird of good omen.”49 Coleridge’s ballad thus shows how environmental alienation makes possible a more scientific understanding of animal life. In this view, it presents a coming-of-age story of modern epistemology, a green allegory of how the urban alienation from the animal stimulated a less folkloric and more scientific conception of nature and animality. In the second encounter with the water-snakes, the same animals appear to simulate an appealing colour-coordinated spectacle that sends the Mariner into raptures: Within the shadow of the ship I watched their rich attire: Blue, glossy green, and velvet black, They coiled and swam; and every track Was a flash of golden fire. O happy living things! no tongue Their beauty might declare: A spring of love gushed from my heart, And I blessed them unaware: Sure my kind saint took pity on me, And I blessed them unaware. (277–87)

By registering a very similar scene in two different ways, Coleridge directs attention to the Mariner’s aesthetic mediation of nature and to the wider moral and epistemological implications of this mediation. Clearly, what has changed is not nature itself, but the Mariner’s perception of nature. In his earlier encounter with the albatross, his outlook on the natural world was determined by what Coleridge defi ned as the Primary Imagination, an

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instinctive and passive mode of perception limited to our pre-existing stock of knowledge, not that different in fact from Kant’s faculty of understanding. When fi rst confronted with the water-snakes, the Mariner’s Primary Imagination failed to make sense of the animals, representing them as mere things with legs. This second encounter with the water-snakes, by contrast, is perceived through the so-called Secondary or Poetic Imagination, which Coleridge defi ned as a creative faculty capable of fabricating new symbols: it “dissolves, diff uses, dissipates, in order to re-create; or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still at all events it struggles to idealize and to unify.” Its power to totalise and to reconcile matter and idea clearly relates the Secondary Imagination to Coleridge’s theory of the sublime. Besides its synthesising qualities, the Secondary Imagination also infuses matter with life: “It is essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially fi xed and dead.”50 That the Mariner blesses the water-snakes “unaware” may give the impression that this is an intuitive and uncritical experience of beauty rather than sublimity. For Coleridge, Burke and Kant, after all, the judgment of beauty is a matter of involuntary or unaware feeling, not rational thinking. “In order to decide whether or not something is beautiful,” Kant claimed in his Critique of Judgment, “we do not relate the representation by means of understanding to the object for cognition but rather relate it by means of the imagination . . . to the subject and its feeling of pleasure or displeasure” (Judgment 89). The Mariner’s enjoyment, however, is too ambiguously self-reflective to be a spontaneous experience of beauty. When he exclaims that “no tongue / their beauty might declare,” he does not represent the water-snakes themselves but displays an acute insight into the impossibility of their representation and thus clearly veers into the muddy philosophical waters of the Kantian sublime. This is a negative representation, and the pleasure that the Mariner takes in the unspeakable beauty of the water-snakes is what Kant called a “negative pleasure.” By the masochistic logic of Kant’s sublime, the Mariner’s self-deprecating recognition of his representational inadequacy fulfils a self-empowering function. Like the masochist, the Kantian subject asserts the power and autonomy of its mind by deriving a sense of pleasure, rather than pain, from its physical humiliation. 51 That, in masochistic and sublime experience, the mind does not speak what the body feels demonstrates that the human mind is an autonomous agent able to operate in complete independence from the body and the physical world in which it exists. Sublime masochism thus opens up a fault line between thinking and feeling, rationality and nature. It is in this alienated mental space that Kant’s transcendental subject is born: I enjoy my suffering, therefore I am. In a similar argument, Julia Kristeva has suggested that the jouissance (a mixture of desire and disgust) that we derive from the abject enables us to retain and bolster a stable sense of identity. She interprets jouissance as that mental condition “in which the subject is swallowed up but in which the Other, in return,


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keeps the subject from foundering by making it repugnant.” And she concludes with a statement that applies quite well to the Mariner: “One thus understands why so many victims of the abject are its fascinated victims— if not its submissive and willing ones.”52 Although the experiences of the sublime and the masochistic both hinge on the physical sensation of pain, they ultimately deny the authority of the physical and exhibit the superior power of the subjective imagination, which is capable of translating even the most chilling experience of bodily torture into a source of emotional satisfaction. In Kant’s idealist theory, the sublime is triggered by a menacing sensorial awareness (the sight of a volcano, the sound of thunderclouds) which makes us “recognize our physical powerlessness,” but eventually “calls forth our power (which is not part of nature) to regard those things about which we are concerned (goods, health and life) as trivial” (Judgment 145). The Mariner, by the same token, preserves his autonomy by rejoicing in its breakdown, or as Coleridge puts it elsewhere: “Strange & generous Self, that can only be such a Self, by a compleat divesting of all that men call Self.”53 Ironically, it is by sinking into the materiality of things that the Mariner can rise above nature and animality. The Mariner’s ecstatic celebration of the water-snakes’ beauty thus opens up an idealist exit from nature’s sticky materiality. If your enemy is too numerous and elusive to be shot with a crossbow, the only sensible thing to do might be to curry his favour by praising his pretty looks and proclaiming your own worthlessness. That the Mariner acknowledges the beauty and moral value of the water-snakes only in a strategic effort to secure his own autonomy is perhaps a disappointingly cynical conclusion for anyone holding some green (light or dark, superficial or deep) beliefs. On the upside, it suggests that Kantian anthropocentrism and self-interest need not exclude sympathetic attitudes to animality, but might, strangely enough, even foster them. In order to transcend nature, we fi rst need to become so intimate with it that it hurts and might kill us. We need to become animal in order to stay human. Coleridge, furthermore, does not enact an ethereal transcendence of physical reality here, but makes explicit the materialist origins of Kant’s idealist sublime and thereby fi rmly grounds it in biological reality. The desire for transcendence, he shows, is hard-wired into the human brain. It is a physiologically conditioned reflex that, sending a surge of adrenaline through our bodies, boosts our self-image and helps us evade the predatory materiality of nature. Adorno seconds this theory in Negative Dialectics. The idealist denial of the real, he argues, “has its primal history in the pre-mental, the animal life of the species.”54 It is an evolutionary remnant of a survival strategy which made the hunter’s prey appear less threatening and, at the same time, provided the hunter with a feeling of omnipotence and fearlessness. On this view, Kant’s intellectualist sublime is merely an animal reflex.

Green Masochism


What is the ontological status and moral value of the water-snakes after the Mariner has dismantled their physical existence? Their oxymoronic characterisation as “happy living things” nods to Coleridge’s earlier poem “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” (1797), which similarly represented nature as “a living Thing.” Coleridge here addresses his friend Charles Lamb and hopes that his journey through the Quantock Hills will provide him with an experience of the sublime. The following extract reads like “The Coleridgean Sublime for Beginners”: So my Friend Struck with joy’s deepest calm, and gazing round On the wide view, may gaze till all doth seem Less gross than bodily, a living Thing That acts upon the mind, and with such hues As cloathe the Almighty Spirit, when he makes Spirits perceive His presence! (20–26)

The sublime insight into the “One Life” here seems (and perhaps only seems) to deprive nature of its concrete reality and to distil it into something “Less gross than bodily, a living Thing / That acts upon the mind.” Although the Mariner, too, transforms the water-snakes into “living things,” he does not simply revert to his earlier idealist position, which led to the death of the albatross. The difference between the albatross and the water-snakes is that the latter are the material representation of a transcendental reality and have supernatural rather than human meaning. They do not provide insipid meteorological tips like the albatross, but—by way of a more mystical and much less functionalist vocabulary—signify a higher, divine presence. Moreover, we should not read these lines from “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” as wholly emblematic of Coleridge’s sublime. In a letter to John Thelwall, he quoted these lines and added that he rarely managed to achieve such an idealist dematerialisation of nature: “It is but seldom that I raise and spiritualize my intellect to this height; and at other times I adopt the Brahmin creed, and say, ‘It is better to sit than to wake, it is better to lie than to sit, it is better to sleep than to wake, but Death is the best of all!’”55 It appears that Coleridge considered two routes to encounter the divine: either by rationally disembodying the materiality of nature or by completely switching off his reason (through physical death, not through an ecological sublime) and becoming a thing among things. What “The Ancient Mariner” shows, however, is that a self-annihilating materialism may actually feed a self-empowering transcendence of nature. The Mariner’s appraisal of the water-snakes’ beauty is not only a way of reclaiming his position at the authoritative centre of the aesthetic experience, judging what is pretty and what is not. His judgment also assigns a functionality to the animals and re-establishes a powerful locus of meaning


Animality in British Romanticism

and fi nality in nature. The snakes are no longer a random or pointless biological phenomenon now. By providing the Mariner with aesthetic pleasure, they fulfi l a clear human purpose and infuse nature at large with human significance. If one thing makes sense, everything makes sense. “Natural beauty,” Kant writes in his Critique of Judgment, “carries with it a purposiveness in its form, through which the object seems as it were to be predetermined for our power of judgment, and thus constitutes an object of satisfaction in itself” (129). By labelling a natural object beautiful, we ascribe a meaningful teleology to nature, even if the object’s purposiveness is, as Kant insisted, ultimately devoid of actual purpose. For Kant, beautiful natural objects only look as if they were designed for a particular reason because it is so easy for us to understand them, yet in reality they have no objective function or purpose we can grasp. Their purposiveness is only a subjective impression produced by the harmonious and pleasurable interplay between our own mental faculties. When we judge a thing beautiful, then, we mistakenly project this subjective feeling onto the physical object. This is what the Mariner does when he assigns an objective purposiveness to the water-snakes and interprets their beauty as proof of divine providence (“my kind saint took pity on me”). Coleridge’s poem raises a question that is often glossed over in aesthetic philosophy, a question pertaining to the status of the physical world after the experience of transcendence. Does nature remain terrifying and aweinspiring, or is it dumped as an unwanted residue of the imaginative process, used only to feed and inspire the sublime mind? In “The Ancient Mariner,” the sublime appears to function as an aesthetic of waste management, recycling the pointless scatological junk of material existence into an economy of aesthetic and religious use-value. The Romantic sublime, it seems, is what discloses the raw thingness of nature only to upgrade it almost instantaneously into a beautiful object of desire. It is what turns disgusting goo into a perplexing piece of religious art. The natural ease with which this beautiful object can be represented and, in Burke’s belief, “submits to us” is in fact culturally enforced by the sublime’s domesticating power (Sublime 103). The aesthetic of the beautiful, in turn, erases the traces of human domestication by presenting itself as an unprocessed and ahistorical quality, something that is stumbled upon or found “unaware” rather than meticulously crafted. Like Burke and Kant, Coleridge asserted: “I meet, I find the Beautiful—but I give, contribute, or rather attribute the Sublime.” In a lecture from 1818, however, Coleridge contradicted such an intuitionist conception and claimed that the pleasure we derive from beauty stems in large measure from a feeling of mastery: “To the idea of Life Victory or Strife is necessary—As Virtue [consists] not in the absence of vicious Impulses but in the overcoming of them / so Beauty not in the absence of the Passions, but on the contrary—it is heightened by the sight of what is conquered.”56 Coleridge’s interpretation of the beautiful as a critical aesthetic, created by way of conflict and domestication, prefigures Adorno’s

Green Masochism


idea that beauty originates in a violent repression of the ugly. “Beauty,” Adorno explains in Aesthetic Theory, “is not the platonically pure beginning but rather something that originated in the renunciation of what was once feared, which only as a result of this renunciation—retrospectively, so to speak, according to its own telos—became the ugly.”57 Adorno’s point is rehearsed in Slavoj Žižek’s The Abyss of Freedom (1997), in which Žižek claims that “contrary to the standard idealist argument that conceives ugliness as the defective mode of beauty, as its distortion, one should assert the ontological primacy of ugliness: it is beauty that is a kind of defense against the Ugly in its repulsive existence—or, rather, against existence tout court, since . . . what is ugly is ultimately the brutal fact of existence (of the real) as such.”58 For the Mariner, likewise, the aesthetic of the beautiful is a defence against reality’s moral, religious and biological pointlessness, against what Coleridge in his poem “Limbo: A Fragment” (1811) called “the mere Horror of blank Naught at all” (23). Although I have already indicated that the Mariner praises the animal’s aesthetic and moral value in a barely covert attempt to save himself, the question still pending—on a less evolutionary plane—is whether the Mariner’s change of taste follows his change of heart, or vice versa. To put it another way: does he consider the water-snakes aesthetically appealing because he recognises their moral relevance, or does he consider them morally relevant because they look appealing? Judging from the chronology of his assessments, his aesthetic appreciation of nature (“no tongue / Their beauty might declare”) would determine his moral view (“A spring of love gushed from my heart”). Coleridge, in this case, would side with Burke’s idea that love is one of the defi ning psychological effects of beauty. “By beauty,” Burke claimed in his Philosophical Enquiry, “I mean, that quality or those qualities in bodies, by which they cause love, or some passion similar to it” (83). In Burke’s objectivist understanding, beautiful objects produce a pleasurable relaxation of the senses, which in turn instils a feeling of affection as an emotional after-effect. Coleridge, however, took issue with such an empiricist account in his idealist poem “Dejection: An Ode” (1802), which shared with “The Ancient Mariner” references to sailing, divination and environmental alienation as well as a thematic exploration of the relationship between consciousness and material nature: O Lady! we receive but what we give, And in our life alone does Nature live: Ours is her wedding-garment, ours her shroud! And would we aught behold, of higher worth, Than that inanimate cold world allowed To the poor loveless ever-anxious crowd, Ah! from the soul itself must issue forth A light, a glory, a fair luminous cloud Enveloping the Earth. (47–55)


Animality in British Romanticism

Following Kant’s subjectivist view, Coleridge here suggests that the experience of beauty requires a particular moral aptitude and, for this reason, does not manifest itself to the “poor loveless ever-anxious” subject, a characterisation that would well fit the Mariner—at least before his epiphanic insight. Love, put differently, is one of the primary conditions for and not, as Burke assumed, an emotional effect of beauty. That the subject’s “beauty-making power” (63) animates the natural world also underscores Coleridge’s belief in the close interconnection between beauty and Life, a connection that is perhaps stronger than the one between beauty and love. “Every beautiful Object,” he argued in a lecture on aesthetics, “must have an association with Life—it must have Life in it or attributed to it—Life or Spontaneity, as an Action of Vital Power.”59 Beauty, it appears, is the physical manifestation of Life: “Beauty is either universal, or particular—and in both it is the expression of Life sensibly.”60 Although Life can reside in both the subject and object (“it must have Life in it or attributed to it”), it chiefly appears in the shape of beauty, which only the subjective imagination can perceive and create. Without the vitalising power of the Secondary Imagination, the subject will never be able to see “into the life of things,” as Wordsworth phrased it, and the natural world will appear inimical and dead. Although Coleridge’s “One Life” philosophy contributed in no small way to a more holistic understanding of nature, it would be a mistake to regard it as an environmentalist theory. Life does not function in Coleridge’s philosophy as a very useful moral parameter, because not only human but also non-human animals, vegetables and even crystals and metals possess the property of Life. In Coleridge’s monistic theory, living and being are entirely synonymous: “whatever is, lives. A thing absolutely lifeless is inconceivable, except as a thought, image, or fancy, in some other being.”61 Coleridge, however, maintained that some creatures are more alive than others and added a hierarchy to his classification, which positioned all creatures on a ladder of life, with humanity— “the fi rmest, . . . the truest, because the most individual”—occupying the highest rung.62 Although Coleridge asserts in “Dejection: An Ode” that the animate appearance of physical reality is little more than a projection of the subject’s inner life, the poem at once casts doubt on such an idealist view when it proposes that the life-creating imagination has material roots in nature: “each visitation / Suspends what nature gave me at my birth / My shaping Spirit of Imagination” (84–86). Such ideas of an active, deterministic natural world appear more pronounced in several other of the so-called conversation poems, a collection of eight poems composed between 1795 and 1807 that all revolve around the “One Life” philosophy. “Frost at Midnight” (1798) approaches the mind as a physical organ shaped in one’s childhood encounters with nature. In the poem, Coleridge addresses his baby son Hartley, named after the materialist philosopher David Hartley, and tells him that nature and its “lovely shapes and sounds” “shall

Green Masochism


mould / [his] spirit” (59, 63–64). Alan Richardson, however, has shown that even though Coleridge frequently praised David Hartley’s materialist psychology in the 1790s, his enthusiasm proved short-lived, and as early as 1800 he began to dismiss Hartley’s theories as mere “nonsense.”63 Even so, Richardson notes, Coleridge’s poetry and philosophy never wholeheartedly embraced idealist theories of mind and retained an ambiguous fascination with physical nature as a deterministic force.64 When we read “The Ancient Mariner” alongside the conversation poems, it becomes clear why the former is such a uniquely green text in Coleridge’s oeuvre. Despite their preoccupation with organic unity and environmental redemption, the conversation poems primarily attend to a crisis of human psychology and apply nature as an antidepressant, mitigating Coleridge’s social insecurity and inducing a squishy, homely feeling of rootedness. Like “The Ancient Mariner,” the conversation poems typically portray a subject that has too much “Life of its own” and feels, as a result, completely alienated from its social and natural community. In “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison,” Coleridge is left alone under a lime tree, while his friends enjoy the countryside. “Frost at Midnight” presents the poet’s solitary contemplations on a night which is “so calm, that it disturbs / And vexes meditation with its strange / And extreme silentness” (8–10), lines that should recall the disturbing stagnation of nature in “The Ancient Mariner.” Both “This Lime-Tree Bower” and “Frost at Midnight,” however, culminate in a mystical insight into the “One Life,” which promptly relieves Coleridge of his social and spiritual anxiety. “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison,” most evidently, argues that nature (and God) is everywhere and—as in “The Ancient Mariner”—provides us with moral and aesthetic instruction: Henceforth I shall know That Nature ne’er deserts the wise and pure; No plot so narrow, be but Nature there, No waste so vacant, but may well employ Each faculty of sense, and keep the heart Awake to Love and Beauty! (59–64)

“The Ancient Mariner,” too, explores the theme of social alienation, but it combines this exploration with a biological perspective and thereby extends the “One Life” philosophy with an ecological reach it generally did not have. More than the conversation poems, “The Ancient Mariner” points to the beneficial ecological effects of alienation and to the moral risk of too much sympathy or environmental identification. The tendency to regard nature as a comfortable homely place, Coleridge suggests, can easily lead to a violent instrumentalisation of animals, whereby their value is reduced to what they mean and can do for us humans. Instead, we need to experience nature as something that feels both intrusively familiar and shockingly uncanny (in German the uncanny is aptly called das


Animality in British Romanticism

Unheimliche or “the un-home-like”). In spite of its moralistic conclusion, “The Ancient Mariner” demonstrates that environmentalism is not about being nice to birds because they remind us of ourselves or of things we know. Rather, it is about becoming aware of the ugly, dysfunctional and inhuman quality of the things we thought we knew. It is this sense of alienation that in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain stimulated a more detached and scientific perception of nature, which in turn revealed that everything was mired in the same interdependent biological reality. The abstinence from animality thus inspired a new and far more physical experience of intimacy.


Hunting for Pleasure Wordsworth’s Ecofeminism

Wordsworth did not think much of “The Ancient Mariner.” In a letter to Joseph Cottle, the publisher of the fi rst edition of Lyrical Ballads, he dismissed Coleridge’s poem as an “injury to the volume” and claimed that its eccentricity and antiquated vocabulary had kept the collection from attaining commercial success. Were a second edition to be published, he added in the business spirit of a literary entrepreneur, the poem should be replaced by “some little things” that are more palatable to public taste.1 When the second, two-volume edition appeared in 1800, Coleridge’s ballad was still there, but Wordsworth had demoted it to an inconspicuous penultimate position in the fi rst volume. The new, second volume, however, opened with a poem by Wordsworth that with suspicious precision followed the narrative and moral trajectory of Coleridge’s ballad, as though Wordsworth had tried to deliver his own, more commercially oriented version of “The Ancient Mariner.” That poem, “Hart-Leap Well,” probed the same themes of animal abuse, environmental apocalypse and organic recovery, but it downplayed the influence of the supernatural and instead put nature’s redemptive power to the forefront. In the fi rst part of the poem, an aristocratic hunter, Sir Walter, kills a deer after a gruelling pursuit, only to abandon the animal “stone-dead” (77). Sir Walter’s violence, unlike the Mariner’s, does not ensue from a brooding epistemological anxiety nor does it leave him riddled with selfdoubt or neurotic guilt. As a man of action and little introspection, he kills for the sheer physical sense of satisfaction and control which it gives him. This hedonistic motivation becomes most obvious when, in a questionable attempt to honour the animal and commemorate the hunt, he erects a “pleasure-house” on the site where the hart died, “a place of love for damsels that are coy” (57, 60). The second part of the poem moves forward in time and shows how the bucolic brothel turned into a place of decay, as if it was mysteriously struck by natural holocaust. The poem’s conclusion, however, holds out the promise of environmental regeneration, as “Nature, in due course of time, once more / Shall here put on her beauty and her bloom” (171–72).

62 Animality in British Romanticism “The Ancient Mariner” was not the only text Wordsworth had in mind when he composed “Hart-Leap Well.” His poem was also loosely inspired by Walter Scott’s “The Wild Huntsmen” (1796), which in turn was a translation of Gottfried August Bürger’s “Der Wilde Jäger” (1786). Compared to these poems, “Hart-Leap Well” is much less violent and vindictive. In “The Wild Huntsmen,” God eventually appears from behind the clouds and punishes the hunter with the stock-in-trade of apocalyptic reckoning: forests are scorched, some “dogs of hell” enveloped by “sulphureous flames” emerge from the earth and—in rigorous accord with retributive justice—the hunter is now doomed to be chased until the end of time.2 Wordsworth, alternatively, does not depict the demolition of Sir Walter’s pleasure-house and instead jumps immediately forward in time, showing only the aftermath of ecological disaster. In doing so, he leaves it open whether Sir Walter was punished at all for his crime and shuns the morally dubious sense of Schadenfreude that drove Scott’s poem towards its emotional catharsis. By opting for a less sensationalist depiction of the chase, Wordsworth clearly distances himself from the explicitness with which Scott portrays the hunter’s violence. The danger of such an explicit and spectacularised account, after all, is that it simply reproduces the brutality which it set out to condemn. In its re-enactment of the hunt, it forces the animal to suffer and die a second time, so to speak, for the purpose of moral edification and popular entertainment. Scott’s revenge fantasy is even more insidious in that, rather than censuring the hunter’s sadistic logic, it merely relocates this logic to a different level of the aesthetic experience. When God dooms the hunter to be chased until the end of time, it is the reader, in fact, who becomes the hunter and finds emotional satisfaction in the victimisation of other creatures. Sadism, Scott’s poem thus insinuates, is not fundamentally wrong; it just depends on whom one tortures. Wordsworth’s criticism goes much further. He refuses to punish the hunter in explicit terms and thereby frustrates the sadistic attitude which Scott’s poem clearly invites and satisfies. “Hart-Leap Well,” then, not only criticises the obscene violence of the hunt, but also formulates a more far-reaching selfreflective critique of the violence of reading and the spectatorship of suffering. This critique is articulated most forcefully in the didactic lesson at the end of the poem, which tells us “Never to blend our pleasure or our pride / With sorrow of the meanest thing that feels” (179–80). In its most obvious reading, Wordsworth cautions us here not to take pleasure in the suffering of even the most insignificant being. If we interpret meanest to denote “most immoral,” however, the characterisation would refer to Sir Walter, and Wordsworth would argue that even a sadistic philanderer like Sir Walter is entitled to our compassion. This second interpretation supplements the poem’s moral argument with a pronounced aesthetic message that addresses the reader as reader and advises us to shun the exploitation horror of sensationalist literature, a genre Wordsworth famously attacked in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads. In the Preface, Wordsworth lamented “this degrading thirst after outrageous stimulation” and asserted that “the human mind is capable of

Hunting for Pleasure


being excited without the application of gross and violent stimulants.”3 His criticism is usually interpreted as a thinly veiled rejection of the then immensely fashionable genre of the gothic.4 With its empirical focus on perceptual stimulation, however, his attack also takes aim at the psychological modality which underpinned the gothic and accounted for its popular appeal: Burke’s discourse of the sublime. Wordsworth never openly criticised Burke’s aesthetic, but his sublime clearly departed from the violent physiological model promoted in the Philosophical Enquiry. Whereas Burke’s sublime hinged on aggressive sensory stimulation and cognitive obstruction, Wordsworth’s was an intricate psychological and, at times, intellectualist experience, developed not at the expense but by virtue of his rational powers. During the sensation of the sublime, he wrote, “the thoughts are not chained down by anguish, but they are free, and tolerate neither limit nor circumscription.”5 The sublime, for him, was less about witnessing extraordinary things than about seeing ordinary things in an extraordinary light. This privileging of subjective creation over external stimulation was one of the defi ning characteristics of Wordsworth’s poetics. “The Poet,” he wrote in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads, “is chiefly distinguished from other men by a greater promptness to think and feel without immediate external excitement.” What differentiates “these Poems from the popular Poetry of the day,” then, is “that the feeling therein developed gives importance to the action and situation and not the action and situation to the feeling.”6 With this in mind, we should read “Hart-Leap Well” as a critical riposte to the prevailing position which Burke’s physiological aesthetics had assumed in popular literature. The fundamental problem with Burke’s theory, Wordsworth seems to say, is that it reduces aesthetic experiences to mere stimulus-response patterns which bypass and, in due course, may incapacitate rational judgment: it is coarsening and factually dehumanising. Excessive sensory stimulation, he argues in the Preface, “blunt[s] the discriminating powers of the mind” and “reduce[s] it to a state of almost savage torpor.” A sensationalist conception of the aesthetic experience thus indirectly encourages literary sensationalism or a constant “craving for extraordinary incident” that is wholly insensitive to the value of human and non-human life. 7 Because repeated or prolonged exposure inevitably leads to habituation and desensitisation, moreover, a physiological aesthetics requires increasingly powerful sensory stimuli to retain its appeal: the sublime needs increasingly more gore to shock, the beautiful more lewdness to arouse. Without reflective judgment or moral temperance, Wordsworth fears, Burke’s aesthetics of the sublime and beautiful may slide into the sadistic and pornographic. This is, in fact, what happens in Wordsworth’s poem, in which Sir Walter’s heart can only leap up when he beholds extremely graphic scenes of sex and violence—incidentally also the twin pillars of gothic fiction. What Wordsworth tries to do in “Hart-Leap Well” is to reinject a dose of cerebrality and spirituality into Burke’s physiological aesthetics.

64 Animality in British Romanticism The sublime, for Burke, was not just an aesthetic of perceptual domination, intoxicating our sensory organs with vast landscapes and terrifying natural phenomena. It was also an aesthetic of political domination, which renders “kings and commanders” at once threatening and admirable and, in doing so, throws us into a pleasurable state of revering submission (Sublime 62). Basically, the sublime is that elusive quality which leads us to idolise the power that exploits us. “I know of nothing sublime,” Burke wrote in his Enquiry, “which is not some modification of power” (59). His Reflections on the Revolution in France would make it abundantly clear that he was not thinking of just any kind of power here. What was sublime for Burke was the patriarchal autocracy of the ancien régime, a political system that Sir Walter epitomises to parodic effect. Quite fittingly, then, Wordsworth represents his protagonist in the elevated and hyperbolic style of the Burkean sublime. Just as Burke proceeded in his Enquiry from natural symbols of power (tigers, wolves, bulls) to political ones (kings, commanders) in a subtle rhetorical sleight of hand to naturalise autocratic authority, Wordsworth portrays the aristocratic hunter as a sublime natural force, comparing him to “a summer’s cloud,” “a falcon” and “a veering wind” (2, 11, 17). The hunt, similarly, is said to be “not like an earthly chase,” but a “glorious feat” taking place on “a glorious day” (26, 38, 8). The contrast, however, which thus arises between Sir Walter’s primitive behaviour and Wordsworth’s lofty representation has a mock-heroic effect and opens up a sceptical fissure between political reality and aesthetic representation. Sir Walter becomes a caricature of Burke’s sublime patriarch, a Romantic Don Quixote who has lost touch with reality and mistakes the brutal killing of an animal for an act of chivalry. Wordsworth’s criticism in “Hart-Leap Well” is clearly aimed at Burke’s anachronistic attachment to the politics and aesthetics of the ancien régime. Burke had most emphatically defended chivalric tradition in his Refl ections on the Revolution in France. “The age of chivalry is gone,” he lamented there with a wistful sense of nostalgia that pervaded his entire pamphlet, “that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honour, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness” (Refl ections 76). Although Wordsworth would later endorse Burke’s traditionalist views, in his 1793 Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff he alluded to this fragment from the Refl ections to attack the hypocrisy of Burke’s political philosophy: “Mr Burke, in a philosophical lamentation over the extinction of chivalry, told us that in those times vice lost half its evil by losing all its grossness; infatuated moralist!”8 Playing on the same anti-royalist sentiment, “Hart-Leap Well” exposes chivalry as a deeply duplicitous system, whose obsession with decorum mainly serves to conceal its moral decrepitude and to glamorise its retrograde brutality. If a stain feels like a wound for Sir Walter, this is only because a wound feels like a stain for him and because his ethical principles are dictated by a tightly regulated set of aesthetic codes.

Hunting for Pleasure


As though to compensate for his loss of power in the political sphere, Sir Walter has relocated his restless desire for domination to nature, which can still be easily conquered and controlled. Wordsworth now reintroduces Burke’s sublime into its original habitat, and—as in Kant’s aesthetic—explores an environmental rather than political power conflict. What follows, however, is not a high-minded epistemological struggle between consciousness and matter, engendered by Sir Walter’s inability to represent the hart-in-itself or conceptualise his failure of representation. In keeping with Burke’s physiological aesthetics, the conflict between Sir Walter and the hart is a mere muscular struggle between two mechanical bodies taking place in a purely materialist space. Sir Walter finally transcends this sublime power conflict not by way of a cerebral tour de force, but simply by killing the hart. In a physiological interpretation of the sublime, it seems, the question of the other can be resolved by obliterating the other physically. If your supersensible faculty of reason fails to conceptualise Mont Blanc, try detonating it. Perhaps this is what the Mariner, too, attempted to do by shooting the albatross: transcendence-through-destruction. But in his case, the animal’s death did not initiate a return of civilised society but only gave way to the sweltering psychological horror of the Kantian sublime. That Sir Walter abandons the dead hart immediately after the chase illustrates the wasteful consumerism of both the aristocratic economy and the Romantic sublime. Clearly, Sir Walter does not care about the animal itself, but mainly hunts because it has a revitalising effect on his body. Kant, likewise, was more concerned with hunting for the Real than with catching it: “we have no interest at all in the object,” he writes in the Critique of Judgment, “i.e. its existence is indifferent to us” (133). The strenuous but self-empowering effort to capture the thing-in-itself is what ultimately matters. In fact, once one manages to represent it and gratify one’s epistemic craving, the sublime subsides and the object of desire loses its enigmatic appeal. It becomes a mundane thing—beautiful at best. Let us attend more closely to a crucial scene in “Hart-Leap Well,” when Sir Walter has just killed the animal and gazes upon its corpse—fi rst with a complacent feeling of manly pride, then in a state of hysterical elation: Dismounting, then, he leaned against a thorn; He had no follower, dog, nor man, nor boy: He neither cracked his whip, nor blew his horn, But gazed upon the spoil with silent joy. ... And now, too happy for repose or rest, (Never had living man such joyful lot!) Sir Walter walked all round, north, south, and west, And gazed and gazed upon that darling spot. (33–36, 45–48)

Whereas the Ancient Mariner was a psychologically troubled masochist, Sir Walter is a pure-bred sadist, who asserts his virility through the extreme

66 Animality in British Romanticism debasement of non-human animals and women. Masochism and sadism, it seems, are the two strategies at hand to keep the threat of the other at bay and to retain our selfhood: either we inflict the violence of nature preemptively upon ourselves and affirm our autonomy by delighting in our worthlessness, or we redirect the violence back onto the physical world and reclaim our authority by taking pleasure in nature’s vulnerability. The masochist turns his idealist rage inwards; the sadist turns it outwards. It was Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry that inadvertently tied the sublime to sadistic experience. Burke was fascinated, yet at the same time deeply troubled by the emotional satisfaction we tend to derive from witnessing violence. “I am convinced,” he recognised, “we have a degree of delight, and that no small one, in the real misfortunes and pains of others” (Sublime 42). Previous discussions of the sublime had already shown interest in the aesthetics of pity and Schadenfreude, but Burke’s account markedly differed from these in its emphasis on authenticity. Whereas Joseph Addison, for instance, claimed that we can only enjoy fictional suffering, Burke believed that the spectatorship of real agony is much more emotionally rewarding.9 To demonstrate his point, he famously suggested that the public execution of a notorious criminal would attract vastly more public attention than the most realistic staging of the most ghastly tragedy (Sublime 43). As a Christian moralist, however, Burke could not tolerate that our enjoyment of human agony would be without ethical purpose. This enjoyment, he therefore claimed, serves to direct our attention and, ultimately, our sympathy towards the suffering subject. If the distress of others provoked only grief or disgust, we would avert our eyes from scenes of misery and our feelings of empathy would never be elicited. Given that sympathy is “a sort of substitution, by which we are put into the place of another man,” pity prompts us to feel the pain of others as if it was our own (Sublime 41). At this moment, when sensationalist pleasure blends with vicarious discomfort, we experience a delightful horror—which is perhaps not as powerful as the horror caused by the sublime, but which is certainly structurally related. It is our own discomfort, then, that encourages us to relieve the pain of others. Pity and Schadenfreude, for Burke, are thus complex biological mechanisms, poised between pleasure and pain, sympathy and self-interest. What Burke neglects to take into account, however, is that the delight we derive from human or non-human suffering often greatly outweighs our discomfort and that, in an attempt to trigger this pleasurable sensation deliberately, we might turn from the passive spectatorship of suffering to active sadism. Burke tries to preclude this risk by interpreting pity—like the sublime—as a feeling that catches us by surprise, not as something that can be purposely or—as in Sir Walter’s case—recreationally generated. Whereas sadism is predicated on a feeling of domination, pity would engender precisely a temporary loss of rational control and personal identity. It is a sort of knee-jerk response, Burke believes, that occurs deeply below the radar of our rational awareness. Feelings of pity,

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he claims, have little to do with our “reasoning faculty” and merely “arise from the mechanical structure of our bodies, or from the natural frame and constitution of our minds” (Sublime 41). Wordsworth’s emphasis on Sir Walter’s gaze (“[he] gazed upon the spoil with silent joy”; “And gazed and gazed upon that darling spot”) draws attention to the violence of the hunter’s spectatorship and, indirectly, to our own sadistic gaze. By taking pleasure in the hart’s death struggle— even if it is the negative pleasure produced by pity—we tap into the same affective register that fuelled Sir Walter’s sadism and thus become unwittingly complicit in his violence. Wordsworth is very conscious of this risk and grapples with the problem of how to criticise violence and inspire an empathic awareness without slipping into a sensationalist voyeurism that would perpetuate the sacrificial cycle of sadism in the reader’s experience. In order to shield his poem from the reader’s sadistic gaze, Wordsworth punctuates its descriptive passages with some reflections on the representation of violence and the ethics of reading. In Part 1, he explicitly refuses to portray the animal’s death and writes: “I will not stop to tell how far he fled, / Nor will I mention by what death he died” (30–31). And he opens Part 2 by distancing himself more obviously from the sensational violence of the gothic: “The moving accident is not my trade, / To freeze the blood I have no ready arts” (97–98). At the same time, this ethical problem that one cannot criticise violence without showing and thereby rehearsing it presents a commercial opportunity. With its reliance on subtle parody and sparse authorial commentary, Wordsworth’s criticism of gothic sensationalism in Part 1 is so underplayed that many readers might miss it completely and take the fi rst part as a realistic, even slightly glorifying account of the hunt—not that different in fact from Bürger’s or Scott’s versions.10 It seems, indeed, that Wordsworth’s poem sought to placate two oppositional audiences at the same time, with the neutral account of the hunt in Part 1 capitalising on the popular success of the gothic and the moralising second part buttering up the critics, who tended to vilify gothic fiction as a vulgar and morally debased genre. Wordsworth’s moral denunciation of sadistic pleasure becomes more problematic in the light of the poetic programme he set forth in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads. The principal task of the poet, he argued there, is to supply the reader with intellectual and sensory enjoyment: “The Poet writes under one restriction only, namely, that of the necessity of giving immediate pleasure to a human Being.” In his defence of pleasure, Wordsworth suggests that even the experience of pity is slightly gratifying: “wherever we sympathize with pain, it will be found that the sympathy is produced and carried on by subtle combinations with pleasure.”11 Coming dangerously close to Burke’s interpretation of pity, Wordsworth here seems to disregard the fi nal warning of “Hart-Leap Well,” which adopts a very critical stance against the enjoyment of suffering. All the same, there is still a significant moral difference between Sir Walter’s sadistic impulse and the “subtle”


Animality in British Romanticism

pleasures we presumably derive from pity. Sir Walter does not sympathise with the animal’s pain but causes it. And his pleasure—which is by no means subtle—does not produce or carry on feelings of moral obligation, but it drives him towards physical aggression and sexual violence. Wordsworth realised that excitement is an inflammatory and extremely volatile state of mind which can easily escalate into more violent passions: “If the words . . . by which this excitement is produced be in themselves powerful, or the images and feelings have an undue proportion of pain connected with them, there is some danger that the excitement may be carried beyond its proper bounds.”12 It is for this reason, he argued, that the poems in Lyrical Ballads heavily relied on metre, as its familiar and regular cadence would rein in “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” What Wordsworth wanted to do in Lyrical Ballads, then, was to push human emotion to its furthest viable limits without inducing the creative exhaustion and moral fatigue which the gothic tended to cause. This is also what Coleridge held to be the poet’s main duty. In a scathing review of Matthew Lewis’s gothic novel The Monk (1796), he wrote: “To trace the nice boundaries, beyond which terror and sympathy are deserted by the pleasurable emotions,—to reach those limits, yet never to pass them,—hic labor, hoc upus est [this is the labour, this is the task].”13 “Hart-Leap Well,” in this sense, appends an imperative note to Wordsworth’s plan in the Preface to concentrate on “men in a state of vivid sensation.”14 Sir Walter clearly fi nds himself in such a state of extreme excitement, but his pleasure is exclusively geared towards bodily self-gratification and lacks moral feeling, which makes up an indispensable component of the aesthetic experience for Wordsworth. After the hunt, Sir Walter plans to construct a monument on the place where he killed the hart: I’ll build a pleasure-house upon this spot, And a small arbour, made for rural joy; ‘Twill be the traveller’s shed, the pilgrim’s cot, A place of love for damsels that are coy. (57–60)

This pleasure-house has all the earmarks of the so-called locus amoenus (literally “pleasant place”), a trope in Latin and English pastoral literature referring to an Arcadian enclave, geographically and ideationally removed from the city’s social mores and sexual prudishness. The construction of this genteel bordello may seem a gratuitous plot element, haphazardly connected to the violent death of the hart and inserted for no other purpose than to add a more pronounced chivalric ambience to a text that was already steeped in the medieval ballad tradition. This trope, however, has an important symbolic function in the poem’s moral development, as it locates “Hart-Leap Well” within that tradition of chivalric poetry which recruited the deer as a stand-in for woman and the hunt as a metaphor for the pursuit of love or sexual intercourse (think of Thomas Wyatt’s “Whoso

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List to Hunt”). The locus amoenus should thus alert us to the metaphorical significance of the chase and, in retrospect, suggests that Sir Walter was not only trying to kill a deer, but also to woo a woman. If we keep in mind the brutality of the chase, however, it appears that Sir Walter did not seduce a woman in the refi ned and respectful mode dictated by the courtly love tradition. He raped her and, once he had satisfied his physical desire, left her behind “stone-dead.” Rather than paying homage to chivalric romance, Wordsworth reprehends it and uncovers its sexually exploitative underside. The courtly love tradition, he shows, does not partake of a civilising project that restrains male sexual desire, but it seeks to romanticise a ruthless libidinal economy of female appropriation and sexual accumulation. That Wordsworth introduces the gender trope only after the hunt suggests that we should not reduce the hart to its metaphorical double and that it represents both femininity and animality. As an ecofeminist critique of sorts, indeed, his text allows two layers of meaning to operate and interact at the same time, thus demonstrating the aesthetic and ideological interplay between the patriarchal exploitation of the non-human animal and the sexual domination of woman. By revealing the masculine aggression underpinning the courtly love tradition, Wordsworth unsettles the psychological dichotomy between erotic desire and the death drive as well as the correlative aesthetic distinction between beauty and sublimity. Whereas the beautiful is traditionally conceived of as a refi ned feminine aesthetic, provoking but also softening male sexual desire, the sublime is seen to play on primeval masculine instincts of self-preservation. In a reductionist evolutionary account, the beautiful is the aesthetic of the loving housewife and mother; the sublime refers to the monosyllabic violence of the hunting and fornicating husband.15 The distinction is not this simple or binary, however. In the course of its critical history, the sublime forayed into the sexual sphere of the beautiful and developed into an aesthetic of rape and female molestation. John Dennis, most notably, related rhetorical prowess to sexual aggression when he interpreted the sublime as a “pleasing Rape upon the very Soul of the Reader.”16 Even Kant’s frigidly intellectualist account is couched in ambiguous sexual terms and compares the sublime interaction between consciousness and matter to a “vibration, i.e. . . . a rapidly alternating repulsion from and attraction to one and the same object” which is “followed by a stronger outpouring of the vital force” (Judgment 141, 111).17 Not surprisingly, it is Burke’s physiological aesthetics that eroticises the sublime most plainly. Initially, Burke locates sexual instinct within the affective domain of the beautiful. Beauty, he argues, induces “gratifications and pleasures” which can be subdivided into passions of “propagation” and less sexualised feelings of love and sympathy (Sublime 37). But although Burke fi rst places lust within the category of the beautiful, he later in the Enquiry charges it with sublime power, defi ning it as a “violent and tempestuous” passion and “an energy of the mind, that hurries us on to the possession of certain

70 Animality in British Romanticism objects” (23, 83). Lust is thus an androgynous emotion, blending the libidinal energy of the beautiful with the virile brutality of the sublime and, in this way, undercutting the dichotomous power and gender relations that structure Burke’s aesthetic model. Wordsworth’s “Hart-Leap Well” destabilises this dichotomy by showing that sublime violence can be a source of sexual arousal. That Sir Walter experiences a “silent joy” or a sort of postcoital relief after he has killed the hart and that he erects a pastoral brothel on this place suff used with violence clearly drives home the erotic undercurrent of his sadistic excitement. The hunt, it seems, provides him with a socially sanctioned outlet for his atavistic sexual and aggressive drives. Wordsworth here looks forward to Freud’s evolutionary interpretation of male sadism as the outgrowth of a strain of violence intrinsic to male sexuality. “The sexuality of most male human beings,” Freud would argue, “contains an element of aggressiveness—a desire to subjugate; the biological significance of it seems to lie in the need for overcoming the resistance of the sexual object by means other than the process of wooing. Thus sadism would correspond to an aggressive component of the sexual instinct which has become independent and exaggerated, and, by displacement, has usurped the leading position.”18 Burke, too, realised that there is an element of sexual aggression lying dormant within the aesthetic of the beautiful, but he trusted moral law and social custom to contain its violence. Sir Walter’s construction of a pleasure-house on the site where the hart died topographically relates his death drive to his libido and thus further breaks down Burke’s barrier between beauty and sublimity. As a feminine space designed to incite and gratify male sexual desire, Sir Walter’s locus amoenus is a clear reification of the Burkean beautiful. By tracing the cultural history of the pleasure-house, however, Wordsworth reveals that the beautiful brothel is built on an infrastructure of environmental appropriation and sexual degradation. Beauty, he shows in this way, is not an organic quality springing spontaneously from the soil, as Burke argued. But it originates from the repressive politics of the sublime—an idea that Coleridge also brought forward in “The Ancient Mariner.” The difference is that whereas the Mariner created beauty symbolically through the psychological masochism of the Kantian sublime, Sir Walter domesticates nature physically through the sadism unwittingly promoted by Burke’s empirical aesthetics. As in “The Ancient Mariner,” the aesthetic of the beautiful in “Hart-Leap Well” counteracts the isolating politics of the sublime and reconciles Sir Walter to his human and natural environment. Sir Walter is no longer a lone hunter now, with “no follower, dog, nor man, nor boy” (34), but he seems to have matured into a gregarious and socially integrated man. And yet, in accordance with Burke’s corporeal interpretation of the beautiful as a quality that “acts by relaxing the solids of the whole system,” Sir Walter’s materialist take on the “One Life” philosophy boils down to an orgiastic

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interaction that offers him only a very physical and spasmodic kind of relief from his sublime alienation (Sublime 136). Sir Walter also implants three stone pillars on the site, phallic symbols through which he stakes out his territory and colonises female space. Ecological terror and sexual exploitation, Wordsworth shows, operate as mutually sustaining practices, turning the animal into a rape victim and woman into a piece of meat. Wordsworth’s criticism here anticipates the ecofeminism of Carol J. Adams. In The Sexual Politics of Meat (1990), Adams has argued that the consumption of meat is a deeply symbolic act through which man represents and reinforces his social and sexual authority.19 Although feminist theory had already signalled and reprobated the bestialisation of woman in patriarchal culture, Adams brought a new and provocative perspective to this discussion, a perspective which saw the male objectifying gaze at work not only in the pornographic consumption of the female body but also in the commercial visualisation of the non-human animal, whose flesh tends to be advertised both as a stimulant of sexual appetite (a fit heterosexual man loves his meat) and as an object of sexual desire in itself (think of those rather obscene adverts in which cartoon animals seductively promote their own flesh). Woman and animal thus appear to share a fundamental sense of victimhood in patriarchy’s visual regime of taste—an insight Wordsworth’s “Hart-Leap Well” formulates with equal acumen. Adams’s feminist-vegetarian project received indirect backing from Jacques Derrida’s concept of carnophallogocentrism, which problematised the same cultural dialectic between the violent formation of male subjectivity and the institutionalised victimisation of the non-human animal.20 Derrida’s concept is worth mentioning because it adjoins a notion of sacrifice to its interpretation of carnivorism, a notion that also plays a constitutive role in “Hart-Leap Well,” where—considering that the animal’s body is never consumed—the hunt clearly performs a ritualistic function. But exactly who or what needs to be sacrificed? For Derrida, carnivorous practice and discourse seek to exorcise the animalistic from patriarchal culture and to position man as an autonomous rational subject at the centre of the social order. “Carnivorous sacrifice,” he writes, “is essential to the structure of subjectivity, which is also to say to the founding of the intentional subject.”21 In a riff on Derrida’s point, Cary Wolfe explains that “the full transcendence of the ‘human’ requires the sacrifice of the ‘animal’ and the animalistic, which in turn makes possible a symbolic economy in which we can engage in a ‘non-criminal putting to death’ (as Derrida puts it) not only of animals, but other humans as well by marking them as animal.”22 This sacrificial transcendence of the animal has little to do with the mysophobic enlightenment reached in Kant’s sublime. As Wordsworth shows in “HartLeap Well,” the establishment of civil society and cultural construction of the male subject is facilitated by a brutal and very physical repression of the non-human. By killing the hart, Sir Walter supposedly also eradicates the

72 Animality in British Romanticism animal within and becomes a self-ruling human subject, in perfect control of his primordial drives. It is blatantly paradoxical, of course, that he can only shake off his primitivism by engaging in an act of bestial violence. Moreover, he does not really abandon his animal instincts, but only discovers a way to satisfy them at a more favourable cost-benefit ratio: accumulating women in a brothel, after all, is much less arduous and controversial than molesting them in the woods. Although the pleasure-house is presented as a place of high culture, then, it does not mark a watershed break away from primitive desire and is still a place of bestial lust and violence. That the creation of beauty and human autonomy requires the sacrifice of animality is also what Burke argued in his Enquiry. Humans, he realised, share with non-human animals many instincts and affects, including their reproductive drives. Whereas in other animals, these sexual drives operate without social restraint, humans tend to refi ne their lust into more socially hygienic sentiments such as love or sympathy: “The passion which belongs to generation, merely as such, is lust only. This is evident in brutes, whose passions are more unmixed, and which pursue their purposes more directly than ours” (Sublime 39). Because love (and not lust) is the defi ning emotional response to the beautiful, it is by purifying our animal lust into more social affections that we achieve beauty and become human. The beautiful, for Burke, is thus a human and humanising aesthetic. In the fi rst stanza of Part 2, the poet-narrator ostentatiously moves his voice to the foreground to distance his narrative from both the empirical and moral sensationalism of the Burkean sublime: The moving accident is not my trade; To freeze the blood I have no ready arts: ‘Tis my delight, alone in summer shade, To pipe a simple song for thinking hearts. (97–100)

The poet’s intention “to pipe a simple song for thinking hearts” rather than freeze the blood marks a clear shift away from Burke’s physiological sublime towards a more cerebral aesthetic that relies on both sensory stimulation and rational reflection. And yet, this authorial intervention does not provide a very accurate preview of the poem’s further development, but it primarily pays lip service to Wordsworth’s criticism in the Preface of the gothic and its recourse to “gross and violent stimulants.” Although there is defi nitely more room in the second part for rational contemplation and spiritual morality, its topographical interest in ruin and its low-key ecofeminist revenge fantasy still clearly play on gothic motifs. Rather than rejecting Burke’s beautiful and sublime altogether and putting forward an intellectualist or Wordsworthian sublime, then, “Hart-Leap Well” tries to rescue Burke’s physiological aesthetics from its inherent exploitative tendencies by transplanting its interest in ruin, power, domesticity, female beauty and sensory pleasure into an ecofeminist discourse.

