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ROMANTICISM AND 'THE ROMANTIC MOVEMENT' R.W. Lougee, 'German Romanticism and Political Thought', in The Review of Politics, 21, No. 4, Oct., 1959 Introduction "The retreat from liberalism and the rise of fascist totalitarianisms in the interwar period occasioned widespread inquiry into the intellectual sources of the phenomenon. Writers have frequently discovered the "roots," to use the fashionable metaphor, in romanticism, particularly, German romanticism. Sharp controversies have arisen over the propriety and validity of attributing modern political lunacy ultimately to the romantic mind. A prior question may well be asked, what exactly are the elements of romantic thought which have political significance? This paper seeks to identify and analyse these elements."
Four aspects of Romantic thought to be analysed: (i). romantic epistemology, (ii). romantic philosophy of history, (iii). romantic notion concerning the one and the many and (iv). the romantic spirit of protest; The term romantics not limited here strictly to the Jena, Heidelberg, or any other literary school. It applies to those writers who, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, represented that latter phase of the movement which brought German intellectual life to flower, who possessed a new feeling for life of extraordinary depth and richness of promise, and who stood in opposition to the Enlightenment and the concept of man as a subject only of outer sense experience The method of the Enlightenment was to take the positive or the given, analyse it into its elements, and then perceive how the elements were combined in the given phenomenon; the aim was to establish generally valid principles; such a method had been used in scientific studies in the seventeenth century and now in the eighteenth century was applied to political and economic problems Unlike the thinkers of the Enlightenment, the romantic writers did not consider analysis an indispensable tool in discovering knowledge; they were not unbridled irrationalists given to incessant flights of fancy, but simply that they preferred to experience deeply and directly, to feel, to emphasize, to grasp as a whole the meaning and significance of the given situation; the positive or the given as it appeared to them was their point of departure; hence their suspicion of concepts as artificial, as non-existential; hence their disdain for a mechanical world view in which simple, understandable laws are used to describe and explain all nature; hence their indifference to the logical contradiction between different elements of their thought, or, indeed, their evident pleasure in discovering and accepting as reality what to the logical, conceptual mind must appear as polar opposites. Herder; his philosophy of history was that not will and reflection but given forces and circumstances engender historical change and make things happen as they do: "Why did Alexander push to India? Because he was Philip's son and, given the preparations of his father, the deeds of his nation, his age and character, and his reading of Homer, he had no other course" - cf. Herder, 'Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit' in Werke, IV, Meyers Klassiker-Ausgaben (Leipzig und Wien, n.d.), 166. Much of the spirit of German romantic irrationalism was in Burke who taught the Germans more than almost any other Englishman. He wrote of "the happy effect of following nature, which is wisdom without reflection." He abhorred "the nakedness and solitude of metaphysical abstraction" in anything concerning human affairs and discovered the evil genius of the Tiers État in 1789 in the predominate group of village lawyers, who perhaps knew their laws and regulations but not the nature of living, human reality The romanticist placed the highest value on the individual, his freedom, and his self-development and self-realization; yet, he placed an equally high value on the group, which he considered as a living organism whose laws of organization placed the constituent individuals in a relation of mutual dependence The term Persönlichkeit came to be used "as a designation for a person with uniqueness and peculiarity of nature and with the implication that developing one's own individual nature is a primary objective." Romantic literature, because of its rich and multifarious nature, may, like Scripture, be a source of inspiration - and of ammunition - to the most diverse political views and arguments. Nevertheless, like Scripture, romantic thought has prevailing tendencies; insofar as these prevailing tendencies have political significance, they clearly tend mostly to the support of a conservative view of the world - to the conservatism of principle, that is, not to a conservatism of interest. In the history of political thought, romanticism as a precursor of conservatism plays a role equivalent to that of the natural rights philosophy as a precursor of liberalism. To give romanticism another part to play, is to obscure its historical significance
T.W.C. Blanning, The Commercialisation and Sacralisation of European Culture in the Nineteenth-Century , in (ed.), Blanning, The Oxford Illustrated History of Modern Europe (New York, 1996), pp.120-148
