Why should we think about something so coarsely and misleadingly called the War on Terror in the context of European culture from 200 years ago?  Why does the culmination of the age of Enlightenment, the emergence of human rights, and concerted movements toward liberty concide with a modern conception of political terror? The literature and culture of the Romantic period is enmeshed in the violence, hope, and terror of its age and to read it is to engage in a conversation regarding how we approach such topics.  As the image above suggests, these are not topics we can afford to be indifferent toward.  The persistence of political terror and the dehumanization that enables so much violence is no simple matter even if we can begin with the hypothesis that it has a beginning in the Romantic period.  The image above reminds us that some of the remarkable spectacles of violent exection, death, and despair have a history. They are not simply dramatic displays of force. If we look closely at the image above, we see more than a spectacle. The artist who recorded this scene included more than just an execution. This violent scene is social. It is a scene of violence authorized by the presence of others, and their presence provides a form of consent. The image leverages an immediate power to shock us, as viewers, but it may likewise invite us to think about how such violence is possible. In this image, we can see the extreme vulnerability of some, and the concealment, deadly attention, and even forced distraction of others. Where do we place ourselves? How do we focus our critical attention with patient impatience? In what ways do we experience and express sympathies and to whom and for what ends? Can we even begin to ask after our ethical obligations amid such urgent conditions? Just how far have we come since the Romantic era in posing such questions? How prepared are we, now, to answer such difficult matters?
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Romanticism and the War on Terror Enter