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The second part of the poem shows how Sir Walter’s sumptuous pleasure-house was levelled to the ground. What remains is a bleak and sterile landscape: The trees were grey, with neither arms nor head; Half wasted the square mound of tawny green; So that you just might say, as then I said, “Here in old time the hand of man hath been.” I looked upon the hill both far and near, More doleful place did never eye survey; It seemed as if the spring-time came not here, And Nature here were willing to decay. (109–16)

Wordsworth’s refusal to reveal what actually happened is decidedly doubleedged. Although his reticence seeks to eschew the exploitation horror of gothic fiction, it also insinuates, in its calculated suggestiveness, a supernatural catastrophe which perhaps never happened. Given the unidentified time lapse between Part 1 and Part 2, the pleasure-house may well have been ruined by a gradual process of natural evolution rather than supernatural revolution. But although Wordsworth clearly gestures at this possibility, his deliberate vagueness leaves room for much less rational explanations. That it is, moreover, a superstitious shepherd—not exactly a dependable source— who suggests that Sir Walter’s “jolly place” was demolished by divine agency in an act of supernatural retribution only adds to the ambiguity (133). This shepherd, however, plays a more complex and integral role than the typical subsidiary characters that Wordsworth often employs in his poetry (the most famous example probably being his sister Dorothy in “Tintern Abbey”). Rather than legitimating the poet’s voice—as these subsidiary characters usually do—the shepherd serves to counterpoint it. “Small difference lies between thy creed and mine,” the poet says, addressing the shepherd (172). The difference is small, indeed, but crucial. Whereas the shepherd resorts to supernatural explanation and believes God cursed the place, the poet is more prudent and never posits a causal relationship between Sir Walter’s sadism and the destruction of the pleasure-house. At the limit, he observes a vague sense of moral justice inherent in nature’s workings: The Being, that is in the clouds and air, That is in the green leaves among the groves, Maintains a deep and reverential care For the unoffending creatures whom he loves. (175–78)

The disagreement between the shepherd and the poet is aporetic rather than polemical, in that it allows Wordsworth to consider two completely opposite viewpoints without dismissing either. That Wordsworth never

74 Animality in British Romanticism unequivocally distances himself from the shepherd’s folkloric and anthropomorphic account, I believe, reflects his own ongoing ambivalence about the role and status of the supernatural. In his later poem The Excursion (1814), he would elaborate on this ambivalence, writing that he still preferred— with a measure of reluctance—to hold fast to that “rustic ignorance” or superstitious view which invested owls and magpies with ominous meaning rather than believe in a completely mechanistic world, “Where soul is dead, and feeling hath no place” (4:15, 4:21). As a clear embodiment of this rustic ignorance, the shepherd allows Wordsworth to funnel a pattern of reasoning which he clearly still appreciates but thinks too contentious to voice himself. The shepherd, who is the principal narrator in “Hart-Leap Well,” also exonerates Wordsworth from the charge of callousness. If the spiteful account of Sir Walter’s death seems to blend pleasure with sorrow of the meanest thing that feels, the poet-narrator can easily shift responsibility to the shepherd, whose story he is merely recording. Clearly aware of the risk of Schadenfreude, the poet-narrator also strikes a much more elegiac tone than the shepherd and emphasises the redemptive rather than vindictive power of nature. The decay of the pleasure-house evokes what Vincent Arthur De Luca in his study of William Blake has called the “sublime of ruins.” 23 This aesthetic of ruins overwhelms us by reminding us of the grandeur of past tyrannies and, at the same time, confronting us with a superior force that transcended and destroyed these tyrannies. In his discussion of pity and Schadenfreude, Burke in fact outlined a very similar sublime: The prosperity of no empire, nor the grandeur of no king, can so agreeably affect in the reading, as the ruin of the state of Macedon, and the distress of its unhappy prince. Such a catastrophe touches us in history as much as the destruction of Troy does in fable. Our delight, in cases of this kind, is very greatly heightened, if the sufferer be some excellent person who sinks under an unworthy fortune. (Sublime 42) It is easy to see why the sublime of ruins—much to Burke’s indignation— moved to prominence in revolutionary discourse and became a popular prism through which to refract the downfall of the French monarchy. It also frequently emerged in religious rhetoric, where it served to contrast the transient nature of material values with the permanent spiritual truths of Christianity. 24 Although these political and religious meanings are definitely at play in “Hart-Leap Well,” Wordsworth charges the sublime of ruins here primarily with environmental importance and interprets it as a discourse of ecological change, demonstrating human insignificance in the face of natural disaster or biological evolution. With his focus on violent environmental and political destruction, Wordsworth may still be operating within Burke’s aesthetic model here, but he tries to calibrate that model to make it more sensitive to animal suffering.

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The sublime of ruins bears a strong resemblance to the aesthetic of the picturesque, which incidentally shares with the gothic an architectural interest in medieval ruin. In An Essay on the Picturesque (1794), Uvedale Price defi ned the picturesque as a variety of beauty created by the corrosive effects of time. “Time,” he wrote, “converts a beautiful object into a picturesque one.”25 Despite this emphasis on time, the picturesque is a profoundly ahistorical category that is generally very secretive about its own cultural origin. In Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” most notably, the ruined abbey blends in completely with its natural surroundings and is not even mentioned in the poem—the reference in the title aside. The picturesque, it seems, induces a permanent loss of cultural memory, so that political artefacts come to appear as natural objects and even Auschwitz might look like a quaint train station or a dilapidated amusement park (this is, by the way, why the desire of some ecocritics to experience nature as though they encountered it for the fi rst time is not without political risk). The picturesque, then, is that aesthetic quality which sanitises political trauma into pastoral nostalgia and which is able to market a disaster scene as a tourist attraction. Very much like the beautiful, it is a discourse of aesthetic recuperation, which simultaneously results from and masks the political violence of the sublime. But there is a difference. Whereas the aesthetic of the beautiful occludes the cruelty that formed it behind a screen of spontaneity and organicism, the picturesque manages to display its ideological wounds openly and unapologetically without triggering historical consciousness or provoking moral suspicion. As such, it constitutes an even more successful mystification of the violence of the sublime. “Hart-Leap Well,” too, in part mystifies the ideological origin of ruin. In a well-intentioned attempt to mute the sensationalist violence of the gothic and sublime, Wordsworth does not clarify why or how the pleasurehouse decayed. Instead, he opts for an explanation that ambiguously vacillates between natural evolutionism and supernatural catastrophism. But although he does not historicise the destruction of the pleasure-house, he does provide a detailed and systematic account of the monument’s violent construction and exploitative function. The central narrative act in “HartLeap Well,” indeed, is archaeological. The poem is an attempt to reconstruct the past from the cryptic detritus of the present. From the ruins, it retraces the building of the pleasure-house, Sir Walter’s brutal chase and eventually goes all the way back to the hart’s family life. By chronicling the history of the pleasure-house, Wordsworth exposes the physical violence that underlies picturesque ruin and compromises the political amnesia and falsely nostalgic gaze it tends to inspire. It was this gaze that John Ruskin would come to reject half a century later in his discussion of the English picturesque, which in his view nourished a politically naive aesthetic attitude that was “fondly garrulous of better days.” Ruskin criticised what he described as the “lower” picturesque, whose obsession with aesthetic formalism, he believed, went in tandem with moral apathy: “the lower picturesque ideal

76 Animality in British Romanticism is eminently a heartless one: the lover of it seems to go forth into the world in a temper as merciless as its rocks. All other men feel some regret at the sight of disorder and ruin. He alone delights in both.”26 Whereas Sir Walter’s sublime was a testosterone-driven turbo discourse, aggressively submitting animal and woman to male authority, the sublime of ruins operates as an ecofeminist aesthetic that emancipates nature by gently restoring its wildness and inhumanity. The trees of the pleasurehouse now look grey and have “neither arms nor head,” as if Sir Walter’s harem has been stripped of its anthropomorphic guise (109). The shepherd’s failure to classify these trees in an accurate way—“Some say that they are beeches, others elms” (135)—recalls the semantic obstruction that the Ancient Mariner experienced and his maladroit description of the water-snakes as slimy things with legs. For the shepherd and the poet, too, nature appears dismantled to its bare thingness—useless unnameable stuff that resists the cold unsparing eye of the hunter. Here, as in “The Ancient Mariner,” the ecological sublime sets nature free by defacing it and turning it into a desert. As a space that withstands cultivation and human control, the desert radically inverts the anthropocentric politics of Sir Walter’s garden. 27 It is an anti-garden, a site which emphasises that nature exists in its own right, oblivious to the human desire for meaning and purpose. Just as in the fi rst part of “Hart-Leap Well,” where the violent tension of the sublime hunt gave way to the sexual release of the beautiful pleasurehouse, Wordsworth shifts focus in Part 2 from the sublime destruction of the brothel to two beautiful scenes—one set in the past, the other one set in the future. The fi rst scene is a lachrymose flashback to the hart’s life before Sir Walter put an untimely end to it. Whereas Sir Walter sought to mitigate the solitary aggression of the chase through the carnal entertainment of the pleasure-house, Wordsworth now presents a more durable kind of social bonding, based on biological rather than sexual relationships: This water was perhaps the first he drank When he had wandered from his mother’s side. In April here beneath the flowering thorn He heard the birds their morning carols sing; And he, perhaps, for aught we know, was born Not half a furlong from that self-same spring. (151–56)

In his Philosophical Enquiry, Burke also defined the beautiful as a familial aesthetic designed to strengthen social cohesion and emotional attachment. But his emphasis on the father as the legislating nucleus of the family, in conjunction with his physiological interpretation of the aesthetic and his persistent eroticisation of the female body, reduced the beautiful to an expression of spurious domesticity, an aesthetic of whoring that stripped the family of its social functions and commercialised its sexual relations. For Wordsworth,

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on the other hand, the male and the violent seem too intimately connected to allow even a single father figure into his pastoral family portrait. His ecological beautiful involves a reconciliation based on maternal values, not on the patriarchal sexual politics of Burke’s heteronormative family model. The second scene of beauty looks forward to a period of organic renewal: The pleasure-house is dust:—behind, before, This is no common waste, no common gloom; But Nature, in due course of time, once more Shall here put on her beauty and her bloom. (169–72)

The beauty of Sir Walter’s garden was a painstakingly manufactured kind of beauty, meant to illustrate his domesticating power. Wordsworth now contrasts this cultivated space with a species of beauty that is not humanmade or designed to gratify man’s sexual desires, a beauty that arises and thrives without his gardening expertise. Like Burke’s aesthetic, this organic beauty is gendered as feminine, but it is an active and autonomous female force that sabotages rather than affirms Sir Walter’s phallocentric politics. In Wordsworth and the Cultivation of Women (1994), Judith Page has convincingly argued that this development from a red-blooded, anti-social sublime to an aesthetic of beauty valorising community and domestic experience also occurs in the poem that is generally referred to as “The Two-Part Prelude,” written in 1799. 28 In Book 1 of this autobiographical volume, Page has noticed, the younger Wordsworth often goes out to explore nature on his own, combining the intellectual pleasure of geographical discovery with the sadistic gratification of ransacking and exploiting: he steals woodcocks trapped in other people’s snares, plunders a raven’s nest and even steals a boat. These vignettes portray Wordsworth as a solitary aggressor, who, pursued by prepubescent feelings of guilt, fi nally becomes aware of some vague transcendental presence, which makes both his crimes and his own being look immensely petty. Just as in “Hart-Leap Well” and “The Ancient Mariner,” his violent exploitation of nature provokes a sense of alienation and ultimately a sublime revelation—if only on a smaller, infant’s scale. When he recounts the environmental estrangement felt after having stolen a small boat, he does not sound that different from the Mariner. Robbed of its knowable semantic veneer, nature is now brought down to its blank thingness, its familiar objects reduced to “huge and mighty forms”: There was a darkness—call it solitude, Or blank desertion—no familiar shapes Of hourly objects, images of trees, Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields, But huge and mighty forms that do not live Like living men moved slowly through my mind By day, and were the trouble of my dreams. (1:123–29)29


Animality in British Romanticism

Wordsworth recorded this evolution from the juvenile violence of the sublime to the feminine serenity of the beautiful on several occasions around the turn of the century. In “Nutting,” published in the 1800 edition of Lyrical Ballads, he portrays himself as a young Sir Walter, penetrating a piece of wild, unexplored nature. His enjoyment, which is suggestively sexual, brings to mind the “silent joy” that Sir Walter experienced after killing the hart: Forcing my way, I came to one dear nook Unvisited, where not a broken bough Drooped with its withered leaves, ungracious sign Of devastation; but the hazels rose Tall and erect, with tempting clusters hung, A virgin scene!—A little while I stood, Breathing with such suppression of the heart As joy delights in; and, with wise restraint Voluptuous, fearless of a rival, eyed The banquet. (16–25)

Unlike Sir Walter, however, the boy comes to regret his predatory usurpation of nature and, seeing into the life of things, discovers that “there is a spirit in the woods” (56). These fragments from “The Two-Part Prelude” and “Nutting” throw a different light on Wordsworth’s mock-heroic depiction of Sir Walter’s chase. Maybe Wordsworth’s lofty portrayal was not a sign of ironic detachment but of nostalgic identification, and maybe Wordsworth genuinely sympathised with Sir Walter’s specious attempts at heroism and gallantry. Take this other scene from “The Two-Part Prelude,” in which a young ice-skating Wordsworth “wheel[s] about Proud and exulting, like an untired horse / That cares not for its home” and imitates “the chace / And woodland pleasures, the resounding horn, / The pack loud bellowing, and the hunted hare” (1:154–55, 1:158–60). But unlike Sir Walter, the poet has grown up, and although nesting, snaring, nutting and hunting might be pardonable sins of childhood, they become grossly immoral acts when committed in adulthood. Judith Page goes so far as to interpret this aesthetic evolution from the sublime to the beautiful in biographical terms. In his later poetry, she argues, Wordsworth would come to favour the matriarchal domesticity of the beautiful over the muscular soliloquy of the sublime. Page refers to his essay “The Sublime and the Beautiful,” in which he asserted that the sublime mainly appeals to the adolescent mind, whereas more mature individuals tend to prefer the “love & gentleness” of the beautiful.30 We should be careful, nevertheless, of extrapolating the aesthetic development in poems such as “Hart-Leap Well” and “Nutting” to Wordsworth’s evolution as a writer and person. The progression from the sublime to the beautiful is also one that inheres in the basic developmental structure of the Romantic

Hunting for Pleasure


sublime, which is such a physically intense and cognitively taxing experience that it cannot last long without infl icting permanent neural, moral or political damage. That the violence of the Romantic sublime, then, is often relieved by the mellow ambience of the beautiful—which can be both conservative (see Sir Walter’s pastoral bordello) and progressive (see the return of nature in Part 2)—has arguably as much to do with the biology as with the ideology of the aesthetic.

Part II


Humans and Other Moving Things Wordsworth Visits London (with Deleuze and Guattari)

For a brief but intensely traumatic moment, the Romantic sublime suspends personal identity. It induces “a sense of self-annihilation” according to Coleridge; Percy Shelley talks of a “trance sublime”; and Wordsworth believes its narcotic effects virtually place the body in a state of hibernation: “the motion of our human blood / Almost suspended, we are laid asleep / In body.”1 This experience of self-loss has been variously interpreted. It has been politicised as a deprivation of civil liberty, gendered as a subversion of male selfhood and pathologised in terms of hysteria and obsessional neurosis.2 Burke’s physiological account, however, suggests a more pervasive impact on human subjectivity that reaches well beyond our political, sexual or psychological identities and that transforms how we see ourselves not just as individuals but also as biological beings. His sublime sends us back into survival mode. We become vacantly transfixed by the source of danger, our frontal cortex shuts down and we fall back on our amygdala—that primitive part of the brain where our fight-or-flight responses are elicited. Burke’s sublime, it would seem, temporarily robs us of those qualities that are typically, if often wrongly, regarded as uniquely human, such as speech, a sense of personal identity, self-reflective consciousness and intentional agency. We become animals. That is also what the French naturalist Comte de Buffon suggested in his eighteenth-century encyclopaedic study Natural History. In his view, intoxicating bouts of panic and excitement are profoundly dehumanising and supply us with a rather accurate insight into the mental state of non-human animals: We may, perhaps, acquire some notion of the consciousness of existence which animals possess, by reflecting on our own condition, when strongly occupied with any object, or so violently agitated with passion as to preclude every reflex idea of ourselves. This condition is expressed by saying, A man is absent, or out of himself. We are out of ourselves when fully immersed in actual sensations, and especially when these sensations are violent, rapid and leave the mind no leisure to reflect. . . . This condition, in which we have momentary impressions of our existence only, is the habitual state of animals; deprived of ideas, and furnished with sensations, they know not their existence, but they feel it.3


Animality in British Romanticism

Buffon puts his fi nger on a curious paradox in the discourse of the sublime. That ecstatic moment when the mind seems to disengage itself from the body and to fly off to ethereal heights, he reasons, is exactly the moment when it is most deeply immersed in its corporeal existence. Buffon’s belief, however, that these intervals of thoughtlessness and complete sensory absorption can teach us what it must be like to experience reality as a nonhuman animal is fraught with the same contradiction that compromises the epistemological logic of the Romantic sublime. After all, how can one possibly reflect on a mindset that is defi ned precisely by its absence of selfreflexive thought and its defiance to memorisation? As non-human animals supposedly lack rational self-awareness, can our vicarious understanding of their consciousness ever be less speculative than the account of a dream we fail to remember? Moreover, it makes little sense to say that the sublime animalises humanity (after all, you cannot become what you already are). Rather, it reduces us to that state which humanist culture tendentiously has come to associate with animality, that is, a state of moral inertia and mindless automaticity. It would, therefore, be more accurate to say that the Romantic sublime is a dehumanising aesthetic or that it engenders a convulsive throwback to an earlier stage in human evolution. This sense of dehumanisation is not only an effect of the sublime. For many Romantic-period writers, the prospect of losing their fi xed species identity was also a source of unspeakable horror. The mind-numbing monotony of factory labour, the exceeding brutality of political violence and the new scientific understanding of humanity’s animal anatomy provoked exactly the kinds of distressing emotional reactions that Burke had analysed in his Enquiry. With its interest in liminality, transgression and self-dissolution, the sublime became a very malleable diagnostic category with which to assess and articulate the rapidly changing meaning of human identity in modernity.4 What was overwhelming for the urban poet was not the mountain veiled in matinal fog or the tiger slinking ominously through the jungle, but the Industrial Revolution—its “dark Satanic Mills,” its ruthless exploitation of a growing immiserated proletariat, and its pervasive technocratic mechanisation of human physicality. 5 On the face of it, Blake’s “The Tyger” seems to present just another example of Burke’s natural sublime. But what is so unsettling about the animal is that it is actually a cyborg version 0.1, an eerily flawless assemblage of organic vitality and technological innovation—“What the hammer? what the chain? / In what furnace was thy brain?” (13–14). This industrial mechanisation of the flesh, many Romantic-period poets and philosophers feared, would in due course lead to a total moral devaluation of human life. It reduced, Robert Southey believed, the human subject to “a manufacturing animal” whose ethical worth rested solely in its physical capacity to produce, circulate and consume tradable goods.6 It is also this dehumanising industrial logic and its sweeping impact on public space and social relations that occasions the urban sublime in Book

Humans and Other Moving Things


7 of Wordsworth’s The Prelude. The Book recounts Wordsworth’s fourmonth stay in London in the first half of 1791, but rather than offering a chronological account of his residence, it presents a purposely disjointed montage of sensory impressions interspersed with more sedate philosophical meditations on the nature and value of human life in urban mass culture.7 Wordsworth’s experience of London street life is one of overpowering estrangement. In a tone wavering between disbelief and disgust, he tries to capture the city’s feral underclass (immigrants, beggars, pimps, prostitutes, invalids, street performers, circus animals), laments its capitalist instrumentalisation of human beings (“life and labour seem but one”), and struggles to take in the audiovisual overload of London’s thriving entertainment industry (“What a shock / For eyes and ears”) (69–71, 685–86). As quite a number of critics have already signalled, Book 7 heavily relies on the stylistic register of the sublime.8 With its resistance to representation and alienating evocation of human insignificance, London’s cityscape has the same effect on Wordsworth as his journey through the Alps, which he famously described in Book 6 of The Prelude and which has become one of the classic examples of Wordsworth’s natural sublime. The urban sublime proceeds more or less along the same trajectory as its organic counterpart: it starts with a scene of domestic tranquillity that is suddenly disrupted by a disturbing recollection of urban reality. This confrontation with the city initially defies rational understanding and provokes a crisis of human identity and cognition. As in the natural sublime, however, Wordsworth ultimately overcomes this crisis when he discovers in himself a superior intellectual power that enables him to control the city’s “unmanageable sight” and to ward off its encroaching physicality (732). Rather than devising a new technical vocabulary to represent the overwhelming reality of urban life, Wordsworth continually filters the city through the discourse of nature and describes its eccentric population and strange spectacles in the haphazard way an aspiring naturalist might document an alien and potentially threatening life form: Rise up, thou monstrous ant-hill on the plain Of a too busy world! Before me flow, Thou endless stream of men and moving things! Thy every-day appearance, as it strikes— With wonder heightened, or sublimed by awe– On strangers, of all ages; the quick dance Of colours, lights, and forms; the deafening din. (149–55)

The city’s chaotic choreography conjures up the erratic movement of the scintillating water-snakes in Coleridge’s “Ancient Mariner,” a species that seemed as repugnant yet visually enthralling. Wordsworth’s mechanistic categorisation of these urban creatures as “moving things” also recalls Coleridge’s schematic characterisation of the water-snakes as “slimy things


Animality in British Romanticism

. . . with legs” and demonstrates how the sublime has the tendency to strip reality of its knowable human surface. Like the Mariner, Wordsworth draws on the sublime in Book 7 to represent and repair an imbalance in the power relationship between the perceiving subject and the natural object. What interests me here in the fi rst place, however, is how the sublime functions in Book 7 as a discourse of species, bringing Wordsworth face to face to humanity’s animal nature. In the bedlam of urban ecology, it seems, the human subject loses not just its individuality and self-possession; it is also robbed of its stable biological identity. We become animal or, to put it in a more accurate way, we gain an enhanced sense of our animality and of a fundamental physicality we share with other life forms. To better understand why and how these biological transgressions occur, I suggest introducing Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s concept of becoming-animal here. By remixing the sublime with this poststructuralist concept, I am not just looking to add a crispy postmodern beat or fashionably French groove to my discourse. There is something far more substantial to be gained. Deleuze and Guattari’s theory will allow me to explain why these sublime species mutations tend to take place in large urban crowds where there are few actual non-human animals rather than in localist pastoral settings, why they fill a generally animal-friendly poet like Wordsworth with such horror and trepidation and how the aesthetic of the beautiful can counteract the urban assault on human integrity. First, what is becoming-animal? The concept received its most extensive treatment in A Thousand Plateaus (1980), the second volume of Deleuze and Guattari’s double study Capitalism and Schizophrenia, where it was embedded in a wide-ranging criticism of Western ontology and epistemology. In reaction to metaphysical and dualistic notions of identity, Deleuze and Guattari urged the patriarchal subject to become-animal, woman, nomad and even vegetable. How to become-dog then (to take one example)? We should not try to turn ourselves into actual dogs, even if this were possible, for such an absolute transformation would simply substitute one stable, monolithic category (the human) with another one (the dog) and would deepen the dualistic identity structures that Deleuze and Guattari intend to abrogate. Becoming, they write, has nothing to do with “a resemblance, an imitation, or, at the limit, an identification.”9 Instead, you should “make your organism enter into composition with something else” (320). This something else might refer to objects directly or indirectly related to dogs (such as a leash or a muzzle) or to a kind of relationship dogs engage in with other animals. There is no need to start barking like a dog—although this might help, but eating dog biscuits or chasing cats down the street in the middle of the night might suffice. When a man eats dog biscuits, after all, he redefi nes not only his own taxonomic status but also those of the biscuit and of its traditional eater. While the biscuit infects the man with its dogness, the man in turn infects both the biscuit and the dog with his humanness: species categories disintegrate and dualism turns fluid. Becoming-animal

Humans and Other Moving Things


thus spreads “by epidemic, by contagion,” travelling from dog via biscuit to man and back (266). It eventually gives birth to what Deleuze and Guattari call the “Body without Organs,” frequently shortened to BwO. “The BwO,” they write, “is what remains when you take everything away. What you take away is . . . the . . . significances and subjectifications as a whole” (168). Becoming-animal, then, is a reciprocal process of desubjectification and designification that erodes the human-animal dualism and configures a new and extremely volatile concept of identity out of the debris, an identity fluctuating along the constantly changing dynamic of becoming, not fi rmly based on the ontological stability of being. All these becomings are becomings-molecular, a concept Deleuze and Guattari define in opposition to molarity. Whereas the molar pertains to centralised blocks of being, such as the state or the family, the molecular involves a heterogeneous group or pack that proliferates too erratically to be controlled by an immobile legislating centre. These becomings-molecular participate in a larger epistemological and political project that seeks to challenge the supremacy of the hierarchal tree model in Western thinking and to replace this so-called arborescent model of classification with a rhizomatic system, that is, “an acentered, nonhierarchical, nonsignifying system without a General and without an organizing memory or central automaton, defi ned solely by a circulation of states” (23). This rhizomatic model privileges chaotic excess over ascetic structuralism, fragmentation over unity, wildness over domesticity, or—in aesthetic terms—sublimity over beauty. Admittedly, becoming-animal is a hardcore theoretical concept that is much more concerned with the abstract ideological workings of human representation than with the physical reality of animal existence. With certain justification, Donna Haraway has criticised Deleuze and Guattari’s minimal to absent interest in animal life.10 Of course, they never claim that becoming-animal developed from a moral concern with the rights and relevance of the non-human, but why rely on a zoological lexicon and introduce a concept as morally charged as animality in a discourse with ethical and scientific pretensions when one is not fundamentally interested in it? More questionable still is Deleuze and Guattari’s tendency to reduce animality to a site of non-identity, social anarchy and freewheeling sexual desire, as if wolves cannot be repressive patriarchs or emus cannot have Oedipal fi xations. Man, accordingly, would only become-animal when he is swept up in lawless acts of sublime violence and sexuality, not when he engages in domestic or beautiful activities such as child-caring or small talk (basically a human variant of social grooming). This persistent resentment towards the beautiful and familial not only reveals Deleuze and Guattari’s glaring lack of zoological insight; it also shows how the concept of becoming-animal remains problematically grounded in a narrow humanist understanding of animal behaviour. Considering Deleuze’s interest in Kantian aesthetics and the renewed concern with the sublime in postmodern theory, it is surprising that Deleuze


Animality in British Romanticism

and Guattari never commented on the rhetorical and structural similarities between their concept of becoming-animal and the sublime.11 To begin with, both becoming-animal and the sublime initially manifest themselves as a semiotic crisis, triggered by the subject’s inability to represent reality’s perceived chaos and fragmentation. Thomas Weiskel interprets the sublime as “that moment when the relation between the signifier and signified breaks down and is replaced by an indeterminate relation.”12 His semiotic interpretation clearly resonates with Deleuze and Guattari’s definition of becoming-animal. “To become animal,” they write, “is . . . to fi nd a world of pure intensities where all forms come undone, as do all the significations, signifiers, and signifieds, to the benefit of an unformed matter of deterritorialized flux, of nonsignifying signs.”13 When signifiers can no longer be logically connected to signifieds, our stable and autonomous sense of selfhood disintegrates and identity becomes a fluctuating event rather than a passive ontological essence. Longinus already observed that the inebriating experience of the rhetorical sublime unanchors our perceptual centre and renders it virtually impossible to tell where the self ends and the other begins. “By true sublimity,” he writes, “our soul somehow is both lifted up and—taking on a kind of exultant resemblance—fi lled with delight and great glory, as if our soul itself had created what it just heard” (42). Like becoming-animal, sublime ecstasy inflicts a wound in our sharply demarcated human identity, causing our subjectivity to ooze out and the materiality of nature to seep in. While nature is thus abstracted into something “less gross than bodily,” the mind simultaneously materialises into a physical thing or, as Coleridge puts it: “Gothic architecture impresses the beholder with a sense of self-annihilation; he becomes, as it were, a part of the work contemplated.”14 Without a stringent perspectival centre that monitors incoming sensory impressions and outgoing mental projections, then, our subjectivity is all over the place. But when we are everywhere and everything, we are also nowhere and nothing. This sums up the irresolvable ontological paradox at the heart of the Romantic sublime. This sublime confusion between self and other is also central to Keats’s concept of the chameleon poet. In his often-quoted letter to Richard Woodhouse, where he also memorably distanced himself from Wordsworth’s “egotistical sublime,” Keats argued that poets should not have a fi xed identity, but should be able to assume different cultural and even biological shapes: As to the poetical Character itself, (I mean that sort, of which, if I am any thing, I am a Member; that sort distinguished from the wordsworthian or egotistical sublime; which is a thing per se, and stands alone) it is not itself—it has no self—it is every thing and nothing—It has no character—it enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto, be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated—It has as much

Humans and Other Moving Things


delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen. What shocks the virtuous philosop[h]er, delights the camelion Poet. . . . A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity—he is continually in for—and fi lling some other Body—The Sun, the Moon, the Sea and Men and Women who are creatures of impulse are poetical and have about them an unchangeable attribute—the poet has none; no identity—he is certainly the most unpoetical of all God’s Creatures. And in a letter written a year earlier in 1817, he talked of an equally farreaching act of sympathetic identification: “if a sparrow come before my Window, I take part in its existence and pick about the Gravel.”15 Keats’s assertion that the poet’s identity should function as a temporary repository for a continually changing cast of characters is strikingly congruent with Deleuze and Guattari’s claim that “writing is a becoming” (Plateaus 265). “A writer isn’t a writer-man,” they argue, “he is a machine-man, and an experimental man (who thereby ceases to be a man in order to become an ape or a beetle, or a dog, or mouse, a becoming-animal, a becominginhuman . . . ).”16 Writing, for Keats as for Deleuze and Guattari, is a process of self-evisceration whereby subject and object, creator and creation contaminate each other and form a new hybrid identity defi ned by its capacity to interact, transgress and mutate. As many scholars have indicated, Keats’s categorical resistance to identity-thinking took its inspiration from contemporary discussions of literary genius.17 Especially Hazlitt’s critical work exerted a formative influence on Keats’s poetics. In an 1818 lecture, with which Keats was familiar, Hazlitt argued that Shakespeare “was the least of an egotist that it was possible to be. He was nothing in himself; but he was all that others were, or that they could become. . . . He had only to think of anything in order to become that thing.”18 Compare this to Coleridge’s belief that the imagination is “that sublime faculty, by which a great mind becomes that which it meditates on.”19 And in a similar argument, Coleridge stated that Shakespeare could “become by power of Imagination another Thing—Proteus, a river, a lion, yet still the God felt to be there.”20 Unlike Deleuze and Guattari, however, Coleridge still posited an invariable agent at the centre of authorial experience, writing that “SHAKESPEARE becomes all things, yet for ever remaining himself.”21 The keyword that links the self-annihilating effects of the sublime to Deleuze and Guattari’s becoming is contagion. Becoming-animal, Deleuze and Guattari claim, does not spread through procreation between two creatures of the same species in a straight line of descent, in the way that a father “becomes” his daughter. Instead, it spreads “by contagion, epidemics, battlefields, and catastrophes,” and proliferates in a horizontal line between heterogeneous elements, such as a human and a non-human animal (Plateaus 266). The sublime has similarly been conceived of as a contagion that catches the subject by surprise and contaminates its thinking with power, insight and rhetorical wit or, if things go wrong, with

90 Animality in British Romanticism disorientation and hysteria. For Longinus, sublime passion induces a kind of delirium or “madness” in the orator (51). Commenting on Longinus’ rhetorical model, Philip Shaw claims that “one does not learn the sublime; one catches it, like a divine contagion.”22 The rhetorical sublime inflames not only the speaker but also the listener. In Clio; or A Discourse on Taste (1769), James Usher writes that the “enthusiastic orator expresses his own feelings, and his discourse is infectious.”23 The eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid suggests that “no passions are so infectious as those which hold of enthusiasm” and Burke similarly talks about “the contagion of our passions” (Sublime 160). 24 The sublime, it seems, is a sort of bug chasing, whereby one wittingly engages in a risky intercourse with nature in order to contract its superhuman qualities, so that the limitlessness of the seascape or the aggression of the tiger comes to symbolise the power of human reason. Or, as Byron put it in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, “we . . . dilate / Our spirits to the size of that they contemplate” (4:1421–22). Of course, for most fi rst-generation Romantics the sublime deflation of human subjectivity was only a temporary phase en route to self-aggrandisement. In the end, they still managed to fi nd stable ground and reconstruct a uniform and self-contained centre of identity, whether it be Kant’s logocentrism, Burke’s phallocentrism or Wordsworth’s bourgeois egocentrism. As Neil Hertz has paradigmatically concluded: “although the moment of blockage might have been rendered as one of utter self-loss, it was, even before its recuperation as sublime exaltation, a confi rmation of the unitary status of the self.”25 Becoming-animal and the Romantic sublime are thus oppositional movements, related mainly during the second stage of the sublime. The third, compensating phase of the Romantic sublime, however, does not drastically diminish its affinity with the dynamic of becoming. Deleuze and Guattari, too, recognise that—to repeat Brian Massumi’s metaphor—all muck eventually becomes rock and all molecular systems sooner or later coagulate into stable molar ones: “no flow, no becoming-molecular,” they write, “escapes from a molar formation without molar components accompanying it” (Plateaus 334). 26 This entropic tendency towards inertia and homogeneity is apparently one that inheres in the developmental structure of both the sublime and becoming-animal. As a site of self-loss and biological dislocation, Wordsworth’s London bears a remarkable resemblance to the poststructuralist ecology that Deleuze and Guattari put forward in their philosophical work. But whereas they ascribe positive, emancipatory potential to such a lawless social setting, Wordsworth fi nds it intellectually stifling and offensive to human dignity. The city’s speed and nondescript chaos, he believes, appropriates one’s individuality and moulds a collective identity or non-identity that overrides the ontological and hierarchical distinctions between people, non-human animals and commodities:

Humans and Other Moving Things


Oh, blank confusion! true epitome Of what the mighty City is herself, To thousands upon thousands of her sons, Living amid the same perpetual whirl Of trivial objects, melted and reduced To one identity, by differences That have no law, no meaning, and no end. (722–28)

Wordsworth’s recurrent reliance on hydraulic images—“stream” (151), “overflowing streets” (626), “might of waters” (644), “the great tide of human life” (657), “whirl” (725)—to characterise the dynamicity of the crowd is typical of the rhetorical repertoire of the sublime. When Longinus, for instance, talks about the sublimity of Homer’s Iliad, he speaks of its “pouring of emotions one on the other” and the “ebbing of [Homer’s] greatness, as the ocean withdrawing gradually gives room to itself and deserts within its own measures” (61). What Wordsworth wants to prevent at all costs, then, is to be swallowed up by London’s “thickening hubbub” and to become an interchangeable part of its molecular flow (211). Whereas in the beginning of Book 7 he still portrays himself as a stable, if impermanent, centre in the city’s pulsating throng—“a transient visitant: / Now, fi xed amid that concourse of mankind” (68–69)—it becomes increasingly difficult for him to maintain that detached, outsider’s perspective and to keep the city’s encroaching hordes at arm’s length. London’s multitude produces what Kant defi ned as the mathematical sublime (Judgment 131–32). Unlike the dynamical sublime, which is caused by stultifying displays of power (a storm, an earthquake, a terrorist attack), the mathematical model harnesses its energy from the unquantifiable number or size of a phenomenon (a vast mountain range, a stampeding herd of bison, a self-multiplying computer virus). This mathematical sublime, Wordsworth shows in Book 7, is not only hostile to human individuality; it also undercuts the subject’s biological identity and subsumes it into a larger bestial arrangement that includes both animalised humans, such as a “begging scavenger,” and humanised animals, such as dancing dogs, a pair of monkeys sitting on the back of a dromedary and “the learned Pig” (213, 175–78, 708). According to Deleuze and Guattari, such hybrid identities are endemic to collective milieus. A becoming-animal, they specify, is not caused by the singular animal like the pet or mythical beast, but it “always involves a pack, a band, a population, a peopling” (Plateaus 264), which— just like London’s “endless stream of men and moving things” (151)—follows a route that “has neither beginning nor end, departure nor arrival, origin nor destination” (Plateaus 323). Kant’s mathematical sublime may offer some insight as to why the process of dehumanisation is inextricably linked to mass culture. Although his mathematical model manifests itself fi rst and foremost in an abstract


Animality in British Romanticism

cognitive way (unlike, say, Burke’s empirical aesthetic), its secondary effects are very corporeal. Because the face is the body’s primary signifier, the sublime dismantlement of the sign causes a defacement and creates an unsettling sense of anonymity and human interchangeability. This is precisely what happens in Book 7. “The face of every one / That passes by me,” Wordsworth exclaims, “is a mystery!” (628–29). His failure to fi nd meaning in people’s faces stands in stark contrast to the following lines from Book 4, in which he returns from Cambridge to the Lake District and recalls: “The face of every neighbour whom I met / Was like a volume to me” (67–68).27 Clearly, the difference between an urban and rural demographic is not only one of quality, but also and more significantly one of quantity: if there are too many subjects, subjectivity cancels itself out. Without a legible face, the body recedes into nameless thingness and turns into something other than human. There is an influential strand of thinking in Western philosophy according to which the face is the primary site of human identity. 28 It is where the anonymous thing becomes an intersubjective being with a personal history and a moral destiny. The sublime, now, defaces. It scorches natural space and leaves it bare as a desert, emptied of all human meaning and purpose (think of the anti-landscapes in “The Ancient Mariner” and “Hart-Leap Well”). It also defaces people and disassembles the face into an anonymous, expressionless head. The subjects in Wordsworth’s metropolis, likewise, are disfigured into bodies without faces or, as Deleuze and Guattari would put it, Bodies without Organs. The audience in a London theatre looms as a “many-headed mass,” and Bartholomew Fair is depicted as a disturbing place eerily vibrant with mechanically driven bodies: “the open space, through every nook / Of the wide area, twinkles, is alive / With heads” (434, 689–91). Whereas for Wordsworth the face is the primary signifier of human identity and moral depth, for Deleuze and Guattari it is an oppressive aesthetic grid on which racist and sexist doctrines are constructed, ideologies which are in the fi rst place perhaps ideologies of the face and surface. 53 When the individual is divested of its recognisable face, then, as in Wordsworth’s amorphous mass or in Francis Bacon’s portrait studies (which Deleuze discusses at length in his study Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation), it enters “another regime, other zones infi nitely muter and more imperceptible where subterranean becomings-animal occur, becomings-molecular, nocturnal deterritorializations over-spilling the limits of the signifying system” (Plateaus 128). 29 What Wordsworth fi nds so objectionable about capitalist mass culture, I believe, is not so much that it commodifies social interaction and anonymises human individuals (Book 7, in fact, is remarkably unsympathetic to human suffering) as that it incapacitates his own taxonomising bourgeois gaze and—because human identity for him essentially resides in the representational transcendence of material reality—thus dehumanises him as well. Wordsworth’s attitude towards these sublime becomings, however, had not always been this negative. When in Book 6, the younger and

Humans and Other Moving Things


still liberal-minded poet recounts his visit to a festive, post-Revolutionary France, he describes the “merry crowd” as an amusing band of party animals: “Like bees they swarmed, gaudy and gay as bees” (386, 391). The encounter is infectious as it encourages Wordsworth to become-animal as well: “I seemed to move along them, as a bird / Moves through the air, or as a fish pursues / Its sport” (770–71). Clearly, there is a strong link between liberal thought and the positive evaluation of collective self-loss. London’s demographic excess and frenetic pace not only affects one’s biological species; it also brings about an even more fundamental ontological transformation, reducing living beings to “moving things,” “trivial objects,” “perverted things,” and “forms and objects” (151, 726, 714, 623). It is tempting to read Wordsworth’s mechanistic idiom as part of a socio-economic criticism of the capitalist objectification of human and non-human life. When he talks of “The comers and the goers face to face / Face after face; the string of dazzling wares, / Shop after shop, with symbols, blazoned names,” for instance, he syntactically yokes together the metropolitan accumulation of faces to the increasing number of retail enterprises and, in doing so, establishes a clear causal relationship between urban dehumanisation and commercial capitalism (156–58). Although its cause partly lies in capitalist work culture, this thingification is also a much less politically laden biological or, as Alan Richardson would have it, neurological effect of the mathematical sublime. Mental overload and cognitive depletion, after all, compel the brain to shift to a lower gear, leading to more rudimentary representations of reality and drastically impairing one’s face recognition performance. One might think that the city’s artistic sphere, with its presumed emphasis on self-expression, authenticity and craftsmanship, could act as an intellectual enclave against capitalism’s homogenising technocratic forces. In Wordsworth’s view, however, London’s cultural economy is wholly conditioned by capitalist notions of production and consumption that have mechanised the aesthetic experience into a market-driven industry geared towards cheap physical gratification. The street performers at Bartholomew Fair are perhaps the most obvious and obnoxious manifestation of the urban subversion of human identity in Book 7. Considering the Romantics’ well-documented anti-theatrical prejudice, it hardly surprises that Wordsworth characterises these actors and performance artists as perverted things, All freaks of nature, all Promethean thoughts Of man, his dulness, madness, and their feats All jumbled up together, to compose A Parliament of Monsters. (714–18)30

What Wordsworth dislikes perhaps most about these urban entertainers is that they symbolise and magnify the mutable subjectivity of the urban

94 Animality in British Romanticism population to inescapable proportions. Identity, they show, is a performance. Like Keats’s chameleon poet, who “is continually . . . fi lling some other Body,” the actor is defi ned by a capacity for self-transformation rather than by a fi xed or unitary identity. The actor is the Body without Organs par excellence—something that should not sound too surprising, as Deleuze and Guattari derive their concept from the French avant-garde playwright Antonin Artaud. Acting, Deleuze and Guattari believe, is not simply imitating or becoming someone else; it is interacting between self and other, and transforming one’s body into a passageway through which other bodies can circulate and disseminate, so much so that the body comes to substantiate “only a threshold, a door, a becoming between two multiplicities” (Plateaus 275). The protean performers at Bartholomew Fair underline that meaning does not passively inhere in the signified, but is actively produced and manipulated by a theatrical process of signification. As such, they put into practice—much to Wordsworth’s horror—David Hume’s theatrical interpretation of human cognition as a fragmented and unbalanced process without a stationary centre of perception. “The mind,” Hume wrote in A Treatise of Human Nature (1739–40), “is a kind of theatre, where several perceptions successively make their appearance; pass, re-pass, glide away and mingle in an infi nite variety of postures and situations.”31 Deleuze rehearsed this theatrical metaphor in his discussion of Hume’s Treatise, relating human cognition to “a collection without an album, a play without a stage, a flux of perceptions.”32 Hume’s Treatise, incidentally, also rejected the idea which would become fundamental to the Romantic sublime and which assumes that the mixture of pain and pleasure ultimately consolidates a sense of self: There are some philosophers who imagine we are every moment intimately conscious of what we call our self; that we feel its existence and its continuance in existence; and are certain, beyond the evidence of a demonstration, both of its perfect identity and simplicity. The strongest sensation, the most violent passion, say they, instead of distracting us from this view, only fi x it the more intensely, and make us consider their influence on self either by their pain or pleasure.33 Just as Deleuze and Guattari deny the existence of a stable metaphysical sense of identity, Hume argued that we have no “idea of self” and that we “are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement.”34 Wordsworth’s Book 7 enacts Hume’s epistemological theory in geographical and bodily terms, presenting London as chaotic space where countless characters make short, random appearances, where actors mingle unnoticeably with spectators, and where identity is produced by a free-ranging play of interaction, adaptation and transformation.

