Lived space and performativity in British Romantic poetry
Ng, Chak Kwan
In Romantic studies, Romanticism is regarded as a reaction against modernity, or more accurately, a self-critique of modernity. There have been critical debates over the nature of the preoccupation of the Romantics with the past and the natural world, whether such concern is an illustration of the reactionary tendency of Romanticism, or an aesthetic innovation of the Romantics. This study tries to approach this problem from the perspective of space. It draws from the spatial theory of Henri Lefebvre, discussed in the Production of Space, in which Lefebvre conceives a spatial history of modernity, and sees Romanticism as the cultural movement that took place at the threshold of the formation of abstract space. The poetry of three British Romantic writers, William Wordsworth, S. T. Coleridge and Joanna Baillie, is examined. This study analyses how the writers’ thinking and poetry writing are interactive with the formation of social space during the Romantic period. Their poetry embodies the lived experience of the time. The writers show an awareness of the performative aspect of poetry, that poetry is a kind of linguistic creation instead of mere representation, which can be used to appropriate the lived space of reality. This awareness is particular to these Romantic writers because their poetic tactics are socially contextualized. Poetry is their method, as well as manner of life, for confronting the unprecedented social changes brought by modernity. By using Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology, an examination of the significance of the body and perception in Romantic poetry is also employed to show how, through the use of performative poetic language, the writers re-create their lived space so as to counter the dominance of abstract space.