Annmarie Drury responds to John Schulz

I am glad that John Schulz writes about McCarthy’s idea of “discontinuous historicism” (17), because McCarthy’s methodological discussion here attracts my attention as well. I think Schulz is right that Awful Parenthesis suggests a good, new basis for conceptualizing the “long nineteenth-century.” A particularly appealing aspect of the book, for me, is the way McCarthy delineates a new set of relations among nineteenth-century poets. Placing Christina Rossetti in a series that includes Coleridge and Shelley overturns critical commonplaces about each of these poets and makes me want to experiment with extending the series after Tennyson.

In writing, I am fighting my inclination to use the phrase “poetic genealogy,” I confess, because this seems old-fashioned and, indeed, precisely a mode of thought to which “discontinuous historicism” offers an alternative. Why does this term occur to one almost reflexively, and what nuances of relation does it elide? These would be questions for another time.

They connect, though, to the value of “discontinuous historicism” as an idea and assay. To Schulz’s (rhetorical) question, “Should ‘long-nineteenth century’ always demand that we demonstrate unequivocal lines of continuity and influence across aesthetic traditions …?” I would gladly supply the answer: no! Reading McCarthy, I eventually wondered: Isn’t all historicism in truth discontinuous, even if that discontinuity is treated as secret? Certainly McCarthy, and Schulz in responding to her, propose a promising shift in envisioning literary history, away from the one, unbroken line leading to a virtually inevitable destination; and as McCarthy’s work demonstrates, and Schulz remarks, nineteenth-century poetry itself discloses the meanings and value of discontinuity.

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