Humans and Other Moving Things


For Wordsworth, the epistemological fissure between authenticity and theatrical performance, or between being and playing, has a profoundly dehumanising effect. This becomes especially clear when he visits a panoramic painting in London, offering a 360-degree cylindrical view of what appears to be an exotic place: At leisure, then, I viewed, from day to day, The spectacles within doors,—birds and beasts Of every nature, and strange plants convened From every clime; and, next, those sights that ape The absolute presence of reality. (229–33)

The word ape carries great weight here as it suggests that the epistemological disjunction between reality and representation triggers a dehumanising ontological breakdown. The following scene illustrates the same. At the beginning of Book 7, Wordsworth recounts an anecdote from his childhood about a crippled boy who was sent to London, which for the young Wordsworth still had the appeal of some “Fairy-land” (98). When the boy returned, however, his stories from the city were surprisingly underwhelming: “every word he uttered,” Wordsworth remembers, “on my ears / Fell flatter than a caged parrot’s note” (99–100). Verbs such as ape and parrot bespeak a deep-rooted cultural belief that imitative behaviour is characteristically non-human: monkey see, monkey do. Why is this? Already before the eighteenth century, apes and parrots were known and often scorned for their capacity to simulate human manners and sounds. In his Discourse on the Method (1637), Descartes noted that although parrots possess the necessary vocal apparatus to talk, they would never be able to produce intelligent speech, because they lacked the rationality and spirituality required to communicate in a sensible way. For this reason, “the most perfect monkey or parrot of its species,” he claimed, will never manage to sound less dimwitted than “the most stupid child.”35 Buffon similarly observed that “by the relations of figure, an ape mimics human gestures . . . and a parrot imitates speech.” But if the imitative behaviour of these animals reveals something, he added, it is mainly their insurmountable inability to say anything that is even remotely interesting or original: “in an idiot, or in a parrot,” he writes, language “serves only to mark the last degree of stupidity, the incapacity, in either, to produce thought or reflection, though both be endowed with proper organs for expressing what passes within them.” The obvious underlying rationale is that the moods and movements of non-human animals would be mere mechanical reflexes to sensory stimuli, unlike human behaviour, which would be creative, premeditated and authentic. “Animals,” Buffon claims, “never invent, nor bring any thing to perfection; . . . they uniformly do the same things in the same manner.”36 This deeply entrenched assumption that the exercise of creative agency is a uniquely human capacity explains why London seems such a bestial site

96 Animality in British Romanticism to Wordsworth. Bartholomew Fair, he believes, lays “the whole creative powers of man asleep” and thus reduces people to “chattering monkeys” (681, 694). Urban language, it seems, is too vacuous and trite to serve as a legitimate marker of human identity. The animated talk of the “shameless women” and “dissolute men,” similarly, reminds Wordsworth of “the songs of birds / Contending after showers” (361, 360, 363–64). Not surprisingly, the theatre is the most dehumanising place in London’s urban ecology, as it supposedly stimulates a passive sensory absorption and a wholly unreflective mode of spectatorship. It turns humans into mindless automata with the attention spans of frisky kittens: how eagerly And with what flashes, as it were, the mind Turned this way—that way! sportive and alert And watchful, as a kitten when at play, While winds are eddying round her, among straws And rustling leaves. (436–41)

It is with Bartholomew Fair that Wordsworth’s sublime descends into the grotesque, a discourse that seems as endemic, if not more, to anti-urban poetry as the sublime. Lawrence Kramer has linked the entertainers at Bartholomew Fair to Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of the grotesque body, which incidentally appears congenial to Deleuze and Guattari’s Body without Organs.37 This congeniality becomes most evident when Bakhtin defines this grotesque body as a “combination of human and animal traits” and “a body in the act of becoming. It is never fi nished, never completed; it is continually built, created, and builds and creates another body.”38 Also particularly relevant in this context is Bakhtin’s theory of the carnivalesque. Carnival, Bakhtin writes, “does not acknowledge any distinction between actors and spectators”; it “is not a spectacle seen by the people; they live in it, and everyone participates because its very idea embraces all the people.”39 As a collective experience of self-loss, the carnivalesque clearly runs counter to the individualist and self-empowering spectatorship and authorship that Wordsworth generally favoured. For the imagination to operate at its optimum level, he believed, it requires a sense of social seclusion. “Grand thoughts,” he wrote in his “Essay, Supplementary to the Preface,” “are most naturally and most fitly conceived in solitude.”40 The transgressive politics of the carnivalesque also explains why Wordsworth’s urban experience initially fails to induce an egotistical sublime. For Wordsworth, as for Burke and Kant, the successful outcome of the sublime hinges on a sense of uninvolved spectatorship, which allows one to experience terror as something emotionally agitating yet physically harmless. In his essay “The Sublime and the Beautiful,” Wordsworth argues: ‘‘if that Power which is exalted above our sympathy impresses the mind with personal fear, so as the sensation becomes more lively than the impression

Humans and Other Moving Things


or thought of the exciting cause, then self-consideration & all its accompanying littleness takes place of the sublime, & wholly excludes it.’’41 The trouble with the carnivalesque is that it dissolves the perceptual distance and commensurate asymmetrical power relationship between actor and public, and thus prevents Wordsworth from extracting himself from London’s toxic materiality in a sublime fl ight of the mind. The problem, in other words, is that Bartholomew Fair is nothing like the panorama which Wordsworth visited earlier. Whereas the panorama positions the viewer at the safe, detached midpoint of the aesthetic experience, the carnivalesque violently pulls its spectators into its action and enmeshes them in its highoctane drama. The aesthetic mode of the carnivalesque thus advances a profoundly ecological vantage point, as it emphasises our inextricable involvement in nature and shows that we cannot watch nature from a safe dispassionate distance, as if it were a mere panorama or a play on a stage. More to the point, I can see some parallels between the carnivalesque and what Timothy Morton has called “dark ecology,” which gives similar short shrift to the theatrical logistics that have for so long now conditioned our experience of nature. Morton, too, associates dark ecology to an aesthetic mode, but he relates it to film noir, in which often the narrator fi rst examines a situation as a distant, uninvolved observer only to fi nd out later that he or she was crucially involved in the plot all along.42 In order to turn carnivalesque self-loss into sublime self-inflation and to reclaim his bourgeois and human identity, Wordsworth needs to reestablish a safety perimeter between himself and the metropolitan population, and to mark out a place of solitary reflection. First, he retreats from the “roar” of the bestial crowd by seeking shelter “into some sequestered nook” (168, 170). Then, he interrupts his narrative more drastically and resorts to the discourse of nature, which allows him to quieten the cacophonic noise of the city and catalogue his urban impressions in the spirit of an amateur biologist: Enough;—the mighty concourse I surveyed With no unthinking mind, well pleased to note Among the crowd all specimens of man, Through all the colours which the sun bestows, And every character of form and face. (219–23)

Relying on a dilettante biological discourse, Wordsworth casts himself here in the role of a naturalistic observer-narrator, a sort of David Attenborough who documents the strange wonders of urban wildlife in the low ceremonial voice of a knowledgeable outsider. This detached ethnographic narration reinstalls a hierarchical distance between Wordsworth and the city, and shields him from its intrusive physicality. It is a self-alienating and self-empowering manoeuvre that enables him to watch urban ecology as if it was a play on a stage and to preserve his human autonomy. Recent


Animality in British Romanticism

ecocritical studies have rightly challenged the aesthetics and ethics of the wildlife documentary format.43 It should be no surprise that many of their criticisms also apply to Book 7. By plotting nature into a TV show, these documentaries tend to create a false sense of detachment, with human and non-human animals inhabiting altogether different biological realms; they also invite a voyeuristic spectatorship, allowing the viewer to indulge in explicit displays of sexuality and violence while avoiding the social stigma that typically accompanies pornography and sadism; and despite their pretence at scientific realism, they rely heavily on montage and present a very condensed and manipulated account of nature, which narrows down the broad spectrum of animal emotion to primal instincts and thus fosters the illusion that animals spend their days hunting and copulating or, in Wordsworth’s poem, with bacchanal parties and visits to the theatre. Although wildlife films are often unapologetically anthropomorphic, the introduction of human characters into this naturalistic format tends to have an opposite, dehumanising effect. (Imagine David Attenborough describing your daily activities in voice-over narration and you might begin to understand what it feels like to be non-human.) Just so, Wordsworth’s naturalistic account turns London into a zoo, a wonderful, if frightening, spectacle populated by exotic species of all kinds. Among these urban animals, Wordsworth does spot one human or “superhuman” creature: Edmund Burke (of all people). When he witnesses Burke delivering a speech in the House of Commons, he is struck by his oratorical dexterity and experiences, quite appropriately, a rhetorical sublime: All are charmed, Astonished; like a hero in romance, He winds away his never-ending horn; Words follow words, sense seems to follow sense: What memory and what logic! till the strain Transcendent, superhuman as it seemed Grows tedious even in a young man’s ear. (505–11)

So far, Wordsworth’s taxonomisation of urban ecology allows him to make out its individual parts—its species, artefacts and activities—but not to synthesise the bigger picture. In Kant’s nomenclature, Wordsworth is able to apprehend the mathematical sublime (apprehension refers to the relatively easy perception of the parts of an immensely vast object), but still fails to comprehend it (comprehension pertains to the excruciatingly arduous understanding of the whole) (Judgment 135). He only arrives at such a comprehensive or panoramic overview towards the end of Book 7: But though the picture weary out the eye, By nature an unmanageable sight, It is not wholly so to him who looks

Humans and Other Moving Things


In steadiness, who hath among least things An under-sense of greatest; sees the parts As parts, but with a feeling of the whole. (731–36)

Wordsworth’s progression to a stable third-person perspective signals a final withdrawal from the city that emphasises his uninvolved spectatorship (“picture,” “the eye,” “looks / In steadiness,” “sees”) and that restores his privileged position as an omniscient or god-like orchestrator. He can now see “the parts / As parts, but with a feeling of the whole,” lines that clearly resonate with Coleridge’s definition of the beautiful—not the sublime, however: “The distinct Perception of a Whole arising out of a clear simultaneous Perception of the constituent Parts, in the relations of All to Each, and of each to each and to all, constitutes the BEAUTIFUL.”44 It is not entirely clear, indeed, whether Wordsworth here renders a picture of an urban sublime or an urban beautiful. In both Coleridge’s and Wordsworth’s aesthetic theories, after all, the sublime requires a suspension of the comparing power and thus goes one step further than the experience of the beautiful, in which part and whole can still be distinguished. Coleridge writes: “Let there be (i.e. as Objects of our Conscious Attention) neither Whole, or Parts, but an All suspending the Comparative Power, and there results the SUBLIME.”45 In his essay “The Sublime and the Beautiful,” Wordsworth suggests exactly that: “whatever suspends the comparing power of the mind & possesses it with a feeling or image of intense unity, without a conscious contemplation of parts, has produced that state of the mind which is the consummation of the sublime.”46 Wordsworth seems to reserve the lofty register of the sublime for the fi nal lines of Book 7, in which analytic observation is exchanged for a more synthetic and less cerebral meditation on the city. He now rises from street level to a higher, transcendental standpoint: This did I feel, in London’s vast domain. The Spirit of Nature was upon me there; The soul of Beauty and enduring Life Vouchsafed her inspiration, and diffused, Through meagre lines and colours, and the press Of self-destroying, transitory things, Composure, and ennobling Harmony. (765–71)

What is sublime, in the end, is not the metropolitan crowd but the leap of imagination that is required to represent it. “Though reared upon the base of outward things,” Wordsworth reflects in Kant’s subjectivist fashion, “Structures like these the excited spirit mainly / Builds for herself” (650, 651–52). The city’s boundless energy, which initially left him despondent and cognitively depleted, now fuels an anodyne sense of rational stability as it “Quickens the slumbering mind, and aids the thoughts, / However multitudinous, to move / With order and relation” (759–61).


Animality in British Romanticism

Interestingly, Wordsworth only manages to quarantine urban life and reassert his sovereignty as a human individual by taking recourse to a natural sublime and recasting the cityscape as an awe-inspiring natural landscape, an environment he is used to domesticate and transcend. In a fragment alluding to the “endless stream of men and moving things,” he now tellingly compares his transcendence of the metropolis to the exaltation experienced by “the roving Indian” overlooking “the everlasting streams and woods, / Stretched and still stretching far and wide” (747, 745–46). This naturalisation of London’s population into streams, trees and—a few lines later—“shoals of life” at once naturalises and excuses the exploitative ideological mechanisms that gave rise to the city’s underclass (751). It erases the violent political history and marginalised economic situation of the beggar, prostitute and mutilated veteran by mapping social hierarchy onto natural taxonomy and by turning these urban stock characters into specimens of different biological species: the beggar species, the prostitute species, the mutilated veteran species. The sublime thus purifies the city and gentrifies its slums, seedy bars and sordid theatre district into immaculate sites of organic beauty where social change becomes impossible because deemed unnecessary. Like the Ancient Mariner’s epiphanic insight into the “One Life,” Wordsworth’s tribute to organic harmony and totality sounds suspiciously abrupt and unmotivated. Remember how, earlier in Book 7, the prospect of becoming stuck in the city’s homogenous clutter or “one identity” still inspired horror and recoil. So, clearly mystical oneness is not always desirable. But what has changed? Wordsworth, I believe, has found a way of looking at the city that mitigates its offensive otherness while, at the same time, allowing him to retain his own otherness vis-à-vis urban reality. It is by successfully representing London’s fragmentation and excess that he manages to manoeuvre himself out of the city and to secure his human autonomy. It is his representational transcendence that makes him human. The irony is that the representational mode which enables Wordsworth to distance himself from urban ecology is a discourse that emphasises precisely organic proximity and biological continuity. His discourse of nature practises the exact opposite of what it preaches. Just as some vegetarians might abstain from meat in order to abstain from their own animality, Wordsworth stresses biological sameness with an eye on asserting his difference. From a safe spectatorial distance, he is now able to enjoy urban ecology as if it were a mere fictional panorama—with the poet “upon some lofty pinnacle” and “with a world / Of life, and life-like mockery beneath / Above, behind, far stretching and before” (244, 245–47). Everything is organic now, apart from the bourgeois poet, who might be surrounded by nature 360 degrees, but still manages to keep himself safely out of the picture.


The Cute and the Cruel Taste, Animality and Sexual Violence in Burke and Blake

It is a short journey from Wordsworth’s London to the bestial space that Burke maps out in his reactionary pamphlet Refl ections on the Revolution in France (1790). Like the urban mass in The Prelude, the Parisian crowd looms as a monolithic tribal mob with no hierarchical structure, no moral discipline and—what troubles an aesthete like Burke perhaps most—no sense of style or etiquette. The democratic movement, Burke fears, seeks to impose its own organisational disorder and ideological confusion onto the state and to outmode the traditional benchmarks of human subjectivity. Although its main intention is to destabilise the political and economic division between the old aristocratic elite and the rising middle classes, the impact of this egalitarian struggle does not remain confi ned to the social. Gender distinctions, too, are readily dissolved when women abandon the private sphere of the domestic to engage openly in the public and exclusively male sphere of political debate.1 In Burke’s view, such political promiscuity also breaks down racial boundaries and relates the revolutionaries to the Native Americans. “It was,” he writes, “a spectacle more resembling a procession of American savages, entering into Onondaga, after some of their murders called victories, and leading into hovels hung round with scalps, their captives, overpowered with the scoffs and buffets of women as ferocious as themselves” (67). What started out as a political struggle thus rapidly escalated into a far-reaching biological struggle, in which humanity was divested of those capacities that—at least according to Burke—set it apart from the rest of the animal world. The aristocratic landlords, Burke complains to the addressee of the Refl ections, are now “so displumed, degraded, and metamorphosed, such unfeathered two-legged things, that we no longer know them. . . . Physically, they may be the same men; though we are not quite sure of that, on your new philosophic doctrines of personal identity” (225). It has become a scholarly platitude to say that the advent of the French Revolution confronted Burke with not only a moral but also an aesthetic crisis, as it exposed the ideological inconsistencies latent in his own


Animality in British Romanticism

Philosophical Enquiry.2 Although the lynch mob that had stormed the Bastille and intruded Versailles exhibited most aesthetic qualities of Burke’s sublime, it aimed to overthrow the conservative ideology that the Enquiry had sought to warrant. In other words, the Revolution may have been aesthetically sublime, but politically it was a “monstrous tragi-comic scene” (Refl ections 10). In a letter to Lord Charlemont written on 9 August 1789, Burke fi rst described the coup d’état in a style that almost exactly rehearsed the wording he had used thirty-two years earlier to characterise the psychological effects of the sublime: “As to us here our thoughts of every thing at home are suspended, by our astonishment at the wonderful Spectacle which is exhibited in a Neighbouring and rival Country—what Spectators, and what actors!”3 By 1790, however, his ambivalent admiration for the Revolution had turned into outright “scorn and horror,” and he now explicitly distanced himself from those commentators who had been fi lled with “rapture and exultation” (Refl ections 10). Burke continued to grapple with the bracing aesthetic effects of political violence. In An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs (1791), he acknowledged that the revolutionaries’ disruptive energy could provoke a temporary sublime sensation. “For a while they may be terrible indeed,” he conceded, “but in such a manner as wild beasts are terrible. The mind owes to them no sort of submission.”4 Burke’s naturalistic metaphor here contradicted his Enquiry, in which he had associated the sublime—and not just the terrible—with wild animals such as “the lion, the tiger, the panther, or rhinoceros” in an attempt to naturalise the autocratic order of the ancien régime (61). In his 1791 Letter to a Member of the National Assembly, too, he related the sublime to wildness and animality when he wrote that the king was captured and exhibited “like some wild beast at a fair.”5 So, who is the sublime beast? The revolutionary crowd or the king? Clearly, Burke’s dubious naturalistic discourse had spun beyond his authorial control, and his patriarchal sublime had accidentally become an aesthetic celebrating social anarchy and political self-loss. Burke had integrated a series of conservative safety catches in his Enquiry that should have prevented the sublime from being repurposed as a revolutionary aesthetic. Its normative insistence on traditional or natural symbols of power (such as the lion or tiger) clearly sought to preclude seismic shifts in the political landscape. The concept of uninvolved spectatorship, too, proved politically very useful. Terror is only sublime, Burke argued, “when it does not press too closely” and when it is “so modified as not to be actually noxious” (Sublime 42, 123). This idea of passive spectatorship had a convenient political side-effect in that it prevented people from becoming directly involved in any act of radical social or political change. Burke’s aesthetic of the sublime, indeed, operates as a kind of shark cage: while it protects us from danger, it also limits our freedom of movement and incarcerates us under the pretence of protection. In this logic, the French Revolution could not be sublime, because there was no safe theatrical distance that

The Cute and the Cruel


allowed the British to sit back and enjoy “this strange chaos of levity and ferocity” (Refl ections 10). Although he himself had initially characterised the Revolution as a “wonderful Spectacle,” Burke now reproached British radicals such as Richard Price for theatricalising regicide as an impressive performance. For these radicals, he argued, political change cannot occur gradually or organically, but “there must be a great change of scene; there must be a magnificent stage effect; there must be a grand spectacle to rouse the imagination, grown torpid with the lazy enjoyment of sixty years’ security” (Refl ections 65). Their revolutionary sublime, Burke believed, not only glamorises the brutal reality of political rebellion; it also creates a false sense of domestic security by presenting the Revolution as merely a play on a stage. To underscore the importance of distance in the experience of political violence, Burke introduced in his First Letter on a Regicide Peace (1796) an interesting animal metaphor that seemed to hark back to his Enquiry: I can contemplate, without dread, a royal or a national tyger on the borders of PEGU. I can look at him, with an easy curiosity, as prisoner within bars in the menagerie of the Tower. But if, by Habeas Corpus, or otherwise, he was to come into the Lobby of the House of Commons whilst your door was open, any of you would be more stout than wise, who would not gladly make your escape out of the back windows. I certainly should dread more from a wild cat in my bedchamber, than from all the lions that roar in the deserts behind Algiers. But in this parallel it is the cat that is at a distance, and the lions and tigers that are in our anti-chambers and our lobbies.6 In A Letter to a Noble Lord (1796), Burke similarly represented revolutionary thought as a predator that had left its habitat to intrude upon England: “Wild and savage insurrection quitted the woods, and prowled about our streets in the name of reform.”7 Tigers figured quite often in anti-revolutionary discourse at the time. In The Prelude, Wordsworth described Paris as a site that “Appeared unfit for the repose of night, / Defenceless as a wood where tigers roam” (10:92–93). Surprisingly, Mary Wollstonecraft, too, acknowledged that the revolutionary “mob were barbarous beyond the tiger’s cruelty.”8 The animal also appeared as a more positive symbol in radical discourse. In Blake’s “The Tyger,” it links violent destruction with energetic renewal and epitomises the beauty and terror of the French Revolution. “Burning bright / In the forests of the night” (1–2), it recalls the combustible powers of Longinus’ rhetorical sublime as well as Richard Price’s revolutionary “blaze that lays despotism in ashes, and warms and illuminates EUROPE!”9 The tiger, however, was an ambiguous metaphorical vehicle. While the animal was frequently invoked to render a picture of the revolutionaries’ unprincipled aggression, it simultaneously continued to be a symbol of


Animality in British Romanticism

royal power. In his seminal chronicle The French Revolution: A History (1837), Thomas Carlyle notes that after the Revolution “the Royal Bengal Tiger” was renamed as “the National Bengal one, Tigre National”—a telling example of how easily a political lexicon enters aesthetic and zoological discourse.10 With the exception of the tiger, the large cast of animal characters that Burke brings into play to represent the revolutionaries are rarely individualised creatures and show more similarities to Deleuze and Guattari’s pack animals. They are characterised as “a swinish multitude,” “fl ies of the summer” and as a cloud of grasshoppers, “little, shrivelled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome, insects of the hour” (Refl ections 79, 95, 85). Grasshoppers also figure in Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus, but there they function as a positive symbol of the corrosive, nomadic and infectious politics of becoming-animal (Plateaus 289, 359). Burke contrasts the strident noise of the revolutionary grasshoppers with the silence of “thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak” (Refl ections 85). The obvious distinction drawn here is one between the rhizomatic violence of the revolutionaries and the arborescent stability of the conservatives, who circle calmly and respectfully around the great British oak, Burke’s preferred symbol of conservatism. In Book 7 of The Prelude, incidentally, Wordsworth had characterised Burke himself as an “oak whose stag-horn branches start / Out of its leafy brow, the more to awe / The younger brethren of the grove” (520–22). And Burke had used a similar arborescent image in a self-portrait to give meaning to the emotional uprootedness he had experienced after the death of his son: “The Storm has gone over me,” he wrote, “and I lie like one of those old oaks which the late hurricane has scattered about me. I am stripped of all my honours; I am torn up by the roots, and lie prostrate on the earth!”11 By characterising radicals as a raucous cloud of insects and conservatives as a beautiful herd of grazing cows, Burke suggests that what differentiates them is not an absolute distinction between humans and animals, but a relative and very delicate distinction between different species of animals. Already in his Enquiry, he had demonstrated keen insight into the anatomical continuity between human and non-human animals, habitually using phrases such as “men and other animals” and “the parts of the human and other animal bodies” (94, 96). In the Refl ections, too, he often alludes to humanity’s animal biology to validate his ideological tenets, as when he writes that “man is by his constitution a religious animal” (90–91). Unsurprisingly, Burke’s insistence on the intimate organic relationship between species does not work to democratise social or biological taxonomy. In fact, his emphasis on biological sameness only makes it easier for him to stress biological difference. Because the anatomical boundary between humans and other animals is extremely porous, he believes it does not take much to lose one’s human identity in the rapid developments of modernity and to evolve or regress into a different species. What is even more remarkable is Burke’s assertion that one’s cultural background or so-called second nature

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can have an impact on one’s biological or first nature and can seemingly give rise to different species of animals. In his discussion of ancient politics, he writes: “The legislators who framed the antient republics . . . were sensible that the operation of this second nature on the fi rst produced a new combination; and thence arose many diversities amongst men, according to their birth, their education, their professions, the periods of their lives, their residence in towns or in the country . . . all which rendered them as it were so many different species of animals” (185). Burke’s belief that social stratification reflects and creates deeper biological distinctions also seemed to inform the urban ecology that Wordsworth put forward in Book 7 of The Prelude, where the city’s stock characters—the prostitute, the beggar, the veteran—were similarly naturalised into different species of animals. One of the defi ning differences between human and non-human animals, according to Burke, is the former’s aesthetic sensibility. In the Enquiry, he had already argued that the intuitive recognition and appreciation of beauty is an exclusively human capacity. Non-human animals, in his view, have only instinctive drives; they do not have aesthetic preferences. “The only distinction they observe with regard to their mates,” he writes, “is that of sex.” And he goes on: “It is true, that they stick severally to their own species in preference to all others. But this preference, I imagine, does not arise from any sense of beauty which they fi nd in their species, as Mr. Addison supposes, but from a law of some other kind, to which they are subject” (Sublime 39).12 For Burke, then, a lack of taste is not just a sign of aesthetic retardation or cultural primitivism; it indicates a more serious lack of humanity as well. In his Refl ections, he infuses his biological conception of taste with political significance in order to reclassify the republicans as a subhuman species. This works in two stages. First, he presents his political preference as an aesthetic taste by advertising the ancien régime as a cultural rather than political movement—a sort of fashion or fastidiously defi ned collection of dress codes, verbal mannerisms and social protocols. That the ancien régime is an aesthetic movement need not imply that it does not serve a deeper biological purpose. Its refi ned customs and alluring dress, Burke believes, play a momentous civilising and humanising role in that they inspire an attitude of reverential admiration, and, in doing so, prevent the proletariat from regressing to subversive political behaviour. The aristocracy’s “pleasing illusions” also make “power gentle, and obedience liberal” and “beautify and soften private society.” Without these illusions, he adds, “a king is but a man; a queen is but a woman; a woman is but an animal; and an animal not of the highest order” (Refl ections 77). If we pursue this line of thought, the Revolution becomes a crime against fashion, robbing society of its pleasing illusions and stripping humanity down to its stark animality. Interestingly, Burke couches his reactionary politics in surprisingly progressive terms. He rejects the idea “that the crown is held by divine, hereditary, and indefeasible right” and emphasises its “artificial” or


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socially constructed character (Refl ections 26, 34). But although he spurns supernaturally sanctioned regimes, he only exchanges divine law for a more subtle and, therefore, more effective natural law, which anchors the legitimacy of political power not outside the subject (where it is a good deal more susceptible to ideological criticism) but in the “flesh and blood beating in our bosoms” (Refl ections 86). And it is here that the notion of taste comes in. What is organic and incontestable, Burke argues, is not the political or religious institution itself, but our taste or aesthetic preference for these institutions. Humans, he stresses, are physically wired to fi nd kings sublime and queens beautiful: “We look up with awe to kings, with affection to parliaments; with duty to magistrates; with reverence to priests; and with respect to nobility. Why? Because when such ideas are brought before our minds, it is natural to be so affected; because all other feelings are false and spurious” (Refl ections 86–87). The ancien régime might be an ideological construction, but it responds to an instinctive human need and derives its legitimacy from this biological response. The aesthetic, in this way, allows Burke to ground his political preference in the natural fabric of human anatomy. Once he has managed to reduce political thought to aesthetic feeling, it becomes very easy for Burke to dehumanise anyone holding opposite ideological opinions. If politics is a matter of taste, we might say that the revolutionaries simply have a different sense of taste. Just as some people prefer brown to white chocolate or Rachmaninov to Radiohead, others prefer democracy to autocracy. In Burke’s empirical aesthetics, however, the idea that tastes can differ is “highly absurd”: either you have taste or you do not (Sublime 14). Because all humans have identical organs arranged in exactly the same anatomical configuration, it necessarily follows for Burke that the same physical object will provoke more or less the same sensory response in every perceiving subject. Consequently, if you do not have a sense of beauty—like the republicans, who are supposedly “destitute of all taste and elegance”—you must have a different anatomy and cannot be human (Refl ections 77). In Burke’s mind, indeed, anyone who does not swoon at the sight of Marie Antoinette must be an aesthetically challenged beast. The revolutionaries’ supposed lack of taste and concomitant inhumanity become most palpable when they intrude Marie Antoinette’s bedroom at Versailles and virtually gang-rape her: “A band of cruel ruffians and assassins, reeking with his [Marie Antoinette’s sentinel’s] blood, rushed into the chamber of the queen, and pierced with a hundred strokes of bayonets and poniards the bed, from whence this persecuted woman had but just time to fly almost naked, and, through ways unknown to the murderers, had escaped to seek refuge at the feet of a king and husband, not secure of his own life for a moment” (Reflections 71). As a pristine object of desire falling prey to the unbridled political and sexual violence of a sublime pack of radicals, the queen here obviously embodies Burke’s aesthetic category of the beautiful. In a lengthy portrait a few pages later, it becomes clear that Burke’s feelings of

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pity for Marie Antoinette are mainly aroused by her pretty looks and not by her moral character or political virtue: “It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the queen of France, then the dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in,—glittering like the morning-star, full of life, and splendour, and joy! Oh! what a revolution!” (Reflections 75). Burke’s puns are telling here. It seems that the only revolution he can approve of is the seductive rotation of Marie Antoinette’s body parts. His resort to aesthetic sensibility and maudlin sentimentality did not go unnoticed. His friend Philip Francis wrote in a letter to Burke that his characterisation of the queen looked like “pure foppery.” “If she be a perfect female character,” he added, “you ought to take your ground upon her virtues. If she be the reverse it is ridiculous in any but a Lover, to place her personal charms in opposition to her crimes.” And he concluded: “are you such a determined Champion of Beauty as to draw your Sword in defense of any jade upon Earth provided she be handsome?”13 Considering Burke’s systematic reliance on metaphors of clothing and unclothing, it is no coincidence that Marie Antoinette flees her bedroom “almost naked,” something which, as many critics have pointed out, entirely sprang from Burke’s overheated imagination and never actually happened.14 In Burke’s view, this disrobing of the queen and the ancien régime is a dehumanising act, revealing “the defects of our naked shivering nature” (Refl ections 77). For the revolutionaries, meanwhile, it is precisely polite society and aristocratic fashion that are dehumanising and nudity which is emancipating. In her Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790), Mary Wollstonecraft explicitly responded to Burke’s claim that without her clothes “woman is but an animal” and asserted that it is not liberal thought but upper-class etiquette that denies woman’s bodily integrity. A woman is only an animal, she retorted, “if she is not more attentive to the duties of humanity than queens and fashionable ladies in general are.”15 The revolutionary act of disrobing thus obtains a double meaning. To Burke, it entails a stripping of everything that makes us human and implies an animalisation; to the revolutionaries, it is a rejection of the dehumanising political corset of the ancien régime and takes part of a liberating becoming-animal. Marie Antoinette’s nudity, however, is rather more problematic. Although it seems as if she tries to escape from her bedroom and its oppressive social and sexual politics, her nudity does not signal a becoming-animal, as she eventually seeks “refuge at the feet of a king and husband” and aims to reestablish her submissive, pet-like position. Unlike the revolutionary pack, Marie Antoinette does not become-animal, but is in fact thrice animalised: as prey to anti-royalist sentiment, as the king’s beautiful pet and, fi nally, as Burke’s beautiful fetish. Rather than giving an accurate representation of historical reality, the violence and suggestive eroticism of the bedroom scene are dictated by Burke’s


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own aesthetic theory, which claimed that “beauty in distress is much the most affecting beauty” (Sublime 100). Insofar as his account of the queen’s near rape is an entirely fictional fabrication, then, it is Burke who strips and dehumanises her—not the revolutionaries. When he describes how they penetrate “with a hundred strokes of bayonets and poniards the bed” and how the queen runs away “almost naked,” he takes his platonic admiration for her to a more physical level and relegates her to the role of helpless victim in a rape fantasy or snuff scene. Through figurative displacement, this scene provides Burke (or his literary persona) with a socially acceptable context or text in which he can freely yet safely, that is subliminally, satisfy his erotic desires and in which he can escape from his own aesthetic, sexual and political ideology of abstention and state-monitored self-discipline. The bedroom, that most private and feminine part of the palace, now turns into a sublime arena where man violently consummates his political and sexual desires and where Burke, too, becomes animal. It is in sexuality, Deleuze and Guattari write, that man becomes woman and that the human becomes animal (Plateaus 307). That Burke becomes animal and is, as it were, infected by revolutionary thought through his fictional construction of the bedroom scene confi rms Deleuze and Guattari’s claim that becomings are contagious and that “writing is a becoming” (Plateaus 265). It may sound surprising, but writing was also for Burke an anarchic act during which he could let his imagination roam freely. In the fi rst pages of his Refl ections, he remarks: “Indulging myself in the freedom of epistolary intercourse, I beg leave to throw out my thoughts and express my feelings just as they arise in my mind, with very little attention to formal method” (10). Despite its reactionary content, indeed, Burke’s Refl ections on the Revolution in France is stylistically and generically a very liberal, even transgressive piece of literature, blending empirical aesthetics with political theory, a judicious historical analysis with rambling anecdotalism, a progressive defence of pacifi sm with a demagogic rationalisation of despotic violence, and highminded philosophical argumentations with frantic nationalist tirades. Inadvertently, his accusation that the revolutionaries “are involved, through a labyrinth of confused detail, in an industry without limit, and without direction” thus also gives a very apt characterisation of his own sprawling political discourse (Refl ections 168). The bedroom scene illustrates that the aesthetic of the beautiful can be as risky an undertaking as the sublime. Originally a symbol of preternatural beauty, Marie Antoinette now appears to be a sublime object of desire, luring Burke to revoke his spectatorial uninvolvement and sexual self-discipline. Apart from animalising woman, the category of the beautiful thus also threatens to undermine the humanity of man, who—mesmerised and tongue-tied by woman’s physical appeal—stands in danger of losing his selfcontrol and being reduced to a will-less lusting animal. That the aesthetic of the beautiful can be as overwhelming and destabilising as the sublime was

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already evident in the Enquiry, where Burke had carefully listed the physical effects of beauty in a description that teetered rather weirdly between a physiological defi nition of the human orgasm and a pathology of cerebral haemorrhage: “The head reclines something on one side; the eye-lids are more closed than usual, and the eyes roll gently with an inclination to the object; the mouth is a little opened, and the breath drawn slowly, with now and then a low sigh: the whole body is composed, and the hands fall idly to the sides” (Sublime 135). Frances Ferguson has pointed out that beauty “recurs throughout the Enquiry in the form of a seductive and indirect assault on the reason.” Lacking the self-preservative agenda of the sublime, moreover, the beautiful does not caution us against the dangers we fi nd ourselves in: it is an alluring trap in which we are caught obliviously and which, as Ferguson puts it, “leads us toward death without our awareness.”16 This menace of the beautiful object stands out most clearly when Burke describes the visual appeal of the female body: “Observe that part of a beautiful woman where she is perhaps the most beautiful, about the neck and breasts; the smoothness; the softness; . . . the deceitful maze, through which the unsteady eye slides giddily, without knowing where to fi x, or whither it is carried” (Sublime 105). In Burke’s curiously prurient description, it seems, breasts have the same spellbinding effect on man as the craggy mountaintops that would become central to the experience of the Romantic sublime. In both cases, the male gaze is unable to fi xate on a steady point and fi nds itself unmoored and undirected. Inadvertently, woman’s charismatic appeal may thus have a sublime impact on the male observer, an impact Burke tried to inoculate his theory against by keeping woman at a safe distance and by emphasising that the aesthetic interest in beauty should on no account be confused with sensuous desire. Burke’s notion of uninvolved spectatorship, which protected the monarchy from the insurgent politics of the revolutionary sublime, appears in his aesthetic of the beautiful in the form of sexual abstinence. There is no small irony in this. Although woman’s beauty is displaced from her clothes and made to reside ultimately in her physique, Burke’s anxiety over its potentially emasculating and dehumanising sideeffects forces him to sanctify woman so much so that she is stripped of her three-dimensionality and becomes an absent presence, an ephemeral object of desire starring in a softcore pornographic drama of male selfempowerment. The fulfi lment of that desire is continually promised yet should at all costs be perpetually delayed. It is in the sexual consummation or consumption of the female body, after all, that man loses his humanity and that Burke’s oppressive mechanism of animalisation breaks loose into Deleuze and Guattari’s emancipating dynamic of becoming-animal. With Wordsworth’s Book 7 of The Prelude and Burke’s Refl ections on the Revolution in France, I have discussed two texts that adamantly rejected the sublime’s subversion of human identity and that marshalled all their aesthetic and ideological resources to re-empower a unitary and autonomous

110 Animality in British Romanticism male subject. Their political conservatism resurfaced in the mystified shape of a biological conservationism, which privileged species preservation over species loss, species sedentarity over species migration and species recovery over species mutation. In the remainder of this chapter, I want to contrast these conservative dismissals of the sublime’s dehumanising effects with William Blake’s positive, liberal reading. Like Deleuze and Guattari, Blake interprets the hybrid’s resistance to straightforward biological classification as a moral recalcitrance to humanist and heteronormative standards of subjectivity. Instead of regarding the non- or post-human as a destabilising threat, he believes it presents a creative opportunity and plays out its potential as a site of taxonomic originality and organic renewal. I am certainly not the fi rst critic to see a link between Blake’s poetry and Deleuze and Guattari’s poststructuralist philosophy. In a brief but perspicacious aside, Saree Makdisi has related the plates of his Songs of Innocence and of Experience to Deleuze and Guattari’s arborescent and rhizomatic taxonomies.17 What is striking about the visual designs is that nearly all of them depict trees, roots, branches or leaves, botanical elements that underscore the environmentalist character of the poems and make explicit the pastoral tradition within which Blake was writing. Makdisi singles out two types of trees in Blake’s plates: the isolated, vertical tree, which functions as a symbol of autocratic oppression and also figured in Burke’s and Wordsworth’s writings as an organic metaphor for conservative morality and traditional class hierarchies; and an extremely pliable kind of tree, which seems to curve strangely in the wind or mutates halfway into a horizontal bush. It is this dynamic species that Makdisi links, if tentatively, to Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizomatic system of thought. The chaotic knitwork of trunks, branches and leaves that frames the Songs, indeed, serves as a particularly fitting image of the rhizomatic power structure that Blake advances in his poetry, that is, a power structure where patriarchal centres appear either absent or emasculated and where it is instead heterogeneous packs of children, animals and outcasts that dictate the verse. Critics have signalled that Blake’s poetry and designs abound with species transformations whereby humans and animals come to participate in an economy of humanisation, dehumanisation and rehumanisation.18 Especially in Blake’s later work, this loss and recuperation of selfhood takes on a very physical character and often induces a sublime effect. In line with the dialectical workings of the sublime, these transformations highlight the traffic between humanity and nature, and demonstrate the fragile and mutable character of human subjectivity. Like Deleuze and Guattari’s dynamic of becoming-animal, this sublime traffic is a two-way movement that affects the human and non-human animal alike. In Jerusalem, for instance, “Lion, Tyger, Horse, Elephant, Eagle, Dove, Fly, Worm” all appear to “Humanize / In the forgiveness of Sins” (plate 98, lines 43–45). In Vala, or The Four Zoas, on the other hand, it is humans who lose their subjectivity and adopt animal forms: “Then

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he beheld the forms of tygers & of Lions dishumanizd men / Many in serpents & in worms stretchd out enormous length” (“Night the Sixth,” page 70, lines 34–35).19 I want to focus here on two poems, “The Little Girl Lost” and “The Little Girl Found,” which were originally included in Songs of Innocence (1789) but later relocated to Experience when the combined volume Songs of Innocence and of Experience was published in 1794. In the fi rst poem, the prepubescent girl Lyca wanders off from her parents and is eventually adopted or abducted by a pack of lions, tigers and leopards. In the second poem, the parents meet the “beasts of prey” in a surreal encounter that unexpectedly concludes with a millennial scene of reconciliation as the parents follow the animals into their cave to fi nd their daughter Lyca. I am pairing Blake with Burke here not simply to juxtapose a progressive with a conservative take on becoming-animal. I am also interested in the Lyca poems because they seem to reimagine the symbolic rape of Marie Antoinette for a liberal audience, presenting her animalistic nudity and violent removal from the domestic sphere as socially and sexually emancipating rather than denigrating. I am not saying that Blake had Burke’s Refl ections in mind when he composed his poems or that he deliberately sought to antagonise a conservative readership with his rewriting (after all, the Lyca poems were written before the publication of the Refl ections). Instead, I believe that Blake’s poems and the fictional bedroom scene dramatised in Burke’s Refl ections share very similar concerns (such as an interest in the Oedipal family, sexual violence, self-loss, patriarchal power, female beauty and animality) and that both texts refract these concerns through the lens of the sublime and beautiful—albeit with altogether different moral and political agendas. The Lyca poems, indeed, seem to psychologise the molestation of Marie Antoinette into an abstract, conceptual crisis, whereby Lyca takes up the sacrificial role of the queen and the “band of cruel ruffians and assassins” are played by an actual pack of predators. Uncluttered by historical specifics or political particulars, Blake’s double poem, then, brings into sharper focus the moral and aesthetic patterns of thought that undergird Burke’s Refl ections. Like the Refl ections, the Lyca poems record the loss of prelapsarian beauty and the disruptive transition from innocence to a state of sublime anarchy. Enticed by “wild birds song,” the seven-year-old Lyca strays into “the desart wild” and eventually encounters “the beasts of prey” that “Come from Caverns deep” (“Lost” 16, 7, 34, 35). The “Lovely Lyca,” as Blake characterises her time and again, clearly embodies Burke’s aesthetic of the beautiful. Beauty, Burke argued in his Enquiry, “is highest . . . in the female sex” and “almost always carries with it an idea of weakness and imperfection” (100). That the girl, like Marie Antoinette, is asleep when the beasts of prey arrive compounds her weakness and only makes her more physically appealing—at least to Burke, for whom the prettiest woman seems to be a narcoleptic—mute, immobile and totally oblivious to


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her surroundings. Lyca’s young age, too, adds to her beauty. In his Enquiry, Burke wrote that “the young of most animals, though far from being compleatly fashioned, afford a more agreeable sensation than the full grown” (70). Burke’s aesthetic of the beautiful shows some striking similarities to what is now known as cuteness, a category generally associated with the attractive display of paedomorphic physical characteristics in human and non-human animals. Although the word cuteness, in its meaning of “endearing,” only entered the English language in the Victorian period, the category clearly has its roots in the Romantics’ saccharine portrayals of childhood experience and animal beauty. Think of the “Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie” in Robert Burns’s “To a Mouse” or the kitten staging “a pretty baby-show” in Wordsworth’s “The Kitten and the Falling Leaves.”20 In addition to its important biological function (the twentiethcentury zoologist Konrad Lorenz interpreted cuteness as an adaptive trait intended to elicit nurturing instincts), it also fulfi ls a dubious ideological role. Mary Wollstonecraft already suggested that the recurrent association of female beauty with the infantile and the domesticated tended to render female powerlessness and dependency socially appealing. In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), she incisively observed that women’s “strength of body and mind are sacrificed to libertine notions of beauty, to the desire of establishing themselves,—the only way women can rise in the world,—by marriage. And this desire making mere animals of them, when they marry they act as such children may be expected to act:—they dress, they paint, and nickname God’s creatures.”21 As an extremely accurate personification of Burke’s category of the beautiful, Lyca thus fi nds herself reduced to the inferior status of the non-human animal well before the beasts of prey have a fi rst sniff at her body. When the girl ventures into the desert, she enters the no man’s land of the sublime, where moral and species boundaries appear extremely precarious. The inhabitants of Blake’s desert—lions, leopards and tigers—represent the typical features of the Burkean sublime, such as wildness, exoticism and terrifying physical force. Wild animals recur as symbols of the sublime throughout Blake’s Songs. In “The Tyger” and “Night,” predators produce the characteristically Burkean mixture of admiration and terror, and in doing so, reflect Blake’s ongoing struggle to formulate a satisfying answer to the theological problem of evil, a problem famously expressed in that line from “The Tyger”: “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?” (20). This moral question is also left open in the Lyca poems. Although the animals are initially pejoratively characterised as “beasts of prey,” a few lines later the lion receives the epithet “kingly” and in “The Little Girl Found” it even appears to wear a “crown” (“Lost” 34, 37; “Found” 37). The animals’ habitat is similarly first referred to in “Lost” as “caverns” and “caves,” but it appears to be refurbished into a “palace” in “Found” (“Lost” 35, 52; “Found” 43). Because the animals’ moral nature and motives remain obscure throughout, it is not entirely clear whether we should interpret the lion’s licking and

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the lioness’s undressing of Lyca as an expression of sexual or carnivorous appetite or, more innocently, as a parental gesture of care and concern: While the lion old Bowed his mane of gold, And her bosom lick, And upon her neck, From his eyes of flame, Ruby tears there came; While the lioness Loosed her slender dress, And naked they conveyed To caves the sleeping maid. (“Lost” 43–52)

Blake’s pronouncedly sexual imagery and the prurient visual designs have inspired a number of critics to read the Lyca poems as a dramatisation of a sexual rite of passage or what Robert Gleckner describes as a “rape of experience.”22 Gleckner’s interpretation fits the category of the sublime, which has similarly been conceived of as a discourse of female molestation. On this reading, the bestial rape—or near rape—of Lyca would drive home how in the eighteenth-century aesthetic debates the category of the beautiful was constantly under the threat of being overpowered and ingested by the masculinist sublime. The psychological effects of the sublime surface most dramatically in the second poem, in which the parents encounter the wild animals and are eventually escorted to their daughter. This encounter is fi rst presented as an immobilising experience of fear and terror until the lion licks the mother’s hand and the parents’ initial feelings of horror are replaced with a sense of “deep surprise” and “wondering”—the primary emotional response to Burke’s sublime (“Found” 34, 35). The licking, which still looked ambiguously sexual and carnivorous in the fi rst poem, now appears as an unequivocal act of sympathy that initiates a millennial reconciliation of opposites. Such a radical reversal also characterises the moral trajectory of Blake’s poem “Night,” but here the reconciliation between predator and prey is only achieved after the violent catharsis of slaughter and ingestion, something which is perhaps insinuated in the Lyca poems yet never made explicit: When wolves and tigers howl for prey, They pitying stand and weep; Seeking to drive their thirst away, And keep them from the sheep. But if they rush dreadful, The angels, most heedful,

114 Animality in British Romanticism Receive each mild spirit, New worlds to inherit. ... And now beside thee, bleating lamb, I can lie down and sleep; Or think on Him who bore thy name, Graze after thee and weep. For, wash’d in life’s river My bright mane for ever. Shall shine like the gold As I guard o’er the fold. (25–32, 41–48)

Ingestion in “Night” emerges as a process of metabolic and psychological interchange, whereby the eater and the eaten come to alter each other’s species identity. By consuming the sheep, the tigers adopt their passivism and vegetarianism; by being consumed, the sheep are absorbed into the tigers’ bloodstream and become—in a cellular sense—tigers. This belief that food can have a noticeable impact on the eater’s mental condition proved particularly influential in the dietary philosophy of Romantic-period vegetarians such as Percy Shelley, who assumed that meat consumption renders people more prone to aggression, whereas a vegetable diet would pacify the mind.23 Although Lyca is never eaten by the beasts of prey, she, too, loses her species identity. Her human nature is already called into question from the very beginning of the poem by the etymological origin of her name, which derives from the Greek word for wolf. As a portrait of a lupine child of sorts, Blake’s double poem typifies the Romantic interest in infants that had been raised outside the pale of human society, the most famous one probably being Victor of Aveyron, who was found in a French forest around the end of the eighteenth century. In the tenth and most important edition of his influential taxonomic study Systema Naturae (1758), Linnaeus interpreted these wild children not as a different species but as a different class of Homo sapiens, called Homo ferus or “wild man.”24 Although there existed no scientific consensus on the biological meaning of these feral children, they suggested that the human was an extremely fragmented and mutable creature that could easily shapeshift into something other than human. For Deleuze and Guattari, however, these transformations are progressive rather than retrograde, and exemplify the undermining politics and organic creativity of becoming-animal. The becoming of wolf-children, they argue, “is not a question of a real production, as if the child ‘really’ became an animal; nor is it a question of a resemblance, as if the child imitated animals that really raised it; nor is it a question of a symbolic metaphor, as if the autistic child that was abandoned or lost merely became the ‘analogue’ of an animal” (Plateaus 301). What happens is a far more sweeping revision of human-animal relations. By demonstrating that human identity does

The Cute and the Cruel


not reside in an immediately visible quality, these wild children drastically complicate the aesthetics of species. It is perfectly possible, they suggest, to have a human physiognomy but to display the cognitive, communicative and moral behaviour of a non-human animal—the reverse, in fact, of what Frankenstein’s Monster would demonstrate. Lyca is most palpably stripped of her human identity when the lioness loosens “her slender dress,” a highly transgressive act which—according to Burke’s sartorial theory—would reveal that “a woman is but an animal.” But whereas female nudity launches Burke into paroxysms of either anthropological anxiety or uninhibited sexual delight, it is a non-issue for Blake. Lyca’s nakedness is not the dehumanising nudity that Burke simultaneously feared and desired, nor is it the self-conscious, shameful nudity which Derrida experienced when his cat caught him naked. Hers is the nudity of a child, which shares its trivial and unapologetic character with the nudity of the non-human animal. It is, as Derrida puts it, a “nonnudity”: given that the non-human animal is always naked, it can never be actually naked (“Animal” 374). Because Blake never explains why the lioness undresses Lyca, however, this disrobing might be a much less innocuous act. Maybe it is sexual and anticipates a bestial gang-rape. Or maybe the lioness removes Lyca’s clothes in the way a predator skins its prey or a human unwraps a piece of meat in order to prepare and eat it. In these cases, Lyca’s dehumanisation would be no different from Marie Antoinette’s and would form part of a degrading animalisation rather than an empowering becoming-animal. This raises a crucial question about what essentially differentiates woman’s being-animalised from her becoming-animal. In The Sexual Politics of Meat, Carol Adams has convincingly demonstrated how woman and animal are forced to participate in the same visual economy that reduces their flesh to the object of man’s carnal and carnivorous desires. Both woman and animal, she claims, are fi rst objectified into meat, then fragmented into consumable body parts (breasts and genitalia or spare ribs and steaks), and fi nally aesthetically and orally ingested. Adams’s moral evaluation of the mechanism of animalisation, needless to say, is very different from Deleuze and Guattari’s. Whereas she regards the bestialisation of woman as part of a masculinist strategy to muzzle and consume female otherness, they interpret becoming-animal as an emancipating movement that liberates woman from her subaltern position within patriarchal society. Interestingly, the main targets of Adams’s sexual politics—objectification, fragmentation and consumption—refigure in Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophical project as the primary instruments in a deconstruction of the male subject. What makes objectification and fragmentation victimising mechanisms, Deleuze and Guattari seem to say, is not so much their intrinsic structure as their exclusive application to woman. Instead of trying to reassemble a stable sense of female and animal identity—as feminist and animal rights groups might want to do—Deleuze and Guattari want to dismember, disorganise


Animality in British Romanticism

and ingest man like an animal, so that man, too, is—to put Adams’s phrases to new use—“severed from [his] ontological meaning” and subjected to a total “annihilation of . . . identity.”25 The victimising process of animalisation only inverts into the emancipating performance of becoming-animal when it affects both parties equally and undercuts the idea of a stable human and animal identity. “Man becomes animal,” Deleuze writes in Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, “but not without the animal becoming spirit at the same time, the spirit of man.”26 This spiritualisation of the material body is precisely what happens in “The Little Girl Found” when the lion is divested of its physicality and sublimes into “a spirit arm’d in gold” (36). As their speech, tears and palace bear out, the beasts of prey now display human and superhuman characteristics without, however, entirely losing their animality. So, while in Burke’s aesthetic of the beautiful the discourses of animalisation and infantilisation forced woman to regress to the pet-like state of the child or the childlike state of the pet, in Blake’s poetics of becoming these discourses counter the marginalisation and consumption of female and animal otherness by staking out a zone of indeterminacy where both man and woman, human and non-human, adult and child are stripped of their stable identities. It is not just that humans become animals and that animals become humans, but more that the signifier of species loses its stable significance and becomes, as Deleuze and Guattari would put it, undone. Interestingly enough, it is by animalising woman and treating her as a tasty piece of meat that man loses control over both himself and woman. In his Refl ections on the Revolution in France, Burke’s objectifying discourse of the beautiful appeared so volatile and contagious that it ended up objectifying and animalising him as well. If Marie Antoinette found herself degraded to a thing of beauty, Burke himself became an irrational libidinous machine, controlled by deeper biological compulsions. In this sense, male sexuality and the symbolically congruent practice of carnivorism challenge rather than reinforce patriarchal power. (And arguably, this explains why feminists and conservatives make strange bedfellows in their criticism of pornography.) Even so, it remains morally questionable, at the very least, to interpret the eating of girls and other animals as an act of female and animal empowerment, for it once more forces them into the role of sacrificial victims, whose bodies have to be consumed—sexually or gastronomically—in order to relieve man of his annoying Oedipal tensions and disciplining desires. That the parents eventually fi nd Lyca should not imply that they reestablish closure and that the Oedipal family is reinstated. Although there is no radical parricide as Deleuze and Guattari may propose, there is no return of the Oedipal family either, as the poem’s title might misleadingly suggest. Lyca’s passage into experience is not a passage into the arborescent stability of adulthood, but it causes a caving in of patriarchal structures and transports man, child, animal and woman into the ontological flux

The Cute and the Cruel


of becoming. In Blake, the child does not become “father of the Man,” as Wordsworth famously put it, but Man becomes a child, becomes a girl. 27 Following the predators into their palace, the parents now emulate their daughter’s becoming and enter the community of the beasts of prey: Then they followed Where the vision led, And saw their sleeping child Among tigers wild. To this day they dwell In a lonely dell, Nor fear the wolvish howl Nor the lion’s growl. (“Found” 45–52)

It is in its indeterminate and inconclusive reconciliation between the human and non-human animal that Blake’s sublime most emphatically takes issue with Burke’s theory. Whereas Burke’s sources of delightful terror—tigers, panthers, Louis XVI of France—immobilise the subject into a state of pusillanimous veneration, Blake’s sublime stakes out an arena where the human and non-human animal continually move in and out of the centre without ever settling into conventional identities or lodging themselves into static hierarchies. In the dynamic and open-ended ecology of Songs of Innocence and of Experience, organisms of different species, ages and sexes engage in a series of casual but extremely intimate relationships. In “Night,” the process of digestion unites the eater and the eaten and engenders a new, more powerful and more moral creature, combining the overwhelming physical force of the tiger with the moral tolerance of the lamb. In “The Rose,” a worm penetrates a flower and both form a heterogeneous and rather unorthodox sexual alliance. In “The Tyger,” nature’s brutal force hybridises with industrial technology to give life to a turbo assemblage. And in the Lyca poems, a cute seven-year-old girl teams up with a pack of predators to combat the patriarchal regime of the family and the state. What these unusual partnerships suggest is that the monstrous is far more viable and powerful than the monochrome identity structures favoured by patriarchal ideology.


