The Innovations of Idealism

By Rüdiger Bubner; Nicholas Walker | Go to book overview

10
THE DIALECTICAL SIGNIFICANCE
OF ROMANTIC IRONY

Friedrich Schlegel wrote in the Lyceum Fragments that ‘philosophy is the authentic home of irony’.1 And he likewise regarded ironic philosophy as the appropriate expression of that anticipated unification of poetry and philosophy that constituted the early romantic credo itself.2 It is therefore impossible to ascribe irony exclusively to one or the other of these domains. Irony hovers intangibly in an intermediate space between both. In the same context, Schlegel also defines irony as ‘logical beauty’, and continues: ‘Wherever we philosophise in spoken or in written dialogue, rather than in an entirely systematic fashion, there irony should be pursued and encouraged’. And a little later he writes: ‘It is poetry alone that can be raised from this perspective to the very heights of philosophy’.

The following remarks will attempt to clarify precisely this dual thesis: that irony should always be pursued and encouraged whenever we are not philosophising in an entirely systematic fashion, and that poetry is correspondingly capable of rising to the level of philosophical speculation through the medium of irony. As is well known, the principal difficulty here lies in doing full methodological justice to splinters and shards of thought that gleam with insights that are deliberately left ungrounded and uncompleted. What we are confronted with is neither a belletristic offering that could simply be enjoyed aesthetically without pausing to reflect upon some further intellectual content, nor an example of philosophical argumentation the steps of which could be carefully followed, reconstructed and possibly contested as such. Schlegel

1 F. Schlegel, Kritische Friedrich Schlegel Ausgabe, ed. E. Behler et al. (Paderborn 1958-), vol. II, p. 152.

2 E.g. ibid., p. 267.

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