First Outline of a System of Theory: Schelling and the Margins of Philosophy, 1799-1815

By Rajan, Tilottama | Studies in Romanticism, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

First Outline of a System of Theory: Schelling and the Margins of Philosophy, 1799-1815


Rajan, Tilottama, Studies in Romanticism


1. Knowledge, Fluidity, Theory

NATURE, SCHELLING WRITES IN AGES OF THE WORLD (1815), "IS AN ABYSS of the past" (31). (1) Or as Hegel says, in work begun at Jena when he was still close to Schelling, nature is "an alien existence in which Spirit does not find itself," "the Idea in the form of otherness," as "the negative of itself" (3, 13). (2) Schelling's phrase enigmatically conjoins discourses that are foreign to each other: nature, history, and ontology. What results is not natural science, or Natur-philosophie, a science fiction in which nature and spirit find themselves rather than being estranged in each other. One could call it "physiogony," a term used by Coleridge and his follower J. H. Green. Green defines physiogony as a "history of nature" which, as "preface and portion of the history of man," makes the "knowledge of nature" a "branch of self-knowledge" and a part of the history of self-consciousness. (3) As physiogony, Ages would be an attempt at historiography: a genre in which it has been placed by claims that Schelling "invented dialectical materialism." (4) But if Ages aims at a theory of history, it is not history in the anthropological sense intended by Green. Instead, refusing to make the transition from nature to freedom, Schelling offers a psychoanalysis of history through nature, as an "alien existence in which Spirit does not find itself." Or, if as a history of self-consciousness the text should be considered philosophy, it is a history of Being in its historicity that results in a psychoanalysis of philosophy.

This is to say that one could also describe Ages as inventing psychoanalysis, much as Schopenhauer's World as Will and Representation anticipates Freudian metapsychology. For the history of nature for Schelling and Hegel serves as a laboratory for a psychoanalysis avant la lettre, since it is here that ideas such as resistance, inhibition, depression, crisis, the primal scene of trauma, and the (im)possibility of remembering and working through this trauma to enlightenment receive their earliest expression. Among these ideas, inhibition [Hemmung] can already be found in the earlier Naturphilosophie: specifically in the First Outline of a System of the Philosophy of Nature (1799). But because it is not yet part of a history, it is not resistance, inhibition in the psychoanalytic sense of something foreclosed or not known. Indeed, the First Outline brackets or re-idealizes its more deconstructive insights. In Ages, then, it is the grasping of nature as historical that seems to generate psychoanalysis. More specifically it is through the history of nature as human nature, the enfolding of phylogeny in ontogeny, that psychoanalysis is intergenerated. "One who could write completely the history of their own life," Schelling suggests, "would also have ... concurrently grasped the history of the cosmos" (W3: 3). But this means that one who would grasp the history of the world must unfold it from a history of their own life that is enveloped in the prehistory of life itself. Or that the analysis that is history as the "writing" of history, a writing without which history itself cannot proceed, is necessarily interminable. Hence the suggestion that Ages "invents" psychoanalysis, a claim that can be made for Romanticism more generally. Yet this characterization also seems not to capture what is at work in this strange text. For it leaves unbroached the question of what it means to invent psychoanalysis before, and outside, its clinical practice: outside any institutionalization or social outcome that might make it what Schelling calls a "positive" science, positive sciences being those "that attain to objectivity within the state" and are "organized into so-called faculties." (5)

In taking up Ages (1815) as an example, I argue that the interdisciplinary transferences it sets up between history and the natural sciences (specifically geology) function according to the logic of "theory," as a deconstructing of fixed forms of knowledge by each other, within (to evoke Schelling's own metaphor) a general "fluidity. …

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