(p. 1) Introduction
(p. 1) Introduction
Romanticism has always been a systematically contested subject in modern criticism. From the start, it presented itself as a patchwork of different manifestos. Poets, especially, from Wordsworth to Hugo, Hölderlin to Leopardi, published or recorded privately their reasons for writing in the ways they did in order to show that self- consciousness was a significant part of their endeavour and contributed to its content. What they thought of their writing was part of what it was about. These professional explanations often involved philosophical, political, ethical, as well as literary reformulations for which the time and place of Romanticism were deemed to offer exclusive opportunities. The major and learned dispute between Arthur Lovejoy and René Wellek in the 1940s about the very definability of Romanticism actually renewed a foundational controversy; Wellek and Lovejoy debated the usefulness of a term for a period of literary history whose main characteristic had always been contestation of its terms of reference. Their querelle anticipated the more recent new historicist project of resisting a major feature of Romanticism, its habit of cajoling its readers into defining it on its own terms. Objective, properly historical discussion, historicists alleged, tends to be assimilated to Romanticism’s own version of itself. But, equally, to resist this self-portrait could confirm Lovejoy’s scepticism about the viability of discriminating any single thing called Romanticism, and so to perpetuate another self-image of the Romantic age, its original self-questioning, if not its ‘ideology’
Lovejoy and Wellek, though, wrote about Europe, while new historicists have tended to write almost exclusively about British Romanticism, incorporating some continental allies, such as the young Marx and Heine, when convenient, but usually contextualizing British Romantic poetry’s claim to autonomy with the local archives it purported to transcend—political, educational, economical, medical—or, in other words, the disciplines in contrast to which a Romanticism led by poetry had, in Coleridge’s terms, proposed ‘pleasure’ rather than ‘knowledge’ for its object. European Romanticism, however, is more plausibly viewed as the comparative subject of its earlier commentators. The local was often transcended in a spirit not of sublimation but of practical political necessity. The collaborations between different disciplines generated the idea of a (p. 2) general creativity, the Poesie of the age. This transferable skill or formative impulse in response to historical circumstance is what is explored through the diversity of subjects in the chapters of this book.
Viewed in most general terms, Romanticism was implicated in the creation of modern Europe, a process extending from the revolutionary throes of France in the 1790s to the reconstruction that took place after the Napoleonic era. Modern Europe did not of course leap fully formed from post-Napoleonic settlements such as the Congress of Vienna (1814), yet historians are still agreed that at least the groundwork out of which arose the continent’s formative national antagonisms was laid at this time. This Europe was the culmination of a series of ‘dry-runs’: the internationale coming out of the French Revolution, and the subsequent Napoleonic imperialism, with its simultaneously emancipating and domineering ‘code’, clearly had European pretentions. Their universalizing rhetoric for a while belied their French origins and only gradually subsided into an exclusive and aggrandizing nationalism, although much to the chagrin of sympathizers as far apart as Wordsworth and Ugo Foscolo. The invasion of Switzerland did it for Wordsworth, ‘Another year, another deadly blow’, and the tyrannies emerging from collaboration with Napoleon for Ugo Foscolo’s hero Jacopo Ortis, ‘si servono della libertà come i Papi si servivano delle crociate’ (‘they make use of liberty as the Popes used to do of the Crusades’). But Romanticism re-established the precedent of justifying nationalism by reference to a (lost) universalism equated with Europe. When Burke talked of a vanished ‘chivalry’ he appeared reactionary; but, as Novalis recognized, the recovery of the idea of a united Europe implied by his polemic could be regenerated in the undeniably progressive ideologies supporting or anticipating Greek, Italian, and German unification. Napoleon had scented such revivals in Mme de Staël’s De l’Allemagne, and pulped as many copies as he could. The entire 1816 Italian controversy, provoked by Staël’s subsequent letter on translation, continued this debate over ways in which a national literature could be modern and show that its moment had come by being European.
