The origins of philosophical romanticism can be found in theworks of Immanuel Kant which has been a source of inspiration for romanticpoets like Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Shelly. Romanticism, as we know, has beendeveloped against the Age of Enlightenment. It considers “emotionalself-awareness” as a necessary requirement for improving both an individual anda society. For Romantics, scientific civilization fulfills unnatural desires inman, and seduces him from true nature and freedom. Kant’s Aesthetic conceptsserve as an inspiration for romantic poets of that time. Kant’s TranscendentalIdealism argues that we see “things in themselves”.
In other words, we gain anunderstanding of the world through human experience. His remarks on the purposeof nature and art impacts the development of Romantic Aesthetics. This paperargues that Kant’s remarks on the purposiveness of nature and art marks thedevelopment Aesthetics side of Romanticism. His philosophy discernsepistemological, ethical, metaphysical and political concerns of RomanticAestheticism in the late 19th century. This paper further elaborateson these concerns on romantic understanding of beauty and art as an essentialpart in human life.From a rationalist perspective, nature has been consideredas a mechanical domain, as meaningless matter that is made of different atomsand compounds. For a rationalist, reasons serves as the chief source and test ofknowledge. In other words, “Modern Science dissected nature atomistically likea dead corpse” (Richard 18).
As a coherent movement, Romantics challenges rationalistapproach to nature as reductive as they reduce nature to mere matter. Whereas,Romantics considers nature to have three main characteristics: Holistic Unity,Self-Organization, and Life. So, Kantian concerns about “unity of consciousness”,”teleology” and “aesthetics” renounce the reductive approach towards nature whichalienates man from nature through a mechanistic domain. Aesthetics is capable of revitalizing nature as it bringsout a different idea of nature which is organic rather than mechanic. One ofthe main objectives of Romantics has been to counter threats from rationalistmodern science. This counteract argues that science alienates human beings fromnature.
Through the lens of science, nature is viewed as mechanical. Holderlin,in his preface to Hyperion, states: We have fallen out with nature, and what was once. One isnow in conflict with itself, and mastery and servitude alternate onboth sides. It often seems to us as if the world were everything and we nothing, but oftentoo as if we were everything and the world nothing (Nassar 139). It is clear from this statement thatmodernity has divided man from himself through the embodiment of dualitybetween reason and sensibility.
In other words, it has separated man fromnature. For nearly a century, romanticism has been considered as areaction against the Enlightenment. Romantics, like Rudolf Haym, haveillustrated the Age of Enlightenment as impoverished and dry. His reflection toHegel’s Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit is a prime example. In hiswords, “He understands the Hegelian philosophy who has perfectly made himself masterof this Preface” but “It did not andcould not put into effect what it proclaimed as its own aim… It couldnot bring to our nation the noble balance of aesthetic” (Haym). The Aestheticsmay seem to agree with this perception because, on this interpretation, theromantics changed the Enlightenment’s believe in the superiority of reason witha belief in the superiority of art and nature that are involved in aestheticexperience.
On this conventional interpretation, romanticism can be consideredas against rationalist ideology, in other words, as irrational. But, while theRomantics’ quest for supremacy of aesthetics marks a break with theEnlightenment, their consideration of romantic aesthetics as antagonistic/anti-rationalto the core Enlightenment values is unjustified for a number of reasons.Romanticism believes in the stance of bringing back aestheticfeeling without compromising the necessity of reason. German romantics have nevertried to replace reasonwith the feeling of beauty, instead they have argued to highlight thepassionate nature of reason as a part of a balanced and unified perception ofhuman life. In this way, regarding Romanticism only as a continuation of freeexpression in reaction to the limitations of rationalism would be inappropriate.For instance, being regarded as one of the main sources of influence on Sturmund Drang, Schlegel states that “only when striving toward truth and knowledge cana spirit be called a philosophical spirit” (71). Jacobi considers that the onlyway to reclaim our aesthetic beliefs, while challenging the limitations of theEnlightenment, is to reject reason in favor of faith and sensation. Inhis review of Jacobi, Schlegel severely criticizes his believe to replacereason.
So, Romanticism is better understood as an attempt to combine reasonand sensibility. Aesthetics is central to the Romantics as it is concernedwith re-enchanting nature in the period of scientific reasoning. Here,Enchanting refers to the process of rendering nature magical or mysterious andthus inspiring reverence and awe: “the Romantics thus essentially conceivedtheir program for cultural and aesthetic transformation with the aim ofre-enchanting nature and reconciling humanity with nature” (Stone 7). Whilechallenging the decisive structure of modern alienation, Enchantment challengesthe threat of detached treatment towards nature.