A Problem of Waste Management Frankenstein and the Visual Order of Things

When Deleuze and Guattari complained in their typically facetious yet deadly serious style that they were “tired of trees,” the reason for their discontent was not exactly ecological or dendrological (Plateaus 17). What they were tired of was the persistent recourse of Western epistemology to arborescent systems of classification, which compulsively try to tidy up, divide and subdivide the apparent mess of human existence into rigorously hierarchical tree diagrams: family trees, trees of life, trees of the knowledge of good and evil, linguistic trees. It is time, Deleuze and Guattari asserted with iconoclastic fervour, to uproot the tree from Western thinking and supplant it with a rhizome—a freeform taxonomic system characterised by the usual postmodern buzzwords of fragmentation, hybridity and mutability. Mary Shelley, too, seemed tired of trees when she wrote her novel Frankenstein (1818). As early as the fi rst chapter she has one “utterly destroyed” when Victor Frankenstein recounts how the “old and beautiful oak” standing close to his family’s home was once spectacularly “reduced to thin ribbands of wood” by “a most violent and terrible thunder-storm” until “nothing remained but a blasted stump” (24). It is difficult to overstate the importance of this incident in the novel. Symbolising the explosive force of both natural process and scientific enlightenment, the scene prefigures the dramatic turn which the story will take. Its full symbolic significance becomes most apparent when Shelley towards the end of the novel recycles the same tree metaphor to convey a sense of Frankenstein’s psychological and social breakdown. With his family dead and his scientific theories falsified, Frankenstein has no genealogical trees or arborescent taxonomies left to give meaning to his life. He appears as mentally, geographically and biologically uprooted as his Monster. “I am a blasted tree,” he laments, “the bolt has entered my soul” (133). As Barbara Freeman has observed, the combustion of the “old and beautiful oak” is not only thematically but also aesthetically a crucial scene in the novel.1 What Shelley registers here, in fact, is the total destruction of the composed aesthetic of the beautiful by the all-consuming violence

A Problem of Waste Management 119 of the sublime. Longinus already drew on lightning metaphors to capture the revelatory and transformative power of the rhetorical sublime, writing that “sublimity, brought out at just the right moment, makes everything different, like lightning, and directly shows the ‘all-at-once’ capacity of the speaker” (9). In his Philosophical Enquiry, Burke remarked that astonishment, the primary effect of his sublime, etymologically derives from attonitus, meaning “thunder-struck” (54). And more recently, Jean-François Lyotard has argued that “sublime violence is like lightning” and like “a sudden blazing.”2 On this reading, Frankenstein’s anecdote would anticipate the novel’s gradual but irrevocable descent from beauty into sublimity.3 But what does this aesthetic development imply ideologically? Considering that Wordsworth personified Burke as an oak in Book 7 of The Prelude and that Burke’s Refl ections represented reactionary politics pictorially in the form of a “British oak,” the explosion of the tree in Frankenstein might well be a cryptic topical reference to the ravaging violence of the French Revolution, which—in Thomas Paine’s words—had “exterminate[d] the monster Aristocracy, root and branch” and had shaken up the foundations of Burke’s political and aesthetic ideology.4 In the light of Romantic ecology, on the other hand, the scene would play on the cultural anxiety that the scientific and technological manipulation of organic life could easily spiral out of human control and have calamitous environmental consequences, leaving the natural world—as Byron had put it in “Darkness”—“treeless, manless, lifeless” (71). Although Shelley’s novel makes a powerful political and ecological statement, I am not really interested in conservative oaks or actual trees here. My principal concern in this chapter is with the arborescent taxonomies that feed into Frankenstein’s understanding of species and with what Mary Shelley in her post-apocalyptic novel The Last Man (1826) calls “the uprooted tree of humanity.”5 Bearing in mind that Frankenstein fabricates his creature with both human and non-human body parts, it seems plausible to say that human identity for him is not a question of a single metaphysical or anatomical essence, but arises in the tangled interplay between biological, socio-cultural and moral factors. What defines us as humans, in his view, is our biological embeddedness in the social ecology of the family and our innate capacity for moral and rational action. Or to carry on with Deleuze and Guattari’s dendrological nomenclature, his conception of the tree of life is tightly interconnected with the family tree and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. What Shelley’s novel captures—perhaps better than any other Romantic text—is the tremendous extent to which these social, moral and biological taxonomies are shaped by aesthetic principles. This aesthetic determination manifests itself in at least two ways. Structurally, Frankenstein’s tree models are beautiful systems with a transparent and regular configuration that is supposedly invariable because objectively rooted in nature and unquestionable because a matter of intuitive understanding. Beauty also plays a more concrete role in Frankenstein’s


Animality in British Romanticism

arborescent classifications in that each of them invests aesthetic appeal with their own distinctive meaning. To be more precise (or less vague), throughout the novel Frankenstein mobilises an aesthetic vocabulary to appraise social relations (domesticity is beautiful), evaluate moral integrity (criminals are ugly), and defi ne biological status (hybridity is pretty disgusting). As a physical reflection of social, moral and biological law, beauty thus also serves a cohesive function. It is the common ingredient that makes the whole stick together and lends it its defi ning taste. Although this reliance on the visual protocols of the beautiful accounts for much of the appeal of arborescent thinking (it is, after all, nicer to look at trees than at the lumpy shapes of a rhizome), the trouble with predicating a biological taxonomy on aesthetic principles is that its scientific legitimacy and operational efficiency wholly depend on something as fickle and flimsy as looks. It does not take much—a harmless creature with an anaemic complexion and pitch-black hair—for the entire system to collapse and plunge into rhizomatic chaos. Frankenstein’s scientific project to reanimate dead matter is also a cosmetic experiment dedicated to reversing the physical effects of aging even beyond the point of death. The creature he has in mind should not only be properly functioning but its anatomy should also be aesthetically appealing. Things do not work out as planned. Frankenstein’s shocked disappointment at the Monster’s putrid ugliness—“I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful!”—may seem needlessly melodramatic, given that he collected his materials from charnel houses, dissecting rooms and slaughterhouses and could have easily anticipated that the whole would never look less sickening than the sum of its parts (39). And yet, his surprise does not necessarily reveal a hysterical personality or lack of technical foresight. Despite the cutting-edge quality of his research, Frankenstein still seems to hold fast to the vitalist belief in the so-called principle of life, an abstract energetic force that, aside from imparting motion to the creature, would also render it physically attractive. Life, for Frankenstein, is a biological function with pronounced aesthetic effects, as its presence beautifies human anatomy and its absence decomposes the body completely. His visit to the graveyard in search of usable organic materials inspires the following reflection: “a churchyard was to me merely the receptacle of bodies deprived of life, which from being the seat of beauty and strength, had become food for the worm” (33–34). This pairing of aesthetics and biology is also seen at play in Coleridge’s vitalist philosophy, according to which “every beautiful Object must have an association with Life—it must have Life in it or attributed to it.”6 Frankenstein seems to assume that by infusing life into the creature’s patchwork anatomy, he will transform it into something charmingly harmonious and homogeneous. In Romantic aesthetic theory, after all, beauty has the power to reconcile divergent parts and weld them into an organic whole. Beauty, Coleridge writes, lies in “the unity of the manifold, the coalescence of the diverse.”7 That the Monster still looks ugly after it has been regenerated, however, suggests either that life is not a

A Problem of Waste Management 121 beautifying property or, more radically, that the Monster was vivified without any metaphysical hocus-pocus and that there is no abstract principle of life. What Frankenstein sees, then, when he is shocked into fascinated disgust by the Monster’s egregious appearance is the face of mechanistic philosophy, of matter animating and moving itself. Frankenstein’s much-discussed obsession with the creature’s looks should not suggest that he is less a rational scientist than a body sculptor singularly preoccupied with crafting pretty forms and establishing an artistic reputation. Aesthetic appeal, for him, is not a gratuitous quality, but it has tremendous biological significance. Although he never fleshes out this significance in scientific detail, his repeated association of beauty with youthfulness, mental health and physical resilience—both in reference to the Monster and himself—hints at an acute insight into the relationship between beauty and biological success. I would not go so far as to say that Shelley here prefigures Charles Darwin’s understanding of the evolutionary role of physical attractiveness in sexual selection, but her novel clearly resonates with contemporary scientific theories on beauty. In his discussion of the effects of environmental variability on human morphology, Buffon postulated a clear causal relationship between nourishment and beauty, claiming that “in those villages where the people are richer and better fed than in others, the men are . . . more handsome and have better countenances.”8 In his Observations on Man, His Frame, His Duty, and His Expectations (1749), the English philosopher David Hartley claimed that “health and sickness have many connections with beauty and strength, deformity and imbecility, respectively.”9 And Erasmus Darwin, whose influence is acknowledged in the fi rst sentence of Frankenstein’s Preface, similarly pointed out the broader biological importance of beauty in the animal and vegetable world. In The Botanic Garden (1791), an extremely zoomorphic poem about plant reproduction and evolution, he wrote that “Love and Beauty rule the willing world” and interpreted physical appeal as a major selling point in nature’s sexual economy: “What Beaux and Beauties crowd the gaudy groves, / And woo and win their vegetable Loves.”10 It is tempting to interpret Frankenstein’s determination to supply his creature with a beautiful face as part of an effort to humanise it and provide it with everything that faciality presumably signifies: individuality, emotional depth, intentionality, moral relevance. It is never clear, however, whether Frankenstein intended to create a human being in the fi rst place. Initially, he plans to “give life to an animal as complex and wonderful as man,” then he claims to have started on “the creation of a human being,” and fi nally he talks about manufacturing a “new species” (35–36). Although he speaks of “the superior beauty of man,” moreover, he does not seem to regard physical attractiveness as a criterion of human identity (138). In fact, in his hagiographic description of Elizabeth’s delicate appearance and temperament, it is precisely her superior looks that dehumanise her. Shelley here clearly echoes the feminist criticism of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft,

122 Animality in British Romanticism who had argued that society’s preoccupation with female beauty effectively reduces women to “gentle, domestic brutes”:11 She was docile and good tempered, yet gay and playful as a summer insect. . . . Her person was the image of her mind; her hazel eyes, although as lively as a bird’s, possessed an attractive softness. Her figure was light and airy; and though capable of enduring great fatigue, she appeared the most fragile creature in the world. While I admired her understanding and fancy, I loved to tend on her, as I should on a favourite animal; and I never saw so much grace both of person and mind united to so little pretension. (20–21) Frankenstein’s intention to create a beautiful being thus also carries an ideological charge. In line with Burke’s aesthetic theory, which associated beauty with domesticity and submissiveness, he seems to believe that a beautiful specimen will be more easily cowed into submission than an ugly one. Although the fragment quoted above no longer appeared in the 1831 edition, Frankenstein there still interpreted Elizabeth’s beauty as a dehumanising quality. In the later version, however, her pretty looks relate her no longer to a non-human animal but to a superhuman species. She is so beautiful, Frankenstein says, “that none could behold her without looking on her as of a distinct species, a being heaven-sent, and bearing a celestial stamp in all her features.”12 Exceptional beauty—like exceptional ugliness—clearly affects one’s ranking in Frankenstein’s species hierarchy. For Frankenstein, beauty is a defi ning feature not so much of human anatomy as of species stability. The Monster is off-putting in his eyes because it is a liminal creature without a clear biological identity or evolutionary past. Looking eerily human but at the same time not quite human enough, it induces what Masahiro Mori famously called “the uncanny valley.”13 In his 1970 essay, which charted the affective responses to humanoid robots, Mori argued that the more familiar or human robots look, the more positive and empathic our reactions towards them will be. If their resemblance to the human form is too strong, however, they will appear alienating and repulsive, causing the familiarity curve to drop sharply down. At this moment, we experience the uncanny, which Freud defi ned as a harrowing feeling of uncertainty triggered by our inability to make out whether something inanimate is animate (and vice versa) or something human is non-human (and vice versa).14 When robots, however, cross this point of uncanniness and start to look even more human, the familiarity curve will drastically rise again, thus creating the shape of a valley in the graph. In her recent book Do Metaphors Dream of Literal Sleep? (2010), SeoYoung Chu has also linked Frankenstein’s Monster to the uncanny valley, but in her opinion the uncanny valley thrives not on the tension between the human and non-human or the animate and the inanimate, but on the distinction between that which arose spontaneously and that which

A Problem of Waste Management 123 was artificially constructed.15 To bolster her view, Chu refers to chimpanzees, which despite their strangely anthropomorphous appearance do not inspire the uncanny valley but elicit what Konrad Lorenz called “the cute response.”16 Chu’s reference to apes is telling in that it inadvertently reveals the extent to which our aesthetic judgments of animal appearance are historically conditioned by our scientific understanding of human-animal relations. Although humanoid primates might currently be perceived as exceptionally adorable creatures, this has not always been the case. In fact, it is difficult to fi nd in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century writings an animal whose looks were more often scorned, ridiculed, vilified and abhorred than the ape’s. William Smellie referred to apes as “imitative animals” and thought they had “a detestable resemblance to the human frame and manners.”17 And in his Philosophical Enquiry, Burke wrote that “there are few animals, whose parts are better contrived than those of a monkey; he has the hands of a man, joined to the springy limbs of a beast; he is admirably calculated for running, leaping, grappling, and climbing; and yet there are few animals which seem to have less beauty in the eyes of all mankind” (95). Burke’s view of the monkey as a human being manqué is remarkably consonant with Frankenstein’s attitude towards his Monster.18 Primates, it seems, were negatively stereotyped not because they looked so radically different from human beings, but precisely because they looked disturbingly similar and because their anatomical and behavioural resemblance weakened the belief in human exceptionalism. To label apes as ugly or ludicrous was part of a more general strategy to keep the almost-human at a safe taxonomic distance from the human. This anthropocentric anxiety towards apes also explains why Frankenstein’s creature continues to be demonised even after it has taught itself to read, talk and eat like an enlightened philosophe. In fact, the more human-like it behaves, the uglier it looks. With its abrupt psychological transition from sympathetic recognition to alienated repugnance, the uncanny valley also charts an aesthetic descent from the affective register of the beautiful into the sublime. That an object can appear so attractive that it suddenly morphs into something horrible is clearly at odds with Burke’s and Kant’s theories, which assume that the beautiful and sublime are separated by an insuperable experiential barrier. It remains a moot point in Frankenstein criticism, however, whether the Monster should be classified in terms of the sublime or the ugly. While some scholars interpret the creature and its feverish fabrication as a parody of the sublime, others have reasoned that it looks simply too repulsive to induce the elevating feelings of delight and admiration that typically underwrite the Burkean sublime.19 Even so, these elevating feelings do not always make up an integral part of the sublime for Burke. In his disappointingly compact section on ugliness, he argues that the ugly, too, can occasion a sense of sublimity when it is “united with such qualities as excite a strong terror” (Sublime 109). In my readings of “The Ancient Mariner” and Wordsworth’s Book 7, in fact, I showed that ugliness and the sublime often participate in

124 Animality in British Romanticism the same aesthetic experience, whereby the sublime operates as a waste management tool that sanitises human ecology and restores social hygiene by recycling the abject into a thing of immaculate beauty. Shelley’s novel offers a very physical rendition of the sublime’s purgative workings. What Frankenstein tries to do by giving new form and purpose to a pile of decomposing body parts, I think, exemplifies in a brutally literal way the tendency of the Romantic sublime to reintegrate the filth of material reality into a clean social and aesthetic teleology. In comparison to Coleridge’s Mariner and Wordsworth in Book 7, however, Frankenstein is much less adept at such aesthetic recycling. Lacking the transcending power of the Kantian sublime, he remains mired in the dirt of physical existence and is ultimately even chased and destroyed by his trashy creature. Some junk, apparently, is too foul and toxic to be rehabilitated into polite society. Another reason why the Monster causes universal outrage is because it looks unlike anything else. “I had never yet seen a being resembling me,” it complains (97). A monster, Derrida has argued, “shows itself in something that is not yet shown and that therefore looks like a hallucination, it strikes the eye, it frightens precisely because no anticipation had prepared one to identify this figure.” In short, it “is a species for which we do not yet have a name.”20 Monstrosity, of course, is only the superlative degree of originality. It refers to something which looks even too ground-breaking and novel to be tolerated as a piece of avant-garde art. In his Enquiry, Burke listed novelty as one of the defi ning characteristics of beauty, writing that physical appeal does not exist in the mundane but in those forms that deviate from the norm and that take us by surprise. When something, however, strikes us as so extraordinary that it falls completely outside our common frame of reference, the result is not a pleasurable interest but straightforward disgust (Sublime 94). Frankenstein, it appears, has carried the Romantic concern with novelty and originality beyond its proper limits and has created something that is too unique, something that sickens rather than surprises. Despite their predilection for originality and eccentricity, the Romantics—especially those with organicist leanings—still put great emphasis on literary continuity, imitation and adaptation. 21 In his Defence of Poetry, Percy Shelley tellingly praised Virgil as a poet who “created anew all that he copied,” a phrase that seems to play on the process of sexual reproduction, whereby new life forms are created by replicating old ones (692). The analogy that Shelley gradually builds up and sustains throughout his literary pamphlet between aesthetic and biological evolution was widespread in Romantic aesthetic theory. In his “Essay, Supplementary to the Preface,” Wordsworth argued that whereas a bad poem occasionally achieves more popular success than a good one, the genre of poetry—like a biological species—will not become extinct just because it includes a few hideous or developmentally challenged specimens: “this advantage attends the good,” Wordsworth writes, “that the individual, as well as the species, survives from age to age; whereas, of the depraved, though the species be immortal,

A Problem of Waste Management 125 the individual quickly perishes.”22 Not only is the concept of species in part aesthetically constructed, then, but aesthetics is also conceptually associated with biological species. If texts are like species of animals, what does the literary equivalent of Frankenstein’s Monster look like? Maybe like Robert Southey’s Orientalist verse. At least that is what the critic Thomas Love Peacock believed. In The Four Ages of Poetry (1820), Peacock contended that Southey’s poetry gathers—through what seems a process of unnatural selection—the most degenerate components of literary history and fudges them together in a crossbreed species of text: “Mr Southey wades through ponderous volumes of travels and old chronicles, from which he carefully selects all that is false, useless, and absurd, as being essentially poetical; and when he has a commonplace book full of monstrosities, strings them into an epic.”23 Mary Shelley’s own Frankenstein is perhaps a better of example of a monstrous text, stitching together as it does multiple narrators, ideological perspectives and literary styles into a literary medium, the novel, which at the time was still so nascent that it was perceived, in Bakhtin’s phrase, as “a creature from an alien species.”24 Although it does not look exactly human, the Monster’s intellectual and moral ontogenesis suggests that it does possess a human brain. With surprising ease and alacrity, it evolves from a grunting brute to a Rousseauesque prodigy—a vegetarian, well-read and extremely gregarious android that behaves perhaps too perfectly human-like to be actually human. Frankenstein, however, abandons his creature not because it lacks the margins of error that defi ne human identity, but because his physiognomic belief in the correlation between facial appearance and moral character deludes him into thinking that the Monster’s intolerable ugliness must be a sign of supernatural evil and that, consequently, the creature cannot belong to the species Homo sapiens. 25 Aesthetic appearance, from his physiognomic standpoint, unambiguously reflects moral consciousness, which in turn is an indicator of humanity. By hiding an extremely humane mind behind an ugly façade, however, the Monster invalidates Frankenstein’s physiognomic doctrine and uproots his Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which is as much an aesthetic and biological as a moral tree. Frankenstein, now, fi nds himself unable to make accurate moral judgments and, worse, to tell apart the human from the non-human. Even when the Monster turns evil and thereby belatedly affi rms Frankenstein’s physiognomic views, it continues to drain the beautiful of its moral and biological significance by strangling Frankenstein’s little brother William and by making the beautiful Justine Moritz seem guilty of the crime. Like the creature, Justine destabilises Frankenstein’s physiognomic ideas, not as the Monster did by conflating ugliness with virtue, but by supposedly masking her moral debasement behind a beautiful face. She, too, becomes monstrous now. “Ever since I was condemned,” she tells Frankenstein in prison, “my confessor has besieged me; he threatened and menaced, until I almost began to think that I was the monster that he said I was” (66).


Animality in British Romanticism

Frankenstein solves the mystery of William’s murder by relying on the aesthetics of species. That the killer harmed a beautiful child, he reasons, must mean that he or she does not have taste and, accordingly, cannot be human. As Frankenstein puts it: “Nothing in human shape could have destroyed that fair child. He was the murderer. I could not doubt it!” (56). When the supposedly transparent and mutually sustaining relationship between aesthetic appearance and moral integrity founders, an ethical vacuum opens up. “When falsehood can look so like the truth,” Elizabeth wonders, “who can assure themselves of certain happiness?” (71–72). This inability to make moral sense has sweeping ontological effects and engenders a sense of biological malaise. “Now misery has come home,” Elizabeth laments, “and men appear to me as monsters thirsting for each other’s blood” (71). If this conjures up images of vampirism or zombieism, it is because monstrosity surfaces in Frankenstein as a viral condition, which—like vampirism or Deleuze and Guattari’s becoming-animal—gradually multiplies through Frankenstein’s social circle and fi nally reduces him as well to “a miserable spectacle of wrecked humanity” (133). The sublime breakdown of the interdependent relationship between aesthetic appearance, moral character and biological species reveals what Friedrich Schiller in his essay “On the Sublime” (1793) called “the uncertain anarchy of the moral world.” Unlike Frankenstein, however, Schiller regarded such a loss of moral purpose and hermeneutical certitude as epistemologically liberating: “How different it is if one abandons the possibility of explaining Nature and takes this incomprehensibility itself as a principle of judgment. . . . We are led much further by nature viewed as terrible and destructive than as sensuously infi nite, provided we remain merely free observers of her.”26 Shelley’s—very poststructuralist—point, however, is that Frankenstein fails to remain a free observer of his experiment. As a parodic criticism of Enlightenment notions of scientific objectivity and clinical detachment, her novel calls into question the visual economy of anatomical inquiry, an economy in which the researcher adopts the transcendental position of an uninvolved spectator and reduces the animal to a mute and passive object of study, something that can be killed, cut open and inspected at will from a safe and dispassionate distance. Unlike Wordsworth in Book 7, however, Frankenstein fails to retain that antiseptic detachment from his experiment. He cannot safely gaze upon his creature as though it was merely a monster in a freak show or a tiger in Pegu (to use Burke’s image). But it escapes his visual regime, chases him and eventually turns the medical gaze back upon himself when, in one of his nightmarish delusions, he dreams that he is subjected to a brutal medical experiment. “I saw continually about me,” he says, “a multitude of filthy animals infl icting on me incessant torture, that often extorted screams and bitter groans” (123). Like Burke’s Refl ections, Shelley’s Frankenstein problematises a sublime object that cannot be rationally quarantined and that violently breaks through the fourth wall.

A Problem of Waste Management 127 Initially, the Monster chases Frankenstein not with the intention of killing him but in search of fatherly recognition and genealogical kinship. With its thematic interest in parental neglect, orphanage and adoption, Shelley’s novel reads like a study on the statics and dynamics of the nuclear family. It portrays orphans and characters rejected by their creators (the Monster, Elizabeth, Justine, Frankenstein’s mother), characters abandoning their families to pursue a self-centred interest in science (Frankenstein, Walton), characters adopted by other families (Justine, Elizabeth, Frankenstein’s mother) and fi nally also characters refused adoption (the Monster). Before the Monster arrives, the two main families in the novel, the Frankensteins and the De Laceys, constitute fi rm enclaves against moral and political change, arborescent systems which either assimilate the outsider or safely exorcise it to their and society’s margins. The family, Frankenstein believes, offers the stability and security indispensable to both personal and political well-being: “if no man allowed any pursuit whatsoever to interfere with the tranquillity of his domestic affections,” he tells Walton, “Greece had not been enslaved; Caesar would have spared his country; America would have been discovered more gradually; and the empires of Mexico and Peru had not been destroyed” (37–38). In a very similar fashion, Burke asserted that the family unit, with its naturally centralised hierarchy and strong emphasis on compassion, provided the organic model according to which the state should be structured. In his Refl ections on the Revolution in France, he argued that we should bind up “the constitution of our country with our dearest domestic ties; adopting our fundamental laws into the bosom of our family affections” (34). As a serene yet rigidly structured site of harmony and maternal sympathy, the family also served as a symbol of Burke’s category of the beautiful. Burke conceived of the beautiful as a socialising aesthetic that inspires feminine feelings of compassion and tenderness, and that, unlike the sublime, confi rms rather than transgresses moral and social boundaries. Frankenstein’s relatives easily meet the aesthetic requirements of Burke’s beautiful, preternaturally attractive as they are. Justine is “extremely pretty,” Frankenstein’s brother William is “the most beautiful little fellow in the world,” and Elizabeth is described as “the most beautiful child [Frankenstein’s mother] had ever seen” (47, 25, 20). With its extremely heterogeneous and almost monstrous composition, they have more difficulty in implementing the social programme of Burke’s beautiful. Aside from lacking a mother, the family also includes Victor’s adopted cousin, Elizabeth, as well as the unrelated Justine. Fragmented as it may look, this family does not have a grotesquely mismatched morphology like the Monster. It succeeds where the Monster fails by coordinating its diverse parts into a harmonious composition, thus living up to Coleridge’s definition of beauty as “Multeïty in Unity.”27 “Although there was a great dissimilitude in our characters,” Frankenstein says, referring to his relationship with Elizabeth, “there was an harmony in that very dissimilitude” (21). Ever since Frankenstein’s


Animality in British Romanticism

mother died, the father—usually a figure of the sublime in Burke’s aesthetic—has taken up the maternal and pacifying role of the beautiful. He constantly tries to rekindle Frankenstein’s “feelings of affection,” wants to see him “restored to health and peace of mind,” and attempts to stitch the family back together after the Monster’s attacks have severely undercut its unity (154, 156). “Our circle will be small,” he says, “but bound close by the ties of affection and mutual misfortune” (161). Frankenstein, however, tries to hide his scientific project and moral angst from his father by turning away from the familial and the beautiful and by seeking “refuge in the most perfect solitude” of the sublime (124). In a typically Romantic fashion, he uses the natural sublime—induced by the spectacular scenery of the Alps—for self-medicating purposes. The sublime has a sedative effect on his brain and makes human existence (but also human morality) just not worth the worry. “These sublime and magnificent scenes,” he says, “afforded me the greatest consolation that I was capable of receiving. They elevated me from all littleness of feeling; and although they did not remove my grief, they subdued and tranquillized it” (74). As in Wordsworth’s Book 7, the typical preference of the natural sublime for the grand scheme of things over the immediacy of the here and now removes moral responsibility from day-to-day human action and inspires a gleeful sort of nihilism. If you feel burdened by guilt because the new life form you fabricated has started wiping out your family, a leisurely stroll in the Swiss Alps and a peripatetic meditation on human insignificance might offer a welcome relief from your moral discomfort. The sublime “desert mountains and dreary glaciers” are also the places where the Monster is forced to hide out and live in isolation (78). With no genetic relatives, it takes Frankenstein’s social isolation to its biological extremes. While spying on the De Lacey family, the Monster begins to wonder where its own “friends and relations” are, an observation that leads it to question both its personal and species identity, as it asks itself “Who was I? What was I?” (97). The Monster’s biological isolation, Shelley seems to suggest, largely results from its lack of genealogical or family roots. By joining the De Laceys, then, it hopes to remedy its ugliness, solitude and homelessness with the beauty, social cohesion and domesticity of the family. In short, it hopes to become human or at least to enjoy human rights. Despite being exiles themselves, however, the De Laceys show no sympathy to the Monster’s orphanhood and refuse to adopt it into their circle. Horrified by the creature’s physical appearance, they promptly leave their home. In a fit of revenge, the Monster sets their cottage on fire, a highly symbolic act that, recalling the combustion of the “old and beautiful oak,” makes explicit the disintegration of both the arborescent family and the aesthetic of the beautiful. When Frankenstein, too, refuses to adopt the creature, the Monster demands him to construct a female partner. This desire for a female companion does not just stem from a cultural impulse for heterosocial bonding or homely comfort; it also reveals the presence of a deep-seated biological

A Problem of Waste Management 129 instinct to reproduce and establish a stable species identity. The rudimentary but not entirely flawless defi nition of species, after all, is that two creatures belong to the same species if they can produce fertile offspring together. This generative conception of species informed the theories of Linnaeus and Buffon, and was already put forward in Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things.28 With a female partner and a family, the Monster would no longer be considered a taxonomic anomaly, but it would be perceived as a biological species in its own right—still hideous in all likelihood, but at least perfectly natural. Frankenstein, however, realises that the Monster’s nesting instinct might have far-reaching biological implications and fears that this new species could endanger “the existence of the whole human race”: “Even if they [the Monster and its partner] were to leave Europe and inhabit the deserts of the new world, yet one of the fi rst results of those sympathies for which the daemon thirsted would be children, and a race of devils would be propagated upon the earth, who might make the very existence of the species of man a condition precarious and full of terror” (138). The Monster had already declared “everlasting war against the species,” but now its personal feud with Frankenstein threatens to careen out of control and escalate into a biological confl ict (111). The family—the traditional social habitat of Burke’s concept of beauty—would thus turn into a breeding ground for the sublime and become an uncontainable source of putrefaction and terror. Because Frankenstein refuses to father his creation and to grant it a family of its own, the Monster decides to respond in kind by murdering Frankenstein’s family members and turning him, too, into a monstrous and rhizomatic character—ugly, isolated and displaced. In doing so, the Monster establishes the kinship that Frankenstein so insistently tried to deny and produces its own motley family of outcasts and social rejects, a family which already included Justine Moritz. In Frankenstein’s worsening sense of social isolation, he increasingly takes after his Monster. His physical appearance, too, begins to resemble the creature’s. His cheeks are described as “livid like those in death” and he continually “sinks . . . into apparent lifelessness” (150, 182). Frankenstein and his creature now seem caught up in a folie à deux to the extent that they appear almost genealogically and evolutionarily related, both monsters living what Coleridge in “The Ancient Mariner” called “the nightmare Life-in-Death” (193). That Frankenstein so easily regresses to the monstrous brings home the structural similarity between his anthropocentrism and his rhetoric of monstrosity. While anthropocentrism constitutes an ontology of the supernatural and monstrosity one of the subnatural, both are essentially discourses of taxonomic exceptionality that hinge upon the exclusion of the other and nourish a politics of social and biological segregation. It does not take much, then, for Frankenstein’s anthropocentric procedures of dualisation and marginalisation to turn against himself and for the extraordinary to lapse into the abnormal.

130 Animality in British Romanticism When Frankenstein and the Monster are chasing each other around the Continent and beyond, both have clearly become embroiled in the psychogeographical chaos of Deleuze and Guattari’s dynamic of becomingnomad—one of their better-known becomings. The nomad’s location, they write in A Thousand Plateaus, “is always between two points, but the inbetween has taken on all the consistency and enjoys both an autonomy and a direction of its own. The life of the nomad is the intermezzo” (419). Nomads, they proceed, have “no points, paths, or land” and thereby escape the structuralising and oedipalising regime of the family and the state (421). Schiller makes a very similar argument in his essay “On the Sublime,” where he links the liberating potential of the natural sublime to nomadism, writing that “the mind of the nomad remains as open and free as the fi rmament beneath which he camps.”29 Of course, with no geographical or genetic roots, the Monster was already a nomad from its very conception, always on the run and roaming the margins of society and scientific theory. “He had loitered in forests,” Frankenstein says, “hid himself in caves, or taken refuge in wide and desert heaths” (138–39). And when the Monster wonders “Whence did I come? What was my destination?,” it visibly embodies the volatility and aimlessness of Deleuze and Guattari’s becoming-nomad, which similarly lacks a transparent origin and telos (104). It is only after its excommunication from the Frankenstein and De Lacey families, however, that the Monster renounces its centripetal urges to become human and that it becomes nomad and animal in Deleuze and Guattari’s self-empowering sense, now seeking to corrode rather than participate in the repressive arborescent structure of the family: “When night came, I quitted my retreat, and wandered in the wood; and now, no longer restrained by the fear of discovery, I gave vent to my anguish in fearful howlings. I was like a wild beast that had broken the toils; destroying the objects that obstructed me, and ranging through the wood with a staglike swiftness” (111). The Monster, importantly, does not actually transform into a wild beast, for such a straightforward mutation would sustain the binary species model that Shelley’s novel and Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of becoming problematise. Instead, it now exploits its in-between status and enters what Deleuze refers to as the “zone of indiscernibility or undecidability between man and animal.”30 This zone functions as a rhizomatic or sublime site where meaning and being become undone and where the Monster is immune to Frankenstein’s territorialising and taxonomising gaze. By exploding the human-animal dualism, Deleuze and Guattari’s becoming-animal sweeps up both the human and the non-human until “there is no longer man or animal,” only monsters and hybrids. 31 Shelley’s repeated emphasis on Frankenstein’s loss of control and on his “haggard and wild appearance” suggests that he, too, has become animal (223). This becoming-animal emerges most dramatically when the initial creator-creation or doctor-patient relationship between Frankenstein and the Monster backslides into a primitive hunter-prey affi liation. That it

A Problem of Waste Management 131 appears progressively difficult, moreover, to make out whether Frankenstein is the hunter or the hunted only contributes to his becoming-animal. Initially, Frankenstein urges that the Monster “be hunted like the chamois, and destroyed as a beast of prey” (169). But towards the end of the novel, the roles seem to have switched and Walton now calls Frankenstein “the prey of [the Monster’s] accursed vengeance” (188). The root cause of Frankenstein’s loss of humanity, however, lies not in his gradual withdrawal from human society but in his fi rst encounter with the Monster. It is his first aesthetic confrontation with the creature’s stomach-churning ugliness that incapacitated the rational workings of his mind and seemingly threw him back to an earlier phylogenetic stage. The obvious irony is that Frankenstein’s reason has given birth to something which falls outside its own purview and, in the long run, will destroy all rational cognition. He has accidentally “short-circuit[ed] thinking with itself,” as Lyotard has put it in a comment on the workings of the sublime.32 Although its origins may lie in the logocentric structure of Kant’s aesthetic model, the effects of this self-inflicted biotechnological sublime are Burkean through and through. It is a crushingly physical experience that shuts down Frankenstein’s rational understanding and spirals him into an ever-deepening state of delirious obsession. His mind, to reuse Burke’s words, “is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other, nor by consequence reason on that object which employs it” (Sublime 53). According to Buffon, who incidentally appears on Frankenstein’s reading list, such a state of neurotic obsession and psychomotor excitation is profoundly dehumanising. He interprets it as an experience “which depends solely on corporeal organs, and is common to us with the brutes.” It fosters a false perception of reality and “forces us to act, like the brutes, without deliberation or reflection.”33 Buffon’s pathology of the sublime provides a surprisingly accurate diagnosis of Frankenstein’s mental state. It is rhetorically appealing to carry the tree metaphor to the end and interpret the Monster’s eradication of Frankenstein’s Tree of Knowledge and family tree as a proleptic subversion of Charles Darwin’s tree of life. Several critics have pointed out, however, that although Darwin certainly contributed to the popularisation of the tree of life image, his dynamic and a-centred evolutionary diagram has more in common with a rhizome than with an arborescent taxonomy.34 Darwin realised that the tree was not the most accurate image with which to capture the complex relations between species. On one of his manuscript sketches, he wrote down the remark: “Tree not good simile—endless piece of seaweed dividing.” And in a notebook entry he suggested that “the tree of life should perhaps be called the coral of life, base of branches dead, so that passages cannot be seen.”35 Although Frankenstein makes a provocative point about the biological nature and ideological cooptation of human-animal relations, I fi nd its interrogation of the aesthetics of species more intriguing. Shelley, I believe, takes deliberate aim at the visual emphasis in anatomical science


Animality in British Romanticism

by showing how its attempts at objectivity and rationality are seriously compromised by inveterate aesthetic biases. That the only character who gains a relatively accurate insight into the Monster’s nature is the blind father of the De Lacey family clearly underscores Shelley’s point that the classification of species should be less a matter of spontaneous specere or looking and more a matter of rational contemplation and critical investigation. The Monster, too, realises that the reason for its social and biological marginalisation lies in humanity’s tenacious aesthetic principles. “The human senses,” the creature understands, “are insurmountable barriers to our union” (119). Shelley’s criticism of the aesthetics of species should be read in the context of a broader historical evolution in the biological sciences, where the empirical concentration on palpable morphological resemblances and differences was increasingly displaced in favour of a focus on less visible but more fundamental qualities. In his Physiological Lectures (1817), for instance, the English surgeon John Abernethy maintained that he “confide[d] more in the eye of reason than in that of sense, and would rather form opinions from analogy, than from the imperfect evidence of sight.”36 And in what could be read as a warning for Frankenstein not to trust his own eyes, he reflected: “How strange is it, that anatomists, above all others of the members of the community of science, should hesitate to admit the existence of what they cannot discern, since they, more than all the rest, have such constant assurance of the imperfection and fallibility of sight?”37 In The Order of Things, Foucault has argued that around the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries a new scientific paradigm arose which posited that the essence of organic life lay beyond the immediately perceivable.38 In his Natural History, for instance, Buffon stressed that the scientist should not dwell on the variable surface of things, which is only “the envelope, or external cover,” but ought to examine deeper organic infrastructures, which are “the most essential parts of the animal economy, because they are the most constant, and least subject to variation.”39 One way to make the invisible visible is by removing the surface or skin of things and laying bare the underlying tissue and bone structures. But comparative anatomy was not the only discipline that fundamentally extended the limits of scientific perception. New instruments of observation, such as the microscope, equally reshaped the visual order of science and revealed biological patterns that had so far gone unnoticed. In the nineteenth century, moreover, the emphasis in anatomical science gradually shifted from morphology (which focuses on the outward form of organs) to physiology (which focuses on their function).40 The realisation grew that one can never fully understand the workings of animal anatomy by concentrating exclusively on the static appearance of dead bodies. One needs to study organic life forms in action, too. This focus on function rather than aesthetic appearance disclosed deeper structural analogies (such as the functional resemblance between gills and lungs) and showed how all

A Problem of Waste Management 133 organic forms are essentially interconnected. Buffon even went so far as to claim that “there was originally but one species, who, after multiplying and spreading over the whole surface of the earth, have undergone various changes by the influence of climate, food, mode of living, epidemic diseases, and the mixture of dissimilar individuals.”41 Frankenstein’s tragic flaw is that he focuses too much on faces and surfaces. His science lacks depth. If he had paid more attention to the Monster’s physiology than its aesthetic morphology, or if he had examined it through a microscope or telescope, he may have realised that he had actually created a perfectly functioning organism rather than a “fi lthy daemon” (56). Walton, in fact, fi rst spots the Monster from a distance through a telescope and recognises that it has “the shape of a man,” a judgment that is a good deal more accurate than any of Frankenstein’s wild claims (12). Frankenstein should have moved beyond the immediately visible, or as Foucault writes: “we must direct our search towards that peak, that necessary but always inaccessible point, which drives down, beyond our gaze, towards the very heart of things.”42 This sounds a lot like a sublime science—informed not by the visual protocols of Burke’s empirical aesthetics, but by Kant’s rationalist model. What Frankenstein’s science needed, it seems, was less Burke and more Kant.