Less sweepingly, one can claim as well that the naturally interdisciplinary quality of European Romanticism, the typical transitions writers of the time made between different discourses and periods, set up an internal comparative dynamic. Again, the manifesto beckons. Literatures ancient and modern, dramatic or prosaic, or traditionally belonging to distinct genres or kinds became regarded as different sorts of writing seeking their recognizable translation into each other. They did so, it was argued, on the understanding of a common ground, a shared denominator whose evocation is most easily figured as the Romantic project. We should accept that queries will always persist as to when the term ‘Romantic’ was first used, or became an accepted category of classification, or if it can ever escape the retrospective legislation of later pedagogical or cultural purposes. At the same time, though, we should perhaps recognize that it is in its European or comparative character that the post-neoclassical period behaves in what became known as a Romantic manner. A resistance to generic boundaries of all kinds, and a cultural investment in the transgression of inherited boundaries permitted a choice of the traditions with which one defined oneself. No longer an inalienable birthright, history became historicized, ideas became ideologized, and the possible relativity (p. 3) of everything became a determinate indication of the cultural needs and priorities of the present. The ‘occasionalism’ for which the Fascist Carl Schmitt consequently derided the German Romantics actually confirmed the Romantic period as the one which inaugurated that series of redefinitions or occasions of modernity, unconstrained by static traditions, extending into our own post-modern or post-post-modern times.
Schmitt’s contempt was focused on the irony powering much romantic writing. In a scenario in which everything was provisional, offered as a temporary description, nothing, he argued, was for real or could be taken with unequivocal seriousness. Wilful obfuscation, a captious blindness to the realities of politics, or sheer escapism characterized the Romantic unwillingness to acknowledge certain fundamentals. How could a tradition be an optional rather than an inherited characteristic and still remain a tradition? How could an imagined polity retain any credibility without a real rather than a speculative basis in violent self-preservation? In Romantic reply one might claim that Schmitt is too narrow in his understanding of irony, himself blind to its defining links with a cultural expansiveness which actually supplanted its ironic beginnings. An aesthetic indecisiveness before choices obligatory in real life translates into a deliberate acceptance of varieties of social and anthropological realism, an urbanity made available, though, by that initial openness. This latitude was anticipated by Montesquieu to some extent, but it is forward-looking thinkers like Herder, interested in advancing a consciously modern literature, who are pre-Romantic in this sense.
But just as its irony exceeded a merely rhetorical role, becoming ‘Romantic irony’ proper, so Romanticism exploded an original literariness and proposed a much wider cultural repertoire. At one end of its agenda, there is Friedrich Schlegel’s theory of the artwork, the novel or der Roman, whose hybrid generic form possessed for him the strict political correlate of a mixed republican constitution. At the other end, a byword for ultimate philosophical explanation, Hegelian phenomenology shuttles between a metaphysics of becoming and the stance of criticism and reflection which that metaphysics justifies. Everything, but everything, must be brought to reflection in this critical age; everything must be critiqued in the post-Kantian sense of an interrogation of its logical presuppositions, and in the further Hegelian sense of subordinating that logic to the movement of history and the cunning of its reason. Hegelian logic only corroborated the way the world goes, der Weltlauf, which prioritized a series of different perspectives and descriptions. Again, the crossovers are crucial: movements between different expressions of experience are undertaken with a view to questioning just what might be at stake in the possibility of this translation. Such unfolding supports my suggestion here that it is in its comparativism that Romanticism can be approached most profitably and least controversially. Hegel certainly had little time for Romanticism, which he thought too ironical and inward, but even in attack he replicates its drive beyond initially aesthetic boundaries into a wider discursive geography. The European view of Romanticism stresses its compulsive dissipation of its talents across various fields. The refusal of European Romanticism to restrict conclusions to any single language-game, and the consequent difficulty in defining it posed by this comparative dynamic, is what turns the academic question debated between Lovejoy and Wellek into something more (p. 4) practical and symptomatic. The question becomes a profounder one about the timeliness of those changes which Romanticism typically makes in its discursive investments in response to changes in historical circumstance. This comparative habit may trouble later desires for disciplinary tidiness but has to be represented in any adequate discussion of the period.
How does one handle an area full of discourses constantly seeking their own past and each other’s company? Any scheme used must be competent to suggest, in effect, the transformation of the great encyclopedic project of the philosophes into something much more interactive. What sort of economy is it appropriate to try to impose here?
One chapter below shows the ‘Frenetic Romanticism’ that can grow out of the recurrent Romantic habit of self-reflection. The frenetic inflection of reflective judgement is fascinated by boundaries and limits of the human because of the temptation to cross them. No doubt the origins of this are in respectable, acculturated moments of sublimity, and a sense of dignity supervening on scenes of weakness or belittlement by nature’s grandeur or our own inarticulacy. But the ‘frenetic’ reveals that, logically, the door is left open to a delight in perversity, the unnatural, or anything staging a refutation of the quotidian identity sublimity leaves behind. Whether, on such journeys, the individual remains intact, or suffers a fatal expansion, enjoyably dissolute or horrifically destructive, is the main curiosity.
