Looking back over the past fifty years or so of romantic criticism, one element surprises: style.  Oddly, more often than not, style and substance seem intertwined if not inextricable.  For example, an hour spent reading Tilottama Rajan, after an hour spent reading Paul de Man, sensitizes one to slight differentials of tone, which tend to underwrite differentials in meaning.  At times, of course, both of these intellectuals frustrate.  At times, one loses interest, or simply loses the thread.  One has to rest one’s mind, come back later.  One never quite loses the awareness of being engaged in a kind of cerebral exercise, and one never quite loses the awareness of the self-consciousness with which critics choose their words.  A kind of public communication is taking place, an exchange of concepts that welcome close examination, if not athletic acts of re-iteration and paraphrase.  A kind of trade in objective correlatives goes on, at times quite abstract, at other times quite factual.  This trade involves no small amount of interchange.  Indeed, the most elegant styles seem to feel the most intertextual.  In short, in these major works of romantic criticism – which often seem objective, muscular, unapologetically ‘difficult’, highly individualized yet emphatically communal – voice lies surprisingly close to meaning.  Subjectivity is not submerged.  Aesthetic taste is not auxiliary or concealed, but written on the surface, indivisible from ‘sensitive’ readings, and sensitive reading.  Perhaps it really is a matter of taste which style one finds sublime, and which one finds beautiful.  Yet, perhaps it would not be too rash to propose that the critical works that become touchstones do so not only because of scholarship polished to crystalline hardness, but also because of a certain amenability of critical temperament (or even ethos) to critical argument.  For example, de Man clearly takes pleasure in the ‘irony’; not only is it his stylistic preference or taste, but it is also his critical method, his working principle.  Rajan takes pleasure in doing what she sees Shelley doing: putting ideas into form before the form is quite prepared to accomodate them.  Where de Man plays with language to get at the ‘impossibility’ of meaning, Rajan maintains a light, non-ideological touch that enacts an “intense encounter with a complexity that underlies and swallows up the text’s attempts to conventionalize itself” (5).  Critical style is peformative.

see Rajan 73

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