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Organising PoetryThe Coleridge Circle, 1790-1798$
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David Fairer

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780199296163

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199296163.001.0001

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Organic Constitutions: History

Organic Constitutions: History

Chapter:
(p.58) 3 Organic Constitutions: History
Source:
Organising Poetry
Author(s):

David Fairer (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199296163.003.0004

This chapter characterizes an 18th-century ‘organic history’, which is diachronic, and thus in contrast with idealist or deconstructive concepts of history. The latter are synchronic moments of intervention or transformation, which deny continuous meanings. By contrast, organic history acknowledges time's depredations (loss, interruption, decay) while its narratives struggle to sustain themselves despite gaps and erasures. Histories that are pieced together from the remains of experience are recognised as having value and meaning. This is the key to Burke's ‘history’ and the patched-up character of his organic constitution, seen by his enemies as a Gothic ruin. Such mouldering, documentary history includes the antiquarian curiosity of Chatterton and Warton, the interrupted narratives of Sterne, Piranesi's labyrinths, Radcliffe's mysterious fragments, and Priestley's confused historical lines. The chapter explores how in the constitutional debates of 1789–91 this history-as-experience confronted the power of the revolutionary moment.

Keywords:   organic history, Burke, Piranesi, Paine, Godwin, Chatterton, Warton, Radcliffe, Gothic, Leapor

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