Academic journal article Wordsworth Circle

Coleridge Finds Spinoza's Dharma Nature

Academic journal article Wordsworth Circle

Coleridge Finds Spinoza's Dharma Nature

Article excerpt

Coleridge's vision of nature's wild force in the 1796-97 poems of the supernatural-supersensible--perhaps best expressed in "The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere, in Seven Parts"--is something of the return of the repressed, situated somewhere between/beyond Spinoza's rationalist philosophy of nature--Deus sive Natura, God or Nature--and the Enlightenment objectification of nature. If, for Spinoza, nature is the alternatively perceivable form of God's expression (the other is thought), he also posits an infinite number of other forms of the divine expression beyond human perception, thus providing a speculative space between the perceivable and the incomprehensible for something else, something apperceptible yet inconceivable to the human mind. That something else Coleridge imagines to be a nature scandalized by the scientific distancing of the natural from the human will, a return of the repressed primal force that is the raw generativity of nature and its alliance with the supersensible. It is nature as the thing-in-itself that is beyond perception, but only in the sense of its thing-ness and itselfness as participatory in and expressive of the absolute that is its creative principle. That is, a nature not composed of autonomous things that can be scientifically parsed and scrutinized in isolation, but a nature that is interdependently interrelated with the human as well as the supersensible; it is a nature wildly resisting being walled off as unnecessary to, and autonomous from, either human or divine realms. How "The Rime" imagines the human confrontation with this wild force simultaneously stages the limitations of language to convey an apperception of the wild, and the limitless capacity of language to render such apperception figuratively, rhythmically, and prophetically.

Coleridge had not yet read Schelling's System of Transcendental Idealism (1800) because it had not yet been written, but Schelling's ideas--which Coleridge absorbs and adapts along with Kant's critical philosophy and Fichte's neo-Kantian idealism as soon as he is exposed to these--reveal that Coleridge has taken from Spinoza something like what Schelling has taken from Spinoza's "nature philosophy" of Deus sive Natura, God or Nature, and that both men responded to Enlightenment science with a recoil that acknowledges its scandalous division of the human from the natural world. (1) Both men had also absorbed elements of eastern speculative thought inherent in Christian mysticism, and in Leibniz's seemingly rationalist, harmonious vision of the phenomenal world--a vision that, beneath appearances, has structured in eastern speculative conceptions of non-duality and oneness. (2) These are the elements I want to discuss in Coleridge's famous poem, as well as his use of "rime" as rhythm and repetition to transform expression into revelation.

What Coleridge and Wordsworth were discussing of Spinoza's philosophy so intently during the "Spy Nozy" affair--which part of his analysis of relation of nature to the absolute, and of the human relation to both--might be gleaned from the "nature poetry" in the Lyrical Ballads and allegories of it such as the "Rime." After his return from Germany Coleridge confides to his notebook that Spinoza's monism has provided the conduit to the suggestive non-duality of the earlier supernatural poems such as "Kubla Khan": "If I begin a poem of Spinoza, thus it should begin: I would make a pilgrimage to the burning sands of Arabia, or etc etc to find the Man who could explain to me there can be oneness, there be infinite Perceptions--yet there must be a onmess, not an intense Union but an Absolute Unity...." (3) Coleridge's own taste of Christian mysticism from thinkers such as Giordano Bruno, and the mystical thought inherent in Stoic philosophy, prepared him for what he was to encounter in Germany. There, Coleridge discovered among the academic community an emphatic return to Christian mysticism (that of Jacob Boehme and Meister Eckhart in particular) as well as an enthusiastic regeneration of Spinozism. …

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