The modern destination for Romantic versatility is often evident in this Handbook and its authors encourage us to see it. We are also, I trust, given the tools with which to preserve historical difference from the hindsight historicism encourages. In what follows, individual discussions do not cross-reference each other, but stand on their own, lodged within a commentary alive to its subject’s characteristically comparative impulse. There are two main editorial decisions taken, geographical and disciplinary. There is an obvious problem of anachronism in any attempt to divide Romanticisms up between nations. Nevertheless, dominant nationalist aspirations are so much a subject of Romanticism that it won’t do either to treat subjects as if they inhere within a neutral geography. The answer offered here is to observe divisions with relation to languages rather than places. This is in any case an age in which the explanatory force of the phenomenon of language is beginning to irradiate all fields in a way we too often think of as modern or contemporary. Most of the chapters, once one is alert to this, have language as a major actor.
The Handbook, then, is organized under the two headings of languages and discourses. Languages particularize nations or nations about to be. The discourses section fills out and develops the comparative logic which will have been noticeably present in the largely author-based language studies, but will not have been their main subject. The title of ‘discourses’ is also meant to raise the question of the extent to which subjects are produced by ways of writing about them. So, in a pragmatic and not exact fashion, I am in debt to the approach to the organization of knowledge associated with Michel Foucault, itself arguably the inheritor of a comparative approach which it transformed. The mutually reflective or symbiotic character of literature, science of all kinds, biography or life-writing, political economy, and so forth is part of a general economy of (p. 5) Romanticism which, I have argued, Romanticism was itself eager to stress. When Shelley, defending the cultural relevance of ‘poetry’, tells us that we want ‘the poetry of life’ or that the poetry of Rome lay ‘in its institutions’ he is speaking in a continental idiom in which poetry inspires an acquaintance with the different ‘knowledges’ of his time. In its range, this poetic resource recalls a medieval fluency in Latin culture or the Renaissance ideal of rounded learning which followed it. An English word for this might be ‘Coleridgean’, suggesting the hazards as well as the fascination of such intellectual freedoms.
But of course it is not English definitions that we are interested in primarily here. The most interrelated European areas are French, German, and Italian Romanticism. Otherwise, this book is about the Romanticisms of countries who joined the Romantic conversation later and the idioms in which they characteristically did so. ‘Europe’ is then repeatedly generated as the background noise against which each linguistic or discursive intonation becomes audible. By that I mean that characteristically Romantic or of the time is just to claim as much right to represent Europe as one’s competitors. There is, to greater and lesser degrees, a continental habit from Stäel onwards, to cast national success as the achievement of taking one’s place in a European context—whether that be cultural or political. Disappointment in political aspiration, especially after the Congress of Vienna, puts greater responsibility on the cultural effort; but the resulting nationalist movements still aspire to a European franchise. Stäel envisages a ‘Europe of nations’, and Friedrich Schlegel argues that different countries at different times represented and continue to represent the definitive way of being European. At one time Spain, at another France or Italy, and more recently Germany were the leading ways of being European—a cultural rota and not a series of empires, one should emphasize. But the same goes for discourses, something more visible within a Romantic context, when the sense a discourse gives of being written knowledgeably against other pretenders to completeness or comprehensiveness of understanding does so by pushing its claims to resume the European spirit of history, drama, theology, language, sexual and racial egalitarianism, care of the body, mind, and so on.
The neoclassicism which Romanticism is popularly thought to succeed is itself a shape-shifter. On the one hand, it is associated with rigid adherence to the unities, an allegiance to traditional forms which, with Voltaire, found Shakespeare outrageous and, with Dr Johnson, found imagination to be a sort of madness. On the other hand, classical precedent was founded on a notion of propriety which undid such formal prescriptions. Propriety, in the writing of an adept like Ben Jonson, for example, is evidenced by a language equal to all occasions. The fit between usage and circumstance shows the judicious art of the poet, its pronouncement on rather than immersion in its subject, and exonerates the poet artist from contamination by the content of the poem. The most elevated and scabrous of subjects find themselves judged by the happiness of the diction in which they are addressed, rather than possessing any power to incriminate or degrade the language in which they are so felicitously described. But such poetry’s authority over its content does not produce a dry formalism. Getting things right in a way that generates the pleasure of recognizing the fit of word and object, genre and occasion, feeling (p. 6) and situation, is an activity on which depend ideas of authenticity, experience, maturity, skill, sense—in fact a diet of techniques for living. And the instruction is convincing and palatable only in proportion as it also registers poetic success, mixing the utile with the dulce.