Part III


Revelation, Reason, Ridicule The Scientific Sublime

Romantic-period writers went to great lengths to fi nd that unique skill or special quality that would, once and for all, position the human species at the hierarchical apex of biological existence. Most of the characteristics they suggested were fairly orthodox. The Scottish philosopher James Beattie referred to speech (“man is the only animal that can speak”), William Hazlitt repeated Aristotle’s emphasis on humour (“man is the only animal that laughs and weeps”), and Aikin and Barbauld believed it was tool-making that distinguished Homo sapiens from the animal world (“man is the only animal that makes use of instruments in any of his actions”).1 Some of their suggestions were rather less conventional and included the ability to survive without teeth (“man is the only animal that can counteract the fatal consequences of the loss of teeth”), an immoderate indulgence in recreational sexual behaviour (“man is the only animal that uses coitus where nature does not require it”) and the use of printed material to attract public interest in commercial activity (“man is the only animal that publishes advertisements”). 2 One of the more sophisticated distinctions appears in Hegel’s introduction to his Lectures on Aesthetics. Hegel recognises that humans are essentially animals, but he believes that our rational capacity to understand our own animality at once propels us from the stringent conditions of animal existence towards a higher, metaphysical plane: “precisely because [man] knows that he is an animal, he ceases to be an animal and attains knowledge of himself as spirit.”3 If our fall into self-consciousness terminated our cosy and blissfully ignorant relationship with nature, Hegel believes it also enabled us to elude nature’s bestialising violence and to watch its casual disregard for human life from a safe, alienated distance. To be sure, Hegel’s argument that scientific thought serves a humanising function and renders us virtually exempt from biological determinism was not a novel idea at the time. In his Pensées, the seventeenth-century French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal memorably compared humanity to “a thinking reed” and already wrote that “if the universe were to crush the reed, the man would be nobler than his killer, since he knows that he is dying, and that the universe has the advantage over him. . . . All our dignity consists therefore of thought. It is from there that we must be lifted up and not from space and time, which we could never fill.”4


Animality in British Romanticism

Needless to say, my gnomic treatment of Hegel’s and Pascal’s ideas here does little justice to their full philosophical complexity or historical weight. But rather than expatiating on their specific genesis and ramifications, I want to use Hegel’s and Pascal’s statements as compendious heuristic tools that encapsulate rather neatly (if too simplistically) the contradictory effects which Romantic-period science had on human identity. On the one hand, the incremental advances in scientific knowledge and instrumentation hinted at the limitless potential of human reason and suggested that Homo sapiens was fundamentally elevated above the animal world. On the other hand, the new insights provided by these advances showed precisely that humanity was inextricably mired in physical reality and that the human individual was an ordinary actor—not director and not even uninvolved spectator—in the struggle for life. Science was thus a profoundly paradoxical undertaking, simultaneously moving the subject away from and towards animality. It should not come as a surprise that the Kantian sublime figured saliently in scientific discourse, considering that it played on a very similar paradox and, more importantly, was able to bend this paradoxical situation to the advantage of the human subject. Kant, too, was very much aware of our physical and cognitive shortcomings, but his aesthetic of the sublime managed to rewrite such a humiliating admission of physical impotence and immanence as the most cogent demonstration of rational transcendence. As in Hegel’s and Pascal’s arguments, his subject derives its invulnerability from its rational capacity to look upon its own corporeal insignificance in a mood of contemptuous indifference that borders on the masochistic. We are at our most rational and human, for Kant, when we can watch nature attack and consume our bodies without showing the slightest inkling of grief or emotional involvement. What I aim to show in this chapter, then, is that Romantic-period scientists and writers about science often posed as just such gleeful masochists, enthusiastically asserting their humanity and rational latitude at the cost of their own physical integrity. The affiliation between science and the sublime has its earliest roots in Longinus’ exemplary reference to the biblical phrase “And God said ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”5 Ever since Longinus mentioned this line from Genesis, it has become a staple in the discourse on the sublime, making its appearance in the theories of Hugh Blair, Henry Home (Lord Kames), Thomas Reid and, more recently, Paul de Man as well.6 Initially, theorists alluded to the biblical scene either in a rhetorical context to demonstrate that sublime discourse should balance thematic depth with stylistic simplicity or in a religious context to praise God’s astonishing ingenuity and craftsmanship. In the eighteenth century, however, the sublime fi at lux scene entered theories whose main concern was neither rhetorical nor theological. As new fi ndings in cosmogony and optics exposed the physical composition and technical workings of light, God’s creative act became charged with secular layers of meaning and the sublime increasingly

Revelation, Reason, Ridicule


emerged as a discourse of scientific discovery rather than biblical revelation. Alexander Pope’s “Epitaph Intended for Sir Isaac Newton in WestminsterAbbey” (1730) mockingly suggested that Newton’s research on optics and the refraction of light had challenged God’s omnipotence and that it was, in fact, Newton—not God—who had illuminated the earth and dispelled darkness and ignorance: “Nature and Nature’s Laws lay hid in Night. / God said, ‘Let Newton be!’ and all was Light.”7 Although Humphry Davy recognised that the fi at lux scene did not give a very accurate account of the origin of light, he did not reject biblical cosmogony altogether. “I believe that light was the creation of an act of the Divine will,” he wrote in his Consolations in Travel (1830), “but I do not mean to say that the words, ‘Let there be light, and there was light,’ were orally spoken by the Deity, nor do I mean to imply that the modern discoveries respecting light are at all connected with this sublime and magnificent passage.”8 Showing much less deference to scriptural science, Thomas Paine repudiated biblical cosmogony as a “puerile and pitiful idea” flying in the face of common sense. He interpreted the phrase from Genesis as a self-empowering rhetorical sublime that mainly sought to manoeuvre the speaker, Moses, to the centre of creative power. “Longinus calls this expression the sublime,” he incisively observed, “and by the same rule the conjurer is sublime too; for the manner of speaking is expressively and grammatically the same.”9 Paine’s criticism prefigures Paul de Man’s interpretation, which would similarly place the phrase in a Longinian tradition, reading it as a rhetorical sublime by way of which Moses reclaims control over language and himself. De Man emphasises that God is not pronouncing the words, but that they are quoted by Moses, a point made more obvious perhaps in Longinus’ phrasing: “‘God said’—what?—‘Let there be light, and there was; let there be earth, and there was’” (58). In a world where the Word is God and where the human subject is reduced to what de Man calls a “ventriloquist’s dummy,” a slave to God’s word, Moses’ capability to verbalise God’s creative act, indeed, points to a superior language that allows humanity to bracket God’s power and to transcend His Word.10 Science put the human species into a startlingly different perspective. As the telescope radically stretched the boundaries of human perception, it became increasingly clear that Homo sapiens was not the showpiece of biological life, immovably lodged at the axis of the universe. In his lengthy cosmological study Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens (1755), Kant brushed aside the conviction that life originated exclusively on Earth and speculated that “most of the planets are certainly inhabited, and those that are not will be in the future,” an idea that was surprisingly widespread at the time.11 For Byron, the scientific insight into cosmic magnitude and the so-called plurality of worlds painfully demonstrated the triviality of terrestrial life and left him deprived of his faith in human immortality. In a letter to William Gifford, he wrote: “It was the comparative insignificance of ourselves & our world when placed in competition with the


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mighty whole of which it is an atom that fi rst led me to imagine that our pretensions to eternity might be over-rated.”12 Although science also challenged Joseph Addison’s religious beliefs, he rather swiftly moved from a distressing reminder of “that little insignificant figure which [he] bore amidst the immensity of God’s works” to a reverential appreciation of divine power. In a fragment recollecting his nocturnal observations on the beauty and magnitude of the sky, Addison fi rst wonders how to delimitate a space that was created by an infinite power and that gives all the impression of being limitless itself. The more sensitive our telescopes become, he realises, the wider the cosmos appears and the smaller we come to look, until we may fi nally disappear completely out of God’s sight. Addison’s awareness of his trivial role in the cosmic scheme of things induces a sublime fear of self-annihilation, whereby humanity threatens to be effaced by the myriad of terrestrial and extraterrestrial life forms and to become completely invisible to God’s eye. “I was afraid,” he admits, “of being overlooked amidst the immensity of nature, and lost among that infi nite variety of creatures, which in all probability swarm through all these immeasurable regions of matter.” Like Wordsworth in Book 7, Addison fears that the numerical excess of life forms might engulf his own subjectivity. In order to preserve his humanity, he will need to re-establish a panoptic viewpoint raised above the vibrant mess of physical existence. Whereas Wordsworth transcended urban ecology, rather paradoxically, by way of a mystical discourse that celebrated organic unity, for Addison it is exactly such a register of biological interdependence that jeopardises human autonomy. He needs something different, something less down-to-earth. Ultimately, Addison recovers his selfhood when he gains insight into God’s omniscience and realises that we will never appear invisible to God’s eye, which is more powerful than any optical lens humanity can fabricate. This insight into God’s superior perceptive power, however, is not a question of biblical revelation, but needs to be enforced through a Kantian species of reason that is able to rectify the misconceptions supplied by the inferior faculty of imagination. “The poorness of our conceptions is such,” Addison explains, “that it cannot forbear setting bounds to every thing it contemplates; until our reason comes again to our succour, and throws down all those little prejudices which rise in us unawares and are natural to the mind of man.”13 In arguing so, Addison inadvertently suggests that religious belief and human autonomy hinge on our rational competence to perceive God’s panoptic eye and that fi nal perceptive power resides in humanity. In his hierarchy of focalisation, our ability to understand God’s omniscience and watch ourselves being watched through this divine lens allows us not only to recuperate our autonomy but also to establish a sense of perceptual superiority. Addison’s cosmological sublime, although set out to demonstrate divine power, thus appears to proceed along a very Kantian trajectory and ends up exhibiting the breadth of human reason.

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Thomas De Quincey’s cosmic sublime moves along the same trajectory, but shoves divine agency out of the picture entirely. In “System of the Heavens as Revealed by Lord Rosse’s Telescopes” (1846), a discussion of the research of the English astronomer Lord Rosse (William Parsons), De Quincey argues that although the telescope reveals a boundless universe and thus provides a poignant snapshot of human insignificance, it also hints at the possibility—however remote or theoretical—of controlling that boundlessness: “It is the famous nebula in the constellation of Orion; famous for the unexampled defiance with which it resisted all approaches from the most potent of former telescopes; famous for its frightful magnitude, and for the frightful depth to which it is sunk in the abysses of the heavenly wilderness; famous just now for the submission with which it has begun to render up its secrets to the all-conquering telescope.” A few paragraphs later, De Quincey’s subjectivism assumes an even more explicit character when he suggests that the perceived limitlessness of the cosmos actually reflects the boundless potential of human knowledge: “[Man] trembles at the abyss into which his bodily eyes look down, or look up; not knowing that abyss to be . . . the mirror to a mightier abyss that will one day be expanded in himself.”14 That the immensity of the cosmos is predicated on the power of our optical lenses, indeed, fosters the impression that the universe only expands in conjunction with our scientific knowledge and that infi nity resides as much within as outside the self. De Quincey’s mapping of cosmic onto cognitive topography recalls Kant’s claim in his Critique of Practical Reason (1788) that “two things fi ll the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and reverence, the more often and more steadily one reflects on them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” The fi rst, cosmic sort of limitlessness compels us to recognise our insignificance as material beings and suspends any belief we may have in human exceptionality. This insight, according to Kant, “annihilates, as it were, my importance as an animal creature, which after it has been for a short time provided with vital force (one knows not how) must give back to the planet (a mere speck in the universe) the matter from which it came.” The second, subjective kind of limitlessness counteracts this physical degradation and, like Hegel’s self-empowering insight into his animal existence, evacuates us or, at least, our humanity from nature’s crushing materiality. Kant writes: it “infi nitely raises my worth as an intelligence, by my personality, in which the moral law reveals to me a life independent of animality and even of the whole sensible world.”15 In the drama of the Kantian sublime, now, the physical and psychic are pitted against each other and it is the ineffable magnitude of the starry heavens that provides us with an insight into the superior power of the interior, moral world. The oppressive force of nature, Kant argues in his Critique of Judgment, allows us to “become conscious of being superior to nature within us and thus also to nature outside us (insofar as it influences us)” (147). Science may teach us that we are mere worms crawling in the dirt


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of physical reality, but our intellectual ability to understand and conceptualise our bestial existence at once demonstrates our freedom as rational agents and removes us spiritually from the animal world, even if we can never physically transcend its callous determinism. In the experience of the sublime, likewise, “the humanity in our person remains undemeaned even though the human being must submit to that dominion” (Judgment 145). This Kantian reciprocation between exteriority and inwardness, whereby nature’s seeming chaos induces a state of mental disorientation until reason restores order in the mind and finally in external nature as well, stands out as a stock pattern in Romantic-period scientific writings. In a lyrical report on a field trip with James Hutton, the Scottish scientist John Playfair claimed that geological research opens a window on the passing of time and places humanity not into a spatial perspective as in Addison’s or De Quincey’s fragments, but in a vertiginously historical one. “The mind,” Playfair notes, “seemed to grow giddy, by looking so far into the abyss of time.” This loss of rational control is immediately redressed, however, when Hutton’s scientific exposition points to the systematicity of geological evolution and, subjectively, restores Playfair’s faith in human reason. In a strikingly Kantian way, Playfair concludes with postulating the superiority of the faculty of reason over the imagination: “while we listened with earnestness and admiration to the philosopher who was now unfolding to us the order and series of these wonderful events, we became sensible how much farther reason may sometimes go than imagination can venture to follow.”16 It is less challenging to sustain a Kantian belief in the absolute immunity of human reason when studying natural phenomena that are historically or geographically removed from us than when studying zoology or comparative anatomy, which directly implicate humanity in their research and rule out the prophylactic sense of detachment or uninvolved spectatorship on which the experience of the scientific sublime usually depends. And yet, biologists, too, still found a philosophical loophole to exempt humanity from the evolutionary rat race. In his Letters to a Young Naturalist on the Study of Nature and Natural Theology (1831), the Irish anatomist and physiologist James Lawson Drummond wondered how to reconcile the idea of a benevolent God with the existence of predatory animals—a classic predicament in theodicy. It is easy, he argued, to perceive a divine scheme of causality and instrumentality at work in nature and to claim that God created animals solely to satisfy our appetite when we focus on the food that is on our plates. That same scheme, however, appears much less appealing when we end up in their mouths, beaks or muzzles. In an astute, if slightly bizarre, thought experiment, Drummond asks himself: “when a sailor falls overboard, and is devoured by a shark, if the latter could speak, might it not with as much truth say that the sailor was made for him to feed upon?” In his somewhat evasive answer to this theological problem, Drummond argues that the belief that God fabricated the natural world for our enjoyment alone is clearly not a biological reality, but only a phantasm created

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by the effortlessness with which our rational faculty can understand and classify natural phenomena. “Man owes every thing to his superior intelligence,” Drummond writes, “and in this sense he may consider that every thing was made for him, because there is nothing in existence which he may not mentally apply to use—even the wild beast, or the fi sh that would devour him.”17 Drummond’s belief that we can think ourselves into a state of complete invincibility—even when the body is ground to pieces by nature’s jaws— carries Kant’s sublime denial of the physical to its logical conclusion. Although material reality violates our bodily integrity, our faculty of reason shields us from natural law both within and outside ourselves, so much so that we can watch the destruction of our own animal bodies with the cruel detachment of a vivisectionist and the complacent enjoyment of a masochist. We know we are part of nature, Drummond claims, but this knowledge paradoxically elevates us above its biological reality and affords our minds impunity from its physical influence. In this way, “a predatory world is disarmed,” as Eagleton suggested in his discussion of the sublime—not “to a kind of fiction,” however, but to a kind of scientific non-fiction (164). Eagleton’s claim that “the aesthetic is . . . a kind of psychical defence mechanism by which the mind, threatened with an overload of pain, converts the cause of its agony into innocuous illusion” thus also applies to the scientific sublime, which very similarly permits us “to contemplate hostile objects with absolute equanimity, serene in the knowledge that they can no longer harm us” (163–64). But whereas Eagleton insists that the aesthetic transcendence of physical danger requires a stoic sense of emotional withdrawal, the geologist Robert Bakewell adopted a more masochistic approach which argued that it is precisely our excitement at scientific discovery that defi nes us over and against other animals. In his Introduction to Geology (1813), Bakewell writes that “there is no science [like geology] which presents objects that so powerfully excite our admiration and astonishment.” This astonishment is not the Burkean brand of bewilderment reducing the human subject to a bestial creature conditioned by selfpreservative drives and sexual instincts. Much more cerebral and Kantian, it stimulates scientific curiosity and helps us transcend our animal nature. “Without this excitement,” Bakewell believes, “man would for ever remain the mere creature of animal sensation, scarcely advanced above the beasts of the forest.” Bakewell recognises that science subverts human power, but—in a display of Kantian table-turning—he recuperates the capacity to understand this subversion as evidence of human uniqueness and ingenuity. “Such speculations,” he claims, “are somewhat humbling to human pride on the one hand, but on the other, they prove our superiority over the rest of the animal creation.”18 Like the telescope, the microscope opened up a new world, one that was much smaller and closer to home yet as diverse and seemingly infi nite. Whereas the natural sublime traditionally revolved around exotic predators

144 Animality in British Romanticism whose reputation verged on the mythical, the microscope now shifted attention to species that were native to the British Isles but whose appearance was no less alienating or astonishing. In his Philosophical Enquiry, Burke had stressed that the sublime usually involves “great objects” and the beautiful “small ones.” “In the animal creation, out of our own species,” he explained, “it is the small we are inclined to be fond of; little birds, and some of the smaller kinds of beasts” (103). In his chapter on vastness, however, he claimed that the infi nitesimal, too, can be a source of terror and that sublimity has more to do with atypical size than with size per se: It may not be amiss to add to these remarks upon magnitude, that, as the great extreme of dimension is sublime, so the last extreme of littleness is in some measure sublime likewise: when we attend to the infi nite divisibility of matter, when we pursue animal life into these excessively small, and yet organized beings, that escape the nicest inquisition of the sense; when we push our discoveries yet downward, and consider those creatures so many degrees yet smaller, and the still diminishing scale of existence, in tracing which the imagination is lost as well as the sense; we become amazed and confounded at the wonders of minuteness; nor can we distinguish in its effects this extreme of littleness from the vast itself. (Sublime 66) This microbiological or—in subjectivist terms—microscopic sublime hinges on a play of decreasing scale and proportion, whereby our gradually sharpening view discloses increasingly smaller worlds until the imagination reaches its optical zoom limit, leaving us visually exhausted and nonplussed. With its epistemological interest in the threshold of human perception, Burke’s microscopic aesthetic carries a surprisingly Kantian ring. Even so, it still retains a characteristically Burkean sense of physical terror. The microscope reveals that small animals, too, can endanger human survival. As they escape the natural ambit of our visual field, moreover, these animals generally fail to elicit our instincts of self-preservation and thus pose a more serious threat to human existence than large predators. This threat is vividly conveyed in the cut-throat drama of Erasmus Darwin’s philosophical poem The Temple of Nature (1803), in which the mosquito appears as menacing as Burke’s tiger and panther: So from deep lakes the dread Musquito springs, Drinks the soft breeze, and dries his tender wings, In twinkling squadrons cuts his airy way, Dips his red trunk in blood, and man his prey.19

By exposing the innumerable multitude of life forms moving and multiplying under our eyes and even inside our own bodies, microbiology readily discarded the conventional view of nature as passive inert stuff. As Paine

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put it in The Age of Reason: “the earth, the waters, and the air that surround it” are “crowded with life, down from the largest animals that we know of to the smallest insects the naked eye can behold and from thence to others still smaller, and totally invisible without the assistance of the microscope.”20 When read against the backdrop of this new insight, Wordsworth’s ability to see into the life of things comes to sound a lot less mystical and pantheistic than customarily assumed. 21 Microbiology provided the Romantics with an understanding of what Jane Bennett has recently called the “vibrant materiality” of things. 22 It demonstrated that nature, rather than being inanimate or static like a landscape painting, is in constant motion and interactive development. At times, such a radical expansion of the categories of life and subjectivity appealed to a deeper human need for a sense of environmental belonging and counteracted the physical isolation that unavoidably accompanied an anthropocentric worldview. By suggesting that the human body does not dissolve into thin air after the heart has stopped beating but only changes physical shape, microbiology also opened up an avenue for a secular and materialist kind of immortality—think of Wordsworth’s dead Lucy, whose body “Roll’d round in earth’s diurnal course / With rocks and stones and trees.”23 Such a vital materialism also informs Percy Shelley’s belief in Queen Mab that those viewless beings, Whose mansion is the smallest particle Of the impassive atmosphere, Think, feel and live like man. (1:131–34)

On the other hand, this realisation that nature is densely populated by an uncontainable number and diversity of life forms, each with its own agency and drives, is simply uncanny. It is not so much like fi nding a rat in one’s cupboard as like fi nding out that the cupboard itself was a rat all along. Microbiology, Marjorie Nicolson pointed out some decades ago, breaks down the barrier between the human and non-human and between subjectivity and objecthood.24 After all, insofar as our bodies house and depend on a multitude of micro-organisms for their physical well-being (according to the molecular biologist Bonnie Bassler, humans are 90–99% bacterial), we are these organisms just as they are us. 25 In this light, Walt Whitman’s pompous self-characterisation “I am large, I contain multitudes” appears to give a surprisingly naturalistic representation of human subjectivity (if perhaps unintentionally so). 26 It may seem counterintuitive, but the new technological and theoretical advances in scientific visualisation did not lead to a more objectivist conception of aesthetic experience. Some Romantic-period scientists were certainly wary of the sublime and found its introspective idealism and epistemological attachment to epiphany difficult to reconcile with the objectivist and rationalist procedures of scientific research. In an 1807 lecture,


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Humphry Davy asserted that “men of science, instead of worshipping idols existing in their own imaginations, have examined with reverence and awe the substantial majesty of nature.” And he went on using the same metaphor that Mary Shelley would employ to illustrate the sublime power of scientific revelation: “Discovery has not visited them and disappeared again, like the flashes of lightning amidst the darkness of night; but it has slowly and quietly advanced, as the mild lustre of the morning promising a glorious day.”27 Rather than just mounting a case against the idealist sublime, Davy here advances a more radical aesthetic break that seeks to relocate scientific inquiry from the self-involved drama of the sublime to the composed objectivist register of the beautiful. Thomas Paine rejected the use of the sublime in scientific discourse more categorically, arguing that its penchant for the hyperbolic was bound to nourish inaccurate representations of nature. “The sublime of the critics, like some parts of Edmund Burke’s sublime and beautiful,” he believed, “is like a windmill just visible in a fog, which imagination might distort into a flying mountain, or an archangel, or a flock of wild geese.”28 The criticism that the subjectivism of the sublime was inimical to the protocols of scientific research was not entirely justified. Science, in fact, was partly responsible for the subjectivist emphasis in Romantic aesthetics. When perceived through the microscope or telescope, those objects that initially looked uninteresting appeared no less overwhelming than the traditional sources of the sublime. The scientific sublime thus seemed to be a question of subjective perception or, at least, of the right visual instruments. In his Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy (1830), John Herschel, the son of the astronomer William Herschel and a scientist himself, showed how both science and aesthetics had turned their attention away from the extraordinary to the everyday to find there a new, unexplored ground of wonder and grandeur. “To the natural philosopher, there is no natural object unimportant or trifling,” he wrote; “in circumstances where the uninformed and unenquiring eye perceives neither novelty nor beauty, he walks in the midst of wonders.”29 When every natural object becomes a potential source of sublimity, however, the sublime in nature disappears and the power of aesthetic judgment shifts entirely to the subjective perceiver. Although science promoted an objective and objectivist understanding of nature that sought to transcend the individual’s point of view, it thus firmly placed the subject at the centre of scientific and aesthetic experience. In the fragments I have discussed so far, the scientific sublime emerges as a resolutely idealist discourse whereby the metaphysical faculty of reason recovers the subject’s humanity from the clockwork cruelty of nature. Some poets, Byron and Percy Shelley among them, were significantly less confident about such a Kantian rescue operation and expressed deep scepticism about the humanist faith in the indisputable authority and salvational potential of scientific rationality. For them, scientific reason seemed too closely connected to objective nature—both in its empirical focus on the

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physical object world and in its own status as a non-subjective faculty—to liberate humanity from nature’s ruthless determinism. In order to construct an entirely free and self-regulating subject, they put forward a sceptical or anti-scientific sublime steeped in mordant satire and self-deprecating wit. These sceptical models retain the sacrificial structure of the scientific sublime, but whereas in the scientific aesthetic, reason sacrifices the body in order to pull itself free from physical existence, the sceptical sublime goes one significant step further and sacrifices the power and legitimacy of human reason as well. Byron’s and Shelley’s aesthetic models also share the physical masochism inherent in Kant’s theory, but they direct its automutilative violence inwards, too, where it develops into a sort of epistemological masochism or scepticism. Humans, for them, are not just physically powerless (as Kant contends), but also intellectually they leave much to be desired. Relying on a highly effective mix of erudite pastiche and juvenile ridicule, their sceptical sublime reveals a superior mental faculty, less transcendental perhaps yet no less powerful than Kant’s reason. It is this faculty that shields them from terror, truth and the terror of truth. God’s creative formula “Let there be light” found its antithesis in Percy Shelley’s negative imperative “Be not!” from his 1820 closet drama Prometheus Unbound. The phrase concludes Shelley’s brief poetic expedition down to the earth’s geological strata, exposing an “Infi nite mine of adamant and gold” (4:280) but also an impressive collection of skeletons and fossils, which stand as a grim testament to the wealth and variety of past life and—perhaps even more—to the catastrophe which violently terminated that life: The anatomies of unknown winged things, And fishes which were isles of living scale, And serpents, bony chains, twisted around The iron crags, or within heaps of dust To which the tortuous strength of their last pangs Had crushed the iron crags; and over these The jagged alligator, and the might Of earth-convulsing behemoth, which once Were monarch beasts, and on the slimy shores, And weed-overgrown continents of earth, Increased and multiplied like summer worms On an abandoned corpse, till the blue globe Wrapped deluge round it like a cloak, and they Yelled, gasped, and were abolished; or some God, Whose throne was in a comet, passed, and cried, “Be not!” and like my words they were no more. (4:303–18)

Like the telescopic and microscopic sublime, Shelley’s geological model is fi rst, and most obviously, mathematical in that it attempts to capture


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the multiplicity of terrestrial life by indexing its organic and inorganic materials. This mathematical sublime, however, does not inspire the vital materialism that was typically occasioned by cosmological or microbiological discovery. Shelley’s fragment does not take stock of an infi nite number of worlds within worlds, each crawling with life and buzzing with activity, but it exhibits only the relics of that life, “sepulchred emblems / Of dead destruction, ruin within ruin!” (4:294–95). Just as Addison ultimately turned his attention skywards to celebrate the divine agency that created life, Shelley’s gradually ascends from the earth’s strata to “some God / Whose throne was in a comet,” not to pay tribute to that creative power but to make a travesty of its wanton destructiveness and exploit for comic effect the growing polarisation between biblical apocalypticism and scientific cosmology. Instead of trying to reconcile religious with scientific explanation, he plays them out against each other by placing them in a randomised sequence, not so much to demonstrate the superiority of either as to produce a lawless multiplicity of truths that dispenses with a metaphysical notion of truth altogether. Shelley’s mocking attempt to understand and represent the cataclysmic power of nature reads like a spoof of Kant’s dynamical sublime, which similarly tries to keep in check overwhelming natural force. Whereas Kant defuses this physical power by taking recourse to the transcendental faculty of reason, Shelley asserts his subjective autonomy precisely through a sceptical distortion of human rationality. Despite this different emphasis, Kant’s rationalist and Shelley’s sceptical models share the same syntax and are geared towards the same end. Like Kant’s subject, Shelley’s is a profoundly alienated creature. This alienation, however, is not a debilitating mood suff used with an elegiac longing for a lost unity. It is a positive condition playing a crucial role in the formation and emancipation of human subjectivity. For Kant, the alienated interstice opened up by the sublime between humanity and nature functions as a fecund buffer zone where the self-governing subject can arise and thrive without being circumscribed by biological necessity. In Shelley’s fragment, alternatively, the subject regains control over itself in the sceptical distance between sense and nonsense. This sceptical chasm is not only an ontologically empowering space, but—contradictory though this might sound—it also boosts the subject’s epistemic power. Aside from displaying the absolute authority of truth, which is so powerful that it remains permanently out of human reach, scepticism also reveals the human power to question and subvert transcendental truth. James Noggle has similarly argued in The Skeptical Sublime (2001) that “the very distance discovered between the uncertain subject and reason unleashes a subjective power that can demolish reason itself.”30 Although sceptical reason never manages to reach the unassailable status of Kant’s a priori truths, it proves more potent in the end because it is capable of calling these truths into question. This sceptical sublime is thus more Kantian than it seems for it exchanges metaphysical reason with a

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faculty that enjoys even more immunity from physical reality and empirical scrutiny. To question scepticism, after all, absurdly adds to the strength of its argument and authorises its epistemic value. But what exactly is the nature of this sceptical faculty? The fi nal line from the fragment quoted earlier—“‘Be not!’ and like my words they were no more”—suggests that Shelley’s scepticism is a product of his poetic imagination. His laconic inversion of biblical creationism here draws attention to the fictional construction of his own text—a case in point of Romantic irony. More to the point, it pillories the discursive construction of scientific and religious theories, and places their institutionalised truths on a par with the nonsensical explanation put forward by the poet, who ultimately appears to be the superior creative director of this cosmological drama. Shelley’s sceptical poet, then, is not a weary doubter, too benumbed by the liquidation of truth to take any meaningful action.31 Rather, his sceptic is an epistemological masochist, who fantasises himself into a Kantian state of heroic impunity by laughing human, natural and supernatural law phlegmatically in the face. Although Kant had argued in his pre-Critical Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime (1764) that the phlegmatic contains “no ingredients of the sublime or beautiful . . . in any noticeable degree,” he changed his mind in the Critique of Judgment, where he wrote that “affectlessness (apatheia, phlegm in significatu bono) in a mind that emphatically pursues its own inalterable principles is sublime, and indeed, in a far superior way, because it also has the satisfaction of pure reason on its side” (154).32 In a particularly fitting image of fossilisation, de Man similarly maintained that for Kant “the dynamics of the sublime mark the moment when the infi nite is frozen into the materiality of stone, when no pathos, anxiety, or sympathy is conceivable; it is, indeed, the moment of a-pathos, or apathy, as the complete loss of the symbolic.”33 Shelley’s sublime satire, likewise, is characterised by a stoic defiance to the violence of nature and theory. But this is not the stone-cold moral apathy which de Man has in mind. A profoundly socially conscious aesthetic, Shelley’s geological sublime seeks to protect the subject less against natural law (which is futile anyway) than against the terror of political and religious law. Whereas Kant’s sublime arose from a phobic antagonism to animality and nature, Shelley’s principal target is social hierarchy. This anti-authoritarian thrust of his sceptical sublime clearly stands out when he focuses on the geological remains of imperial power: the melancholy ruins Of cancelled cycles; anchors, beaks of ships; Planks turned to marble, quivers, helms, and spears, And gorgon-headed targes, and the wheels Of scythèd chariots, and the emblazonry Of trophies, standards, and armorial beasts. (4:288–93)


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The “monarch beasts,” such as the alligator and the biblical behemoth, which are mentioned a few lines later, evoke the aristocratic grandeur of Burke’s sublime animals (4:311). By recording their destruction and fossilisation, however, Shelley suggests the existence of a more destructive sublime force capable of consuming these robust creatures and, by implication, human society and its patriarchal ideologies as well. Shelley’s geological sublime shows a clear moral affi liation with the sublime of ruins that we came across in Wordsworth’s “Hart-Leap Well,” where ecological disaster (or perhaps natural evolution) put an equally drastic end to the exploitative reign of that other monarch beast, Sir Walter. Geological ruin appears in Shelley’s work (and, in fact, throughout the writings of the Romantics) as an egalitarian force that liberates the individual from political oppression and persecution—even if, paradoxically enough, this liberation is so indiscriminately violent that it eradicates all terrestrial life. 34 Critics have long understood that the sublime, with its exhibitionist display of private sentiment, can easily slip into the ridiculous and become a source of public embarrassment. In his Analytical Inquiry into the Principles of Taste (1805), Richard Payne Knight observed that “the ridiculous seems . . . always lying in wait on the extreme verge of the sublime and pathetic.”35 And Thomas Paine believed that both discourses are so closely connected that “one step above the sublime makes the ridiculous, and one step above the ridiculous makes the sublime again.”36 In these cases, the ridiculous is conceived of as an accidental discourse or a sublime gone wrong, resulting from a lack of authenticity or stylistic originality. In Byron’s poetry, however, the ridiculous sublime figures as an intentional rather than accidental register, which shares with the Kantian sublime not so much its grandiose vocabulary as its self-empowering masochism. In the following excerpt from Don Juan (1819–24), for instance, the ridiculous emerges as an independent discourse, neither aspiring to sound sublime nor wilfully parodying its highfalutin rhetoric. Although its subject matter— the apocalyptic destruction of human civilisation—was a returning topic in the Romantic sublime and had, in fact, received serious treatment in Byron’s earlier End of Days poem “Darkness,” Byron here stages geological disaster in a style that is purposely misplaced and farcical. He does not ridicule transcendence in this scene, but achieves transcendence by way of the ridiculous: When this world shall be former, underground, Thrown topsy-turvy, twisted, crisped, and curled, Baked, fried, or burnt, turned inside-out, or drowned, Like all the worlds before, which have been hurled First out of, and then back again to Chaos, The Superstratum which will overlay us.

Revelation, Reason, Ridicule


So Cuvier says;—and then shall come again Unto the new Creation, rising out From our old crash, some mystic, ancient strain Of things destroyed and left in airy doubt: Like to the notions we now entertain Of Titans, giants, fellows of about Some hundred feet in height, not to say miles, And Mammoths, and your winged Crocodiles. (9:291–304)

When this fragment is read alongside “Darkness,” which strikes a much more sinister and elegiac tone, it becomes clear how the discourse of the ridiculous—like the Kantian sublime—can eliminate the anxiety of human transience and inspire a superhuman sense of fearlessness. The best way to respond to nature’s indifference to human life, Byron seems to suggest, is with more indifference. Two paradoxical strategies now stand out to defend oneself against the violence of the real. Either one celebrates one’s physical frailty and sycophantically praises nature’s supremacy (as the Ancient Mariner does), or one ridicules one’s own powerlessness (as Byron does). Both strategies are deeply ironic, inverting as they do physical descent into spiritual ascent, but only the latter is truly ridiculous. The scientific sublime and Byron’s satirical discourse are both tools of self-deification, but they achieve this empowerment in different ways and at the expense of different agents. In the scientific sublime, it is nature and animality that pose the principal threat and reason that comes to the rescue. In Byron’s fragment, meanwhile, scientific reason (personified by Georges Cuvier) does not play such an auxiliary role and is, in fact, held accountable for the subject’s dehumanisation. By presenting geological disaster as a subjective theory rather than an unquestionable reality (“So Cuvier says”), Byron foregrounds the discursive production of scientific truth and creates the impression that science, rather than emancipating the subject from nature, conspires with nature to undercut the self’s autonomy. If in the masochistic theatre of the scientific or Kantian sublime, it is nature which punishes the body and—following the ironic logic of masochism—nature which is eventually defanged, in Byron’s fragment it is scientific reason that chastises the subject and science that is ultimately chastised. The masochist, Deleuze has argued in “Coldness and Cruelty” (1967), punctures the violent authority of the law by implementing it with neurotic zeal and detail. “By scrupulously applying the law,” he writes, “we are able to demonstrate its absurdity and provoke the very disorder that it is intended to prevent or to conjure.”37 This is precisely what Byron does in this fragment. Instead of openly repudiating scientific law, he applies it with such excessive enthusiasm that it comes to sound wholly irrational and ludicrous. His irrationalism is a rationalism in overdrive. When he imagines, for instance, how future archaeologists might one day dig up the notoriously obese King


Animality in British Romanticism

George IV and mistake him for a gargantuan animal (“the new worldlings of the then new East / Will wonder where such animals could sup!”), Byron does not explicitly question the value or principles of paleontological research, but he pushes its methodology to its extremes so that palaeontology becomes a wholly absurd enterprise (9:306–307). This absurdist aspect is fundamental to masochistic experience, according to Deleuze. Masochists, he argues, are humourists who parody their worst fears, ironise their sexual desires and laugh their punisher in the face in order to obtain absolute independence.38 Unlike Kant’s transcendental faculty of reason, Byron’s satirical wit does not make the human less of an animal. As Claire Colebrook has observed, satire pokes merciless fun at the fallibility of human knowledge and thereby “recognises the lowly animal being behind all our ideas of self-creation.”39 For Byron, geological discovery is not, as Bakewell claimed, “somewhat humbling to human pride,” but it completely destabilises the belief in human exceptionality and reveals that “Men are but maggots of some huge Earth’s burial” (9:312). In a very telling fragment, furthermore, Byron rejects the Socratic axiom that energises the recuperative movement in the Kantian sublime. In his view, the idea that the negative understanding of our intellectual shortcomings would somehow eject us from the animal world is merely a counterproductive gimmick that dehumanises us even more: Socrates said, our only knowledge was “To know that nothing could be known;” a pleasant Science enough, which levels to an ass Each Man of Wisdom, future, past, or present. (7:33–36)

And yet, Byron’s satire retains a hint of Kantian salvationism. His sceptical sublime may be powerless to protect humanity from the brutality of nature, but it does emancipate the individual from the grip of institutionalised epistemologies, whether they be scientific, theological or political. His sceptical reason improvises a uniquely individual sense of truth, unaffected by and indifferent to scientific law and religious dogma. This indifference is not completely devoid of human feeling. I am inclined to follow Anne Mellor’s well-known, if also regularly criticised, positive interpretation of Byron’s irony as a register that “can potentially free individuals and even entire cultures from totalitarian modes of thought and behavior.”40 Aside from liberating the subject from the political (and dietary) greed of George IV, Byron’s mythomania also comically undermines the biblical catastrophism that still informed the theories of Georges Cuvier and most contemporary scientists. His ridicule does not promote a resignation from reality into the nihilistic consciousness of the ironist, but it combines a defeatist embrace of physical destruction with an antithetical yearning for moral vitality and absolute creative freedom.

Revelation, Reason, Ridicule


There is something of a parallel here with Deleuze and Guattari’s becoming-animal, which suggests a very similar ontological flattening in order to disengage human individuality from the constraining identity structures imposed by bourgeois humanism. Byron, however, does not share their proselytising belief in human improvement and self-reinvention. In his view, the patriarchal desire for power and domination is not a superficial ideological urge that can be easily dismantled or shaken off. As much a biological as an ideological phenomenon, it is inextricably and ineluctably intertwined with the structure of human identity. If we want to rid ourselves of our exploitative organs and organisations, then, we cannot just become-animal. We need a more radical redefi nition of selfhood. We need to become fossils. This cynical strand of utopianism (or perhaps upbeat dystopianism would be a more precise characterisation) also permeates the following fragment from Byron’s closet drama Heaven and Earth (1821), where the millennial reconciliation between humanity and nature, and more symbolically, between the tiger and the lamb only appears possible after a levelling process of fossilisation: The creatures proud of their poor clay, Shall perish, and their bleached bones shall lurk In caves, in dens, in clefts of mountains, where The deep shall follow to their latest lair; Where even the brutes, in their despair, Shall cease to prey on man and on each other, And the striped tiger shall lie down to die Beside the lamb, as though he were his brother; Till all things shall be as they were, Silent and uncreated, save the sky. 41

Byron’s flash-forward to the past parodies an iconic scene from Isaiah, in which it is prophesied that “the wolf . . . shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together.”42 Although Byron’s brutally materialist picture of environmental reconciliation highlights the very impossibility of utopia, it shows that even in their most deadpan despair and jaded cynicism, his writings leave some room for hope and moral creativity.


A Taste of God Natural Theology and the Aesthetics of Intelligent Design

Humphry Davy and Thomas Paine expressed an increasingly common sentiment when they asserted that the sublime was neither a realistic nor a desirable vehicle with which to represent scientific discovery. Their proposed movement away from the caffeinated monodrama of the sublime towards the visual economy and emotional poise of the beautiful proved paradigmatic. With its focus on natural order instead of psychological disorder, the register of the beautiful was more in keeping with science’s mandate to describe things as they intrinsically are rather than as how they appear to the alienated consciousness of the singular subject. As a social discourse, it was also consistent with the increasingly widespread view that science ought to be a public enterprise, both in its methodological reliance on peer review and in its moral commitment to improve the quality of life of the entire human community.1 Not only the scientific sublime was questioned. Towards the end of the eighteenth century the very link between science and aesthetics came under unprecedented scrutiny. In his Critique of Judgment, Kant categorically dismissed the relationship between science and beauty, stating that “there is neither a science of the beautiful, only a critique, nor beautiful science, only beautiful art” (184). Although I am less concerned here with Kant’s fi rst rejection, it still merits some attention for it plainly reveals the anthropocentric anxiety that motivated his effort to keep aesthetic sensibility far removed from scientific inquiry. According to Kant, taste is not susceptible to empirical analysis because aesthetic and rational judgments arise in two completely separate mental spaces. Judgments of beauty, he believes, are produced by the intuitive faculty of imagination and conjure up questions such as “how does this painting make me feel?” rather than “does it give an accurate representation of historical reality?” or “how many eggs did the painter use to create this kind of yellow?,” which are questions triggered by the cognitive faculty of understanding and should be tackled by scientific inquiry. In arguing so, Kant brushed aside Burke’s ambition to make an inventory of the “fi xed principles” or “invariable and certain laws” that

A Taste of God 155 regulate taste (Sublime 12).2 Despite Kant’s uncompromising rejection, it was Burke’s empirical model that would prove to be the most influential in Romantic-period aesthetics and science. In Zoonomia, or, The Laws of Organic Life (1794–96), Erasmus Darwin clearly adopted Burke’s physiological position when he disputed the disinterested and disembodied nature of Kant’s idealist aesthetics and put forward a utilitarian and sensationalist theory that ascribed the intuitive appeal of beautiful objects to “the pleasure, which they have afforded to many of our senses: as to our sense of warmth, of touch, of smell, of taste, hunger and thirst.”3 Like Burke, who attributed one’s preference for sweet tastes and oily textures to the craving for breast milk in infancy, Darwin oedipalised taste by rooting it in childhood experience (Sublime 140). “The sentiment of Beauty,” he claimed in a note to The Temple of Nature, “appears to be attached from our cradles to the easy curvatures of lines, and smooth surfaces of visible objects, and to have been derived from the form of the female bosom.”4 If one grounds aesthetic preference in the basic physical structure of the senses rather than in some ethereal mental capacity, it is only logical that non-human animals, too, should have a sense of beauty. Whereas Burke denied non-human animals the faculty of taste without much further elaboration, others were less hostile to the idea. In one of his essays on “The Pleasures of the Imagination,” Joseph Addison endowed aesthetic preference with vital evolutionary significance, not only in humans but in all animal species. “Unless all animals were allured by the beauty of their own species,” he argued, “generation would be at an end, and the earth unpeopled.”5 Richard Payne Knight, too, believed that beauty played a key role in sexual attraction and maintained that “all male animals probably think the females of their own species the most beautiful part of the creation.”6 The only difference between the taste of human and non-human animals, he added, is that the former appears to be overdetermined by so many psychological and socio-historical parameters that its original motivations can no longer be traced, let alone scientifically systematised. Empiricists thus conceived of the human subject as an animal whose aesthetic judgments were nothing more than culturally purified expressions of hard-wired infantile drives and sexual instincts. With this in mind, I believe that Kant rejected empiricist interpretations of taste not just because their descriptivism and utilitarianism confl icted with the normative and disinterested thrust of his own transcendental aesthetics, but also because they threatened to erode the biological distinction between human and nonhuman animals. In a manoeuvre to prevent such an erosion and to secure a sense of human uniqueness, Kant inserts in his Critique of Judgment an aesthetic opposition between the beautiful and the agreeable. Whereas judgments of beauty are invariable and require a modicum of abstraction, the agreeable refers to very personal cravings prompted by concrete animal impulses such as hunger or lust. In other words, my taste for pastoral sunsets would fall within the sphere of the beautiful; my taste for chips with

156 Animality in British Romanticism large dollops of mayonnaise would have more to do with the agreeable. Kant encodes this aesthetic opposition with biological meaning so that the former preference would defi ne me as a human being and the latter would merely underline my primitive animal nature. “Agreeableness,” he notes dryly, “is also valid for nonrational animals; beauty is valid only for human beings” (Judgment 95). What empiricists interpret as beauty, then, falls for Kant under the rubric of the agreeable. In addition to his rejection of a science of beauty, Kant also disapproved of a beautiful science for he feared that an overemphasis on style and form in scientific writings would put off the reader (Judgment 184). The belief that natural science does not require cosmetic enhancement to develop and disseminate its theories ran particularly strong in the sort of common-sense realism professed by the English surgeon William Lawrence. In his Lectures on Physiology, Zoology and the Natural History of Man (1819), Lawrence argues that the main goal of empirical research is to deliver objective knowledge, not aesthetic entertainment. “Truth is like a native rustic beauty,” he claims, “most lovely when unadorned.” Taking aim at John Abernethy’s vitalist theory of life, Lawrence maintains that an insistence on beauty in scientific writings generally works to camouflage an intellectual paucity. In an emasculating attack on Abernethy, he remarks: “Your fine hypotheses and specious theories are like the unfortunate females who supply the want or the loss of native charms and repair the breaches of age or disease by paint, fi nery, and decorations.”7 According to Kant, the assumption that science should be formally appealing originated in a misinterpretation of the idea that art requires a certain measure of empirical accuracy to be aesthetically convincing (Judgment 184). This commitment to scientific realism also emerged in British aesthetic theory. In his Essay on the Application of Natural History to Poetry (1777), John Aikin mounts a sustained argument against “faint, obscure, and ill-characterized” descriptions of nature and stresses that poetry demands “accurate and attentive observation, conducted upon somewhat of a scientific plan.”8 His sister Anna Barbauld strongly endorsed this imperative. In a letter to her brother, she wrote: “I hope your essay will bring down our poets from their garrets to wander about the fields and hunt squirrels. I am clearly of your opinion, that the only chance we have for novelty is by a more accurate observation of the works of nature.”9 Although the emphasis which poets such as Wordsworth placed on a fi rst-hand experience of nature certainly chimed in with the scientific focus on sensory observation, many Romantics feared that science would soon become the sole arbiter of truth, pushing aside other purveyors of knowledge—be they poetic or religious. In reaction, Wordsworth located not scientific but aesthetic experience at the epistemic centre, writing that “poetry is the fi rst and last of all knowledge.”10 And Percy Shelley argued in the same spirit that “poetry . . . is at once the centre and circumference of knowledge; it is

A Taste of God 157 that which comprehends all science, and that to which all science must be referred” (Defence 696). I am not interested here, however, in chronicling once more the troubled relationship between Romantic-period scientists and poets, a relationship that has already been exhaustively analysed in the numerous publications that appeared in the wake of M.H. Abrams’s pioneering chapter “Science and Poetry in Romantic Criticism” in his 1953 study The Mirror and the Lamp.11 What is at least as intriguing but has drawn much less critical attention is the elementary role which the aesthetic of the beautiful took up in scientific argument. While the interest in beauty found its most obvious and probably most disreputable manifestation in pseudo-sciences such as phrenology and physiognomy, it also permeated—albeit to a more moderate extent—the studies of anatomy, chemistry, botany and geology, all of which frequently sidestepped their technical discourse to praise the elegance, order and regularity of both nature and scientific theory. In a lecture on geology, for example, Davy celebrated human intellect for revealing that behind the sublime chaos of terrestrial and cosmic life lay a meticulously structured organisation, impervious to the untrained eye: “By wise and beautiful laws the equilibrium of things is constant. Life is preserved by operations which appear destructive, order and harmony arise from what at fi rst view seems derangement and confusion, the perfection of the work is perceived the more it is studied, and it declares, in distinct language, the power and the wisdom of the author.”12 Davy’s recourse to divine agency here is symptomatic of the way in which Romantic-period science tended to colour its empirical propositions with biblical allusion and aesthetic sentiment. This interlocking of science, beauty and religion was particularly manifest in the discipline of natural theology (or physico-theology), which marshalled zoological, botanical, geological and cosmological evidence to support the thesis that a system as complex yet beautiful as nature could not result from pure chance but required a supernatural designer. Beauty has traditionally played a pivotal role in theological literature and especially in theological aesthetics, a field of religious philosophy which speculates that the existence of beauty—both in nature and art—reveals the hand of a superior intelligence.13 In his essay “On the Beauty of the Universe” (1724), Henry Needler maintained that “there is nothing that affords a more sensible proof both of the existence and goodness of God, than the beauty of the universe, those innumerable gay appearances and delightful spectacles, which are scattered through all the scenes of the visible creation.”14 And he continued his discussion with an impassioned laudation of the beauty of horses, peacocks, swans, dolphins, butterflies and women. Considering the perennial importance of beauty in religious argument, it is no surprise that it was in natural theology that beautiful science or the scientific beautiful found its most regular and rigorous application.

