The Revival of Frühromantik in the Anglophone World

Article excerpt

In Critical Fragment Nr. 115, Friedrich Schlegel remarks: "The whole history of modern poetry is a running commentary on the following brief philosophical text: all art should become science and all science art; poetry and philosophy should be made one."1 Written in the swell of revolutionary fervor, both of the political kind-the French Revolution-and of the philosophical kind-Kant's Copernican Revolution, Schlegel's push to unite such disparate realms of human inquiry was revolutionary in its own right. More than 200 years have passed since Schlegel's call to unite poetry and philosophy, and to reconsider art's relation to science, and thinkers are still struggling to understand the ramifications of such a call. Indeed, the movement of which Schlegel was a part, Frühromantik (or early German Romanticism, which peaked between the cities of Berlin and Jena and the years of 1794 and 1801), defies easy classification and partly for that reason, it has been since its inception at best misunderstood, and at worst simply ignored, especially in the Anglophone world.

The neglect of the philosophical dimensions of Frühromantik in the Anglophone world is due to two main reasons. First, a language barrier: many of the primary works by the leading figures of the movement, e.g., Friedrich von Hardenberg (Novalis), Friedrich Hölderlin, Friedrich Schlegel, and Friedrich Schleiermacher were not translated into English until quite recently.2 Moreover, critical German language editions of their work were not even available until the 1960s, hampering scholarship even on the continent. second, a generally dismissive view of the broader movement known as German Idealism, to which Frühromantik is typically seen as a mere appendage. Foundational figures in the beginning of the analytic tradition in philosophy, such as G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell, turned with a vengeance against the philosophy that they had endorsed in their youth, helping to propagate a virulently biased view of German Idealism.3 Their influence certainly eroded interest in German Idealism sparked by the writings of thinkers such as F. H. Bradley, Bernard Bosanquet, and J. M. E. McTaggart, in England, and Josiah Royce in the United States. By and large, analytic philosophers after Russell and Moore have tried to keep non-analytic European continental thought on the European continent, and to free the analytic tradition from moves toward spooky concepts like Kant's Ding an sich, Hegel's Geist, and other such allegedly anti-realist leanings that might land us in the realm of the nonsensical.4

It should come as no surprise that the period of thought from Kant to Hegel, 5 which has been compared to nothing less than the golden age of Athens, was not forever to be quieted by such biased, myopic, anti-idealist hysteria. Lately the period has been given muchneeded, renewed attention. Particularly heartening is the serious interest given to the most disdained figures of the period, the early German Romantics, who typically were not even seen as threatening to the future of philosophy by anti-idealist Anglophone philosophers, insofar as they were not even considered to be philosophers at all. The early romantics traditionally fared, then, even worse than the idealists, for the idealists were at least seen as philosophers.

The renewed interest in Frühromantik is shown by the several excellent translations of both primary and secondary works, and by the several original studies which shed light on just the sorts of relations articulated by Schlegel, namely, philosophy's relation to poetry, art's relation to science, and the nature of philosophy itself. While the recent profusion of new work on the early German Romantics is most welcome, its pace is so fast and its manifoldness is so varied, that the task of discussing these new contributions with the detail that they deserve is virtually impossible. Thus I cannot provide exhaustive treatment of each contribution I discuss (and I will not even discuss every new contribution); instead, I will highlight some of the main controversies and debates generated by the new literature, while providing a general overview of the exciting new growth in the field. …