The Ideology of Imagination: Subject and Society in the Discourse of Romanticism

By Forest Pyle | Go to book overview

Notes

Introduction
1
See in particular James Engell, The Creative Imagination( Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981). Further references to this work will be included in the text. Engell's compendious work of intellectual history examines "the growth of an idea" from eighteenth-century aesthetic theory through its full "flowering" in German and English Romanticism. Engell's study is a model of scrupulous research and scholarship, a study to which anyone who examines the concept of the imagination owes a considerable debt. My primary differences with Engell concern the narrative of his exposition, its implicit model of historical change. Though Engell is attentive to the potential divisions in the concept of the imagination -- divisions that are, however, most often reconciled in this unifying narrative -- he is much less attentive to textual divisions, to the fissures and contradictions residing in the texts that give us the imagination. For Engell, the imagination may speak in several languages, but it speaks, ultimately, with one mind. Engell assumes that the poetry and criticism of English Romanticism represents a "great practical application" of and "ready trust" in the imagination. I will argue that though English Romanticism made a significant social as well as philosophical and poetic investment in the imagination, that investment is by no means uniform or consistent. Moreover, the appearance of the imagination in the texts of English Romanticism can, as we shall see, scarcely be referred to as the "practical application" of a concept already specified and "refined," for it is by the very instance of its critical and, crucially, poetic performance that the imagination discloses its fun-

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