158 Animality in British Romanticism The premise that God’s existence could be inferred from the ordered appearance of nature was not without controversy. Whereas Thomas Paine had enthusiastically embraced science as the “true theology,” William Lawrence summarily rejected the alliance between both disciplines with a metaphor that had, ironically enough, scriptural roots.15 “Let us not then open the fair garden of Science to this ugly fiend,” he cautioned, “let not her sweet cup be tainted by the most distant approach of his venomous breath.”16 Although the Ancient Mariner clearly put into practice natural theology’s analogical and teleological modes of argumentation, interpreting as he did the water-snakes’ beauty as an indication of divine providence, Coleridge was far from an acolyte of natural theology. Aside from criticising its “hollowness and tricksy sophistry,” he believed its argument rested on a circular logic that presupposed the presence of the entity it was supposed to prove.17 For him, God’s existence could not be substantiated with intricate scientific theorising but required a simple leap of faith. In a very Kantian attempt to reclaim the autonomy of the aesthetic, he also dismissed the contention that natural beauty was causally connected to utility, an idea that was central to natural theology. In his conclusion to the third essay “On the Principles of Genial Criticism” he writes: “The shell of the Oyster, rough and unshapely, is its habitation and strong hold, its defence and organ of loco motion: the Pearl, the beautiful ornament of the Beautiful, is its disease.”18 It was such views that William Paley strove to discredit in his tremendously popular Natural Theology, or Evidence of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature (1802). In his discussion of the tulip, for instance, he acknowledges that its sudden change of pigmentation when reaching full growth does not serve any practical purpose, but he quickly adds that this lack of functional relevance does not need to imply that its beauty is a degenerative feature or, as Coleridge might have it, “a disease of the plant” (108). Unlike Joseph Addison or Erasmus Darwin, Paley does not invest the extraordinary physical appeal of certain organisms with biological functionality. Instead, he claims that beauty is a gratuitous characteristic. In a natural world imbued with religious purpose, however, gratuity is a potentially subversive phenomenon as it connotes arbitrariness, absurdity and divine absence. The aesthetic, now, permits Paley to confer an aura of fi nality and necessity to this meaninglessness without having to resort to biology’s secular teleology, which emphasises nature’s self-regulation and thus tends to sideline supernatural agency completely. For the aesthetic philosopher as for the theologian, gratuity has a point. In Kant’s Critique of Judgement, beauty derives its purpose and legitimacy from its negation of use-value or its so-called purposelessness. What distinguishes Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain from a common urinal is that one cannot (or should not) use the former. It is in its passive resignation from the instrumentalist logic of means and ends that Duchamp’s urinal outs itself as an autonomous artwork. The point of art is that it does not

A Taste of God 159 have one. For Paley, likewise, the tulip’s gratuitous beauty suggests that there is a more enigmatic dimension lying beyond the mundane causality of biological explanation. In his discussion of the tulip, he wonders: “Is it not more probable, that this property, which is independent, as it should seem, of the wants and utilities of the plant, was calculated for beauty, intended for display?” (108). Just as in the water-snake scene from “The Ancient Mariner,” aesthetic consciousness comes to the rescue and saves humanity from its horror vacui. This is not a question of repurposing the pointless object into a thing of beauty (as though one would turn a broken urinal into a flowerpot), but it is a matter of rehabilitating the abstract category of uselessness itself, so that the useless urinal will be perceived as useful in its uselessness. What I am trying to show here is that aesthetic devotion operates in large part analogously to the devotional experience promoted by natural theologians in that both modes of worship fetishise the useless object and re-inscribe its shadowy meaninglessness and ethereal je ne sais quoi into an economy which is no less instrumentalist than the one it initially and emphatically resisted. For Kant as for Paley, uselessness is so important because it gestures towards the presence of an entity that transcends ordinary biological law, that is, the subject’s rational power in Kant’s case, God’s supernatural power in Paley’s. Paley’s teleological view of nature as a Technicolor spectacle designed for humanity’s aesthetic enjoyment calls to mind Kant’s argument that “nature was beautiful, if at the same time it looked like art; and art can only be called beautiful if we are aware that it is art and yet it looks to us like nature” (Judgment 185). Even so, Kant’s identification of natural with artistic beauty remains very different from Paley’s. For Kant, a beautiful animal should look like a beautiful artwork (and vice versa) in that both should appear spontaneous, arbitrary and self-regulating. To give an example: the accidental encounter with a fox in one’s garden should be no different from the premeditated encounter with a beautiful painting in a museum. One should not wonder how the fox or painting ended up there, who designed them or what material they are made of. In the unreflective state of aesthetic judgment, Kant believes, one should only be enthralled by the harmonious interaction between one’s mental faculties triggered by the physical perfection of the fox or the painting. Paley, on the other hand, relates nature to art for the exact opposite reason. In his theological argument, the encounter with the fox would not be fundamentally different from finding a beautiful watch in one’s garden (the watch being his preferred metaphor for intelligent design) and it would only be natural to speculate about its maker and function. In Kant’s aesthetic theory, too, the beautiful object is so pleasing to our imagination that it looks as though it was purposefully fabricated for our satisfaction alone. But in his view, this purposiveness is only a subjective impression, not an objective reality: it is a “purposiveness without an end” (Judgment 111).19 Paley reverses this argument. He initially experiences the object’s biological purposelessness


Animality in British Romanticism

and, in response to such gratuity, ascribes a divine intentionality to it: it is a purposelessness with a purpose. Although the sublime figured importantly in biblical discourse, the beautiful was more suited to achieve the textbook clarity in which natural theology was interested. Even when the sublime climaxed with religious epiphany and a sense of reconciliation, after all, it remained a violent and morally muddled experience that left ample room for spiritual confusion. In fact, the traditional sources of sublimity—earthquakes, storms, predators—presented serious problems for natural theology, because they called into question God’s benevolence and thus threatened to weaken the argument from design. At the same time, it was precisely from these problems that natural theology—like theodicy—had traditionally harnessed its strength and rhetorical appeal. If one could demonstrate that even predators had been created by God, one did not need to take pains to prove that less dangerous animals had been purposefully contrived as well. According to John Ray, whose study The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation (1691) exerted a formative influence on Paley’s Natural Theology, God had manufactured predators in order to “chastize or punish wicked Persons or Nations.”20 Paley’s theology, however, sounds more in tune with the Romantic conception of divinity as a distant benevolent force rather than a meddlesome patriarch. Instead of reducing animals to punitive tools or torture devices, he recognises their individual autonomy and places fi nal responsibility on humanity. “We invade the territories of wild beasts and venomous reptiles,” he sermonises, “and then complain that we are infested by their bites and stings” (245). Paley’s Natural Theology is a surprisingly light-hearted study that pays little attention to violence or the sublime. Its lack of interest in the sublime is indicative of a broader aesthetic trend in Romantic-period religious thinking to search for evidence of God’s existence in the prosaic beauty of domestic life rather than in the emotional turbulence of sublime revelation. A proponent of this trend and great admirer of Paley, Anna Barbauld wrote disapprovingly of the calculated abstractions and excessive enthusiasm of the scientist or natural philosopher and, in reaction, advanced a more composed and personal liturgy modelled on the intuitive worship of the “devout man.”21 In her essay “Thoughts on the Devotional Taste, and on Sects and Establishments” (1775), she claims: “Philosophy does indeed enlarge our conceptions of the Deity, and gives us the sublimest ideas of his power and extent of dominion; but it raises him too high for our imaginations to take hold of, and in a great measure destroys that affectionate regard which is felt by the common class of pious Christians.” Barbauld’s preference for a spontaneous sense of religiosity goes along with a rejection of the sublime’s topographical focus on vast landscapes and with an renewed insistence on “home views and nearer objects”—in other words, on local organic beauty. 22 This movement from a sublime to a beautiful theology is also a gendered movement away from the traditional vestiges

A Taste of God 161 of male subjectivity (rationality, visual domestication, violent agitation) to affective domains that were traditionally considered feminine (intuition, sentimentalism, localism, domesticity). A similar but more understated criticism of the sublime appears in “The Travelled Ant,” a gently absurdist short story from the didactic collection Evenings at Home, which Barbauld wrote together with her brother John Aikin. Offering a brief but action-packed travelogue of an ant smitten by wanderlust, the story reads like “The Ancient Mariner” reimagined for a young audience. 23 It interrogates the same themes of environmental alienation, sceptical panic and physical vulnerability, but bleeps out the Mariner’s morose sense of self-loathing and spiritual emptiness. Interestingly, the narrative is focalised through the down-to-earth viewpoint of the ant and thus provides an outlook on nature that comically unsettles human patterns of perception. (Its play of perspectives, incidentally, recalls the didactic conversation which I discussed in Chapter 1 between Sophie and her father about the raison d’être of fl ies.) Like the Ancient Mariner, the ant deploys an awkwardly infantile and mechanistic discourse to record the strangeness of its natural surroundings. It describes the sea (or maybe just a pool or puddle) as “this great plain . . . consist[ing] of that fluid which sometimes falls from the sky”; fish are called “wonderful forms of living creatures” and birds are conceptualised as “two-legged feathered creatures” (52–53). When the ant characterises what seems to be a cat as a “huge four-legged monster,” Aikin and Barbauld farcically subvert the high-flown bombast of the sublime and insinuate that sublimity is only a false subjective impression resulting from a lack of biological insight (52). The obvious theological message is that if our moral evaluation of nature were to reckon with different non-human points of view, we would easily see that monstrosity and evil do not objectively exist. As in “The Ancient Mariner,” the ant’s defamiliarising confrontation with nature’s thingness is also a scientific rite of passage which counters its myrmecocentric and instrumentalist view of nature and shows that everything has a life of its own. Upon its return, the animal confides the following piece of philosophical wisdom to another ant: “I have seen such vast tracts not at all fit for our residence, and peopled with creatures so much larger and stronger than ourselves, that I cannot help being convinced that the Creator had in view their accommodation as well as ours, in making this world.” This didactic conclusion, however, is comically deflated by the other ant’s rather Byronic insight into the limits of ant cognition. In an obvious satirical comment on humanity’s epistemological arrogance, it says: “you know we ants are a vain race, and make high pretensions to wisdom as well as antiquity. We shall be affronted with any attempts to lessen our importance in our own eyes” (55). In addition to the problem of violence, theologians also struggled to account for the existence of ugliness. If God had designed nature solely for human benefit, what was the divine scheme, then, underlying ugly animals?


Animality in British Romanticism

For both natural theologians and scientists, ugliness constituted a major flaw in an otherwise aesthetically perfect universe and, accordingly, needed to be repressed or explained away. If beauty called to mind virtue, health, prosperity and youth; ugliness signalled vice, disease and social marginality, and theologically, it brought up associations with the profane and the occult. A lack of elegance, symmetry or clarity was—and to a certain extent still is—also considered an indication of bad science. If a beautiful theory suggests intelligent and sound judgement, an ill-formulated or needlessly complicated one is more likely to be perceived as having less empirical value. 24 What is as interesting as William Paley’s persistent harping on the marvellous beauty of nature is his evasive treatment of the question of the ugly. When one compares his Natural Theology to Burke’s Enquiry, whose influence is clearly at work in the background of Paley’s aesthetic thought, one can easily detect the strategies which Paley built into his theological argument to defuse the subversive meaning of animal ugliness. Both Paley’s religious treatise and Burke’s Enquiry develop a prescriptive science of aesthetic affect that often draws attention to the physical properties of the same animals and the same body parts. Like Burke, Paley roots aesthetic judgments in human physiology and argues that taste is “the produce of numerous and complicated actions of external objects upon the senses, and of the mind upon its sensations” (109). Paley, however, fine-tunes Burke’s empiricist aesthetics on various levels in an attempt to cast doubt on the objective existence of ugliness. One of the main disagreements between Paley and Burke pertains to the variability of taste. Burke simply dispatches the notion of personal taste and believes that, because aesthetic sentiments originate in the body and because all human beings have the same anatomical groundwork, their sense of beauty should be more or less the same. If you have a different taste, it must mean that there is something seriously wrong with your body. Despite his recognition of the sensory basis of taste, Paley cannot accept such a belief in a common aesthetic sense for it would imply that those animals that are universally regarded as ugly are also intrinsically ugly and that nature is in part objectively imperfect. One of the central goals of his theological treatise is to demonstrate that the perceived imperfection of nature resides in the limitations of the subjective imagination rather than in reality itself. In order to do so, Paley inserts a different experiential subject into his aesthetics: the philosopher or scientist, whose cut-and-dried aesthetic judgments stand in stark contrast to the intuitive taste of the “common observer” (116) or, in Burke’s phrase, the “ordinary man” (Sublime 98). The difference between these two observers becomes explicit in Paley’s discussion of the covering of birds. First, Paley draws attention to “its lightness, its smoothness, its warmth” and “its variety of colours,” “so beautiful, and so appropriate to the life which the animal is to lead, as that . . . we should have had no conception of anything equally perfect, if we had never seen it, or can now imagine anything more so.” Following this

A Taste of God 163 Burkean celebration of the bird’s superficial physical appeal, Paley praises its physiology, arguing that “every feather is a mechanical wonder” and that “it is one of those cases in which the philosopher has more to admire than the common observer” (116). For Paley, the empirical explanation of nature’s workings heightens rather than destroys religious awe by disclosing an entirely new field of beauty, impenetrable for the lay observer. Paley here departs from Burke’s aesthetic theory in two ways. First, his assumption that scientific insight contributes to an object’s beauty is evidently at variance with Burke’s interpretation of aesthetic sentiment as a pre-rational or intuitive feeling. Second, his idea that the understanding of an object’s functionality adds to its aesthetic appeal confl icts with Burke’s position that beauty has nothing to do with utility. In an image prefiguring the watchmaker analogy which Paley made famous (and which made Paley famous in twentieth-century atheist philosophy), Burke underlines that the knowledge of an object’s purpose does not enhance its appeal because the experience of beauty precedes rational understanding: When we examine the structure of a watch, when we come to know thoroughly the use of every part of it, satisfied as we are with the fitness of the whole, we are far enough from perceiving any thing like beauty in the watchwork itself; but let us look on the case, the labour of some curious artist in engraving, with little or no idea of use, we shall have a much livelier idea of beauty than we ever could have had from the watch itself. . . . In beauty, as I said, the effect is previous to any knowledge of the use. (Sublime 98) In his discussion of human anatomy and its relation to beauty and religious worship, Burke goes even further and claims that a scientific perception of the body at times stands in the way of aesthetic enjoyment. Contrasting the intellectual satisfaction felt by an anatomist when inspecting the body’s intricate internal organisation with “the affection which possesses an ordinary man at the sight of a delicate, smooth skin, and all the other parts of beauty, which require no investigation to be perceived,” Burke maintains that a medical understanding of the body may inspire one to “look up to the Maker with admiration and praise,” but it will not produce the simple visual pleasure experienced by the ordinary individual. Occasionally, it seems, ignorance is a sine qua non for aesthetic enjoyment. By suggesting that the “odious and distasteful” appearance of the body’s interior can stimulate religious wonder, Burke also empties the aesthetic of its theological weight (98). In a more explicit rejection of theological aesthetics, he writes: “It is by a long deduction and much study that we discover the adorable wisdom of God in his works: when we discover it, the effect is very different, not only in the manner of acquiring it, but in its own nature, from that which strikes us without any preparation from the sublime or the beautiful” (97). Judgments of taste, in short, should operate in complete

164 Animality in British Romanticism independence of scientific and theological judgments. Paley’s Natural Theology also attends to the aesthetics of animal anatomy, but whereas Burke counterpoints the middlebrow focus on the skin’s superficial beauty to the anatomist’s reflective understanding of what lies beneath, Paley examines the skin through a scientific lens that appreciates both the skin’s intuitive appeal and its anatomical function as a membrane that “converts the disgusting materials of a dissecting-room into an object of attraction to the sight, or one, upon which it rests, at least, with ease and satisfaction” (107). In his view, scientists retain the common observer’s spontaneous appreciation of the skin and supplement it with a more reflective enjoyment of its practical purpose. The skin is a very appropriate image for Paley’s own discursive practice, which similarly hides the crude ugliness of material existence beneath a veneer of scientific fact talk and religious pep talk. Considering that, in Paley’s view, it is not just the existence of beauty but also its concealing function that incontrovertibly proves God’s presence, the denial or repression of ugliness (and of its social analogues: otherness, abnormality, marginality) becomes a divinely sanctioned act of religious devotion. Incidentally, the importance that Paley attaches to the skin’s mystifying function also explains why Frankenstein’s Monster is received with such fear and religious paranoia. “Were it possible to view through the skin the mechanism of our bodies,” Paley believes, “the sight would frighten us out of our wits” (110). The Monster, as Shelley points out, has weirdly pellucid skin, which “scarcely cover[s] the work of muscles and arteries beneath” (Frankenstein 39). That the creature lacks a beautiful cover suggests that it was fabricated not by supernatural agency, but by a man who clearly did not fully understand what he was doing. It is a walking advert for atheism. Providing a raw, uncensored view of the body’s interior operations and machinery, the Monster also reminds people of their own physicality. Such a reminder is unsettling at the very least and may inspire the sort of physical discomfort or even panic that one experiences when one lingers too long on the mechanical rhythm of one’s own heartbeat or breathing. It is a reminder not just of one’s animality, but of the vulnerability and impermanence of one’s animal body. As the eighteenth-century scientist Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre suggests in a fragment quoted by Paley: “‘Durst we make a single movement,’ asks a lively French writer, ‘or stir a step from the place we were in, if we saw our blood circulating, the tendons pulling, the lungs blowing, the humours fi ltrating, and all the incomprehensible assemblages of fibres, tubes, pumps, valves, currents, pivots, which sustain an existence at once so frail, and so presumptuous?’” (Natural Theology 110). 25 Along with the common observer and the scientist, Paley introduces a third experiential subject that enables him to explain away the existence of ugliness: the non-human animal. In his discussion of natural beauty, he contends that physical appeal is one of the defi ning characteristics of

A Taste of God 165 animal form, but he is quick to add that he is not thinking here of an absolute or universalist standard of beauty that would render one animal more attractive than another one of the same or a different species. What does he mean then? “I mean, generally, the provision which is made in the body of almost every animal, to adapt its appearance to the perception of the animals with which it converses” (107). Paley sounds rather vague here and that vagueness never really leaves him in this chapter. With its reference to adaptation, his argument has an unexpectedly evolutionary ring to it, but unlike contemporary theorists such as Richard Payne Knight or Erasmus Darwin, Paley does not even interpret beauty as a trigger of reproductive drives, let alone that he would be aware of its evolutionary significance. It sounds as though he is referring to superficial cosmetic adaptations by way of which an animal would deliberately enhance its physical appeal towards other members of its species, yet his discussion of the aesthetics of the skin in the same paragraph contradicts such intentionality and suggests an adaptive mechanism that lies beyond the individual control of the animal. More likely, Paley here argues that God implanted in animal bodies the innate capacity to develop a physiology that appears beautiful to members of its own species. What is more interesting than Paley’s belief in such an innate capacity is its implication that non-human animals, too, have a sense of beauty. It is obvious why he allows non-human animals to have aesthetic preferences of their own. Whereas Burke’s wholesale rejection of non-human taste, together with his insistence on a common aesthetic sense, forced him to recognise the objective ugliness of some animal species, Paley proposes a watered-down version of aesthetic subjectivism that allows him to deny the objective existence of ugliness without denying the objective existence of beauty. Beauty, for him, is still an immanent quality of animals, but it depends on the observer’s biological species and scientific knowledge to reveal itself. That I fail to appreciate the beauty of anteaters, then, does not mean that anteaters are objectively ugly (as Burke would have it) or that taste is personal (as aesthetic relativists would say). It only shows that I am not an anteater (or, at least, that I do not know enough about anteaters to take pleasure in their looks). Despite his adherence to a species-specific notion of beauty, Paley still feels it necessary to explain why some animals, such as bats and elephants, look so eccentric. Bats frequently recurred in Romantic-period treatments of ugliness. Scientists and theologians typically ascribed their unusual appearance to the fact that they seemed to integrate species features of both rodents and birds. As seemingly hybrid creatures, they undermined the belief that God had created all animals as homogeneous and unchangeable. In his Letters to a Young Naturalist on the Study of Nature and Natural Theology, James Lawson Drummond undertook a lengthy criticism of Comte de Buffon’s theory that “the bat, which is half a quadruped and half a bird, and which, upon the whole, is neither the one nor the other, must

166 Animality in British Romanticism be a monstrous being.”26 Relying on Cuvier’s Lectures on Comparative Anatomy (1802) and Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborne (1789), Drummond argued that the bat is a wonderful creature whose somewhat bizarre morphology and physiology are, in fact, perfectly suited to its habits and habitat. Paley similarly disputed the bat’s monstrosity in his chapter on the principle of compensation. Offering a religious alternative to Lamarck’s notion of evolutionary adaptation, this principle held that God had designed certain organs in order to compensate for the deficiencies of other organs. On this view, the elephant has a trunk to remedy its short neck and the bat has wings to make up for its imperfect legs and feet. Although Paley introduces the principle of compensation as a functional mechanism, it often operates as a cosmetic principle that rationalises away the unusual morphological appearance of an organ by referring to its physiological purpose. As Paley puts it: “our business at present, is simply to point out the relation which this organ bears to the peculiar figure of the animal to which it belongs” (147). Natural theology fi xes ugliness with utility. It requires considerably more imaginative effort to discern a divine purpose behind congenitally malformed animals, whose anomalous appearance separates them not only from other species but also from their own kind. Whereas Paley shrugs off the existence of physical deformation as a minor hiccup in an otherwise perfect universe, Drummond explains it in more detail. In his account, nature does not produce deformity, but it is humanity’s excessive manipulation of animal life—through inbreeding and overdomestication—that has given rise to degenerate specimens. 27 Drummond’s negative view of human civilisation directly taps into the anti-cultural bias of Romantic primitivism. It bears a particularly strong resemblance to Percy Shelley’s claim that “man, and the animals whom he has infected with his society, or depraved by his dominion, are alone diseased. The wild hog, the mouflon, the bison, and the wolf, are perfectly exempt from malady, and invariably die either from external violence, or natural old age.”28 Shelley’s conviction that diseases and degeneration are primarily caused by domestication was an often-heard complaint in Romantic-period philosophy. In her Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft already drew upon the same argument to condemn society’s treatment of women. In an analysis that skilfully interwove a gender critique with an aesthetic and evolutionary perspective, she associated the social pressure put on women to look pretty and act obediently with the domestication of dogs. Relying on Buffon’s theory of generation, she claimed that cultural restrictions can be so invasive and physically oppressive that they are ultimately incorporated and even transferred across generations, thus becoming factually natural or genetic traits: “servitude not only debases the individual, but its effects seem to be transmitted to posterity. Considering the length of time that women have been dependent, is it surprising that some of them hug their chains, and fawn like the spaniel? ‘These dogs,’ observes a naturalist [that is, Buffon], ‘at

A Taste of God 167 fi rst kept their ears erect; but custom has superseded nature, and a token of fear is become a beauty.’”29 William Lawrence broadened Wollstonecraft’s criticism and claimed that the technological and cultural advances in Western society had dramatically undermined the health of the entire human species. In his view, the “artificial mode of life” of the modern urban citizen had not only produced physical and moral defects but also allowed these defects to persist across generations. This was particularly evident in royal circles, he believed, where the process of degeneration was exacerbated by a long-standing tradition of inbreeding. In “savage nations,” by contrast, degenerate traits are sifted out of the gene pool because dysmorphic individuals rarely survive infancy and, if they do, “are prevented, by the kind of aversion they inspire, from propagating their deformities.” Although this reads like an awkward defence of eugenic selection and although Lawrence elsewhere asserts that in selective breeding programmes of domestic animals “the great object is to preserve the race pure,” it would be unfair to place him in the rather unpleasant philosophical company of fascist ideologues. On the whole, Lawrence’s aesthetic anthropology actually departs from the then prevailing Western belief in the superior visual appearance of white man. He praises the Jewish people for their racial hygiene and ensuing beauty, and when evaluating some portraits of Hottentots, who had “become almost proverbial for ugliness,” he reaches the then controversial conclusion that “in animation, in beauty, symmetry and strength of body, in ease and elegance of attitude, they are infi nitely superior.”30 Although Lawrence and Percy Shelley blame modernity for corrupting the originally pristine state of nature, they do not believe that the remedy lies in a primitivist rejection of scientific consciousness. Quite the opposite, they recommend a leap forward to a more rational understanding of animality, whereby scientific thought and spontaneous feeling would collaborate to enhance the beauty and morality of human society. “The whole of human science,” Shelley writes, “is comprised in one question:—How can the advantages of intellect and civilization be reconciled with the liberty and pure pleasures of natural life?”31 In Lawrence’s diagnosis, the main shortcoming of human thought is that it is not scientific enough. We would be far more beautiful and healthy, he reasons, if we applied the principles developed in the selective breeding of domestic animals to our own species with equal neutrality and rigour: “A superior breed of human beings could only be produced by selections and exclusions similar to those so successfully employed in rearing our more valuable animals. Yet, in the human species, where the object is of such consequence, the principle is almost entirely overlooked.”32 Lawrence’s call to select one’s sexual partner on the basis of clear-eyed rational criteria rather than a whimsical feeling of physical attraction or emotional connection exemplifies a more general tendency in Romanticperiod aesthetics to interpret beauty as a quality that was or could be


Animality in British Romanticism

purposefully made—by God, scientists, theologians, aestheticians. This growing distrust of intuitionist conceptions of beauty is also noticeable in Drummond’s advice to fi lter aesthetic judgments through scientific thought. “Never,” he writes, “contemn an animal because it may seem deformed, or ugly, uncouth. Try to fi nd out its history, the uses of its different parts, and as much of its whole economy as you can; and depend upon it you will fi nd no marks of imperfection or ugliness there.”33 This confidence in the beautifying potential of empirical research goes as far back as Aristotle’s Poetics. “Objects which in themselves we view with pain,” Aristotle claimed, “we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity: such as the forms of the most ignoble animals and of dead bodies.”34 And Kant would argue something similar, but for him it was not scientific precision but aesthetic transformation that could upgrade the ugly into an object of beauty. “Beautiful art,” he wrote in the Critique of Judgment, “displays its excellence precisely by describing beautifully things that in nature would be ugly or displeasing” (190). The obvious difference is that, for Aristotle and Kant, the human subject creates beauty, whereas for natural theologians, the subject can only fi nd the beauty that God created. Of course, the theological premises that beauty is an objective property of things and that God designed most things in nature to be—in some way or other—beautiful are incompatible with a universalist notion of taste, for that would imply that everyone would fi nd everything beautiful and that we would be living in a wonderland of nonstop aesthetic excitement, which is sadly not the case. Natural theologians, therefore, need to figure in different experiential subjects (such as the common observer, the scientist and the non-human animal), and aesthetic feeling loses—at least partially—the absolute and normative character that it had for Burke and Kant. To interpret taste as an individual instead of universal faculty, however, is a very risky move if one predicates religious faith on aesthetic sentiment, as natural theologians tend to do. In order to prevent religious feeling from becoming subject to the random whims of personal taste, natural theologians anchor aesthetic judgment in scientific judgment, which is universal, prescriptive and absolute (at least in their prepostmodern views). To deny the beauty of a bat or an anteater becomes an absurd thing to do, then, because it reveals a lack not of aesthetic sensibility (as in Kant or Burke) but of scientific knowledge. By making beauty dependent on truth, natural theologians provided taste with a universal validity and binding power that was crucial for their argument. At the same time, their resort to scientific knowledge, a much less mystified and mystifying faculty than aesthetic preference, reinforced the move away from intuitionist interpretations of aesthetic feeling and exposed the calculated process of domestication underlying the production of beauty. What Paley’s study demonstrated in surprisingly candid terms, indeed, is that the aesthetic of the beautiful functions as a skin, hiding from view the raw visceral mess of animal existence.


Beauty with a Past Evolutionary Aesthetics in Erasmus Darwin’s The Temple of Nature

In the operatic closing paragraph to On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin famously stated the following: Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fi xed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.1 Darwin here puts into terms of evolutionary biology what I have been arguing so far in terms of aesthetic and ideological development. The beautiful appearance of nature, he stresses, is not an ahistorical or immutable property of things, but it is the product of a violent process of competition, selection and adaptation. Darwin’s remarkably anti-elegiac interpretation of the war of nature takes its cue from Romantic-period scientists and theologians, who similarly tended to proceed from an alienating awareness of nature’s seemingly random violence to a discovery of the deeper purpose of that violence. Like his grandson, Erasmus Darwin construed death as an efficient sifting mechanism necessary for personal health, social stability and natural beauty. Before the establishment of civil society, with its organised medical support of the weak and sickly, he claimed, “the animal world existed uniformly in its greatest strength and perfection,” an idea that also informed William Lawrence’s tribute to the superior visual appeal of Hottentots. 2 And in Evenings at Home, Aikin and Barbauld conceded that “there is a perpetual warfare going on, in which the stronger prey upon the weaker, and in their turns are the prey of those which are a degree stronger than themselves,” but in a Malthusian comeback they added that if animals did not die or were not killed, overpopulation would soon upset natural balance and lead to general starvation (217). The beauty of the

170 Animality in British Romanticism natural world, many Romantic-period philosophers agreed, is generated and preserved by the violence of the sublime. This evolutionary sublime retains the homeopathic and self-preservative characteristics with which Burke charged his model, but it transfers these beneficial effects from the individual animal to the level of the species. Whereas in Burke’s sublime a diluted experience of psychological horror inoculates the individual against a greater and more physical danger, the evolutionary sublime applies a certain degree of violence in order to ensure the continuity of the entire species. For Burke as for the Darwins, a small but regular dose of pain and death is surprisingly good for one’s health. Like Burke’s and Kant’s models, the evolutionary sublime is also a powerful detergent. It gets rid of old and diseased organisms and, in doing so, continually recreates a sense of original, spotless beauty. Linnaeus puts it in a rather more ghoulish manner. “The whole earth would be overwhelmed with carcases, and stinking bodies,” he writes, “if some animals did not delight to feed upon them.”3 Unlike Kant’s idealist model, however, this evolutionary sublime still has a fi rm foot in biological reality. It is not only the scientific mind that is propelled by a desire for order and harmony, Charles Darwin shows. The natural world itself also progresses “from famine and death” to “forms most beautiful and most wonderful.” On this view, the characteristic development of the Kantian sublime towards rational transcendence and conceptual control does not prove the mind’s independence from nature. If anything, it merely interiorises the standard pattern of animal evolution, which similarly leads to a triumph of reason or—in more accurate materialist terms—to a triumph of the fittest and most intelligent species. (And considering the biological success of insects, we should not reduce intelligence to its narrow human sense here.) The idea that the war of nature is necessary to guarantee the beauty and viability of animal species was frequently transposed into cultural terms in a dubious effort to rationalise political warfare and sanction a policy of laissez-faire in social and economic affairs. In his Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), Thomas Malthus argued that not just famine or disease but also tribal fights and even cannibalism were crucial to reduce population pressure.4 Kant, too, linked war to human progress and claimed, albeit with some reservations, that it was an “incentive . . . for developing to their highest degree all the talents that serve for culture” (Judgment 300). Unsurprisingly, the conviction that cultural violence played a valuable biological role was met with great hostility from many Romantics. In a criticism of Malthus’s Essay, Percy Shelley wrote: “War, vice, and misery are undeniably bad, they embrace all that we can conceive of temporal and eternal evil. Are we to be told that these are remedyless, because the earth would in case of their remedy, be overstocked?”5 And in Don Juan, which contained several references to population theory, Byron brilliantly parodied Malthus’s idea that it was not education or law enforcement but war and disease that would civilise the Native Americans:

Beauty with a Past


The population there so spreads, they say ‘Tis grown high time to thin it in its turn, With war, or plague, or famine, any way, So that civilization they may learn. (1:1043–46)

In the following paragraphs, I want to explore in more depth the biological trajectory from sublimity to beauty as it appeared in Romanticperiod evolutionary theory and population ecology. I will do so by taking a closer look at Erasmus Darwin’s The Temple of Nature; or, The Origin of Society (1803), one of the most ambitious attempts in the Romantic period to establish a dialogue between evolutionary science and aesthetic philosophy. The poem loosely and often confusingly combines ancient mythology and more traditional religious imagery with an impressively wide array of up-to-date scientific theories, which Darwin had often developed himself in previous writings. He now aligned these theories— ranging from cosmology, botany and zoology to psychology and aesthetics—to dramatise and explain the evolution of animal life. Despite its evolutionary focus and its working title “The Progress of Society, a Poem in Five Cantos,” Darwin’s text does not follow a simple teleological development, but it presents biological history as an endlessly repeating cycle of generation, degeneration and regeneration. If there is any progression pushing forward the poem’s narrative, it mainly manifests itself in Darwin’s growing understanding of nature, which—like nature itself—is open to evolution and improvement. With its messy palimpsestic structure, Darwin’s poem seems to weave the chaos of not only biological evolution but also of its various philosophical interpretations into its own narrative fabric. Darwin’s point, indeed, is as much about the development of animal life itself as it is about the creation, dissemination and extinction of discourse. Martin Priestman, too, is convinced that the poem’s apparent lack of narrative coherence and its confusing concatenation of rival forms of thought are at least partly deliberate.6 Darwin, he thinks, tried to cover up the blasphemous implications of his scientific theories by burying them under a plethora of recondite religious, mythological and aesthetic layers. Reading The Temple of Nature, then, is an exhausting forensic act, whereby one has to sift the poem’s provocative scientific arguments from its muddy mythological imagery and cryptic lyricism. Although heavily influenced by Burke’s empiricist model, Darwin rewrites the latter’s aesthetic theory in some essential ways. For a start, his analysis of taste pursues a reformist instead of a reactionary agenda. Unlike Burke, he also sees a seamless continuity between the aesthetic preferences of human and non-human animals. And his evolutionary scope provides Burke’s ahistorical interpretation of taste with a sweeping diachronic perspective that explains rather merely describes the physiological nature of aesthetic judgment. What interests me here most, though, is how his focus on beauty and its affective registers (love, sympathy,

172 Animality in British Romanticism femininity) challenges the monopoly that the sublime had acquired in the aesthetics of the male Romantics. Darwin privileges beauty in at least two ways. Like natural theologians and later Charles Darwin as well, he discerns meaning and purpose in the violence of nature and construes biological evolution as an aesthetic process geared towards the creation of beauty and physical perfection. What is more original and deserves more scrutiny is that he repeatedly connects beauty with properties that were traditionally reserved for the sublime, such as organic excess, domesticating power and sexual aggression. In doing so, he unsettles not only Burke’s aesthetic dualism but also the gender hierarchy which this dualism sought to ratify. Like his earlier poem “The Loves of the Plants,” the second half of The Botanic Garden, Darwin’s The Temple of Nature is a distinctly matriarchal poem in which female characters—priestesses, goddesses, muses, virgins—are in the vast majority and in which it is the female animal that controls the natural order.7 While this emphasis on beauty and femininity may have been inspired by crass economic opportunism—the target audience of Darwin’s philosophical poetry generally being “ladies and other unemploy’d scholars”—I believe that the grounds for the feminist politics of The Temple of Nature should be sought in the liberal intellectual circles that Darwin frequented.8 Although written by one of the most erudite figures of the Romantic period, The Temple of Nature occupies a rather peripheral position in both the Romantic canon and Darwin’s own oeuvre. Unlike The Botanic Garden, it was received with almost unanimously negative reviews, which dramatically accelerated the decline of Darwin’s reputation as a poet and philosopher. Published in 1803, a year after his death, the philosophical poem was criticised for both its medium and its message. What had changed between the publications of The Botanic Garden in 1791 and The Temple of Nature was not so much Darwin’s scientific, political or literary ideas as the context in which he formulated them. In reaction to the French Revolution, English politics had swung to the right and Christian religion had resorted to more literalist interpretations of the Bible.9 As a result, Darwin’s liberal political views and scientific materialism—typically considered a French and atheist philosophy—elicited increasing suspicion and even visceral rejection. “We are full of horror, and will write no more,” the reviewer of The British Critic concluded in his piece on The Temple of Nature.10 In 1798, “The Loves of the Plants” was serially parodied in the reactionary Anti-Jacobin as The Loves of the Triangles, which scathingly portrayed Darwin as an atheist revolutionary on the loose and, in his grandson’s judgment, caused “the downfall of his fame as a poet.”11 Literary taste had drastically changed as well. With the publication of Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads in 1798 and the new penchant for simplicity of feeling and expression, Darwin’s manneristic philosophical poetry sounded excessively cerebral and ridiculously fastidious. “Darwin’s

Beauty with a Past


Temple of Nature,” Coleridge mocked, “may . . . be too faithfully characterized, as claiming to be poetical for no better reason than that it would be intolerable in conversation or in prose.”12 It may seem specious to concentrate here on a text that was already considered hopelessly passé in its own time and that, accordingly, is far from representative of Romantic-period poetry. But although Darwin’s awkward blend of science and sentiment sounds distinctly out of tune with the Romantic vogue for spontaneous feeling, it does provide an exceptionally comprehensive, if consistently confusing, mosaic view of late-eighteenthand early-nineteenth-century scientific theory. Its empirical interpretation of taste, moreover, clearly prefigures the evolutionary aesthetics that Charles Darwin would put forward in The Descent of Man. As such, it demonstrates that Charles Darwin’s preoccupation with physical beauty was not only rooted in natural theology (as some critics have claimed), but also belonged to a more controversial genealogy of works which were, in fact, attacked for their atheism.13 The charges of atheism laid against The Temple of Nature, however, seem largely exaggerated, as the poem is still indefatigably intent on locating the divine plan that underlies and explains the violent chaos of nature. “Where can Sympathy reflecting fi nd,” Darwin wonders, “One ray of light in this terrene abode / To prove to Man the Goodness of his God?” (4:31, 4:33–34). And yet, the poem’s predominant concern with worldly science, aesthetics and ethics secularises that question and reformulates it as a search for biological rather than theological meaning. In contrast to natural theologians, Darwin also appears more interested in the depiction of violence than in its religious legitimation or transcendence. The graphic gore and unapologetic eroticism that colour his poem, indeed, remind the reader of his authorial warning that his goal is not “to instruct by deep researches of reasoning,” but “simply to amuse by bringing distinctly to the imagination the beautiful and sublime images of the operations of Nature” (p. 3). Those operations, Darwin believes, are determined by the laws of biological competition and predation: Air, earth, and ocean, to astonish’d day One scene of blood, one mighty tomb display! From Hunger’s arm the shafts of Death are hurl’d, And one great Slaughter-house the warring world! (4:63–66)

Like his grandson, Erasmus Darwin repeatedly casts the struggle for existence in images of warfare and talks of the “elemental strife” (1:3), the “bestial war” (2:361), “eternal war” (2:179) and even the “vegetable war” (4:42). The long-term effect of this perpetual antagonism is a sublime of ruins, an aesthetic of slow yet total degeneration that puts worldly power and the entire human species into a disconcerting historical perspective:


Animality in British Romanticism Where mouldering columns mark the lingering wreck Of Thebes, Palmyra, Babylon, Balbec; The prostrate obelisk, or shatter’d dome, Uprooted pedestal, and yawning tomb, On loitering steps reflective TASTE surveys With folded arms and sympathetic gaze; Charm’d with poetic Melancholy treads O’er ruin’d towns and desolated meads; Or rides sublime on Time’s expanded wings, And views the fate of ever-changing things. (3:231–40)

The struggle for life, Darwin shows, does not favour the politically powerful over the powerless, as social Darwinists would later claim. “When a Monarch or a mushroom dies,” he notes in a deadly effective conjunction of the high and low, “Awhile extinct the organic matter lies,” until it spontaneously transforms into new life (4:383–84). Evolution is brutally democratic. Darwin’s memento mori recalls Shelley’s and Byron’s satirical treatments of the geological sublime, which similarly highlighted the futility of worldly power in the face of time’s destructive force. As in Shelley’s and Byron’s fragments, this sublime of ruins provides Darwin with a sense of visual pleasure that is also characteristic of the mode of the picturesque, but in his case this pleasure seems sincerely sympathetic rather than sadistic, existential rather than political. In a long, essayistic footnote, he launches into a more in-depth examination of the nature of this aesthetic enjoyment. Unlike Shelley or Byron, he does not think that it derives from a sense of Schadenfreude or from the promise of a natural revolution fi nally putting things right. In a surprisingly Burkean argument, he asserts that the sublime of ruins is mainly inspired by a nostalgic and sympathetic reflection on the beauty of past times (3:237n22). More than Burke, however, Darwin is aware that sympathy can easily slip into sensationalism and even unscrupulous sadism. He therefore claims, if rather unconvincingly, that the pleasure we take in other people’s agony essentially derives from the enjoyment of their beauty and virtue, not of their suffering. From this view, our moral sympathy would be much more easily triggered by the distress of physically attractive creatures. That is also what Darwin claims: “The same distressful circumstance attending an ugly or wicked person affects us with grief or disgust; but when distress occurs to a beauteous or virtuous person, the pleasurable idea of beauty or of virtue becomes mixed with the painful one of sorrow, and the passion of Pity is produced” (3:246n23). Darwin’s aesthetics of pity should remind us of Frankenstein’s physiognomic views, but there is a significant difference in that Darwin provides an explanation rather than a justification of aesthetic morality. Problematic though his theory still may sound, Darwin is surely right to claim that empathy is at least in part an aesthetically conditioned response, elicited more readily by a nicely framed shot of a cute seal pup

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being clubbed to death than by the troubles of, say, a naked mole rat. One only need glance at recent campaigns of major animal rights movements to see that pity, indeed, thrives best in the presence of the pretty. Darwin most decidedly parts company with Burke when he argues that realistic violence defies aesthetic appreciation. Whereas Burke claimed in his Enquiry that one’s enjoyment of human suffering increases the more authentic it appears, Darwin develops a more empathic theory of the spectatorship of violence which posits that actual distress is too emotionally disturbing to invite an aesthetic mood. He revisits a passage from the Roman poet Lucretius, who admitted taking pleasure in witnessing a shipwreck from afar because it underlined his own sense of safety (3:246n23).14 Darwin looks askance at such a cynical mode of spectatorship and claims that realistic violence is simply too agonising to give aesthetic pleasure. It is surprising, however, that for Darwin calamities such as Lucretius’ shipwreck “may be objects of curiosity from their novelty, but not of Taste,” whereas in the case of the gradual evolutionary destruction of Thebes or Babylon, “reflective TASTE surveys / With folded arms and sympathetic gaze.” In other words, evolution produces the feeling of the sublime for Darwin, but a shipwreck does not. Taking into account the emphasis that both Burke and Kant place on uninvolved spectatorship, one would expect the opposite to be the case for in the experience of the shipwreck there is at least a physical distance between the observer and the source of terror. The evolutionary sublime of ruins, in contrast, underlines one’s inescapable involvement in the struggle for existence. So why can Darwin enjoy the war of nature with a frame of mind that delicately balances between dispassionate detachment (“folded arms”) and moral identification (“sympathetic gaze”) but fail to take pleasure in the shipwreck scene? What makes violence aesthetically appealing for Darwin, it seems, is not a physical safety perimeter, but a historical and rhetorical one. The perception of the nautical disaster, he holds, lacks the discursive and temporal distance required to airbrush the sublime into a pleasurable aesthetic—be it the beautiful or the picturesque. That pleasure, Darwin specifies, primarily arises not from the physical experience of destruction, which is “dreadful” and “horrid,” but from its “scenical representations” (3:246n23). That Darwin describes the ruins of the sublime war of nature in the selectively amnesiac mode of the picturesque may seem misplaced in a poem whose primary interest is historical, but it is symptomatic of our own dayto-day perception of nature. Although biological evolution is undeniably more destructive than a single shipwreck, its violence is much less palpable and therefore less intimidating. I am not suggesting anything new when I say that life is a death struggle in slow-motion which requires a time-lapse rendition in order to disclose its true visceral brutality. As Charles Darwin put it in On the Origin of Species: “Nothing is easier than to admit in words the truth of the universal struggle for life, or more difficult—at least I have found it so—than constantly to bear this conclusion in mind.”15

176 Animality in British Romanticism Biological evolution moves at such a slow pace that it not only seems unreal (as creationists like to believe) but also fosters a false sense of impunity, which is further reinforced by science’s insistence on personal detachment and critical distance. It is this illusion of uninvolvement that allows us to watch and even enjoy the war of nature as though it was an emotionally chilling but physically harmless piece of fiction, not realising that what we are enjoying is the story of our own imminent and unavoidable death. In Kant’s Critique of Judgment, this self-deception is taken one step further and is legitimated by the faculty of reason, which upgrades the wishful belief in our exemption from the struggle for life into transcendental truth. His sublime not only depends on the physical safety of the subject, but also produces that sense of safety and, in doing so, enables us to regard even our own death as a trivial incident. That Erasmus Darwin presupposes the possibility of such a safe discursive position outside nature is perhaps strange, especially because earlier on in The Temple of Nature he entrenched reason and language fi rmly within material reality: Imperious man, who rules the bestial crowd, Of language, reason, and reflection proud, With brow erect who scorns this earthly sod, And styles himself the image of his God; Arose from rudiments of form and sense, An embryon point, or microscopic ens! (1:309 –14)

Although Darwin wavers here between a Kantian paean to human rationality and a misanthropic narrative that reduces humanity to the primordial mud from which it arose, it is the latter view that ultimately prevails in his poem. In his materialist philosophy, thought is an embodied rather than a transcendental faculty, whose complex workings developed from a long and gradual process of organic evolution.16 The mind, he argues in Zoonomia, comprises “the medullary part of the brain, spinal marrow, nerves, organs of sense, and of the muscles,” which are activated by the “spirit of animation, which resides throughout the body, without being cognizable to our senses, except by its effects.” This “living principle” is not the abstract force of animation that many Romantics had in mind.17 It is a physical property that humans share with other animals and even with vegetables to some extent. Our capacity for rational thought, Darwin believes, issued from the unique physiological structure of the hand, which, as an extremely sensitive organ, imprinted memories and experiences onto the brain and thus gradually programmed the mind’s intricate thought processes: “Nerved with fi ne touch above the bestial throngs, / The hand, fi rst gift of Heaven! to man belongs” (3:121–22). The importance which Darwin attaches to the hand recalls Martin Heidegger’s discussion of the human hand in “What Calls for Thinking?,”