High culture of the nineteenth-century dominated by opposition between art as consumerism or as redemption; not a new dilemma, but given added urgency around 1800 with the cumulative effect of long-term social and intellectual changes; rise in population, growth in the size and number of towns, expanding literacy, improved physical communication had combined to create a market for culture dubbed 'popular', and on the way to becoming 'mass' Previously, culture (European) essentially representational; primary function of representing the power and the glory of the royal, aristocratic, or ecclesiastical patron; palace of Versailles was fundamental in this; peacock world of the court of Louis XIV of gorgeous display by the favoured few before a passive audience was challenged in the eighteenthcentury by a different culture - the culture of the public sphere
"In the place of flamboyance, it brought sobriety; in the place of the senses it brought the intellect; in the place of the image it brought the concept; above all, it substituted criticism among equals for passive acceptance by the subordinate spectator" For the creative artist, the development of this public seemed to offer the chance of emancipation; in the place of the over-might individual patron came the anonymous public, to whom the German playwright Friedrich Schiller dedicated himself in 1784: 'I write as a citizen of the world who serves no prince…from now on, all my ties are dissolved; the public is now everything to me --my preoccupation, my sovereign and my friend'; but at the time Schiller did so, the public was not yet large or rich enough to sustain an independent artist, but was growing constantly Transformation of the people from passive recipients into active participants was dramatized by the rapid development of a democratic political culture in France after 1789; elaborate revolutionary festivals turned spectators into actors, with mass processions, mass demonstrations, mass bands, and mass singing (see above, Festival of the Supreme Being, between the Tuileries and the Champs-de-Mars) In the exited atmosphere of Revolutionary France, the ephemeral nature of the poetry, painting, or music produced for such occasions could be overlooked; the work of collaborating artists - the painter Jacques-Louis David, the composer François Joseph Gossec, and poet Marie-Joseph de Chénier survives only as historical curios It may well be the case that in public life, 'the festivals inaugurated a new era because they made sacred the values of the modern, secular, liberal world', as Lynn Hunt has suggested, but for the creative artists of Europe, the culture of the French Revolution proved to be a blind alley
The Romantic Revolution
Disillusionment had been prepared by an ever-strengthening movement in favour of individualism; just as the French Revolution erupted with a liberationist message deriving from the Enlightenment -a message with was universal, abstract and rational -the most powerful minds in Europe were pulling in the opposite direction
This was the romantic movement; it was a cultural revolution so momentous that we continue to share many of its axioms today; the word 'romantic' had first appeared in English in the seventeenth-century, used in a pejorative sense to denote something exaggerated or fantastic
By the end of the eighteenth-century, however, the fabulous and the irrational had begun to exert an increasingly powerful appeal; from pioneers such as Rousseau and Herder, the romantics built a world view which placed emotion ahead of reason, faith before scepticism, intuition before logic, subjectivity before objectivity, historicism ahead of natural law, and poetry before prose
In the romantics' view, the Enlightenment and its scientific method had analysed and analysed until the world lay around them in a dismantled, atomised and meaningless heap; it was a common accusation levied by romanticists that the Enlightenment 'could explain everything, but understand nothing'; it was in this spirit that Heinrich von Kleist sneered that Newton would see in a girl's breast only a crooked line and in her heart, nothing more interesting than its cubic capacity, while William Blake proclaimed that 'art is the Tree of Life…
Science the Tree of Death.' In the place of the arid abstractions of rationalism, the romantics called for a remystification of the world; to gain access to what really mattered, reason and its main instrument - the word - were not so much inadequate as misleading, instilling a false sense of precision and clarity If nature was not an inert mass, governed by the blind, mechanical Newtonian laws, but a vibrant organism pulsating with life, then it could be understood only by allowing the other human faculties to resume their rightful place It was an indication of their rejection of the Enlightenment's rationalism that they turned the central idea of Enlightenment - light - on its head; 'the cold light of day; was rejected as superficial and in its place was enthroned 'the wonder-world of the night'; from Novalis and his Hymns to the Night, to Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, the night was celebrated as the 'mother of all that is true and beautiful' (see right, Goya's The Sleep of Reason Begets Monsters, 1799) Only in night can we leave the false world of appearances and enter the only true world- the spirit world; in Wagner's Meistersingers von Nurnberg, the young knight Walther von Stolzing tells his host, the cobbler Hans Sachs, that he had had such a beautiful dream that he is reluctant to recount it, lest it should vanish; Sachs replies that it is