A.K. Huseby responds to John Schulz

John Schulz’s questions about periodization connect well with Annemarie Drury’s understanding of suspension as a potential “contemporary interpretive tool.” I also agree with him that this is an opportunity to discuss what “long-nineteenth century” can mean for Romantic and Victorian studies. However, I did not read McCarthy as “closing off the possibility of considering suspension and the sublime as a long nineteenth-century poetic phenomenon.” Her rejection of “continuity” in favor of the “discontinuous” need not necessitate “closing off” this possibility. Continuity here might mean instead that the concept endures more or less unchanged. Instead, I understand McCarthy to mean that it emerges at different points to transform, metamorphose, and be improved upon. Understood in this way, Schulz’s reading of McCarthy is not as far away as it seems. He writes that, “Awful Parenthesis asks what it means for there to be a longer history of suspension even as Romantic and Victorian encounters with the sublime insist on being understood in discontinuous terms?” Yet, this distinction between continuity and discontinuity may not be all that complex. For isn’t it fairly common for knowledge or concepts to evolve over time? Concepts often become something new through innovation and new knowledge, and so are discontinuous after a fashion for not being the same, while the understanding of that concept has a continuous intellectual history one can trace. The concept does not remain the same/identical but acknowledges a genealogy. Therefore, it can be both discontinuous and continuous. Such was my understanding of McCarthy’s approach, and in fact, my sense was that Schulz arrives here as well in his final sentence when he writes, “there can be continuity in discontinuity, that dominant narratives of the rise and fall of the sublime don’t foreclose other possibilities for the sublime in the nineteenth century, and that we need methods of periodization that can support such a mutable literary landscape.” I agree with this entirely. McCarthy has identified a pattern of emergence and transformation that can be tracked transhistorically and is not at all that unusual in other epistemological formations. So, rather than insisting on “unequivocal lines of continuity and influence across aesthetic traditions,” McCarthy’s approach to form instead enables suspension to be comprehended as portable, precisely as Schulz suggests. In fact, her argument itself performs suspension in the ways that it embraces both the discontinuous and continuous, a true commitment to suspension, indeed.

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