It is not a huge jump from here to the European Romantics’ theory of the novel or der Roman: that literary portmanteau or poème multiforme, as Hugo called it, which, in approaching a subject from all sorts of directions, provides an adequate treatment through its mixture of genres and discourses. Just as European Romanticism saw itself as creating a grasp of modernity fit for its own time, so it thought of its stylistic expansiveness as setting new standards for realism, more usually described as what succeeded Romanticism. But chapters here, especially on French Romanticism, repeatedly remark on the romancing of realism common to the work of writers as different as Stendhal, Balzac, and Dumas père. Such interpretation raises the possibility that it is in its realistic ambitions or appetite for experience that Romanticism differs from the similar but different ambitions of neoclassicism to be stylistically adequate to experience.
Different aspects of experience demand of their writer different proprieties, and the divine tolerance of comedy with which to accommodate them. But the studies in this volume show that writing which is interdisciplinary and comparative does not necessarily create cosy agreements about synergies. Conflicts made to cohabit the same discursive space are real ones. In line with the integrity Staël imagined for Europe, what is fostered is a common autonomy, one contrasting definitively with subjection to Napoleon’s imperium. Staël links things by seeing them as alternatives to each other. Indeed she is a creator of alternatives: travel and exile let her map another Europe; an alternative kind of edification therefore arises from her subversive enthusiasm for each country’s potential future in contrast to the antiquarian pleasures of the previous century’s Grand Tour; an alternative female character emerges from her narration of her flight into autonomy, her unofficial embassy on behalf of her liberal ideas; an alternative critical practice, a sociology of literature, evolves from the unprecedented number of cultural issues her literary histories keep in focus. Other female writers, especially German ones, refuse to be air-brushed out of cultural history in which they played an important role. They show that, even where a literary genre is shared with men, women can give it a startlingly innovative treatment, one in several ways different from the canonical radicalism of the male writers. After the Terror, when radicalism itself was being reconceived, this was to give the lead: their revisionism was not supplementary but avant-garde.
Roman and Mischgedicht provide in discursive miniature a general Romantic toleration of conflict or reconciliation of opposites. The largest display of the Romantic talent for negotiation comes when, along with Chateaubriand and, later, Leopardi, German writers mediate between Classicism and Romanticism. Again, though, this settling of differences is not a superficial elision of them. Exemplary in this regard is Goethe, and it takes two chapters to sketch the range of his achievement, as it does with Leopardi. Goethe’s inclusiveness, as described across the two chapters devoted to him here, maintains the oppositions necessary to his overall project of remaining receptive to a world forever more various than our descriptions of it. This ‘healthy’ realism, though, (p. 7) is achieved through the Romantic habits of irony, generic cross-overs, and the catholic or Shakespearean range of sensibility culminating in Faust. Goethe shows that accommodations so sensitive to the differences in what they bring together lead back to what Hölderlin, another ‘classicist’, called Urteil: judgement originating in a primal severance from the Being judged. Hölderlin’s own ‘measure’, ‘tone’ and ‘caesura’, it is shown here, then stage a reconciliation extremely knowing about its own aesthetic status. The knowingness is of the need either to champion that achievement in absolute terms, or to accept its provisional character through calculated nostalgia for an (invented) Hellenic era when aesthetic absolutism was possible. Kleist and Schelling, in their different ways, see the abyss opening up in the very moment of judgement, differentiation and definition. Unlike the crises which they plot, Hegelian logic works its way back to the unity with essence which knowledge or the creation of the concept originally forfeited. These varieties of Jena thinking, it is suggested, recall the alternatives of Reformation or the revitalized Catholicism driving a Counter-Reformation.
Another conspicuous mix of competing elements becomes visible when we consider the traditionally vexed problem of pre-Romanticism. The prehistory of European Romanticism suggests a long, mutating Enlightenment whose continuity is obscured by the epochal disruption of the French Revolution of 1789. For some, Enlightenment ends with revolution, and an equally epochal reaction sets in. The Restoration ensuing in Europe after the Congress of Vienna in 1814 then characterizes Romanticism. What gets forgotten in this simple story is the resistance to Napoleon, a Napoleon no longer understood as the ‘child of the Revolution’ beloved of English Jacobins like Hazlitt, but as an impediment to the rethinking of revolution altogether analogous to the Romantic rethinking of Enlightenment. (‘Why should the Revolution remain French?’, Novalis was to ask.) As the chapters here show, Diderot and Hamann, whether writing from within the philosophes or from the heart of Sturm und Drang, are already participants in Romanticism’s strenuous self-fashioning.