just the task of the poet to depict and interpret dreams, for it is in dreams that our truest feelings are revealed; thus the emphasis is placed also on the self, and the self's experiences Wagner's own maxim of "from within me, and not from without…" was perhaps the best summary of the essence of Romanticism, unless it is Hegel's even more pithy 'absolute Innerlichkeit' (absolute 'subjectivity') From being the agent who strives to give the natural laws of beauty visible, aural or verbal form, the artist raises himself to become the prime point of reference; in other words, mimesis (art in relation to nature), was replaced by an expressive aesthetic (art in relation to the artist); on this new scale, the premium is placed on inspiration, originality, and authenticity, as the artist turns from the models provided by the classical tradition to draw on his own experience and his own psyche Caspar David Friedrich: 'The artist should not only paint what he sees in front of him, but also what he sees inside himself…if, however, he sees nothing inside himself, then he should also stop painting what he sees in front of him…otherwise his pictures will look like those folding screens behind which one expects to find only the sick or even the dead'; significantly, Friedrich never felt the need to travel to Italy to study classical civilisation - 'no one can give the law to everyone else, everyone must be a law only unto himself'
(Right, Caspar David Friedrich's Wanderer above the Sea of Fog; Left, Monk by the Sea. Friedrich's paintings were usually religious, and deeply introspective, sometimes to the point of abstraction)
Friedrich's stress on authenticity was retained even by artists of later generations who rejected much of the rest of romanticism- Edouard Manet, for example, who wrote in 1867: "the artist does not say today 'come and see faultless work', but 'come and see sincere work'." And still today, one of the most damning accusations an artistic work can receive is that of being supposedly "derivative"
Commercialisation and Alienation
Romantic artists' egocentric aesthetics made the yoke of patronage seem intolerable, however gilded the bars of the cage; on being summoned back to the Berlin Academy after overstaying his sabbatical leave in Rome, painter Asmus Jacob Carstens (classicist by style but romanticist by temperament), replied: 'if nature produces a genius (which after all is a rare event) and if that genius manages to overcome a thousand obstacles and achieve recognition, then what he deserves is encouragement. A monarch wins just as much honour from posterity by supporting a genius as from winning a battle or conquering a province…'
It was not just the Old Regime which seemed oppressive, however; the growing power and pretension of the modern state, brought sharply into focus by the terrorist atrocities of the French Revolution, brought only ever greater alienation of artist from establishment; the optimistic Prussian aristocrat Novalis hoped for a state which was a work of art, ruled by a king who was 'the artist of the artists'
The alienated artist could not find refuge in civil society though, since the agenda set by ever-accelerating modernisation gave priority not to the aesthetics of an aristocratic elite, but to commerce and utilitarianism
With increasing quality of pianos came also increased quantity; the application of modern techniques of manufacturing based on the division of labour, together with commercial marketing, transformed the piano from a rare luxury item into a cheap article of mass consumption - from an annual output of about 130 in 1790, production in France soared to 8,000 by 1830 and 21,000 by 1860; even this remarkable figure was being eclipsed by the Germans, who were producing 60-70,000 pianos each year by the 1880s
In other areas of the arts, similar situations could be seen; everywhere, commercialisation and industrialisation brought democratisation, but in the eyes of Europe's cultural elites, popularisation became synonymous with vulgarisation
The combination of factors led to the intelligentsia distancing itself from the rest of the population, fleeing an increasingly commercialised society for the austere purity of the bohemian garret
This internalisation of the creative process demanded by the romantic aesthetic could certainly lead to originality but could equally certainly lead to incomprehensibility on the part of the audience; when culture was conducted according to classical models, everyone spoke the same language, but the romantic revolution proved to be the tower of Babel - Wagner outraged many; Beethoven puzzled them…
If the Romantics did not invent the autobiography, they certainly raised it from exception to rule Sacralisation
In theory the follower of 'absolute inwardness' could devise an expressive language so personal as to be comprehensible only to himself; this tendency, it must be said, was counterbalanced partly by the need to make a living and partly by art's new sacral (of, for, or relating to sacred rites or symbols) status
The culture of the Old Regime had had three purposes (according to Blanning): to represent the power of the sovereign, to assist the Church in saving souls, and to provide recreation for the elites; all three had been undermined by eighteenth-century developments Wealth and Status / Nationalism