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but whereas Darwin invests the mind with animality by relating it to the hand, Heidegger does the precise opposite and disembodies the human hand by relating it to thought and language: In the common view, the hand is part of our bodily organism. But the hand’s essence can never be determined, or explained by its being an organ which can grasp. Apes, too, have organs that can grasp, but they do not have hands. The hand is infi nitely different from all the grasping organs—paws, claws, or fangs—different by an abyss of essence. Only a being who can speak, that is, think, can have hands and can handily achieve works of handicraft.18 The transcendental idealism in Heidegger’s analysis clearly stands out when we juxtapose his fragment to a very similar argument from Coleridge. “In the different species of the Ape,” Coleridge believed, “I find nothing in the Physiognomy that forbids me to imagine that the mind of the creature has its mold in its body—but in man’s I see at once that the Body must have received the impress from a mind.”19 In the exceptional case of the human, in other words, it is reason that shapes the body, which is accordingly “but the fi xture of the mind,” or as Heidegger would put it: “all the work of the hand is rooted in thinking.”20 Heidegger’s rejection of animal consciousness perpetuates the phobic disgust with which many Romantic-period philosophers regarded non-human primates. 21 Although Erasmus Darwin, too, writes in the Temple of Nature that humanity possesses a “superiority of understanding” accruing from a fi ner sense of touch, he repeatedly stresses that this superior understanding is only a biological product of our evolution and is hardly any more exceptional than other animals’ “finer powers of nostril, ear, or eye” (3:122n11, 3:119). For a materialist and anti-dualistic thinker like Erasmus Darwin, the Kantian transcendence of physical reality is little more than a rational hallucination produced by the extraordinary workings of the human imagination. By discarding transcendental reason and stressing humanity’s animal nature, however, Darwin risks pulling the plug on the scientific sublime. As Weiskel claimed: “without some notion of the beyond, some credible discourse of the superhuman, the sublime founders; or it becomes a ‘problem.’”22 Darwin solves this problem by allowing for a lateral rather than vertical transcendence of phenomenal reality through which he can reflect on nature from a relatively safe distance without actually transgressing its physical borders. It is this lateral understanding of biological reality that is celebrated in the fi nal stanza of The Temple of Nature, in which the poet-scientist gains insight into “TRUTH DIVINE” in the typical rhapsodic terms of the scientific sublime (4:524). Despite Darwin’s sacral tenor in these fi nal lines, he does not simply genuflect to religious power, but his astonishment purposefully veers here, as elsewhere in his poem, between a pious appreciation of divinity, a Kantian encomium to

178 Animality in British Romanticism reason and a materialist recognition of the self-regulating workings of nature. True, it is science that “pierces the realms of Chaos and of Night; / Of space unmeasured marks the fi rst and last, / Of endless time the present, future, past” (3:38–40), but this celebration of science’s power to structure time and space ends on a remarkably critical note which admits that the scientist “weighs and measures all things but himself” (3:48), a sobering corrective that deftly punctures the epistemological arrogance of Kant’s idealism. At the same time, Darwin’s scientific sublime—like most Romantic models—draws its strength from precisely this self-undermining insight and thus continues to operate within the contours of Kant’s theory. There is a difference, however. Whereas Kant acknowledges the limitations of human understanding, he never questions the faculty of reason itself, which remains safely immune from sceptical doubt. Without such a belief in the transcendental status of reason, scepticism becomes a much more dangerous stance to take and Darwin’s self-undermining realisation risks reducing the scientific sublime to a paper exercise without objective validity or practical purpose. And yet, Darwin still finds a sense of sublime impunity. Unlike Kant, he discovers this sublime in biological reality itself and not—or at least not entirely—in its rational or religious transcendence. As one contemporary reviewer keenly observed: Darwin “substitute[s] the religion of nature for the religion of the Bible.”23 In The Temple of Nature, it is not a foggy, supersensible faculty of reason but nature itself that antidotes the suffering of everyday life with beauty and purpose. This phenomenological shift from subjective reason to objective nature occurs in conjunction with a gender movement away from male rationality to female physicality and with an aesthetic movement away from the discourse of the sublime towards the beautiful. Burke, in fact, accidentally initiated a similar aesthetic movement when he recognised that the beauty of the female body had a problematic affinity with the sublime because its erotic appeal could induce “an inward sense of melting and languor” in the male observer (Sublime 135). In an attempt to prevent such a disempowerment of the male gaze and to uphold the division between beauty and sublimity, he emphatically dissociated man’s aesthetic interest in woman’s visual presence from his sexual desire for her body. Darwin, alternatively, dismisses such a distinction and allows both categories to flow into one another. Female beauty, in his poem, becomes a powerful recuperative force that counteracts the blithe violence of nature with boundless sexual energy and creative abundance. “The births and deaths contend with equal strife,” he writes, “And every pore of Nature teems with Life” (4:379–80). Although this vision of nature as an inexhaustible source of life clearly borrows its lopsided optimism and resilient cheerfulness from natural theology, Darwin’s celebration of the beauty and fecundity of biological reality is rather more sophisticated. Unlike natural theologians, he does not rationalise away the sublime, but he displaces its explosive power to the beautiful and, more radically, to

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woman. In doing so, he creates a hermaphroditic aesthetic that undercuts Burke’s gendered distinction between the beautiful and sublime. Beauty, for Darwin, is in the fi rst place an organic quality conveyed by the bodies of human and non-human animals. “The characteristic of beauty,” he clarifies in a footnote to the Temple of Nature, “is that it is the object of love” and should inspire a “wish to embrace or salute” that object (3:176n17). We are attracted to beautiful things, he believes, because they remind us of the “nice curves” of our mothers’ nourishing breasts, which provided us with “countless joys” and “unextinct delight” during the first, formative years of our lives (3:216, 3:217, 3:219). On this view, Wordsworth’s reunion with the rolling landscape around Tintern Abbey—“These beauteous forms, / Through a long absence, have not been to me”—and his ensuing “feelings . . . / Of unremembered pleasure” take on a whole new meaning (23–24, 30–31). If for Burke the breast was the distinctive site of female beauty, however, it was also “a deceitful maze” where the beautiful slipped into the sublime and man lost control over his gaze (Sublime 105). Darwin, now, intensifies this female empowerment by oedipalising the breast and showing how it transports the male observer back to a passive state of infantile dependence and longing. The beautiful, in this way, becomes a domesticating aesthetic whose spurious promise of sexual and dietary fulfi lment entraps man in a pacifying mother-child relationship. Unlike Burke, Darwin celebrates rather than fears this Oedipal regression and sees in it the potential to restore peace and stability to a warring world. No longer a passive, domesticated object, woman now becomes a potent conciliatory force that manages to muzzle the patriarchal archetypes of Burke’s sublime: The Lion-King forgets his savage pride, And courts with playful paws his tawny bride; The listening Tiger hears with kindling flame The love-lorn night-call of his brinded dame. Despotic LOVE dissolves the bestial war, Bends their proud necks, and joins them to his car; Shakes o’er the obedient pairs his silken thong, And goads the humble, or restrains the strong.— Slow roll the silver wheels,—in beauty’s pride Celestial PSYCHE blushing by his side.— The lordly Bull behind and warrior Horse With voice of thunder shake the echoing course, Chain’d to the car with herds domestic move, And swell the triumph of despotic LOVE. (2:357–70)

Darwin’s oxymoronic characterisation of love as a despotic emotion illustrates how he hijacks Burke’s autocratic discourse of the sublime and turns its domesticating power against its own patriarchal symbols, thus


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deconstructing the gender dyad according to which Burke customised his aesthetic categories. Although the claim that “Despotic Love dissolves the bestial war” taps into the millennial register of Blake’s and Percy Shelley’s vegetarian utopias, Darwin offers a more scientific picture, which leaves room for biological competition, as it suspends hostilities only between the sexes, not among males or between the species. A few stanzas earlier, in fact, he maintains that beauty and love feed the struggle for existence by stimulating sexual antagonism between males. In a suggestively animalising analogy, he compares the chivalric quest for romance with the premating behaviour of quails, stags, cocks and boars, and thereby strips the courtly love tradition down to its bare biological essentials: So Knight on Knight, recorded in romance, Urged the proud steed, and couch’d the extended lance; He, whose dread prowess with resistless force, O’erthrew the opposing warrior and his horse, Bless’d, as the golden guerdon of his toils, Bow’d to the Beauty, and receiv’d her smiles. (2:327–32)

By highlighting the knight’s submission to female beauty, Darwin locates fi nal power in woman and further emasculates Burke’s patriarchal discourse of the sublime. His evolutionary biology thus participates in the revolutionary undressing of the old chivalric moral, political and sexual codes. From an evolutionary perspective, after all, chivalry is not a civilising construct refi ning our deeper animal desires or covering “our naked, shivering nature,” as Burke contended in his Refl ections (77). But its attachment to rigidly codified sexual norms and ritualised violence is merely a biologically conditioned predisposition that also drives the behaviour of stags, boars, quails and cocks, and that primarily serves to stimulate sexual reproduction and ensure self-preservation. Instead of elevating the human species above its animal nature, the refi ned customs of the ancien régime end up demonstrating the point which they were intended to disprove: that is, that the king is “but an animal; and an animal not of the highest order.” In a certain way, somewhat paradoxically, Burke claimed exactly the same. He, too, brought into play an evolutionary discourse which posited that the hierarchies and mannerisms of the ancien régime had organically evolved to repress humanity’s intrinsically violent nature. In his Refl ections on the Revolution in France he argued that “action and counteraction . . . in the natural and in the political world, from the reciprocal struggle of discordant powers, draws out the harmony of the universe” (35). Defending natural law, he asserted that the political world—like the biological world—should be determined by a process of gradual evolution whereby new ideologies would peacefully take over weakened or degenerate systems: “Our political system . . . is never old or middle-aged or young, but, in a condition of unchangeable constancy, moves on through

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the varied tenor of perpetual decay, fall, renovation and progression. Thus, by preserving the method of nature in the conduct of the state, in what we improve we are never wholly new; in what we retain we are never wholly obsolete” (34). In Burke’s optimistic view, however, organic evolution is a smooth and bloodless process—beautiful in every sense—and thus very different from the brutal war that Erasmus Darwin discerned in nature. Burke’s disagreement with the revolutionaries, accordingly, is supposedly not so much over their ideological beliefs per se as over their refusal to play the political game by the laws of nature. By abruptly installing a new regime and eradicating an entire political species, he believes, they try to “change and pervert the natural order of things” and violate the biological laws that make us human (49). Supplying the subject with a sense of immunity from the invariable degeneration of biological life, Darwin’s aesthetic of the beautiful also displays the self-preservative qualities of Kant’s and Burke’s discourses of the sublime. “Potent Love with torch sublime,” he writes, “Relights the glimmering lamp, and conquers Time” (1:447–48). His initial view that “Organic forms . . . Live but to die” (2:41–42) is now made more tolerable by the realisation that they “die but to revive” (2:42). The biological world, in Darwin’s graphic narrative, is troped as both a slaughterhouse and a maternity ward, where new life is continually being conceived and the impression of “immortal Happiness” is created (4:405). Darwin repeatedly couches this process of organic regeneration in aesthetic terms, as when he writes that “BEAUTY broods with angel wings unfurl’d / O’er nascent life, and saves the sinking world” (2:261–62). His materialist rendition of the notion of immortality often assumes a gothic character. It is difficult not to think of Shelley’s Frankenstein when coming across lines such as “The Wrecks of death are but a change of forms” or “Emerging matter from the grave returns, / Feels new desires, with new sensations burns” (3:398, 4:399–400). The atheism that lurks behind such lines did not go unopposed at the time. One reviewer commented that “Dr Darwin teaches, indeed, the doctrines of a future state, of future happiness, and immortality: but his future state is that of the future existence of man in the form of worms or maggots.”24 Whereas Kant located a superhuman power in the mind, a power that transgressed the limitations of the sensible and that scorned natural law, Darwin achieves a sense of invulnerability within, not at the expense of, material reality. Admittedly, his escape from the violence of the real still depends on a logical sleight of hand, which maps ontogeny onto phylogeny and dubiously identifies the lifespan of the individual organism with the lifetime of its organic material. The immortality that Darwin thus proposes is no less theoretical than Kant’s. For Kant, it is the rational insight into our physical triviality that emancipates us from nature’s violence. Darwin, meanwhile, finds comfort in the thought that, after our death, our bodies will morph into different life forms. Neither Kant’s transcendentalist nor Darwin’s materialist answer to human mortality, however, would be well received on a sympathy card.


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As The Temple of Nature progresses, it swells to an increasingly buoyant crescendo. In addition to celebrating the unbounded creative and regenerative powers of life, Darwin now also praises death as nature’s own ingenious way of keeping population growth in check. Without the unstoppable degeneration and ultimate death of individual life forms, he maintains, sexual reproduction would lead to overpopulation, whose effects would be more disastrous and painful still. This seeming paradox that death is prerequisite to species preservation further muddles the conceptual distinction between beauty and sublimity in two directions. Whereas Burke claimed that “ideas of pain, sickness and death, fi ll the mind with strong emotions of horror” and form an essential part of the psychological repertoire of the sublime (Sublime 36), Darwin now puts death to the service of beauty and shows that beauty has a history of sublime violence. The second way in which he undermines the duality between the sublime and beautiful is by speculating that the aesthetic of the beautiful and its effects of love and sexual attraction can easily tip over into sublime forces, which without population control would lead to pain, sickness and death. The libidinal energy of the beautiful, it seems, can fuel sublime destruction: So human progenies, if unrestrain’d, By climate friended, and by food sustain’d, O’er seas and soils, prolific hordes! would spread Erelong, and deluge their terraqueous bed; But war, and pestilence, disease, and dearth, Sweep the superfluous myriads from the earth. Thus while new forms reviving tribes acquire Each passing moment, as the old expire; Like insects swarming in the noontide bower, Rise into being, and exist an hour; The births and deaths contend with equal strife, And every pore of Nature teems with Life; Which buds or breathes from Indus to the Poles, And Earth’s vast surface kindles, as it rolls! (4:369–82)

Darwin here invokes the Malthusian terror of overpopulation in the typical hydraulic terms of the mathematical sublime (“prolific hordes! would spread / Erelong, and deluge their terraqueous bed”). 25 Despite its transfer of power from male rationality to female corporeality, the Malthusian sublime is not a feminist aesthetic for it simply rehearses the Burkean fear of female physicality and continues to present sexual desire as a negative force that needs to be curbed. The Malthusian sublime does not so much regender Burke’s patriarchal paradigm as it makes explicit the subversive power of the female with which that paradigm struggled. Woman may be in control for Malthus, yet he never conceives her authority along the ambivalent lines of the Burkean sublime, which should induce a “delightful horror”

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rather than just horror. Darwin’s The Temple of Nature, conversely, presents woman as a much more ambiguous force that inspires both a Malthusian fear of female reproductive power and a Deleuzian celebration of sexual desire. Sexual reproduction, for Darwin, is not bestialising or lifethreatening—as it is for Burke and Malthus, but it is “the chef d’oeuvre, the master-piece of nature.”26 It is something so powerful that it jeopardises one’s survival in a sort of Malthusian sublime and, at the same time, enables one to transcend the war of nature in a materialist take on the Kantian sublime. The female animal, her beauty and sexual energy, then, become as ambiguously charged as Burke’s patriarchal symbols of sublimity, forces to be both feared and admired. Despite its tedious lyrical tics and lifeless cast of allegorical characters, Darwin’s The Temple of Nature still holds tremendous relevance for aesthetic and scientific research today. Like Erasmus Darwin, we need to turn our attention away from the male power fantasy of the sublime towards more common but chronically under-theorised registers such as beauty, cuteness, sentimentality and kitsch. That academics in the past few decades have primarily focussed on the intellectualist machismo of the sublime, I think, reveals more about their humanist phobia of the female and animal than about the reality of Romantic culture. Like Darwin, we should also abandon the metaphysical distinction between the taste preferences of humans and those of non-human animals. Instead of trying to determine what exactly separates my preference for Byron over Keats from my dog’s preference for her orange over her blue ball, we need to dedicate more time and effort to understanding what our tastes have in common, what basic biological needs they fulfi l and what brain regions they stimulate. It might be a good idea to follow the example of very recent studies such as Alan Richardson’s The Neural Sublime and John Onians’s article “Neuroscience and the Sublime in Art and Science,” which instead of disclosing once more the sociologies, economies and ideologies of taste have tried to understand the cognitive and neurochemical components that condition it. 27 What we need is a far more committed relationship between the sciences and the humanities than the casual interdisciplinary intercourse in which we have been engaging so far. We need fMRI scans of human brains in a state of sublime exultation, behavioural studies of housecats exposed to naked French philosophers, and semiotic analyses of the sounds albatrosses produce when encountering melancholy mariners. Such a new approach to the study of aesthetics may teach us something valuable about the biological complexity of taste and about how much of it we share with other animals.


NOTES TO THE INTRODUCTION 1. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus: The 1818 Text (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993), 38. 2. Christine Kenyon-Jones, Kindred Brutes: Animals in Romantic-Period Writing (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001); David Perkins, Romanticism and Animal Rights (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003). 3. William Smellie, The Philosophy of Natural History, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: 1790), 1:523. 4. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Shorter Works and Fragments, ed. H.J. Jackson and J.R. de J. Jackson, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1995), vol. 11 of The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Kathleen Coburn, 16 vols. (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1969–2001), 2:894. 5. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria or Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions, ed. James Engell and W. Jackson Bate, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1983), vol. 7 of The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1:205. 6. Edmund Burke, Refl ections on the Revolution in France, ed. L.G. Mitchell (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009), 79, 77. Hereafter cited in the text as Refl ections. 7. See, for instance, Steve Baker, Picturing the Beast: Animals, Identity and Representation (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1993), 10; Timothy Morton, Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2009), 171. 8. Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, ed. Gillian Beer (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008), 43. 9. My discussion is obviously cursory. For an excellent historical overview of the concept of species, see John S. Wilkins, Species: A History of the Idea (Berkeley: U of California P, 2009). 10. Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Routledge, 2005), 292. 11. See, for instance, Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, trans. Richard Nice (New York: Routledge, 1984); Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990). Eagleton hereafter cited in the text. 12. Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998), 131. Hereafter cited in the text as Sublime.



13. Harold Bloom, “The Internalization of Quest-Romance,” in Romanticism and Consciousness: Essays in Criticism, ed. Harold Bloom, 3–24 (New York: Norton, 1970), 10. 14. Jerome McGann, The Romantic Ideology: A Critical Investigation (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1983); Marjorie Levinson, “Insight and Oversight: Reading ‘Tintern Abbey,’” in Wordsworth’s Great Period Poems, 14–57 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986). 15. Andrew Ashfield and Peter de Bolla, The Sublime: A Reader in British Eighteenth-Century Aesthetic Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996), 4. 16. Coleridge, Shorter Works, 1:422. 17. William Paley, Natural Theology, or Evidence of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006), 108. Hereafter cited in the text. 18. Humphrey Davy, The Collected Works of Sir Humphry Davy, ed. John Davy, 9 vols. (London: Smith, 1839–40), 3:308. John Keats, Selected Letters, ed. Robert Gittings, rev. Jon Mee (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002), 36. John Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” line 49. All references to John Keats’s poetry are to Complete Poems, ed. Jack Stillinger (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2003). 19. Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Men, in a Letter to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke; Occasioned by His “Refl ections on the Revolution in France,” ed. D.L. Macdonald and Kathleen Scherf (Peterborough: Broadview, 1997), 95. 20. Thomas Paine, Rights of Man: Being an Answer to Mr. Burke’s Attack on the French Revolution, in “Rights of Man,” “Common Sense,” and Other Political Writings, ed. Mark Philp, 83–331 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998), 102. 21. Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Defence of Poetry, in The Major Works, ed. Zachary Leader and Michael O’Neill, 674–701 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003), 698. Hereafter cited in the text as Defence. 22. William Wordsworth, “Preface,” in Complete Poetical Works, ed. Thomas Hutchinson, rev. Ernest de Selincourt, 734–41 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1936), 737. 23. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Earl Leslie Griggs, 6 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon P, 2000), 2:864, 2:1034. 24. John Keats, “The Fall of Hyperion,” 1:304. 25. Bruce Robbins, “The Sweatshop Sublime,” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 117, no. 1 (2002): 84–97; John Sanbonmatsu, “The Holocaust Sublime: Singularity, Representation, and the Violence of Everyday Life,” American Journal of Economics and Sociology 68, no. 1 (2009): 101–26; David Grindstaff, “The Fist and the Corpse: Taming the Queer Sublime in Brokeback Mountain,” Communication and Critical/ Cultural Studies 5, no. 3 (2008): 223–44; Luke White, “Damien Hirst’s Diamond Skull and the Capitalist Sublime,” in The Sublime Now, ed. Luke White and Claire Pajaczkowska, 155–71 (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009); Vincent Mosco, The Digital Sublime (Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 2005); Franklin Melendez, “Video Pornography, Visual Pleasure, and the Return of the Sublime,” in Porn Studies, ed. Linda Williams, 401–28 (Durham: Duke UP, 2004). 26. Longinus, On the Sublime, trans. James A. Arieti and John M. Crossett (New York: Edwin Mellen P, 1985), 42. Hereafter cited in the text. 27. See, for instance, Marjorie Hope Nicolson, Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory: The Development of the Aesthetics of the Infi nite (Seattle: U of Washington P, 1997), 29–31. 28. After having crossed the Alps in 1688, Dennis wrote that the experience had inspired a “delightful horrour” and “terrible joy.” John Dennis, The Critical


29. 30.

31. 32. 33. 34.

35. 36. 37.

38. 39.

40. 41.


Works of John Dennis, ed. E.N. Hooker, 2 vols. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1939), 2:380. Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, ed. Paul Guyer, trans. Paul Guyer and Eric Matthews (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000), 147. Hereafter cited in the text as Judgment. Samuel Monk, The Sublime: A Study of Critical Theories in XVIII-Century England (New York: Modern Language Association, 1935); Neil Hertz, The End of the Line: Essays on Psychoanalysis and the Sublime (New York: Columbia UP, 1985); Frances Ferguson, Solitude and the Sublime: Romanticism and the Aesthetics of Individuation (New York: Routledge, 1992). Peter de Bolla, The Discourse of the Sublime: Readings in History, Aesthetics and the Subject (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), 293. Onno Oerlemans, Romanticism and the Materiality of Nature (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2002); Christopher Hitt, “Toward an Ecological Sublime,” New Literary History 30, no. 3 (1999): 603–23. Alan Richardson, The Neural Sublime: Cognitive Theories and Romantic Texts (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2010). For a gender interpretation, see, for instance, Tom Furniss, Edmund Burke’s Aesthetic Ideology: Language, Gender, and Political Economy in Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993). A discussion of the postcolonial sublime can be found in E. San Juan Jr., “Globalized Terror and the Postcolonial Sublime: Questions for Subaltern Militants,” in The Postcolonial and the Global, ed. Revathi Krishnaswamy and John Charles Hawley, 157–65 (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2008). For a queer sublime, see Grindstaff, “The Fist and the Corpse: Taming the Queer Sublime in Brokeback Mountain.” Barbara Claire Freeman, The Feminine Sublime: Gender and Excess in Women’s Fiction (Berkeley: U of California P, 1995), 3. Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, ed. Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann, trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor (New York: Continuum, 2010), 65, 62. The term ecocriticism fi rst appeared in William Rueckert, “Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism,” Iowa Review 9, no. 1 (1978): 71–86. We fi nd, however, ecocritical readings well before Rueckert’s publication. See, for instance, Nicolson, Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory (1959). For general introductions to ecocriticism, see Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm, eds., The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology (Athens: U of Georgia P, 1996); Greg Garrard, Ecocriticism (New York: Routledge, 2004). Alan Liu, Wordsworth: The Sense of History (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1989), 104. Jonathan Bate, Romantic Ecology: Wordsworth and the Environmental Tradition (New York: Routledge, 1991); Karl Kroeber, Ecological Literary Criticism: Romantic Imagining and the Biology of Mind (New York: Columbia UP, 1994). Neil Evernden, The Social Creation of Nature (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1992), 89, 50. Donna Haraway has addressed the ontological differences between humans, animals and robots in her well-known article “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, 149–81 (New York: Routledge, 1991). Cary Wolfe has interrogated Wittgenstein’s claim that “If a lion could talk, we could not understand him” in his chapter “In the Shadow of Wittgenstein’s Lion: Language, Ethics, and the Question of the Animal,” in Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species and Posthumanist Theory, 44–94 (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2003). And



in his quirky yet thought-provoking article “The Animal That Therefore I Am,” Derrida has criticised the philosophical refusal to study the animal as a knowing and perceiving subject in its own right. “It has its point of view regarding me,” he writes referring to his cat. “The point of view of the absolute other, and nothing will have ever done more to make me think through this absolute alterity of the neighbor than these moments when I see myself seen naked under the gaze of a cat.” See Jacques Derrida, “The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow),” trans. David Wills, Critical Inquiry 28, no. 2 (2002): 380. Hereafter cited in the text as “Animal.” 42. Wolfe, Animal Rites, 1. 43. Trevor H. Levere, Poetry Realized in Nature: Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Early Nineteenth-Century Science (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1981); Noah Heringman, ed., Romantic Science: The Literary Forms of Natural History (Albany: State University of New York P, 2003); David M. Knight, ed., Science in the Romantic Era (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998); Richard Holmes, The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science (London: Harper, 2008). 44. Heringman, “The Commerce of Literature and Natural History,” in Romantic Science: The Literary Forms of Natural History, 1.

NOTES TO CHAPTER 1 1. Davis Guggenheim, “An Inconvenient Truth Trailer,” New York Times video, 2:30, accessed on 17 October 2011, An-Inconvenient-Truth/trailers (Hollywood: Paramount Classics, 2006). 2. Philip Larkin, “Going, Going,” in Collected Poems, ed. Anthony Thwaite, 133–34 (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2003), line 49. 3. John Betjeman, “Slough,” in John Betjeman’s Collected Poems, ed. the Earl of Birkenhead, 21 (London: John Murray, 1958), line 3. George Gordon Byron, “Darkness,” in The Major Works, ed. Jerome J. McGann (Oxford: Oxford UP), line 71. All references to Byron’s poetry are to this edition. 4. See, for instance, Keith Tester, Animals & Society: The Humanity of Animal Rights (New York: Routledge, 1991); Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England 1500–1800 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984). My argument here is mainly based on their accounts. 5. For discussions of the discourse of environmental apocalypticism, see Lawrence Buell, “Environmental Apocalypticism,” in The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing and the Formation of American Culture, 280–308 (Cambridge, MA: Belknap P of Harvard U, 1995); Garrard, “Apocalypse,” in Ecocriticism, 85–107. 6. Don DeLillo, The Body Artist (New York: Scribner, 2001), 22. 7. All references to Blake’s poetry are to The Complete Poems of William Blake, ed. Alicia Ostriker (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977). 8. Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, 1:80–81. 9. Mary Midgley, Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature, rev. ed. (New York: Routledge, 2002). 10. Iris Murdoch, The Sovereignty of Good (New York: Routledge, 1970), 84. 11. See, for instance, Tester’s criticism in Animals & Society, 29–31. 12. Jean François Lyotard, Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime, trans. Elizabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1994), 55, 127. 13. Paul Crowther, The Kantian Sublime: From Morality to Art (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1989), 166.



14. For interpretations of the sublime as a domesticating aesthetic, see William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature,” in Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, ed. William Cronon, 69–90 (London: Norton, 1995); Donald Pease, “Sublime Politics,” in The American Sublime, ed. Mary Arensberg, 21–50 (Albany: State U of New York P, 1986). 15. James Lawson Drummond, Letters to a Young Naturalist on the Study of Nature and Natural Theology (London: Longman, 1831), 12. 16. Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1984), 81. 17. William Faulkner, “Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech,” in Nobel Lectures: Literature (1901–1967), ed. Horst Frenz (Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, 1999), 444. 18. Thomas Weiskel, The Romantic Sublime: Studies in the Structure and Psychology of Transcendence (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976), 23–24. 19. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lectures 1808–1819: On Literature, ed. R.A. Foakes, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1987), vol. 5 of The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 2:79. 20. Hitt, “Toward an Ecological Sublime,” 614. 21. Weiskel, The Romantic Sublime, 92–97. 22. Friedrich von Schiller, “On the Sublime,” in “Naïve and Sentimental Poetry,” and “On the Sublime”: Two Essays, ed. and trans. Julius A. Elias, 191–212 (New York: Ungar, 1966), 208. 23. See, for instance, Philip Shaw, The Sublime (New York: Routledge), 79–80. 24. Theodor Reik, Love and Lust: On the Psychoanalysis of Romantic and Sexual Emotions (New Brunswick: Transaction, 2002), 362, 321. 25. John Dennis, “John Dennis, from The Advancement and Reformation of Modern Poetry (1701),” in Ashfield and de Bolla, The Sublime, 38. 26. See, for instance, Oerlemans, Romanticism, 84–85. 27. All references to Coleridge’s poetry are to Poetical Works, ed. J.C.C. Mays, 3 vols. (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2001), vol. 16 of The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. 28. Bate, Romantic Ecology, 8–9. 29. Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1981), 103. 30. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (London: Bantam P, 2006), 221. 31. Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, trans. E.F.J. Payne, 2 vols. (New York: Dover Publications, 1969), 1:390. 32. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, Being Part One of the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, trans. William Wallace (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1975), 44. 33. William Wordsworth, “The Sublime and the Beautiful,” in The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, ed. W.J.B. Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser, 3 vols., 349–60 (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1974), 2:349, 2:356. 34. Coleridge, Letters, 2:810. 35. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, or On Education, trans. Barbara Foxley (London: Everyman’s Library, 1974), 184. 36. Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, 2nd ed. (London: Millar, 1761), 2. 37. Thomas Nagel, “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?,” The Philosophical Review 83, no. 4 (1974): 435–50. 38. Midgley, Beast and Man, 348.

190 Notes 39. Mark S. Lussier, Romantic Dynamics: The Poetics of Physicality (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000), 58. 40. Timothy Morton, Shelley and the Revolution in Taste: The Body and the Natural World (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994), 28–29. All references to Shelley’s poetry are to The Major Works, ed. Zachary Leader and Michael O’Neill (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003). 41. Martin Heidegger, “What Calls for Thinking?,” in Basic Writings, ed. David Farrell Krell, 341–68 (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), 357. 42. Coleridge, Poetical Works, 1:1246. 43. Morton, Ecology without Nature, 5, 204–205. 44. Anna Laetitia Barbauld and John Aikin, Evenings at Home; or, The Juvenile Budget Opened, rev. ed. (New York: Harper, 1839), 216. Hereafter cited in the text. 45. Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, 201. 46. Richardson, The Neural Sublime, 35–36. Richardson’s argument here relies on V.S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee’s Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind (New York: William Morrow, 1998), 58. 47. Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, 1:390. 48. Wordsworth, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” 20.

NOTES TO CHAPTER 2 1. Coleridge, Letters, 1:629. 2. It was an anonymous critic from The Westminster Review who called Coleridge a “Tory pensioner.” See “Article XVI—Specimens of the Table Talk of S.T. Coleridge,” The Westminster Review 21, no. 44 (1835): 286. 3. Coleridge, Lectures, 2:535. 4. Coleridge, Biographia, 1:242. 5. Coleridge, Shorter Works, 1:353–86. 6. Ibid., 1:596. 7. For Burke’s discussion of the aesthetics of wildness and domesticity, see Sublime, 60–61. 8. Coleridge, Shorter Works, 1:384. 9. Ibid., 1:280. 10. Coleridge, Biographia, 1:153n2. For influential Kantian interpretations of Coleridge’s sublime, see, for example, Thomas Weiskel, Frances Ferguson and Neil Hertz. 11. See Raimonda Modiano, Coleridge and the Concept of Nature (Tallahassee: Florida State UP, 1985); Seamus Perry, Coleridge and the Uses of Division (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999); Christopher Stokes, Coleridge, Language and the Sublime: From Transcendence to Finitude (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). 12. Perry, Coleridge, 159. 13. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Friend, ed. Barbara E. Rooke, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1969), vol. 4 of The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1:367. 14. Coleridge, Letters, 1:625. 15. Modiano, Coleridge, 101. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, vols. 1–3 ed. Kathleen Coburn, vol. 4 ed. Kathleen Coburn and Merton Christensen, vol. 5 ed. Kathleen Coburn and Anthony John Harding (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1990), 3:3290.



16. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Anima Poetae: From the Unpublished Note-Books of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Ernest Hartley Coleridge (London: William Heinemann, 1895), 294. 17. Paul de Man, Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism, ed. Wlad Godzich, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 1983), 198. 18. For de Man’s rejection of this pattern of thought in contemporary criticism, see also The Rhetoric of Romanticism (New York: Columbia UP, 1984), 8. 19. For ecocritical interpretations of “The Ancient Mariner,” see Oerlemans, Romanticism, 85–87; James C. McKusick, Green Writing: Romanticism and Ecology (New York: St. Martin’s P, 2000), 44–50. 20. Kenyon-Jones, Kindred Brutes, 73. 21. Coleridge, Letters, 2:864. 22. Coleridge, “To the Author of the Ancient Mariner,” in Biographia, 1:28, lines 3–4. 23. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Table Talk, ed. Carl Woodring, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1990), vol. 14 of The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1:149. 24. Ibid., 1:272–73. 25. Harold Bloom, The Visionary Company: A Reading of English Romantic Poetry, rev. ed. (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1971), 211. 26. Coleridge, Biographia, 1:306. 27. William Hazlitt, Criticism and Dramatic Essays of the English Stage, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 1851), 149. 28. Coleridge, Biographia, 1:124–25. 29. Jean-Paul Sartre, “Intentionality: A Fundamental Idea of Husserl’s Phenomenology,” trans. Joseph P. Fell, in Edmund Husserl: Critical Assessments of Leading Philosophers, ed. Rudolf Bernet, Donn Welton and Gina Zavota, 257–60 (New York: Routledge, 2005), 257. 30. McKusick, Green Writing, 45. 31. Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. E.B. Ashton (London: Routledge, 1990), 22–23. 32. See George Shelvocke, Voyage round the World by Way of the Great South Sea (London: Senex, 1726), 73. 33. Coleridge, Notebooks, 2:2495. 34. Coleridge, Poetical Works, 1:320. 35. Weiskel, The Romantic Sublime, 24, 23. 36. Vicki Hearne, Adam’s Task: Calling Animals by Name (New York: Akadine, 2000), 233, 108–109. 37. Coleridge, Poetical Works, 1:362–63. 38. Foucault, The Order of Things, 19, 26, 27. 39. Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea, trans. Lloyd Alexander (New York: New Directions, 2007), 10. 40. My idea and turn of phrase here are somewhat influenced by Timothy Morton’s in Ecology without Nature, 157–58. Morton, interestingly, also links the water-snakes’ viscous appearance to Sartre’s interest in the slimy. 41. Bill Brown, “Thing Theory,” Critical Inquiry 28, no. 1 (2001): 1–22. 42. Ibid., 5. 43. See for instance, Timothy Morton, “Here Comes Everything: The Promise of Object-Oriented Ontology,” Quie Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences 19, no. 2 (2011): 163–90; Graham Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things (Chicago: Open Court P, 2005). 44. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception (New York: Routledge, 2002), ix.

192 Notes 45. For an insightful discussion of conceptual thinking in non-human animals, see Cary Wolfe, “Language, Representation, and Species,” in What is Posthumanism? (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2010), 31–47. 46. Coleridge, Biographia, 1:205; Coleridge, Notebooks 3:3935. 47. Coleridge, Notebooks, 2:2045. 48. See, for instance, Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham: Duke UP, 2009). 49. Coleridge’s gloss to lines 71–74. 50. Coleridge, Biographia, 1:304. 51. For a more detailed discussion of the relationship between the sublime and the masochistic, see Suzanne R. Stewart, Sublime Surrender: Male Masochism at the Fin-de-Siècle (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1998). 52. Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia UP, 1982), 9. 53. Coleridge, Shorter Works, 1:215. 54. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, 22. 55. Coleridge, Letters, 1:349–50. 56. Coleridge, Lectures, 2:224. 57. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, 62. 58. Slavoj Žižek, The Abyss of Freedom (Ann Arbor: Michigan UP, 1997), 21. 59. Coleridge, Shorter Works, 2:1312. 60. Ibid., 2:1318. 61. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, On the Constitution of the Church and State, ed. John Colmer (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1976), vol. 10 of The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 183. 62. Coleridge, Shorter Works, 1:551. 63. Coleridge, Letters, 1:626. 64. Alan Richardson, British Romanticism and the Science of the Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001), 9–10, 41.

NOTES TO CHAPTER 3 1. Wordsworth, The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, ed. Ernest de Selincourt, 5 vols. (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1967), 1:264. 2. Walter Scott, “The Wild Huntsmen,” in Ballads and Lyrical Pieces, 148–61 (Edinburgh: James Ballantyne, 1806), line 185, line 184. 3. Wordsworth, “Preface,” 735. 4. For a discussion of Lyrical Ballads in the light of the gothic, see Michael Gamer, “‘Gross and Violent Stimulants’: Producing Lyrical Ballads 1798 and 1800,” in Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre, Reception, and Canon Formation, 90–126 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004). 5. Wordsworth, “The Sublime and the Beautiful,” 355. 6. Wordsworth, “Preface,” 737, 735. 7. Ibid., 735. 8. Wordsworth, Prose Works, 1:36. 9. Joseph Addison, “The Pleasures of the Imagination,” in The Spectator: With Notes and a General Index, 2 vols., 2:137–53 (Philadelphia: Woodward, 1836), 2:149. 10. According to Don H. Bialostosky, for instance, phrases such as “that glorious day” and “this glorious act” suggest that Wordsworth actually sympathises with the hunter. See Bialostosky, Making Tales: The Poetics of Wordsworth’s Narrative Experiments (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1984), 92. 11. Wordsworth, “Preface,” 737.

Notes 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17.

18. 19. 20.

21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30.


Ibid., 739. Coleridge, Shorter Works, 1:59. Wordsworth, “Preface,” 734. For a more thorough discussion of the gendering of the beautiful and sublime, see Freeman, The Feminine Sublime. John Dennis, “John Dennis, from The Advancement and Reformation of Modern Poetry (1701),” in Ashfield and de Bolla, The Sublime, 37. For a sexual interpretation of this fi nal phrase, see also Jacques Derrida, “Economimesis,” in Continental Aesthetics: Romanticism to Postmodernism, an Anthology, ed. Richard Kearney and David M. Rasmussen, 431–50 (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), 447. Sigmund Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, ed. and trans. James Strachey (New York: Perseus Books, 2000), 23–24. Carol J. Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, rev. ed. (New York: Continuum, 2010). For a discussion of carnophallogocentrism, see, for instance, Jacques Derrida, “‘Eating Well,’ or the Calculation of the Subject: An Interview with Jacques Derrida,” trans. Peter Connor and Avital Ronnell, in Who Comes after the Subject?, ed. Eduardo Cadava, Peter Connor and Jean-Luc Nancy, 96–119 (New York: Routledge, 1991). Jacques Derrida, “Force of the Law: The ‘Mystical Foundation of Authority,’” trans. Mary Quaintance, Cardozo Law Review 11 (1990): 953. Wolfe, Animal Rites, 6. Vincent Arthur De Luca, Words of Eternity: Blake and the Poetics of the Sublime (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1991), 162. For a discussion of the religious and political meanings of the sublime of ruins, see Cian Duff y, Shelley and the Revolutionary Sublime (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005), 37–48. Uvedale Price, An Essay on the Picturesque as Compared with the Sublime and the Beautiful (London: Robson, 1794), 47. John Ruskin, Modern Painters Part 5: Of Mountain Beauty (London: Smith, 1856), 3, 10. For an ecocritical discussion of the desert as an anti-anthropocentric space, see Don Scheese, Nature Writing: The Pastoral Impulse in America (New York: Routledge, 2002), 78–80. Judith W. Page, “From the Sublime to the Beautiful: Solitude and Community in the 1799 Prelude and Beyond,” in Wordsworth and the Cultivation of Women, 11–28 (Berkeley: U of California P, 1994). William Wordsworth, “The Two-Part Prelude of 1799,” in The Prelude, 1799, 1805, 1850, ed. Jonathan Wordsworth, M.H. Abrams and Stephen Gill (New York: Norton, 1979). Wordsworth, “The Sublime and the Beautiful,” 349.

NOTES TO CHAPTER 4 1. Coleridge, Lectures, 2:60; Percy Shelley, “Mont Blanc,” line 35; Wordsworth, “Tintern Abbey,” lines 44–46. 2. See Eagleton’s Aesthetic Ideology for a political interpretation of sublime self-loss. For an interpretation of the sublime as an emasculating aesthetic, see Catherine Maxwell, The Female Sublime from Milton to Swinburne: Bearing Blindness (Manchester: Manchester UP, 2001). Thomas Weiskel has linked the sublime to melancholia and neurosis in The Romantic Sublime, 96.



3. Georges Louis Leclerc Buffon, Natural History, General and Particular, trans. William Smellie, 2nd ed., 9 vols. (London: Strahan and Cadell, 1785), 3:249–50. 4. For a wide-ranging discussion of these socio-economic, political and scientific changes in the last two decades of the eighteenth century, see Dror Wahrman, The Making of the Modern Self: Identity and Culture in Eighteenth-Century England (New Haven: Yale UP, 2006). 5. Blake, Milton, book 1, plate 1, line 8. 6. Robert Southey, Essays, Moral and Political, 2 vols. (London: John Murray, 1832), 2:267–68. 7. All references to The Prelude in this chapter are to the 1850 edition and to Book 7 (unless specified otherwise). 8. For discussions of the sublime in Book 7, see, for instance, Hertz, The End of the Line, 52–57; Andrew Smith, Gothic Radicalism: Literature, Philosophy and Psychoanalysis in the Nineteenth Century (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), 103–28; Anne Janowitz, “The Artifactual Sublime: Making London Poetry,” in Romantic Metropolis: The Urban Scene of British Culture, 1780–1840, ed. James K. Chandler and Kevin Gilmartin, 246–60 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005). 9. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Capitalism and Schizophrenia: A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (New York: Continuum, 2004), 262. Hereafter cited in the text as Plateaus. 10. For Haraway’s criticism of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of becoming-animal, see When Species Meet (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2008), 27–30. 11. See Gilles Deleuze, “The Relationship between the Faculties in the Sublime,” in Kant’s Critical Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1984), 50–52. 12. Thomas Weiskel, qtd. in Portia Williams Weiskel, “A Personal Introduction,” in The Romantic Sublime: Studies in the Structure and Psychology of Transcendence, by Thomas Weiskel, xii–xv (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976), xiii. 13. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dana Polan (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1986), 13. 14. Coleridge, “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison,” line 23; Coleridge, Lectures, 2:60. 15. Keats, Selected Letters, 147–48, 37. 16. Deleuze and Guattari, Kafka, 7. 17. See, for instance, Nicholas Roe, John Keats and the Culture of Dissent (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997), 241; Jack Stillinger, Romantic Complexity: Keats, Coleridge, and Wordsworth (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2006), 33. 18. William Hazlitt, Lectures on the English Comic Writers, 3rd ed. (New York: Derby and Jackson, 1857), vol. 4 of The Miscellaneous Works of William Hazlitt, 5 vols. (New York: Derby and Jackson, 1857), 55–56. 19. Coleridge, Notebooks, 3:3290. 20. Coleridge, Lectures, 1:69. 21. Coleridge, Biographia, 2:28. 22. Shaw, The Sublime, 13. 23. James Usher, “James Usher, from Clio; or A Discourse on Taste (1769),” in Ashfield and de Bolla, The Sublime, 152. 24. Thomas Reid, Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man (Edinburgh: John Bell, 1785), 730. 25. Hertz, The End of the Line, 50–51. 26. Brian Massumi, A User’s Guide to “Capitalism and Schizophrenia”: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari (Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 1992), 48.



27. For a more extensive discussion of faciality and especially of the faciality of natural objects in Wordsworth’s poetry, see John Beer, “Wordsworth and the Face of Things,” The Wordsworth Circle 10 (1979): 17–29. 28. Levinas’s hesitation to acknowledge the face of the animal—“I don’t know if a snake has a face. I can’t answer that question. A more specifi c analysis is needed”—is paradigmatic of this strand. It is most forcefully rejected by Derrida. See Jacques Derrida, “But as for Me, Who Am I (Following)?” in The Animal That Therefore I Am, ed. Marie-Louise Mallet, trans. David Willis, 52–118 (New York: Fordham UP, 2008), 107–109. See also Matthew Calarco, “Facing the Other Animal: Levinas,” in Zoographies: The Question of the Animal from Heidegger to Derrida, 55–77 (New York: Columbia UP, 2008). 29. Also see Deleuze and Guattari’s chapter “Year Zero: Faciality,” in Plateaus, 185–211. 30. Jonas A. Barish speaks of “a natural antipathy between romanticism and the theatre.” And he adds: “Romanticism, like Puritanism, leans toward inwardness, solitude, and spontaneity. It shares with Puritanism a belief in an absolute sincerity which speaks directly from the soul, a pure expressiveness that knows nothing of the presence of others.” See Jonas A. Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice (Berkeley: U of California P, 1981), 362. 31. David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986), 300–301. 32. Gilles Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity: An Essay on Hume’s Theory of Human Nature, trans. Constantin V. Boundas (New York: Columbia UP, 1991), 23. 33. Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, 299. 34. Ibid., 299, 300. 35. René Descartes, A Discourse on the Method, trans. Ian Maclean (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006), 47. 36. Buffon, Natural History, 3:280, 3:281, 3:236. 37. Lawrence Kramer, “Gender and Sexuality in The Prelude: The Question of Book Seven,” English Literary History 54, no. 3 (1987): 634. 38. Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World, trans. Hélène Iswolsky (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984), 316, 317. 39. Ibid., 7. 40. Wordsworth, “Essay, Supplementary to the Preface,” in Complete Poetical Works, 751. 41. Wordsworth, “The Sublime and the Beautiful,” 354. 42. Timothy Morton, The Ecological Thought (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2010), 16–17. 43. See, for instance, Gregg Mitman, Reel Nature: America’s Romance with Wildlife on Film (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1999); Cynthia Chris, Watching Wildlife (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2006). 44. Coleridge, Shorter Works, 1:350. 45. Ibid., 1:351. 46. Wordsworth, “The Sublime and the Beautiful,” 2:353–54.

NOTES TO CHAPTER 5 1. For a discussion of this gender transgression, see Linda M.G. Zerilli, “The ‘Furies of Hell’: Woman in Burke’s ‘French Revolution,’” in Signifying Woman: Culture and Chaos in Rousseau, Burke, and Mill, 60–94 (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1994).



2. For a wide-ranging analysis of Burke’s Refl ections in the light of his aesthetic philosophy, see Furniss, Edmund Burke’s Aesthetic Ideology. 3. Edmund Burke, The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, ed. Thomas W. Copeland, 10 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1958–78), 6:10. 4. Edmund Burke, An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs, 3rd ed. (London: Dodsley, 1791), 109. 5. Burke, Letter to a Member of the National Assembly, in Refl ections on the Revolution in France, 251–92, 266. 6. Edmund Burke, First Letter on a Regicide Peace, in The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, ed. Paul Langford, 9 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon P: 1981–2000), 9:259. 7. Burke, Writings, 9:152. 8. Mary Wollstonecraft, An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution, in “Vindication of the Rights of Men” and “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” ed. Janet Todd, 285–371 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009), 370. 9. Richard Price, A Discourse on the Love of Our Country (London: Cadell, 1790), 50. 10. Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution: A History, 2 vols. (London: Chapman and Hall, 1857), 2:14. 11. Burke, Writings, 9:171. 12. Burke is referring to the following argument in Addison’s essays on “The Pleasures of the Imagination”: “We see . . . that every different species of sensible creatures has its different notions of beauty, and that each of them is most affected with the beauties of its own kind” (2:139). The Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid also quoted this passage in his Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man, 744. 13. Burke, Correspondence, 6:86–87. 14. See, for instance, Furniss, Edmund Burke’s Aesthetic Ideology, 166; Ronald Paulson, Representations of Revolution (1789–1820) (New Haven: Yale UP, 1983), 60. 15. Wollstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Men, 56. 16. Ferguson, Solitude and the Sublime, 51, 52. 17. Saree Makdisi, William Blake and the Impossible History of the 1790s (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2003), 177–78. 18. See Mary R. and Rodney M. Baine, “Blake’s Other Tigers, and ‘The Tyger,’” Studies in English Literature 1500–1900 15, no. 4 (1975): 563–78. 19. Vincent Arthur De Luca has argued that the “enormous length” of these transformative species and their terrifying psychological effects clearly hint at Burke’s sublime. See De Luca, Words of Eternity, 73–74. 20. Robert Burns, “To a Mouse,” in The Best Laid Schemes: Selected Poetry and Prose of Robert Burns, ed. Robert Crawford and Christopher MacLachlan, 47–48 (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2009), line 1. William Wordsworth, “The Kitten and the Falling Leaves,” line 2. 21. Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: With Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects, ed. Miriam Brody, 3rd ed. (Harmondsworth: Penguin 2004), 15. 22. Robert F. Gleckner, The Piper and the Bard: A Study of William Blake (Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1959), 223. 23. Onno Oerlemans discusses the same idea, calling it a process of “symbolic osmosis.” See Oerlemans, Romanticism, 102. 24. For a discussion of Linnaeus’ Homo ferus, see Adriana Benzaquén, “The List, the Class, the Story-Form,” in Encounters with Wild Children: Temptation



and Disappointment in the Study of Human Nature, 42–72 (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s UP, 2006). 25. Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat, 73. 26. Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, trans. Daniel W. Smith (New York: Continuum, 2005), 16. 27. Wordsworth, “My Heart Leaps Up,” line 7.

