VISIONARY PERSPECTIVES shape the influential works and careers of the five major critical theorists of the Romantic imagination studied here. The most significant of these perspectives, for my purposes, is often expressed as a pervasive conviction, Romantic and Symboliste in its immediate literary origins, that the "natural," however ultimately determined, must be ruthlessly and rigorously--one could even say, ritualistically-- sacrificed or even annihilated, no matter what the personal or collective costs. This sacrifice is necessary if it is to be successfully transformed into a truly alien "second nature" or separate textual world, a "supernature," apocalyptic in intention and intensity and radically at odds with, even as such a conviction is finally related to, other such conceptions of "second nature" that animate the religious, philosophical, and literary traditions of Western culture. For only in this manner, it is assumed, can a modern writer, working in a nihilistic age of unbelief and institutionalized terror, perfect a representative style of sublimity and thereby achieve symbolic immortality for himself among the other classics of our literature.
These five critics-- Pater, Bloom, Hartman, Frye, and de Man--define the "natural" in a variety of ways. For Pater, it is, practically speaking, indistinguishable from the customary, from the common immemorial round of human experiences in nature and society, for which (pace Woodsworth) no strict philosophical rationale or even aesthetic justification--short of the tragic spectacle of a fatal, Romantic passion--can effectively be given. Iron