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Modernity's MistBritish Romanticism and the Poetics of Anticipation$
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Emily Rohrbach

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780823267965

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823267965.001.0001

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The “Double Nature” of Presentness

The “Double Nature” of Presentness

Byron’s Don Juan

(p.134) 5. The “Double Nature” of Presentness
Modernity's Mist

Emily Rohrbach

Fordham University Press

Chapter five describes the comic epic poem’s foregrounding of the narrator’s writing process as a “presentness,” heightened through interruptions and other kinds of digression as well as the ottava rima stanza form. Turning to the arguments of Hugh Blair and Adam Smith, this chapter recounts the contemporary controversies about what place digressions should have in historical writing. Analyzing key moments in the English cantos, this chapter argues that the temporality of Don Juan’s aesthetic engages with and defies the Enlightenment rhetorical principles of Blair and Smith, while upending the philosophy of progress that often went with them. Suggesting that the historical imagination might take into account not just a progress of what happened, but also a notion of what did not happen but might have, Don Juan creates a sense of time that is less progressive or regressive than digressive—a lateral temporality. The chapter concludes by suggesting what implications this lateral temporality might have for twenty-first century critical practices.

Keywords:   Hugh Blair, Byron, digression, Don Juan, English cantos, ottava rima

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