Poetic Enthusiasm

Jordana Rosenberg

in Critical Enthusiasm

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199764266
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199895359 | DOI:
Poetic Enthusiasm

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Chapter Five describes the intersection of moral philosophy and poetics, and uncovers what I term the “enthusiastic aesthetics of history.” The guiding question that I ask here is: how did the discourse of enthusiasm come to inform the ways that poetic form represented history and historical change? I approach this question via a return to the history of legal transformation, and an extended engagement with the social, historical and material context of urban development. In readings of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century statutes concerning sewer management and rural agriculture, I describe the concentration of British law around problems of commodity exchange and the protection of property. I return to Chapter Two’s discussion of capital punishment and state formation, and show how a legal area as seemingly mundane as sewer and land management expressed key aspects of nation-building and of the development of the legislative character of Britain. Uncovering this history adds a crucial chapter to our understanding not only of how capital development proceeded in the early eighteenth century, but of how aesthetic form registered these historic processes. Jonathan Swift’s poetics, I argue, aesthetically reformulate the occlusion of these territorial histories from casual view. In readingsof “Stella’s Birthday” and the urban georgic, “A Description of a City Shower,” I argue that Swift creates an “enthusiasm of history,” a poetic argument about the complex nature of historical change.

Keywords: Jonathan Swift; poetry; urban development; pastoral; statue law; waste management; commodification; property law

Chapter.  18725 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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