With the “arrival” of the so-called era of the Anthropocene, certain contemporary theoretical approaches have led us to think that we are only now properly beginning to speculate on an inhuman world that is not for us, as well as confronting our fears and anxieties around ecological, political, social, and philosophical extinction. Reflections on apocalypse and disaster, however, were not foreign to what we historically call romanticism, but in Last Things, Jacques Khalip begins with the “end of things” differently, treating lastness otherwise than either a privation or a conclusion. He emphasizes quieter and non-emphatic modes of thinking the end of the world of thought itself. Without fear, foreshadowing, or catastrophe, Khalip explores lastness as a form, structure, or unit that marks the limits of our life and world, and he reads the fate of romanticism (and romantic studies) within the key of the last. Although this is a reading one could never wish for, it is one, Khalip argues, that we urgently have to make today. The book is not an elegy to the human, or to romanticism; rather, it polemically argues that we should read romanticism as a negative force that exceeds theories, narratives, and figures of survival and sustainability.
Each chapter explores a diverse range of romantic and contemporary materials: poetry by John Clare, Emily Dickinson, John Keats, Percy Shelley, and William Wordsworth; philosophical texts by William Godwin, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau; paintings by Hubert Robert, Caspar David Friedrich, and Paterson Ewen; installations by Tatsuo Miyajima and James Turrell; and photography by John Dugdale, Peter Hujar, and Joanna Kane. Shuttling between different temporalities, Last Things undertakes an original reorganization of romantic thought for contemporary culture. It examines an “archive” that is on the side of disappearance, perishing, the inhuman, and lastness.
List of Color Plates
Introduction: Of Last Things
1. The Unfinished World
2. Life Is Gone
3. As if That Look Must Be the Last
Color plates follow page
This is a book whose intelligence and insight the academy desperately needs. It displays a conceptual beauty in bringing the contemporary ‘crisis’ in Romantic studies into contact with the question of ‘lastness’—a question that is, in many ways, always already the crisis of Romanticism. Approaching the ‘last’ as what always comes after itself, Khalip thinks lastness as the persistence, in a minor, non-apocalyptic key, of what decompletes, derealizes, or dephenomenalizes the ‘world.’ Pursuing that thought through bravura readings, Khalip affords his readers the thrill of intellectual discovery while challenging them to ask if such discoveries themselves are the effect of our determination by lastness.