Artists enhanced their status by playing a leading role in the great public issues of the day; Romantics may have given priority to the inner world of the spirit in theory, but in practice most found it difficult/impossible to avoid being carried along with the rest of society
Goya's Third of May 1808, Friedrich's Chasseur in the Forest (1814), Delacroix's Scenes from the Massacres at Chios (1824) and his July 28th: Liberty Leading the People, Gericault's The Raft of Medusa (1819) and Couture's Romans of the Decadence; although all these paintings were critical of the status quo, there is no clear political direction to be inferred; the safe but bland conclusion, for Blanning, is that even an identifiable movement such as Romanticism can be assigned no clear location on the left-right spectrum
In any case, that horizontal scale was being increasingly confused by a vertical scale of loyalties determined by nationalism/nationality; Romanticism, Rousseau in the first instance, rejected the universal natural law on which the cosmopolitanism of Enlightenment, as Voltaire voiced it was, based
Blanning goes on to identify the two distinct types of romantic nationalism; the first was cultural, which identified the nation as the most important point of reference in human affairs, and the second, and later form, was political, which sought to make the political and cultural boundaries of a state coincide
The latter was particularly prevalent among national minorities in multinational empires (Habsburg and Russian) or among national groups divided among more than one state (Germans and Italians)
Nationalism influenced European culture subtly as well as overtly; it made its creators aware of their national identity and encouraged them to find a national voice; this stemmed from the proto-romantic theorists of the eighteenth-century, Herder prominent among them, who found the social location of true cultural value not among the classically trained elites, with their elegant but superficial Frenchified sophistication, but the Volk
Nationalism built a bridge between state and artist; slowly but surely, governments came to realise that culture had political power; the natural alliance between intelligentsia and the state was more obvious to some contemporaries than to others; in 1833, von Ranke wrote that 'if the main event of the hundred years before the French Revolution was the rise of the great powers in defence of European independence, so the main event of the period since then is that fact that nationalities were rejuvenated, revived, and developed anew. They became a part of the state, for it was realised that without them the state could not exist'
Honour, Romanticism (London, 1979) Introduction
Concerns Romanticism as an historical phenomenon, not as a state of mind found in all periods and cultures; the urge to categorise artists as romantic or classic, introvert or extrovert, oral or anal, began with the Romantics themselves and their re-evaluation of the arts of the past
Attempts to isolate concurrent Neo-classicism and Romantic tendencies, even within the limited period from 1750-1850 have been largely unrewarding, especially when one is associated exclusively with the Antique Revival, and the other with Medievalism or, at a more sophisticated level, with a preference for line rather than colour, open rather than closed
'Neo-classicism and Romanticism are no more than figments of our logical modes of thought'; more interesting are studies which have attempted to penetrate the cultural realities beneath the art-historical packaging, and reveal the inner tensions; in their light, the period has come to be seen as one of continuous development from the rejection of the Rococo in the mid-eighteenth-century to the emergence of Realism in the mid-nineteenth
It is often called the "age of Romanticism", perhaps subdivided into 'pre-Romanticism' and 'Romantic classicism'; such a view tends to obscure the disruptive effect of the fundamental changes in attitude, not only to the arts, but life in general, which inevitably flowed from the French Revolution and subsequent diffusion of Kant's philosophy
There is much in Romanticism which seems uncannily 'modern'; the large, almost abstract, late paintings by Turner, Grandville's weird, almost surrealist, Zoomorphoses; some severe, almost 'internationally modern' buildings by Schinkel - all come close, but not quite there
Definitions of Romanticism tend to be so general as to include a bewildering number of characteristics, most of which are to be found in other periods, cultures, or so specific that they exclude the majority of those commonly ascribed to as 'Romantics'; in one of A.O. Lovejoy's essay, he proposed that the word 'Romantic' should be used only in the sense of Friedrich Schlegel's definition of 'romantische Poesie' (romantic poetry), published in 1798, and that all other 'romanticisms' should be distinguished from it and from one another
Lovejoy has been criticised for placing too much weight on this definition of 1798; it nonetheless has great importance, simply as a symptom of a strongly felt need to define qualities barely mentioned in the then-accepted theories of the arts
In general, definitions of Romanticism formed in the early nineteenth-century are so contradictory that they cannot be reduced to a single coherent system - nor, indeed, can the major works of art and literature (paintings by Turner, Constable, Delacroix and Caspar David Friedrich, for example, or in England alone the poetry of Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, and Byron
