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Beyond excess: Romanticism, surplus and trust

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    Rights statement: ©Milnes, T. (2015). Beyond Excess: Romanticism, Surplus and Trust. John Hopkins University Press and West Chester University of Pennsylvania. This article first appeared in College Literature.

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)683-698
JournalCollege Literature
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2015


Romantic ‘excess’ is often linked to the notion of an overproductive imagination whose plenitude compensates for the mind’s failure to represent the Ding an sich. This overproduction can be seen as the Romantic response to the bankruptcy of empiricism, which had attempted to locate truth in the correspondence between mind and world. In this essay, however, I read Romantic excess as a form of epistemic surplus. Taking Wordsworth as a key example, I show how Romantic writing explores the pragmatic surplus of trust as one of the preconditions of communication, and thus of thought itself. Wordsworth’s writing performs this transaction in ways that demonstrate the dependence of the poetic voice upon dialogical interactions with other individuals. In this respect, the ideas of the Romantics appear closer than has been recognized to the theories of the Scottish Enlightenment, for which trust and sociability were cornerstone concepts.

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