Modern science portrays natureon the basis of mechanism, as an entity which is devoid of any awe-inspiritingpower. Therefore, romantics change this attitude towards nature by highlightingthe sense of mystery and magic in nature. In the words of Novalis, Romanticizing is nothing other than a qualitative raisinginto higher power…. By giving a higher meaning to the ordinary, a mysterious appearance tothe ordinary, the dignity of the unacquainted to that of which we are acquainted, themere appearance of infinity to finite, I romanticize them (Pinkard 147). Through the influence of Kant, the Romantics considers thatthe beauty of nature illustrates the purposiveness of nature without a purpose.
It guides and inspires us in perceiving nature as purposively organized even thoughwe cannot characterize this structure to any creator, will, or any end-governedactivity:That which reminds us of nature and thus stimulates afeeling for the infinite abundance of life is beautiful. Nature is organic, and therefore, thehighest beauty is forever vegetative; and the same is true for morality and love(Schlegel 90).While this perception, the romanticscontinue to further evaluate this opinion. Firstly, they are more focused on purposiveness,real-life features and structure of nature, instead of regular principles forapproaching nature. Secondly, they have used these features to show that natureis different from creative, self-conscious human beings but only through acertain extend. In other words, nature is end-governed like human beings. Inparticular, it is beauty that inspires this unified understanding.
In the wordsof Novalis, “Through beauty, nature transforms itself into a human being” (1). As a unified phenomenon, we would be capableof seeing nature and humanity when we attend to art and beauty. Kant’s aesthetics shows a method of “reflective self-awareness”as a way of being responsive and conscious to aspects of the world. Similarly,Romantics focuses on a non-discursive, but rational and normatively governed methodof awareness. For both Kant and Romantics, poetry fulfills this purpose as itis grounded in feeling/sensibility.
In the famous words of Wordsworth, “Allgood poetry originates in the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” (Waugh53). As a break from the rational Neoclassical poetry, Wordsworth shows a newkind of poetry where emotions are highlighted. He attempts to capture theintensity of emotions. So, Romantic Poetry seems as an essential device forboth Kant and Romantics. Eagleton claims that Kant sets ground for our feeling ofsublime within us. For him, Kant’s “aesthetic is virtually synonymous withideology” (Wayne 384). We are able to achieve a very precious and convenientform of inter-subjectivity through aesthetic Judgement. In his words, For Kant, we find ourselves concurring spontaneously in an aestheticJudgement, able to agree that a certain phenomenon is sublime or beautiful, weexercise a precious form of inter-subjectivity, establishing ourselves as a community offeeling subjects linked by a quick sense of our shared capacities (Eagleton 54)Eagleton stress that only Aestheticscan give human its autonomy during the time of rationalization.
It is aresurrection of the Aesthetic felling from an earlier social order. It gives asense of harmony and unity with a transcendental existence. Eagleton constantly stresses the negative aspect of the Aesthetic,because it never allows any debate nor questioning. It assumes a mutual harmonyat the basis of our sensibility. In his explanation of the ironical aspect ofthe Aesthetic, he states: Aesthetic inter-subjectivity adumbrates a utopian communityof subjects, united in the very deep structure of their being….
The cultural domain…
is one of non-coercive consensus; it is of the essence of aesthetic Judgments thatthey cannot be compelled. (Eagleton 97)Although, we try to deny and reject the existing social order and tryto find a unity and mutual harmony in the Aesthetic, Aesthetic legitimates and mystifiesreal social relations. As a Marxist critic, Eagleton puts emphasis on thesocial and economic relations ruling people and focuses on the ironical aspectof the Romantic aesthetics.To inform and inspire others, Poetry is most appropriate forthe purpose of romanticizing for a number of reasons. First, it has ability tode-familiarize the most familiar through its vivid imagery, attention todetail, and use of non-ordinary language. Second, it has ironic ability to highlightthe limitations of our knowledge to pave way for reverence and awe. Known forhis romantic poetry, Wordsworth shows real sense of responsibility towardspoetry. In his words, Poetry throw over them a certain coloring of theimagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual way; andfurther and above all to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing inthem (Wordsworth 7).
The use of this language in poetry incorporatespassions of ordinary people with the beautiful forms of nature. Moreover, ironysuggests that there is more beyond our cognitive abilities. Through theseabilities, poetry serves as a device to further the cause of Romantics. Wordsworth’s expression of nature is perhaps the mostpowerful awe-inspiring depiction of nature in his romantic poetry. One exampleis Wordsworth’s poem “Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey”. Hedepicts his encounter with the countryside along the bank of the River Wye.
