Academic journal article Studies in Romanticism

Coleridge beyond Kant and Hegel: Transcendent Aesthetics and the Dialectic Pentad

Academic journal article Studies in Romanticism

Coleridge beyond Kant and Hegel: Transcendent Aesthetics and the Dialectic Pentad

Article excerpt

ADDRESSING AN IMAGINARY, GENERALIZED READER IN A PLANNED "PREFACE to his "Meta[physical] Works" in a notebook entry from December 1804, Coleridge advises her/him to "read Tetens, Kant, Fichte, &c--and there you will trace or if you are on the hunt, track me." (1) Some critics have accepted this challenge and traced him from Kant, through Fichte, and then on to Schelling--at which point the trail appears to stop. To see this point as the end of Coleridge's development is to charge him with tacit plagiarism and to deny to him any originality. In the same notebook entry, Coleridge addresses such accusers (well before such allegations were ever voiced) by asking: "why then not acknowledge your obligations step by step?" He answers his own question by openly acknowledging the "glaring resemblances," but adds in his own defense that this manner of thinking and these ideas "had been mine, formed, & full formed in my own mind, before I had ever heard of those Writers ... much of the matter remains my own, and ... the Soul is mine" (CN 2: 2375). Coleridge's philosophic soul is not only in the same spirit as his predecessors but is indeed innovative and truly "original" in the Coleridgean sense of the word; and while he follows some of-the main lines of development of late-Eighteenth and Nineteenth-century German philosophy, and employs much of its terminology, he also makes out-roads of his own--out-roads which are uniquely his own--out-roads which are built on his terminological innovations and anticipations of later philosophical systems. Coleridge's originating capacity is especially evident in his aesthetic theory, which shifts from its transcendental foundations in Kant, towards a transcendent orientation which parallels, and moves beyond, elements of Hegel's aesthetics. This relocation is performed through a complex dialectical movement which extends the Hegelian triad to five moments, and involves the combined powers of the symbol, the idea, the reason, and the imagination--all synthesized by the final term of the beautiful.

The basic elements of Coleridge's aesthetics are contained in his The Principles of Genial Criticism (1814). In the third, pivotal essay, in the manner of a philosophical disquisition, Coleridge begins by defining his terminology. Through these definitions Coleridge begins to self-consciously construct a portion of the framework on which to build later speculations of his evolving "Dynamic Philosophy," projected in the Biographia Literaria, (2) and developed throughout scattered works, writing that

   the distinctions, which it is my object to prove and elucidate,
   have not merely a foundation in nature and the noblest faculties
   of the human mind, but are likewise the very groundwork, nay, an
   indispensable condition, of all rational inquiry concerning the
   Arts. (3)

The preliminary distinctions are the underpinning for all further aesthetic investigation; and, as "an indispensable condition," make such study possible; therefore, the disquisition performed in the Principles is essentially an inquiry after transcendental (in a philosophical, Kantian sense) principles.

Immanuel Kant "entitle[s] transcendental all knowledge which is occupied not so much with objects as with the mode of our knowledge of objects in so far as this mode of knowledge is to be possible a priori." (4) Coleridge defines the "transcendental" as related to "the spontaneous consciousness natural to all reflecting beings," and as being "exclusively the domain of PURE philosophy" (BL 1: 236-37). The "spontaneous consciousness" is apparently a reference to Kant's "transcendental aesthetic," which is "the science of all principles of a priori sensibility" (CPR 66). This sensibility is contained and enacted in "time and space, [which] taken together, are the pure forms of all sensible intuition" (CPR 80); time being the "form of inner intuition" (CPR 76) and space "the form of all appearances of outer sense" (CPR 71). …

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