NOTES TO CHAPTER 6 1. Freeman, The Feminine Sublime, 84–85. 2. Lyotard, Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime, 54, 55. 3. Several critics have already pointed to the role of the beautiful and the sublime in Shelley’s text. See, for instance, Barbara Freeman, “Frankenstein with Kant: A Theory of Monstrosity or the Monstrosity of Theory,” in Frankenstein: Mary Shelley, ed. Fred Botting, 191–205 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1995); Anne K. Mellor, “Frankenstein and the Sublime,” in Approaches to Teaching Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” ed. Stephen C. Berhendt, 99–104 (New York: Modern Language Association, 1990); Nancy Fredericks, “On the Sublime and Beautiful in Shelley’s Frankenstein,” Essays in Literature 23, no. 2 (1996): 178–89. 4. Paine, Rights of Man, 134. 5. Mary Shelley, The Last Man, 3 vols. (Paris: Galignani, 1826), 3:18. Shelley here uses the same lightning image to characterise the psychological breakdown of Lionel Verney, the last man, who says: “I am a tree rent by lightning; never will the bark close over the bared fibres—never will their quivering life, torn by the winds, receive the opiate of a moment’s balm. I am alone in the world” (3:205). 6. Coleridge, Shorter Works, 2:1312. 7. Coleridge, Lectures, 2:257. 8. Buffon, Natural History, 3:206. 9. David Hartley, Observations on Man, His Frame, His Duty, and His Expectations, 5th ed., 2 vols. (Bath: Richard Cruttwell, 1810), 1:461. 10. Erasmus Darwin, The Botanic Garden, a Poem, in Two Parts; Containing “The Economy of Vegetation” and “The Loves of the Plants,” with Philosophical Notes (London: Jones, 1825), part 1, canto 4, line 62; part 2, canto 1, lines 9–10. 11. Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 29. 12. Mary Shelley, “Appendix B,” in Frankenstein, 206. 13. Masahiro Mori, “Bukimi no tani” [The Uncanny Valley], trans. K.F. MacDorman and T. Minato, Energy 7, no. 4 (1970): 33–35. 14. See Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny,” in Sigmund Freud: Art and Literature, trans. James Strachey, 339–76 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985), vol. 14 of The Pelican Freud Library, ed. Albert Dickson, 15 vols. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973–85). 15. Seo-Young Chu, Do Metaphors Dream of Literal Sleep? A Science-Fictional Theory of Representation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2010), 216–17. 16. For a discussion of the cute response, see James A. Serpell, “Anthropomorphism and Anthropomorphic Selection—Beyond the ‘Cute Response,’” Society & Animals 11, no. 1 (2003): 83–100. 17. Smellie, The Philosophy of Natural History, 1:523. 18. Judith Barbour has linked the Monster to contemporary zoological accounts of the orang-utan in her essay “The Professor and the Orang-Outang: Mary



20. 21. 22.

23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34.



Notes Shelley as a Child Reader,” in Frankenstein’s Science: Experimentation and Discovery in Romantic Culture, 1780–1830, ed. Christa Knellwolf and Jane Goodall, 33–48 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008). Andrew Smith argues that the Monster is a sublime object “created through a parody of Burkean sublime inquiry.” See Smith, Gothic Radicalism, 36. Denise Gigante, alternatively, maintains that the Monster is merely ugly because “the principal factor of sublime experience—being elevated from terror to a comprehension of greatness—is absent from Victor’s experience.” See Gigante, “Facing the Ugly: The Case of Frankenstein,” English Literary History 67, no. 2 (2000): 575. Jacques Derrida, “Passages—From Traumatism to Promise,” in Points . . .: Interviews, 1974–1994, ed. Elisabeth Weber, trans. Peggy Kamuf et al., 372–98 (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1995), 386. See, for instance, Tilar J. Mazzeo, Plagiarism and Literary Property in the Romantic Period (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2007). Wordsworth, “Essay, Supplementary to the Preface,” 751. The analogy has a long critical history, with roots stretching back into Aristotle’s Poetics. For a discussion of literary genre as biological species, see David Fishelov, Metaphors of Genre: The Role of Analogies in Genre Theory (University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1993). Thomas Love Peacock, Peacock’s “Four Ages of Poetry,” ed. H.F.B. BrettSmith (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1967), 15. Mikhail Bakhtin, “Epic and Novel: Towards a Methodology for the Study of the Novel,” in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, ed. Michael Holquist, 3–40 (Austin: U of Texas P, 1981), 4. For an elaborate overview and history of the concept of physiognomy, see Robert E. Norton, The Beautiful Soul: Aesthetic Morality in the Eighteenth Century (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1995). Schiller, “On the Sublime,” 205, 207–208. Coleridge, Shorter Works, 1:372. The term generative conception is John S. Wilkins’s. See his study Species: A History of the Idea (Berkeley: U of California P, 2009). Schiller, “On the Sublime,” 204. Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 16. Deleuze and Guattari, Kafka, 22. Lyotard, Lessons on the Analytic of the Sublime, 54. Buffon, Natural History, 3:263. For a discussion of the rhizomatic characteristics of Darwin’s tree, see Michael Mikulak, “The Rhizomatics of Domination: From Darwin to Biotechnology,” Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge 15 (2007), accessed on 16 November 2009, Linking Derrida’s deconstructive philosophy to Darwin’s theory of evolution, Colin Milburn similarly concludes that Darwin’s tree of life is in fact a “structure without structure, of endless connections, intertwinings and ecological profusions, where plants and animals, trees and humans, ‘depend on each other in a complex manner.’” See Colin Nazhone Milburn, “Monsters in Eden: Darwin and Derrida,” Modern Language Notes 118, no. 3 (2003): 617. Charles Darwin, qtd. in Howard E. Gruber, “Darwin’s ‘Tree of Nature’ and Other Images of Wide Scope,” in Creativity, Psychology and the History of Science, ed. Howard E. Gruber and Katja Bödeker, 241–58 (New York: Springer, 2005), 248. It would be a mistake, however, to interpret this—as Foucault does—in terms of a general evolution. In fact, William Lawrence, a prominent English surgeon whose influence on Frankenstein has been widely documented,


37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42.


quoted Abernethy’s phrase to reject his line of thought. He construed the latter’s preference for analogical reasoning over empirical observation as a disguised attempt to rationalise his scientific prejudices. See William Lawrence, Lectures on Physiology, Zoology and the Natural History of Man (London: Callow, 1819), 14. John Abernethy, Physiological Lectures, Exhibiting a General View of Mr. Hunter’s Physiology and of His Researches in Comparative Anatomy (London: Longman, 1817), 203, 204. Foucault, The Order of Things, 288. Buffon, Natural History, 3:216. For a discussion of this development from morphology to physiology, see Peter J. Bowler and Iwan R. Morus, Making Modern Science: A Historical Survey (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2005), 166–67. Buffon, Natural History, 3:206–207. Foucault, The Order of Things, 259.

NOTES TO CHAPTER 7 1. James Beattie, Elements of Moral Science, 2 vols. (London: Cadell, 1790), 1:13; Hazlitt, Lectures on the English Comic Writers, 1; Anna Laetitia Barbauld and John Aikin, Evenings at Home; or, The Juvenile Budget Opened, 185. 2. Anonymous, Notes to Assist the Memory in Various Sciences (London: John Murray, 1825), 217; Alexander Ramsey, “Observations on Peculiar Diseases Incident to the Sexes of the Human Species,” The Medical and Physical Journal 31 (1814): 212; Anonymous, “To the Editor,” in The Babbler: or, Weekly Literary and Scientific Intelligencer, 2 vols., 1:200–203 (Leeds: Barr, 1822), 200. 3. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, trans. T.M. Knox, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1988), 1:80. 4. Blaise Pascal, Pensées, in “Pensées” and Other Writings, trans. Honor Levi, 1–181 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999), 72–73. 5. Gen. 1:3 (King James Version). The relationship between science and the sublime has provoked some critical interest. See, for instance, William Powell Jones, The Rhetoric of Science: A Study of Scientific Ideas and Imagery in Eighteenth-Century English Poetry (Berkeley: U of California P, 1966); Nicolson, Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory; Eric Wilson, Emerson’s Sublime Science (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999). 6. Hugh Blair, “Hugh Blair, from A Critical Dissertation on the Poems of Ossian (1763),” in Ashfield and de Bolla, The Sublime, 223; Henry Home, “Henry Home, Lord Kames, from Elements of Criticism (1765),” in Ashfield and de Bolla, The Sublime, 232; Reid, Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man, 730; Paul de Man, “Hegel on the Sublime,” in Aesthetic Ideology, ed. Andrzej Warminski, 105–18 (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2002), 112–13. 7. Alexander Pope, “Epitaph Intended for Sir Isaac Newton in WestminsterAbbey,” in Selected Poetry, 67 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998), lines 1–2. 8. Humphry Davy, Consolations in Travel; or The Last Days of a Philosopher (London: John Murray, 1838), 132. 9. Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and of Fabulous Theology, in Collected Writings, ed. Eric Foner, 664–830 (New York: Library of America, 1995), 828. 10. De Man, “Hegel on the Sublime,” 112. 11. Immanuel Kant, Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens, or An Essay on the Constitution and the Mechanical Origin of the Entire Structure

200 Notes

12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25.

26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31.

32. 33. 34.

of the Universe Based on Newtonian Principles, trans. Ian Johnston (Arlington, VA: Richer Resources Publications, 2009), 133. For a discussion of the importance of extraterrestrials in European thought, see Michael J. Crowe, The Extraterrestrial Life Debate, 1750–1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986). George Gordon Byron, The Works of Lord Byron: With His Letters and Journals and His Life, ed. Thomas Moore, 17 vols. (London: John Murray, 1837), 2:216. Addison, “Friday, July 9, 1714,” in The Spectator, 2:349, 2:350. Thomas De Quincey, “System of the Heavens as Revealed by Lord Rosse’s Telescopes,” in De Quincey’s Works, 3:167–98 (Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1863), 179, 176. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, trans. and ed. Mary Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003), 133–34. John Playfair, Biographical Account of Dr James Hutton, in The Works of John Playfair, 4:33–118 (Edinburgh: Archibald Constable, 1822), 81. Drummond, Letters to a Young Naturalist, 85. Robert Bakewell, Introduction to Geology, ed. B. Silliman (New Haven: Noyes, 1839), 436–37. Erasmus Darwin, The Temple of Nature; or, The Origin of Society: A Poem, with Philosophical Notes (Teddington: Echo Library, 2007), 1:347–50. References are to canto and line. Hereafter cited in the text. Paine, The Age of Reason, 706. See also W.J.T. Mitchell, “Romanticism and the Life of Things,” in What Do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images, 169–87 (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2005). Bennett, Vibrant Matter, viii. Wordsworth, “A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal,” 7–8. Nicolson, Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory, 163. Bonnie Bassler, “Bonnie Bassler on How Bacteria ‘Talk,’” fi lmed February 2009, TED video, 18:11, posted April 2009, accessed on 8 January 2010, communicate.html. Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself,” in Leaves of Grass, 28–96 (London: Penguin, 2005), line 1316. Humphry Davy, “Introductory Lecture to the Chemistry of Nature,” in The Collected Works of Sir Humphry Davy, 8:179. Paine, The Age of Reason, 828. John Herschel, A Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1987), 14–15. James Noggle, The Skeptical Sublime: Aesthetic Ideology in Pope and the Tory Satirists (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001), 11. Anne K. Mellor has similarly distinguished the Romantic ironist from the postmodern deconstructivist, whose sceptical insight is merely alienating and debilitating. See Mellor, English Romantic Irony (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1980), 5. Immanuel Kant, Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, trans. John T. Goldthwait (Berkeley: U of California P, 2004), 70. De Man, “Kant’s Materialism,” in Aesthetic Ideology, 127. See, for instance, Christine Kenyon-Jones, “‘When this world shall be former’: Catastrophism as Imaginative Theory for the Younger Romantics,” Romanticism on the Net 24 (2001), accessed on 26 September 2010, http://



35. Richard Payne Knight, An Analytical Inquiry into the Principles of Taste, 2nd ed. (London: Payne and White, 1805), 416. 36. Paine, The Age of Reason, 751. 37. Gilles Deleuze, “Coldness and Cruelty,” in Masochism, trans. Jean McNeil, 9–138 (New York: Zone Books, 1989), 88. 38. Ibid., 89. 39. Claire Colebrook, Irony (New York: Routledge, 2004), 105. 40. Mellor, English Romantic Irony, 188. For a rejection of Mellor’s positive interpretation, see McGann, Romantic Ideology, 21–30. 41. Byron, Heaven and Earth, in The Works of Lord Byron, 13:1–53, act 1, scene 3, lines 173–82. 42. Isa. 11:6.

NOTES TO CHAPTER 8 1. William Powell Jones has similarly argued that the poetic interest in the scientific sublime petered out towards the end of the eighteenth century, but he points to science’s increasing didacticism and technicality as the main causes of this dwindling interest. See Jones, The Rhetoric of Science, 200. 2. For Kant’s criticism of Burke’s Enquiry, see Critique of Judgment, 38, 158–59. 3. Erasmus Darwin, Zoonomia, or The Laws of Organic Life (Teddington: Echo Library, 2007), 100. Darwin quoted the fragment again in a footnote to The Temple of Nature (3:176n17). 4. Erasmus Darwin, “Additional Notes XIII: Analysis of Taste,” in The Temple of Nature, 160. 5. Addison, “The Pleasures of the Imagination,” 2:141. 6. Richard Payne Knight, The Landscape: A Didactic Poem (London: 1795), 260. 7. Lawrence, Lectures on Physiology, 106. 8. John Aikin, An Essay on the Application of Natural History to Poetry (Warrington: Johnson, 1777), 10. 9. Barbauld, Works, 2:15. 10. Wordsworth, “Preface,” 738. 11. M.H. Abrams, “Science and Poetry in Romantic Criticism,” in The Mirror and the Lamp, 298–335 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1971). 12. Humphry Davy, “Mr. Davy’s Lectures on Geology,” The Philosophical Magazine 37 (1811): 468. 13. For discussions of the relationship between beauty and theology, see Patrick Sherry, Spirit and Beauty: An Introduction to Theological Aesthetics (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1992); Richard Viladesau, Theological Aesthetics: God in Imagination, Beauty, and Art (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999). 14. Henry Needler, “On the Beauty of the Universe,” in The Works of Mr. Henry Needler, Consisting of Original Poems, Translations, Essays, and Letters, 3rd ed., 63–76 (London: Watts, 1735), 63. 15. Paine, The Age of Reason, 691. 16. Lawrence, Lectures on Physiology, 10. 17. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Aids to Refl ection, ed. John Beer (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993), vol. 9 of The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 254. For Coleridge’s criticism of the circular logic of natural theology, see Table Talk, 1:462–63. 18. Coleridge, Shorter Works, 1:384.



19. For an analysis of Kant’s ideas on natural theology, see Peter Byrne, Kant on God (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007). 20. John Ray, The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation (London: Smith and Walford, 1750), 386. 21. Barbauld, “Thoughts on the Devotional Taste, and on Sects and Establishments,” in Works, 2:239. For a discussion of Barbauld’s ambiguous relationship to natural theology, see Colin Jager, “Theory, Practice, and Anna Barbauld,” in The Book of God: Secularization and Design in the Romantic Era, 73–101 (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2007). 22. Barbauld, “Thoughts,” in Works, 2:237, 2:239. 23. Barbauld and Aikin, “The Travelled Ant,” in Evenings at Home, 50–56. Hereafter cited in the text. 24. Recently, a number of studies have been published on the relationship between science and its aesthetic representation. Ernst Peter Fischer claims that the aesthetic does not simply mediate, but also informs scientific argument. He goes so far as to claim that Copernicus’ “primary motivation was aesthetic” and that “aesthetic reasons more than any others led Einstein to the theory of relativity.” See Fischer, Beauty and the Beast: The Aesthetic Moment in Science, trans. Elizabeth Oehlkers (New York: Plenum, 1999), 1, 11. Such a reductionist view is criticised in James W. McAllister, Beauty and Revolution in Science (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1996), 65–66. McAllister argues that the link between science and beauty only emerges after a scientific theory has gained wide recognition. Beauty is thus an effect of scientific validity rather than a cause. The aesthetic appeal of a successful theory, he claims, is heightened by habituation (the more familiar it becomes, the more positive its aesthetic valorisation) as well as by its social prestige and in particular the prestige of the scientists applying the theory. 25. The original quote can be found in Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Studies of Nature, by James-Henry-Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, trans. Henry Hunter, 5 vols. (London: Dilly, 1796), 2:174. 26. Buffon, Natural History, 4:318, qtd. in Drummond, Letters to a Young Naturalist, 16. 27. Drummond, Letters to a Young Naturalist, 11. 28. Percy Shelley, “Notes to Queen Mab,” in Works, 84. 29. Wollstonecraft, Rights of Woman, 105. 30. Lawrence, Lectures on Physiology, 458–60. 31. Percy Shelley, “Notes to Queen Mab,” 85. 32. Lawrence, Lectures on Physiology, 459. 33. Drummond, Letters to a Young Naturalist, 12. 34. Aristotle, Poetics (New York: Cosimo Classics, 2008), 6.

NOTES TO CHAPTER 9 1. Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, 360. 2. Erasmus Darwin, The Temple of Nature, 2:3n2. 3. Carl Linnaeus, Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Natural History, Husbandry, and Physick, trans. Benjamin Stillingfleet, 2nd ed. (London: Dodsley, 1762), 121. 4. See, for instance, his chapter “Of the Checks to Population among the American Indians,” in Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population; or, A View of Its Past and Present Effects on Human Happiness, 6th ed., 2 vols., 1:35–65 (London: John Murray, 1826).



5. Percy Shelley, Proposals for an Association of Philanthropists, in The Prose Works, ed. Richard Herne Shepherd, 1:263–83 (Boston: Adamant Media Corporation, 2006), 1:281. 6. Martin Priestman, “The Progress of Society? Darwin’s Early Drafts for The Temple of Nature,” in The Genius of Erasmus Darwin, ed. C.U.M. Smith and Robert Arnott, 307–19 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), 319. 7. For an insightful discussion of the progressive gender politics of Darwin’s “The Loves of the Plants,” see Janet Browne, “Botany for Gentlemen: Erasmus Darwin and ‘The Loves of the Plants,’” Isis 80, no. 4 (1989): 593–621. 8. Erasmus Darwin, The Collected Letters of Erasmus Darwin, ed. Desmond King-Hele (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007), 195. 9. For a discussion of these political and philosophical changes and their impact on the reception of Darwin’s writings, see Norton Garfi nkle, “Science and Religion in England, 1790–1800: The Critical Response to the Work of Erasmus Darwin,” Journal of the History of Ideas 16, no. 3 (1955): 376–88; Julia List, “Erasmus Darwin’s Beautification of the Sublime: Materialism, Religion and the Reception of The Economy of Vegetation in the Early 1790s,” Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 32, no. 3 (2009): 389–405. 10. Anonymous, “Dr. Darwin’s Temple of Nature,” The British Critic 23 (1804): 174. 11. Charles Darwin, Charles Darwin’s “The Life of Erasmus Darwin,” ed. Desmond King-Hele (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003), 34. 12. Coleridge, Biographia, 2:30. 13. For a discussion of the relationship between Charles Darwin and natural theology, see John Hedley Brooke, “Darwin and Victorian Christianity,” in The Cambridge Companion to Charles Darwin, ed. Jonathan Hodge and Gregory Radick, 192–213 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003); Dov Ospovat, The Development of Darwin’s Theory: Natural History, Natural Theology, and Natural Selection, 1838–1859 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1981). 14. It is in his philosophical poem De Rerum Natura that Lucretius writes: It is pleasant enough to see other people in trouble; The shore is an excellent place for watching a shipwreck: Not that one enjoys the cries of the drowning, But it is reassuring not to be drowning oneself. (2:1–4) See Lucretius, De Rerum Natura: The Poem on Nature, trans. C.H. Sisson (New York: Routledge, 2003). 15. Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, 50. 16. For a more extensive discussion of Erasmus Darwin’s theory of the mind, see Richardson, British Romanticism and the Science of the Mind, 12–19. 17. Erasmus Darwin, Zoonomia, 15–16. 18. Heidegger, “What Calls for Thinking?,” 357. 19. Coleridge, Shorter Works, 2:1410. 20. Coleridge, Biographia, 1:151. Heidegger, “What Calls for Thinking?,” 357. 21. Heidegger’s discussion of the hand and his rejection of animal consciousness prompted a well-known critical response from Derrida. See Derrida, “Geschlecht II: Heidegger’s Hand,” trans. John P. Leavey, in Deconstruction and Philosophy: The Texts of Jacques Derrida, ed. John Sallis, 161–96 (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1987). 22. Weiskel, The Romantic Sublime, 3. 23. Anonymous, “Darwin’s Temple of Nature,” The Critical Review: or, Annals of Literature 39 (1803): 168. 24. Ibid., 167.



25. My interpretation of Malthus’s fear of overpopulation in terms of the mathematical sublime is not entirely original. Clara Tuite has linked the Malthusian sublime to Kant’s mathematical sublime in her article “Frankenstein’s Monster and Malthus’ ‘Jaundiced Eye’: Population, Body Politics, and the Monstrous Sublime,” Eighteenth-Century Life 22, no. 1 (1998): 148. In her discussion of the discourse of the sublime in Thomas Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population, Frances Ferguson draws an interesting parallel with Book 7 of Wordsworth’s The Prelude, which similarly dramatises how the excess of population threatens to swallow up the subject’s individuality and humanity. See Ferguson, Solitude and the Sublime, 114. 26. Erasmus Darwin, Zoonomia, 334. 27. John Onians, “Neuroscience and the Sublime in Art and Science,” in Beyond the Finite: The Sublime in Art and Science, ed. Roald Hoff mann and Iain Boyd Whyte, 91–105 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011).


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A Abernethy, John 132, 156, 199n36 Abrams, M.H. 157 Adams, Carol J. 71, 115–16 Addison, Joseph 66, 105, 140, 142, 148, 155, 158, 196n12 Adorno, Theodor W. 4, 12, 47, 54, 56–57 aesthetic, the autonomy of 4–7, 42, 46, 158–60 and biology 2, 27, 28–29, 44–45, 79, 105–6, 112, 119–20, 121, 124–25, 158–59, 166–67, 169–72, 180, 183 and common aesthetic sense 7, 11, 106, 162, 165 ideology of 2–7, 10, 79, 105–6, 112, 119, 122, 123 and morality 4, 5–6, 10, 24, 33, 42, 45, 46, 57–58, 62, 119–20, 125–26, 128, 174–75 and science 3, 6, 123, 132–33, 138, 145–46, 154–57, 163, 171, 183, 202n24 and subjectivism 5, 7, 8, 10, 23, 24, 26–27, 39, 63, 99, 145–46, 165 Aikin, John Essay on the Application of Natural History to Poetry 156 Evenings at Home 37–38, 137, 161, 169 alienation 13, 14, 20–23, 27, 29–30, 31, 37–38, 44, 52, 59–60, 77, 123, 137, 148, 169 anatomical science 84, 126, 131–33, 142, 163–64 ancien régime 2, 64, 102, 105–6, 107, 180

animality and aesthetic taste 4, 105–6, 126, 155–56, 165, 183 and creativity 84, 95–96, 123 and faciality 1, 92, 93, 121, 195n28 and nudity 36, 107–8, 111, 115 and personal identity 83–84, 101 and rationality 84, 95, 116, 131, 152, 176–77 and sexuality 72, 87, 98, 106–9, 115–16, 137, 143, 155, 180, 183 and violence 63, 71–72, 83, 87, 98, 101, 103–4, 106–8, 111 animal philosophy. See animal studies animal rights 1, 12, 20–21, 29, 37, 45, 115–16, 175 animal studies 1, 13–14 anthropocentrism 13, 14, 27, 40, 51, 54, 123, 129, 145, 154, 193n27 anthropology 39, 167 anthropomorphism 25, 30, 34, 37, 38, 47, 48–49, 52, 74, 76, 98 apes 2, 95–96, 123, 177. See also chimpanzees; orang-utans apocalypse 19, 21–22, 30, 39, 44, 61, 62, 148, 150, 188n5 Aristotle 137, 168, 198n22 Artaud, Antonin 94 Ashfield, Andrew 6 atheism 163, 164, 172, 173, 181 Attenborough, David 97, 98

B Bacon, Francis (painter) 92 Bacon, Francis (scientist) 35, 41 Bakewell, Robert 143, 152 Bakhtin, Mikhail 96, 125

218 Index Barbauld, Anna 45, 165–66 Evenings at Home 37–38, 137, 161, 169 “Thoughts on the Devotional Taste, and on Sects and Establishments” 160–61 Bassler, Bonnie 145 Bate, Jonathan 12, 30 bats 34, 165 Beattie, James 137 beauty as a cause of the sublime 69–70, 108–109, 116, 172, 178–79, 182–83 as dehumanising 107–9, 111–12, 121–22, 166–67 evolutionary significance of 121, 165, 179–80 and the family 76–77, 119–20, 127–28, 129 moral meaning of 5, 6, 24, 42, 54, 57–58, 70, 119–20, 121, 125, 127, 154, 162, 174 relationship to the sublime. See sublime, relationship to beauty relationship to ugliness 11–12, 24, 56–57, 122, 123–24, 164, 165, 168 and science 6, 146, 154, 156, 157, 162, 202n24 sexual politics of 69–70, 77, 78, 109, 111–12, 116, 127–28, 160–1, 166–67, 172, 178–79 in theology 6, 157, 158–61, 163–64, 168, 169 Beer, John 195n27 Benjamin, Walter 4, 32 Bennett, Jane 145 Betjeman, John 19 Bible 2, 21, 22, 138–39, 147–48, 152, 153, 172, 178 birds 6, 7, 22, 24, 31, 41, 161, 162–63, 165–66 as metaphors 29–30, 46–47, 48, 93, 96 See also Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the albatross; nightingales; parrots Blair, Hugh 138 Blake, William 15, 110–11, 117, 180 compared to Deleuze and Guattari 110, 114, 116 “The Fly” 1, 22–23, 27, 31, 32, 35, 38, 40

“The Little Girl Found” 112, 113, 116, 117 “The Little Girl Lost” 111, 112–13, 115 Lyca Poems. See Blake, “The Little Girl Found,” “The Little Girl Lost” “Night” 112, 113–14, 117 Songs of Innocence and of Experience 110, 111, 112, 117 on the sublime 74, 110–11, 112, 113, 117, 196n19 “The Tyger” 24, 84, 103, 112, 117 Bloom, Harold 5, 12, 45 Bourdieu, Pierre 3 Brown, Bill 50–51 Buell, Lawrence 188n5 Buffon, Georges Louis Leclerc 83–84, 95, 121, 129, 131, 132, 133, 165, 166 Bürger, Gottfried August 62, 67 Burke, Edmund 102, 103 compared to Deleuze and Guattari 104, 107, 108, 116 A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful 10, 32, 49, 90, 101, 108, 119, 123, 124, 144, 146, 154–55 on Addison 105, 196n12 on aesthetic taste as a uniquely human faculty 4, 72, 105, 155, 165 on beauty and domestication 56, 122 on beauty and the family 76–77, 127, 129 on beauty as a spontaneous quality 4, 11, 53, 56, 70, 163 on cognitive blockage as an effect of the sublime 32, 43, 63, 83, 131 on cuteness 112 on dehumanising effects of the sublime 63, 83, 109, 131, 143 on female beauty 72, 109, 111–12, 178, 179 on love as an effect of beauty 57–58, 69–70, 72 on lust 69–70, 72 race and racism in 3–4, 13, 22 sadism in 66, 70, 174, 175 on self-preservation as a cause of the sublime 28–29, 38–39, 170

Index on ugliness 11, 123, 165 on variation in taste 106, 162, 165 on wild animals as a cause of the sublime 22–23, 24, 42, 49, 84, 102–3, 112, 117, 144 Refl ections on the Revolution in France 6–7, 11, 14–15, 103, 109–10, 111, 116, 126, 127 defence of chivalry in 64, 180 on humanity’s animal nature 2, 104, 105–6, 115, 180–81 on revolution as dehumanising 2, 101, 104–6, 107, 108, 115 Burnett, James 2, 3 Burns, Robert 112 Byron, Lord George Gordon 1, 90, 146, 152 compared to Deleuze and Guattari 153 “Darkness” 19, 119, 150, 151 Don Juan 150–53, 170–71 Heaven and Earth 153 on science 139–40 on the sublime 90, 147, 150, 151, 174

C Carlyle, Thomas 104 carnivalesque 96–97 carnivorism 71, 113, 115–16 Cavell, Stanley 49 chimpanzees 37, 51, 123 chivalry 64, 68–69, 180 Chu, Seo-Young 122–23 Clare, John 29 Colebrook, Claire 152 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor 6, 7, 23, 26, 33, 34, 42, 44, 49, 51, 58–59, 68, 89, 158 anthropocentric views of 41, 51, 58, 177 on anthropomorphism 30, 37, 44–45, 48–49, 52 on apes 2, 177 on beauty 6, 42, 53, 56, 58, 70, 99, 120, 127 compared to Kant 25, 26, 43 “Dejection: An Ode” 6, 57–58 on Erasmus Darwin 172–73 “Frost at Midnight” 58–59 on human-animal relations 2, 51–52 on the imagination 45–46, 52–53, 58, 89


“Limbo: A Fragment” 57 “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” 55 “The Nightingale: A Conversation Poem” 30, 48 “One Life” philosophy 41, 44, 55, 58, 59, 70–71 “The Raven” 48–49 “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” 14, 59–60, 61, 70, 77, 92, 100, 123–24, 129, 151, 158, 159 the albatross in 44–45, 47–48, 52, 55, 65 criticism of idealism in 46, 47, 50 in ecocriticism 14, 44 masochism in 53–54, 65, 70 role of aesthetic perception in 45–46, 52–53, 57–58 the water-snakes in 44, 45, 50–51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 76, 85–86, 158, 159, 161 “A Soliloquy of the Full Moon” 48 on the sublime 25–26, 42, 43, 83, 88, 89, 99, 117 “To a Young Ass” 1, 41 cosmology 139–40, 148, 149 Cronon, William 189n14 Crowther, Paul 24 cuteness 4, 112, 123, 174–75, 183 Cuvier, Georges 3, 151, 152, 166 cyborgs 84

D Darwin, Charles 11, 15, 121, 131, 172, 198n34 The Descent of Man 30, 173 On the Origin of Species 2–3, 169, 170, 175 Darwin, Erasmus 2, 3, 158, 165 The Botanic Garden 121, 172 The Temple of Nature beauty in 155, 171–72, 173, 174, 178–82 on the biological and aesthetic purpose of death 169, 173–74, 175, 178, 181, 182 compared to Burke 171–72, 175 materialism in 172, 176, 177, 178, 181, 183 the picturesque in 174, 175 the role of sexuality in 172, 178, 179, 180, 182, 183 the sublime in 11, 144, 173, 174, 175, 177–83



Zoonomia, or The Laws of Organic Life 155, 157, 176 Davy, Humphry 6, 139, 145–46, 154, 157 Dawkins, Richard 31 de Bolla, Peter 6, 10 De Luca, Vincent Arthur 74, 196n19 de Man, Paul 4, 5, 43–44, 138, 139, 149 De Quincey, Thomas 141, 142 dehumanisation 4, 63, 83–84, 91, 92, 95, 96, 98, 106, 108–9, 110, 115, 121–22, 131, 151, 152 industrialisation as a cause of 2, 84–85, 93 Deleuze, Gilles 87, 94, 130 “Coldness and Cruelty” 151–52 Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation 92, 116 Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix 14, 94, 110 on arborescence 87, 104, 110, 116, 118, 119–20, 127, 128, 130, 131 on becoming-animal 86, 94, 109, 111, 114, 116, 130, 153 compared to the sublime 88–90, 110 as contagious 87, 89–90, 108, 126 and the pack 91, 104 and sexuality 107–8, 109, 115–16 and writing 89, 108 on becoming-molecular 87, 90, 91, 92 on becoming-nomad 86, 130 on the Body without Organs 87, 92, 94, 96 on the rhizome 87, 104, 110, 118, 120, 129, 130, 131, 198n34 DeLillo, Don 22, 23, 26, 29, 31 Dennis, John 8, 28, 69, 186–87n28 Derrida, Jacques 4, 71, 124, 193n17, 195n28, 198n34, 203n21 “The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)” 14, 36, 37, 39, 115, 187–88n41 Descartes, René 95 disgust 1, 7, 41, 50, 52, 53, 66, 85, 121, 124, 174, 177 domestication of animals 42, 47, 122, 166, 167 of nature 10, 12, 19, 24, 25, 27–28, 30, 70, 77, 100 Drummond, James Lawson 24, 142–43, 165–66, 168

Duchamp, Marcel 158

E Eagleton, Terry 3, 4, 5, 10, 29, 30, 31–32, 143, 193n2 ecocriticism 1, 2, 5, 10, 12–14, 15, 21, 23, 33, 37, 44, 51, 52, 97–98, 187n37 eco-disaster 19, 20, 21 ecofeminism 11, 69, 71, 72, 76 eco-horror 19–21, 30, 39 ecological sublime 22, 23, 27–28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 34–35, 38–40, 51, 55, 76 empathy 20, 27, 31–32, 33–34, 39, 40, 122 compared to sadism 66–67, 174–75 environmentalism 12, 20, 21, 27, 42, 60 eugenic selection 167 Evernden, Neil 13, 51 evolutionary aesthetics 38–39, 54, 69, 155, 165, 166, 169–70, 171, 173 evolutionary theory 2, 14, 30–31, 54, 70, 121, 131, 166, 171, 174, 180 extraterrestrial life 139, 140

F Faulkner, William 25 Ferguson, Frances 10, 109, 204n25 fossils 147, 149, 150, 153 Foucault, Michel 3, 49, 132, 133, 199n36 Freeman, Barbara Claire 10, 118, 193n15 Freud, Sigmund 70, 122

G Geoff roy Saint-Hilaire, Etienne 2 geology 142, 143, 149–52, 157, 174 global warming 19, 20, 25, 30–31, 39, 50 Godwin, William 2 gothic 26, 63, 67, 68, 72, 73, 75, 88, 181 grotesque 96 Guggenheim, Davis 19

H Haraway, Donna 87, 187n41 Harman, Graham 51 Hartley, David 58–59, 121 Hazlitt, William 45–46, 89, 137 Hearne, Vicki 49

Index Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich 32, 137, 138, 141 Heidegger, Martin 37, 176–77, 203n21 Heringman, Noah 15 Herschel, John 146 Hertz, Neil 10, 90 Hitt, Christopher 10, 27–28, 30, 32, 33, 34, 35, 51 Holmes, Richard 15 Home, Henry 138 Hottentots 3, 167 humanism 14, 41, 84, 87, 110, 146, 153, 183 Hume, David 94 hunting 1, 20, 54, 61, 62, 64, 65, 67, 68–69, 70, 71, 76, 78, 130–31 Hutton, James 142 hybridity 14–15, 89, 91, 110, 117, 118, 120, 122, 130, 165

I idealism 9, 10, 12, 41, 43, 44, 46, 47, 50, 145, 177, 178 Inconvenient Truth, An 19, 30, 39 Industrial Revolution 20–21, 84 intelligent design 3, 6, 56, 157, 159, 160, 161–62, 166, 168 irony 149, 151, 152

J Jones, William Powell 201n1

K Kant, Immanuel 5, 13, 23, 24, 27, 131, 158, 159, 170 Critique of Judgment 65, 69, 123, 178 on the agreeable 155–56 on beauty 11, 53, 56, 154–55, 156, 158–59, 168 on the dynamical sublime 91, 148 on the mathematical sublime 91–92, 93, 98, 147–48, 182 on science 138, 139, 141, 154–56 subjectivism in 7, 8, 11, 58, 99, 168 on the sublime 9–10, 25, 28, 39, 40, 43, 69, 90, 138, 141, 143, 149, 170 on the sublime and masochism 53–54, 147, 150, 151 on the sublime and self-preservation 28, 29, 38, 54, 141, 176, 181 on ugliness 11, 168


Critique of Practical Reason 141 Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime 149 Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens 139 Keats, John 6, 7, 29 compared to Deleuze and Guattari 88–89, 94 Kenyon-Jones, Christine 1, 44 Knight, David 15 Knight, Richard Payne 150, 155, 165 Kristeva, Julia 53–54 Kroeber, Karl 12

L Lamarck, Jean-Baptiste 166 Lamb, Charles 55 Larkin, Philip 19 Lawrence, William 156, 158, 167, 169, 199n36 Levere, Trevor H. 15 Levinas, Emmanuel 195n28 Levinson, Marjorie 5 Lewis, Matthew 68 Linnaeus, Carl 114, 129, 170 literature and science studies 15 Liu, Alan 12 Locke, John 7, 35 Long, Edward 3 Longinus 8, 21, 88, 90, 91, 103, 119, 138, 139 Lorenz, Konrad 112, 123 Lucretius 129, 175, 203n14 Lussier, Mark S. 35 Lyotard, Jean-François 24, 25, 119, 131

M Makdisi, Saree 110 Malthus, Thomas 170, 182–83, 204n25 Massumi, Brian 90 materialism 9, 10, 13, 26, 34, 51–52, 54, 55, 58–59, 145, 148, 172, 176, 177, 183 McGann, Jerome 5, 201n40 McKusick, James 47 mechanism 41, 74, 85–86, 93, 121, 161 Mellor, Anne K. 152, 200n31 microscope 132, 133, 143–45, 146, 147 Midgley, Mary 23–24, 26, 27, 31, 32, 33, 34–35, 51 Monk, Samuel 10



monstrosity 102, 117, 124, 125, 126, 129, 165–66 Mori, Masahiro 122 Morton, Timothy 36, 37, 51, 97, 191n40 Murdoch, Iris 23–24, 29, 31, 40

N Nagel, Thomas 34, 36 natural disaster 19, 20, 21, 62, 74, 150, 151 natural theology 6, 24, 157, 158, 160, 162, 166, 168, 172, 173, 178 Needler, Henry 157 New Historicism 5, 12 Newton, Isaac 35, 139 Nicolson, Marjorie 145, 187n37 nightingales 29–30, 48 Noggle, James 148

O object-oriented ontology 51, 52 Oerlemans, Onno 10, 196n23 Onians, John 183 orang-utans 1, 3, 198n18

P Page, Judith W. 77–78 Paine, Thomas 2, 7, 119, 139, 144–45, 146, 150, 154, 158 Paley, William on beauty 6, 158–60, 162, 164, 165, 168 compared to Burke 162–64 on ugliness of animals 162, 166 parrots 95 Pascal, Blaise 137, 138 Peacock, Thomas Love 125 Perkins, David 1 physiognomy 5–6, 125, 157, 174, 198n25 picturesque 75–76, 174, 175 Playfair, John 142 Plotinus 42 Pope, Alexander 139 pornography 8, 63, 71, 98, 116 postmodernism 11, 14, 22, 25, 26, 27, 86, 87, 118, 200n31 Price, Uvedale 75 Priestman, Martin 171

R race and racism 3–4, 11, 14, 92, 167 Ray, John 160

Reid, Thomas 90, 138, 196n12 Reik, Theodor 28 Richardson, Alan 10, 39, 59, 93, 183 ridiculous 150–51, 152 Rosse, Lord William Parsons 141 Rothko, Mark 25 Rousseau, Henri 24 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques 33 Ruskin, John 44, 75–76

S sadism 47, 62, 63, 65–67, 70, 98, 174 Saint-Pierre, Jacques-Henri Bernardin de 164 Sartre, Jean-Paul 46, 50 scepticism 45, 64, 146–47, 148–49, 152, 178, 200n31 Scheese, Don 193n27 Schiller, Friedrich von 28, 126, 130 Schopenhauer, Arthur 29, 30, 31–32, 40 Scott, Walter 62, 67 Shakespeare, William 33, 47, 89 Shaw, Philip 90 Shelley, Mary 15, 146 Frankenstein 2, 14, 15, 19, 115, 181 beauty in 118–22, 127–28, 129 and Deleuze and Guattari 118, 119, 126, 130 importance of aesthetic perception in 1, 3, 119, 124–26, 131, 132–33, 164, 174 the sublime in 118–19, 123–24, 126, 128, 129, 131 ugliness in 5–6, 120–21, 122, 123–24, 125, 129, 131 The Last Man 119, 197n5 Shelley, Percy Bysshe 83, 146, 166, 167, 170 A Defence of Poetry 7, 23, 33, 39, 124, 156–57 Prometheus Unbound 147–50 Queen Mab 36, 145 on vegetarianism 1, 114, 180 Shelvocke, George 48 Smellie, William 1, 123 Smith, Adam 33, 38 Snow, C.P. 15 sociobiology 30–31 Socrates 9, 152 Southey, Robert 84, 125 species 36, 84, 121, 124, 128, 143–44, 155, 165, 170 defi nition of 129, 137, 139, 177

Index and gender 10–11, 112, 121–22, 166–67 in evolutionary theory 2–3, 30, 129, 131, 166, 169, 180–81, 182 and literary genre 124–25 and race 3, 10–11, 101, 167 role of aesthetic perception in classification of 1, 3, 4, 114–15, 119–20, 121–22, 125, 126, 131–33, 165–66 role of culture in classification of 100, 104–5, 115, 122–23, 166–67, 170–71, 180–81 transformations of 86, 89, 93, 104, 110, 114, 116, 117, 130 See also animality speciesism 14, 37 sublime 1, 3, 36, 94 alienating effects of 13, 23, 25, 27, 28, 31, 37–38, 161 and apocalypticism 21–22, 30, 39, 148, 150 compared to becoming-animal 86, 87–90, 92–93, 110, 116, 130 in cosmology 138–39, 140, 141, 157 defi nition of 7–11, 25–26, 31, 38–39 dehumanising effects of 63, 83–84, 86, 91–92, 109–10, 131, 152 ecological sublime. See ecological sublime ethics of 10–11, 23–24, 27, 30, 31, 33, 34, 39, 42, 63, 64, 66–67, 149–50, 152 and evolutionary theory 38, 54, 142, 169–70, 173–75, 180 feminist sublime 10, 76, 179–80, 182–83 geological sublime 142, 143, 147–48, 149, 150, 174 importance of uninvolved spectatorship in 96–97, 99, 102–103, 109, 126, 175–76 and masochism 28, 30, 53–54, 65–66, 138, 143, 147, 149, 150, 151 and materialism 9, 10, 26, 34, 43, 51, 54, 55, 65, 84, 88, 148, 170, 177, 181, 183 in microbiology 143–45, 148 neural characteristics of 10, 39, 43, 44, 79, 93, 183 nihilism of 26, 40, 128 and rationality 13, 27–28, 32–33, 34, 35, 38, 63, 72, 131, 133, 140–41, 151, 170, 177–78


relationship to beauty 11–12, 56–57, 65, 69–70, 76, 78–79, 99, 100, 108–9, 118–19, 124, 129, 146, 154, 157, 160–61, 169–70, 172, 175, 178–79, 182 relationship to picturesque 75, 175 relationship to sadism 63, 66–67, 174 relationship to ugliness 11–12, 56–57, 65, 70, 78–79, 108–109, 123–24 rhetorical sublime 8, 21, 88, 90, 98, 103, 119, 139 and the ridiculous 150–53 and ruins 72, 74–76, 147–50, 173–75, 193n24 and scepticism 49, 147, 148–49, 152, 178 scientific sublime 133, 138–39, 142, 143, 144, 145–46, 151, 154, 177–78, 201n1 as self-empowering 25–26, 30, 45, 53, 55, 65, 90, 97, 100, 138, 139, 143, 148, 150, 178 and self-loss 31, 83, 88, 90, 93, 96, 97, 102, 140 and self-preservation 25, 28–29, 30–31, 38–39, 69, 144, 170, 181 and sexual violence 69–70, 76, 106–7, 113 therapeutic benefits of 39–40, 128 urban sublime 84–85, 91, 99 wild animals in 22–23, 42, 102, 103, 112, 113, 143–44

T taste biological significance of 155, 158, 162, 165, 171, 173 as marker of humanity 4, 105, 106, 126, 155, 165 variation in 7, 105, 106, 162, 168 See also the aesthetic telescope 133, 139, 140, 141, 146 theatre 92, 93–97, 195n30 thing theory 50, 51 tigers 23, 24, 64, 103–104, 114, 153

U ugliness 1, 11, 24, 51–52, 60, 120–21, 122, 131, 158, 167, 168 of apes 123 hybridity as a cause of 122, 165–66


Index Book 6 of The Prelude 85, 92–93 Book 7 of The Prelude 14–15, 84–86, 90–100, 101, 104, 105, 109, 119, 123–24, 128, 140 compared to “The Ancient Mariner” 85–86, 92, 100 the sublime in 84–86, 91, 92, 96–97, 99–100 Book 10 of The Prelude 103 on Burke 63, 64, 98 “Hart-Leap Well” 1, 11, 14, 61–77, 78, 92, 150 beauty in 70–71, 76–77, 78–79 compared to “The Ancient Mariner” 61, 65, 70, 76, 77 the sublime in 63, 64, 65, 69, 70–71, 72, 74, 76, 77–78 Preface to Lyrical Ballads 7, 62–63, 67–68 “The Sublime and the Beautiful” 32–33, 78, 96–97, 99 “Tintern Abbey” 5, 46, 58, 73, 75, 83, 179 “The Two-Part Prelude” 77, 78

moral meaning of 6, 37, 120, 125, 174 relationship to beauty. See beauty, relationship to ugliness relationship to the sublime. See sublime, relationship to ugliness as a theological problem 125, 161–62, 165–66 uncanny 59–60, 122, 145 uncanny valley 122–23 Usher, James 90

V vegetarianism 1, 100, 114, 125, 180 vivisection 21, 36, 126

W Weiskel, Thomas 25, 28, 31, 49, 88, 177, 193–94n2 White, Gilbert 166 Whitman, Walt 145 Wolfe, Cary 14, 71, 187n41, 192n45 Wollstonecraft, Mary 103 on Burke 6–7, 98, 107 on female beauty 112, 121–22, 166–67 Wordsworth, William 5, 29, 36–37, 40, 42, 48, 88, 103, 110, 112, 117, 124–25, 145, 156, 172

Z Žižek, Slavoj 57 zoocriticism. See animal studies zoos 21, 98