A radical identification predicated on unlikeness: this is how Leo Bersani understands the singular mode of desiring that Emily Brontë invents in her incomparable novel. With Catherine and Heathcliff, Wuthering Heights offers new “forms of being,” untethered to the world (of society, of romance, of realism). For Bersani, Catherine and Heathcliff exist more on the order of gravitational forces than characters in any conventional novelistic sense. This essay explores Bersani’s provocative treatment of Wuthering Heights with a particular focus on his practice of reading, one that “extracts” distinctive and “devouring” forces of desire and as yet unrealized forms of being from a novel far removed from the dominant modes of narrative realism. Bersani’s reading of Brontë—first published in 1976 and his only excursion into British Romanticism—prompts a thought experiment: to imagine a Bersani limit-place Romanticism, quite unlike any available version, a Romanticism of “unqualified negativity” and “aspiring openness” with an eye and an ear to unknown pleasures.
forest pyle is a professor of English at the University of Oregon. His work focuses on British Romanticism, broadly construed, and its “afterlives” in contemporary culture and theory. His most recent monograph is Art’s Undoing: In the Wake of a Radical Aestheticism (Ford-ham University Press, 2014), and he coedited Constellations of a Contemporary Romanticism (Fordham University Press, 2016) with Jacques Khalip. He is completing a manuscript called “A True Romanticism, Yesterday and Tonight.”
Forest Pyle; Unlike. differences 1 May 2023; 34 (1): 267–275. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-10435899
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