Phenomenality and Dissatisfaction in Coleridge's Notebooks

By Terada, Rei | Studies in Romanticism, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Phenomenality and Dissatisfaction in Coleridge's Notebooks

Terada, Rei, Studies in Romanticism

THE LAST THING COLERIDGE WANTED TO BE CALLED WAS AN EMPIRICIST, yet he devoted hours of his life to minute descriptions of optical illusions, hallucinations, and sensory oddities--"spectra," as he calls them. He records occurrences as ordinary as after-images of colors, (1) double vision (N 1863, 2632), double take (N 2212), and reflections taken as objects (N 1844, 2557, 3159), and as dramatic as flowers on the curtain that turn into faces (N 2082); "a spectrum, of a Pheasant's Tail, that altered thro' various degredations into round wrinkly shapes" (N 1681); a "spectrum" of his own thigh that registered touches as luminous white trails (N 1108); and the apparition of an acquaintance whom he knows not to be in the room. On the occasion of this last hallucination Coleridge recalls, "I once told a Lady, the reason why I did not believe in the existence of Ghosts &c was that I had seen too many of them myself" (N 2583).

The meticulousness of his notebook entries indicates that Coleridge thought of them as a kind of research. (2) It is because Coleridge isn't an empiricist that he is interested in evidently illusory appearances, gathering evidence against phenomenality by noting every time it misleads. He is concerned that phenomenality be recognized as merely phenomenal. "Often and often I have had similar Experiences," he explains, "and therefore resolved to write down the Particulars whenever [begin strikethrough]they[end strikethrough] any new instance should occur/as a weapon against Superstition" (N 2583). Still, Coleridge often sounds as though he doesn't quite know why he finds spectra so fascinating--for he is not only intrigued, but moved. He could fear and love for their own sake images that he knew to be unreal; complementarily, he could not always summon fear and love for things that he thought real, pressing, fearsome, and lovable. His exclamation about the stars and moon in "Dejection: An Ode"--"I see, not feel, how beautiful they are!"(3)--is exemplary of the state of mind in question, one long contemplated in the secondary literature and considered utterly characteristic of Coleridge.

Coleridge's generally pleasurable absorption in spectra stands in contrast to his terror of certain other, equally ephemeral experiences: obsessive thoughts and ideas, memories, and dreams as opposed to daydreams. Although they may seem similar--and what's worse, one may turn into the other--there is a strong distinction for Coleridge between spectra and these mental phenomena, which he calls "spectres." While spectra are collaborations with the sensorium, spectres usually seem to take place inside the self, lack visual distance, and are involuntary: they are unwelcome, intractable impositions. (4) If Coleridge is sometimes puzzled by his attraction to spectra, he is even more puzzled and frustrated by his fear of spectres he doesn't believe in. "Most men affected by belief of reality attached to the wild-weed spectres of infantine nervousness," he notes in a jotting of 1806, "but I affected by them simply, & of themselves" (N 2944).

Coleridge's concerns--his investment in phenomena in whose reality he doesn't believe and his perplexity about what he should feel toward them--are not his alone. Qualities of derealization and hyperlucidity have been treated as signatures of the aesthetic and of ideology. Recent analyses of ideology observe that ideology can captivate while leaving reality testing untouched: the magic of commodity fetishes and the senseless resilience of cultural prejudices affect many people simply and of themselves. (5) Various philosophical traditions struggle, as Coleridge does, to articulate relations to merely apparitional appearances. In the history of these struggles, I want to suggest, attitudes toward phenomenality recurrently depend on attitudes toward diffuse, low-level dissatisfaction. In classical skepticism, dissatisfaction is what we're supposed to feel toward mere phenomena: the principle of akatalepsia, the idea that appearance tells nothing about nonappearance, is often treated as though it meant that appearance told nothing worth knowing. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Phenomenality and Dissatisfaction in Coleridge's Notebooks


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.