Hegives an insight into nature. This highly philosophical poem is an illustrationon the role of nature in human life:A sense sublime Of something far more deeply interfused, Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, And the round ocean, and the living air, And the blue sky, in the mind of man, A motion and a spirit, that impels, All thinking things, all objects of all thought, And rolls through all things. … I, so long A worshipper of Nature, hither came, Unwearied in that service: rather say With warmer love, oh! With far deeper zeal Of holier love. (Wordsworth 96, 103)To advance the aesthetic agenda, theselines illustrate nature as alive and a locus of Spirit. Nature speaks to us aswe speak to it and to each other instead of being an unknown force.
In his introduction to the Critique of Judgement, Kant states that “pleasure is the feelingthat can never become an element of cognition at all” (187). So, it could beperceived that feelings are devoid of any kind of rationality, but Kant arguesthat feeling can be rational as it is a part of universal mental state thathighlights our ability to judge. From both Kant’s and Romantics, rationality isirreducible to cognition. Feeling does not govern any actual property that the objecthas of subjectivity. In fact, feeling is the response to the interactionbetween a subject and an object. Respectively, Aesthetic pleasure reflects onthe relationship between subjectivity and objectivity.
Kant further analyzes both the object (nature) and thesubject (morality) in his works while arguing the outcome of interactionbetween the two. He considers that nature and morality are not independent, butinterrelated in order to highlight moral freedom. In Critique of Judgement, he states: Now even if an immeasurable gulf is fixed between thesensible realm of the concept of nature and the supersensible realm of the concept of freedom,so that no transition is possible from the first to the second (by means of thetheoretical use of reason), just as if they were two different worlds of which the first could haveno influence upon the second, yet the second is meant to have an influenceupon the first. … There must, therefore, be a ground of the unity of thesupersensible, which lies at the basis of nature, with that which the concept of freedom practically contains.(Kant 107)In other words, the harmonizationbetween nature and freedom is possible through Judgement, in which the purposeimposed by the laws of freedom is harmonized with the realm of nature.
Kantfinds the purpose imposed by the laws of freedom in the beautiful and the sublime.While analyzing the beautiful, Kant argues that Judgement of taste isaesthetical: In order to distinguish whether anything is beautiful ornot, we refer the presentation, not by the understanding to the object for cognition, but by theimagination (perhaps in conjunction with the understanding) to the subject and itsfeeling of pleasure or pain. The Judgement of taste is therefore not a Judgement ofcognition, and is consequently not logical but aesthetical.
(Kant 38)For Kant, Beauty seems to be anindefinite notion of understanding. Contrary to his believe on the beautiful,the sublime revolves around negative pleasure rather than positive. Thisfeeling of the sublime is explained as repulsive. Kant further states:The beautiful in nature is connected with the form of theobject, which consists in having boundaries.
The sublime, on the other hand, is to be foundin a formless object, so far as in it or by occasion of it boundlessness isrepresented, and yet its totality is also present to thought (23)In short, sublime is the representationof a formless object. It is a concept that belongs to the reason. These ideasabout the beautiful and the sublime seem to have an influence on Coleridge’stheory of Imagination.
Coleridge represents a beautiful image of unificationbetween the subject and the object. It is obvious that Kant’s Critique ofJudgement has a significant and profound impressions on Coleridge’sunderstanding of the Romantics. In his poem KublaKhan, he expresses twin streams of imagination and being through his mind.In his own words, I have read of two rivers passing through the same lake, yetall the way preserving their streams visibly distinct. If I mistake not, the Rhone andthe Adar, through the Lake of Geneva. In a far finer distinction, yet in a subtler union..
. are the streams of knowing and being. The lake is formed by the two streams in man andnature as it exists in and for man; and up this lake the philosopher sails on the junction-lineof the constituent streams (Guite 107).The lake made through “two streamsof knowing and being” is a perfect representation of unification of the subjectand the object. Here, it is also clearly expressed the philosopher’s desire toachieve his goal: “to sail up this lake”. Kant is one of the philosophers whosailed up this lake before Coleridge. But, Coleridge, on the other hand, seemsto have carried on from Kant. The sublime links with the expression of the poet’s feeling.
It is produced in front of Mount Blanc in Coleridge’s “Hymn Before Sun-rise, inthe Vale of Chamouni.”. As the sublimeis the representation of a formless object, the pleasure experienced by thepoet in this poem “arises only indirectly” and “is produced by the feeling of amomentary checking of the vital powers and consequent stronger outflow of them”(83). This poem is an excellent example of the poetic expressions of thesublime.
