The subtle value of Romanticism

In a previous piece (“Valuing our (non)decisions,” March 16), I joked in passing that the inception of legacy students could be traced back to the ‘coziness’ of a Williams winter. By coziness, I had broadly meant the organic intimacy engendered between people as a result of experiencing similar conditions. Spending a year away from the College in New York City, I have the chance to think more rigorously about this “coziness,” as well as consider its function in relation to various planes of inter-subjectivity – including, among others, acquaintance, mentorship, friendship and romance. In light of the fact that it snowed in Williamstown so early in the year, and my subsequent realization that the campus would soon confront the reproductive potency engendered by the coziness of a Williams winter, I thought to share my reflections on what I take to be the place of coziness at the College, in the hopes of exposing potential for a more meaningful inter-subjectivity. In making the case that implicit in such inter-subjectivity is Romanticism – characterized by the free reign of human innovation, imagination and creativity, and the stripping away of rigid laws – I also hope to resist the dominance of what followed since the mid-19th century (namely, the burgeoning of modern and postmodern forms of capitalism), as well as the irony inherent in my finding out that it snowed at the College through Facebook, a site on which the type of impersonal mode of knowledge production I’m resisting is dependent.

Within the context of New York, particular phenomena abrogate any “personal” that the term “impersonal” might presuppose, and, in doing so, undermine the conditions necessary for coziness. We are all too familiar with these phenomena, some of which we might describe as social networking venues (of which Facebook is the main example); dating websites that commodify the body according to matrices of specification (and which have now infiltrated phone apps and handheld devices); modern western formalisms, such as “the date” and “meeting for a drink,” in which adherence to a specific code of conduct prevents a more holistic encounter (which further pushes us, following William Blake, to castigate the “frozen marriage-bed” that manifests itself today as a monopolizing structure of romantic development on the basis of another modern western invention, the baseball field); and the list goes on. Even the New York experience of riding the subway – where we might ostensibly expect the most ‘coziness,’ with a collective of fifteen or so people oriented both literally and figuratively in one direction, in one compartment, side by side, touching – becomes meaningless, as those within it realize they have only an ephemeral moment to offer recognition to themselves in front of others, and consequently become obsessed with excessive forms of external appearance, a surplus of superficiality. The categorical crises that follow (bodies becoming confused with commodities, confidence with aggression, empathy with weakness) lead to complex pathologies at the inter-subjective level.

These pathologies cannot be easily diagnosed (let alone in the Record), but I do hope that an admittedly performative genealogy of coziness may stress two conditions at the College that, if understood together, have the potential for a radically different, less pathological inter-subjectivity. On the one hand, attending Williams provides what is common to any college experience, a significant duration of time (four years, I think, is the inverse of ephemerality). On the other hand, the College produces an intense matrix of proximity as a result of its small size and relative isolation. While the former condition is largely and appropriately unalterable, the latter provides a radical potential: We have, among other things, numerous sites of encounter (take, for example, the Goodrich Coffee Bar, which produces discrete glances and unplanned conversation daily), as well as a plethora of institutional College features such as the need-blind admissions policy, the entry system and non-themed upperclassmen housing, which flatten economic, social, religious and ethnic differences. At the intersection of these two conditions, the College becomes unique, if not fully impressive, especially considering its place in a globalized, late-capitalistic era that subscribes exclusively to alienating economies of exchange.

Following the ubiquitous civil unrest that has recently emerged, which resists the cold logic of such an era by occupying outside spaces, let us follow through with our own double act: as we erect new possibilities at the inter-subjective level, let us confront the coldness of the snow outside with the coziness of it symbolism.


Abdullah Awad ’13 is a religion and philosophy double major from Amman, Jordan. He is currently studying in New York, N.Y. 

Comments (2)

  1. I like how your writing draws attention to form and content at the same time: how you do not sacrifice the rigour of the form in order to convey content that pertains to ordinary life experiences, such as the ephemerality of the subway ride. However, meaning is not always contingent upon recognition. Under the heading of ‘coziness,’ you gift us with insights about subjectivity and temporality. Might these reflections on the phenomenology-cum-materiality of ‘coziness’ constitute the kernel of a theorization of the affect of comfort?

  2. HI Abdullah,

    My name is Diana Gilon. I am an artist coming to Williams next week to create a collablorative art peice with students and faculty. I heard about you from another student and just looked up some of your articles. They are well written and inciteful and I would really love to meet you if you had time. Or at least talk to you via email/phone and here more about what you have to say about Williams.

    Sorry to contact you through this, but I couldn’t find any other contact info for you.


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