Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy




Tilottama Rajan


This dissertation reads citation in Romantic literature as an aporetic movement between present and past, whereby what is cited becomes the receding ground on which the present and future’s erosion is inscribed. Citation exceeds quotation in that it forwards a disastrous intertextuality that retroactively determines not only past texts but events, histories, objects, and genres as accelerants that overshadow and ghost the present with its own extinction. Against generative modes of intertextuality such as those of Kristeva and Bakhtin in which texts’ repetitions of other texts facilitates the open-ended overturning and transformation of prior writing, citation precipitates a no future. This no future of Romantic citation, inflected by the period’s geological insights into the earth’s history as layers of sedimented disasters and extinctions, registers anteriority as topographical depths whose pre-spent force attenuates futurity. Citation thus discloses the destructive feedback loop underlying the generation of “progress” or open-ended futures from the past. Chapter 1 examines how in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Byron’s re-collection of history’s ruins becomes a symptom of a post- and pre-post-Waterloo history entropically recycling itself and backdating its “end of history” further into the past and expansively across the globe. In chapter 2, Mary Shelley’s The Last Man cites literary texts as a form of déjà vu by which we discover ourselves as extinct proleptically in the literary past. Chapter 3 proposes that Percy Shelley’s re-cycled tropes and circular plots in the later poems encode the later poetry’s archaeological pull toward his corpus’s dark ground in the form of his early novel St. Irvyne and his other early Gothic texts that shadow his corpus with the specter of its exhaustion. And in chapter 4, Blake’s Jerusalem ends (Blake’s) history by re-citing his earlier works as if they were engines of apocalypse conspiratorially orientated toward Jerusalem’s abyssally predestined redemption, a volatile redemption that accelerates the burnout of Blake’s “System” rather than its survival into the future.

Summary for Lay Audience

Writers have always quoted other writers. However, my dissertation argues that in the Romantic period the way that writers quote––or cite––other texts changes. For the Romantic authors Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, and William Blake, what I call citation alters and mutates the past it cites in such a way that the author’s present aligns disastrously with the upended past. To cite the past is to uproot the grounds of the present. Time-travel plots in science fiction offer a good analogy for how citationality works: the time traveler’s interference in past events erases the conditions of her future existence and writes her inexistence into the past as if it had always been. Citation heralds a new, uniquely Romantic relation to time, history, and the past in general. For not only other texts but events, histories, objects, literary personages, and genres can be cited and mutated into the ground on which the present’s future erasure is written. Romantic citation registers the insights of the emerging earth sciences of the time, particularly the geological discoveries of extinct animals and ecosystems underlying the literal ground of the present. Citation geologizes time and pulls history and its future into a past conceived as an archeological prophecy of the future’s coming fossilization and sedimentation. Chapter 1 looks at how Byron’s travelogue Childe Harold cites the historical past as an accumulating pile of ruins. Chapter 2 examines how Mary Shelley’s post-apocalyptic novel The Last Man treats its citations of literary texts as an unfolding prophecy of the novel’s human extinction by plague. Chapters 3 and 4 read Percy Shelley and Blake as peculiarly self-citational authors who quote and recycle their own previous works to strange and sometimes disastrous effect. In Chapter 3 Shelley’s late poetry compulsively recycles his early, “immature” works, thereby turning the early Shelley into a kind of avenging spirit that the mature Shelley could not move past. And chapter 4 explores how Blake’s last poem Jerusalem compiles pieces of his earlier poetry into a self-destructive envelope that almost deliberately consigns Blake’s name to obscurity.

Available for download on Saturday, August 31, 2024