O dread and silent Mount! I gazed upon thee,Till thou, still present to the bodily sense,Didst vanish from my thought: entranced I’ll prayerI worshipped the invisible alone.Yet, like some sweet beguiling melody,So sweet, we know not we are listening to it,Thou, the meanwhile, wast blending with myThought,Yea, with my Life and Life’s own secret JOY:Till the dilating Soul, enrapt, transfused,Into the mighty vision passing-thereAs in her natural form, swelled vast to Heaven! In these lines, the expressions,such as “gazed upon” and “dread and silent Mount”, exactly match with Kant’s definitionof the feeling of sublime and its pleasure. The poet expresses the feeling ofstronger outflow of the vital powers. Here, the poet calls his own soul andheart to be awaken. He calls several aspects of sublime in nature with thenotes of exclamation. This invigoration of the poet’s soul appears to be moreinteresting when it is viewed through Kant’s explanation of the sublime:The sight of them is the more attractive, the more fearfulit IS, provided only that we are in security; and we willingly call these objects sublime,because they raise the energies of the soul above their accustomed height and discover in us afaculty of resistance of a quite different kind, which gives us courage to measureourselves against the apparent almightiness (101). The sublimity of the Mount felt bythe poet seems to be more understandable, especially when it is viewed inconjunction with Kant’s analysis of the sublime.
It is clear that Romantics,like Coleridge, have been from Kant’s ideas. Being viewed as one of the famous figure in the period of 19thcentury Romanticism, John Keats is regarded as a pioneers for pursuing “Art forArt’s Sake”. He creates an eternal world for beauty and truth in his poems.
Fora long time, his poetic world is against the unsatisfactory social reality. Inother words, he acts as a promoter for tranquility, peace and ever-lastingbeauty. Aesthetic value of his poetry lies in his astonishing portrayal of thebeautiful things in nature through his ability of imagination and fancy.
Further,his poetry leads to vivid demonstration of the relationship between nature and man.In other words, he explores man’s senses, the ability of art to make realityeternal, and the sublimity of man’s mind and soul. Moreover, Keats’s poemstranscend the limitations of senses. Through the charm of its beauty, ittouches the very core of man’s spiritual world. To compare their ideal concernsregarding aesthetic beauty, both Keats Kant highlight their viewpoints aboutbeauty, the human senses, the relationship between man and nature.Kant refers to Aesthetic as something that is concerned withexperiences of individual senses rather than something that is specifically artistic(Leitch 503). Instead of artistic production, he focuses on the individual’sresponse. Kant argues that it makes no difference whether the object is human-madeor natural.
In fact, he is more concerned with protecting art’s freedom by aligningit with beauty against the absolute world of science. According to Kant, “SubjectiveUniversality” renders people taste for beauty. The experience of beauty can increasethe coherence within our dual human nature as free and physical being. As anAesthetic device, “Poems exist in words, not in direct sensations, and its truerole is not to outdo the vividness of the world of sense impression, but toprovide us with something else” (Brooks and Warren 68). For Keats, the beauty isexperienced and pursued through poetry.In his poem Sleep and Poetry, he shows that Poetry portraysa wide heaven, yet he is not a glorious citizen of its realm. Through poetry,his young spirit can follow the morning sunbeams to the great Apollo.
He portraysmany beautiful and fanciful scenes which are made possible through writingpoems. In Ode to a Nightingale, Keats portrays poetry as more powerfulthan any power which can only bring joy to our senses. For example, the powerof wine god Bacchus. In the words of Edwin Arlington Robinson’s, “Poetry is alanguage that tells us, through a more or less emotional reaction, somethingthat cannot be said” (Beaty 1235). With the viewless wings of Poesy, the poetcan fly with the nightingale to the solemn forest, the beautiful and mysteriousland, leaving behind all the weariness, the fever and the fret. This kind of poetryrepresents true poetry; a representation of beauty which feeds upon the negativityin life.
So, only true poets can experience true beauty, and compose truepoems. The poets have their souls on earth and also souls in heaven, and theycan have a double life.It seems odd that Romantics call to poeticize nature andscience, but it has prominent relevance today. The Romantic aesthetics, whichKant and Coleridge have prioritized, surely revolves around the irony. It hasthe ability to reproduce and mystify the social order that has been opposed anddenied by many.
Kant and Coleridge revolves around freedom, human dignity, faithand harmony. This shows that they have been the offspring of their society and age.Whereas the poetic expression in Keats’s romantic perception is arepresentation of true beauty through true poetry. It can be taken into thereal society as well. Keats enjoys a high reputation for his profoundness and beautyembedded in his poetry. In other words, he seeks for eternal beauty and truthin his poetry.
It is clear from these Romantics that poetry is central forRomantics, as it involves reaction against prevailing Enlightenment ideas. RomanticPoetry aims to convey the essential truth about the Age of Enlightenment. Romanticpoets try to capture truth about human life, but they are neither mimetic norrational.
In Romantic Poetry, The study of Aesthetic features is of greatsignificance as these features have a capability to show significant impact on thecontemporary as well as comparative studies.