Thursday, Oct. 20th

Dr. Adam Potkay (English, William and Mary) will present, “Something Evermore about to Be: The Transformation of Hope in the Romantic Era.” His argument is this: hope, once a theological virtue and potential secular vice, features in the eighteenth century as a neutral element of secular psychology. As a psychological mechanism, hope comes in the Romantic era to underwrite a new, semi-secularized virtue: the hope, more or less independent of revealed religion, for more life, a better or perfected condition of the individual or of the species in time or eternity. This new and indeterminate hope directs us, however, towards a receding horizon. It is hope that aims “beyond hope,” and beyond conceptualization: William Wordsworth’s “something evermore about to be”; Percy Shelley’s hope for a hope realized beyond “its own wreck”; John Stuart Mill’s imaginative hope that arises on the far side of his rebuttal of all arguments for immortality. While Romantic-era hope doesn’t supersede or displace the orthodox theological virtues, it does supplement or vie with them, and thus figures in what has been called the modern “differentiation” between religious and secular/poetic modes of authority.