Their diversity is their most obvious characteristic, yet they all present attitudes to art and life which differ fundamentally from those previously expressed; as Levi-Strauss remarked (in another context), 'it is not the similarities, but the differences, which resemble one another'; to the Romantic artist, any norm was deeply antipathetic
Baudelaire declared that 'Romanticism is precisely situated neither in choice of subject, nor in exact truth, but in a way of feeling'; since this 'way of feeling' can be detected only subjectively, there is great difficulty in defining Romanticism -its first historian declared it 'just that which cannot be defined' -cf. F.R. de Toreinx (alias Ronteix), Histoire du Romantisme en France, (Paris, 1829)
The underlying motives of the Romantics are too complex to be encapsulated in a simple formula; if many were opposed to the aesthetic doctrines of classicism, to the rationalism of the Enlightenment, or to the political ideals of the French Revolution, there were many others who were not
"Neither in literature nor in the visual arts can Romanticism be regarded simply, or even primarily, as an expression of anti-rationalism in thought or reactionary illiberalism in politics" - p.15
There is no single work of art which exemplifies the aims and ideals of the Romantics (as does, for instance, David's Oath of the Horatii those of the Neo-classical painters); example given is comparison between Géricault's Wounded Cuirassier (bottom right, 1814) and Friedrich Overbeck's portrait of Franz Pforr (top right, 1810); one is as bold and freely rendered, with sweeping brush strokes and splashes of pigment dashed on with apparent exuberant spontaneity, as the other is meticulously, meditatively worked over with a miniaturists' precision of touch
An articulate and highly intelligent artist of the time, Victor Schnetz, traced the origins of Romantic painting in France to the studio of the great Neo-classic Jacques-Louis David, who encouraged his pupils to develop their own individual talents; the Romantic movement, he said, was a revolution, 'not an insurrection'
The Romantics followed a 'mysterious way' which, in Novalis' phrase, 'leads inwards'; for the Romantics, the individual sensibility was the only faculty of aesthetic judgement; Caspar David Friedrich declared the artist's only law to be his feelings; the artist ought to express the beliefs, fears, hopes of his own time and country, for nationalism is a corporate form of individualism closely linked with the idea of freedom
What the Romantics sought at all costs to avoid were the blandly impersonal compositions, the glabrously smooth bodies and anonymous 'licked' surfaces of academic art; similarly they rejected the notion that symbolic images had codified meanings laid down in emblem books
A Romantic work of art expresses the unique point of view of its creator; as Novalis claimed, 'the more personal, local, peculiar, of its own time, a poem is, the nearer it stands to the centre of poetry'; thus a new significance was laid on autobiography; Romantics believed they were worth more precisely because they were different from other men
Eighteenth-century had been an age of classification (of insects, plants, animals, races of man); intuition was brought in to solve the problems which empiricism had brought to the surface; as the differences became more strongly marked, each civilisation came to be judged on its own merits and each historical character according to the standards of his or her own time - history began to play the dominant part it was to have throughout the nineteenth-century in Western Europe
It was at about this time too that works of art were first seen, and indeed displayed in museums, as expressions of historical styles of par with one another, rather than as deviations from a single norm, the one true style
In this way, what began as an enlightened inquiry into the assumptions of the Enlightenment, conducted by such daring thinkers as Herder and Kant, suddenly acquired a greater urgency and a more general significance in the 1790s; the course of the French Revolution greatly sharpened historical consciousness, and revealed the complexity of what had previously seemed to be simple ideas - that ideals of personal and political liberty, were not identical and could be mutually exclusive
It demonstrated too the force of passion and the frailty of reason, the insufficiency of theories and the power of circumstances in shaping events; As Wordsworth wrote "a shock had then been given//To old opinions; and the minds of all men//had felt it
Romanticism was the diversity of individual responses to this situation, united only at their point of departure and constantly subject to revision in a constantly changing world - there is no linear progression in Romanticism
Romantic styles radiate outwards in all directions from the still centre of Neo-classicism
All the art of the first half of the nineteenth-century was to some extent coloured by Romantic ideas, which were much more pervasive than those of the Enlightenment had been in the eighteenth-century
Spontaneity, individuality and 'inner truth' came to be recognised as the criteria by which all works of art, literature and music, of all periods and countries, should be judged; here perhaps the one essential, distinguishing feature of Romantic
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