Similarly, Europe’s view of Britain, and its construction of a European identity for Britain in interaction with continental interests, also exhibits a dialectic of division and resolution. The European writing of Britain in the Romantic period describes it as a place of moderation. The idea of Britain encouraged the thinking of forms of mediation between Europe’s polarities—ethical, political, and aesthetic. Advocates of highly partisan positions were perhaps bound to interpret British liberalism as prevarication, parliamentarianism as Old Corruption, and the famous English eccentricity as dissolute self-indulgence. But the notion of Britain as a challenge to determinate self-images of all kinds found an echo in Romantic hybridity, its mixed economies, constitutions and love of difference. While continental latitudes of this kind took a self-defining effort of imagination, though, British equanimity owed more to the laissez-faire economics of Adam Smith and the urbane scepticism of David Hume—the opposite, in other words, of the transformative alliances of the Romantic worldview. Yet these virtues, in turn, were influentially linked by Staël to a Northern sensibility whose greatest author was Shakespeare, stylistically generous and versatile to a fault, and so the wheel comes full circle again. (p. 8)
In individual countries, Spain for example, it is striking in the context of the Handbook that while Romantics of other nations (especially Germany) are praising the Shakespearean latitude of Calderón, Spanish Romantics themselves are returning to an earlier, more starkly agonistic paradigm. This allows extreme forms of gendered oppositions, which are Romantic or of their time, although created by preserving older conflicts between traditions (religious, social, literary) and individual desire. The modernization comes in the Romantic concentration on conflict, usually between male love and female tradition, here described as ‘ferocious’. By contrast, in Russia, Romantic sensibility, competing with a classical heritage of form and genre, became a general aptitude which, like Rousseau’s ‘heart’, increased the number of loci and topoi traditionally used to corroborate subjectivity. This writing largely distinguished itself from what had gone before without having to formulate Romantic manifestos or stage battles with a preceding classicism. Pushkin constantly negotiates positive results out of literary redeployments, grounding the extraordinary achievement of the Russian novel to come. And novels of the time are often founded on a common geography, even if, paradoxically, it primarily describes periphery and exile.
Geography and history, as the chapter in the Discourses section suggests, are Romantically intertwined, in theory and in practice. Kant’s philosophy had appeared to show that the form of our most inner sense of ourselves is a temporality which can only be expressed spatially. So the age’s philosophical crux is, arguably, played out in the interdisciplinary relations of history and geography. Herder makes history as plural as geography. We coerce free particulars, unrelated in themselves, into society with each other in order that we can be made coherent subjects by belonging to the same history of national places. Geography traces the consequences of political decisions in this age of political remapping; it thus fuels the most ordinary conversation about the status quo as well as raising larger questions of political metaphysics. What are borders for? What is a nation? What do we still have in common despite political difference? What is Europe’s ‘other’?
In Poland, history and geography constantly shift in response to each other, and the preservation of an individual voice in the face of Russian annexation draws on adjacent nationalisms, Lithuanian and Belarussian, without, though, sharing their languages. The complexity with which the self is represented by Polish writers grows with these acknowledgements; they help sketch an orientation within Europe very different from that of countries less oppressed by others. In Hungary, on the other hand, the deal struck after the Great War emancipated Austro-Hungarian subject peoples in the name of the nationalist credentials denied to Hungary’s claims to retain her distinctive hegemony. Linguistic sustainability, for which poetry is the flagship, becomes the touchstone of national identity. The question then settles on the degree to which that revival of Hungarian carries with it allegiances to aesthetics transformative of Enlightenment universals and to cosmopolitanism of a Kantian kind. Scandinavian Romanticism is the most varied and in many ways the most fascinating developer of its individuality through a critical orientation towards mainstream European ideas. Oehlenschläger is capable of startling annexations and cooptings of different kinds. Andersen can (p. 9) simultaneously take up a critical stance towards German Märchen, Romantik, and contemporary Biedermeier culture to anticipate, as strikingly as Kierkegaard, a ‘modernity’ to come, a supposedly new realism free of Romanticism’s self-generating ironies. And the uses of Greece as iconic support for nationalism set in motion a historicizing of antiquity essential to Romantic conceptions of modernity, from Hölderlin to Leopardi. Like architecture, the novel, epitome of Romantic emancipation, is rooted in classical precedent, in this case Greek romance. The differences of past and present can inspire the thinking of modernity as much as they can impose the enervating belatedness which Byron lamented. He could therefore recast the anachronism of a Greece in rebellion against Asia Minor as a scandal for a modernity which could not resuscitate it in modern aesthetic and political form.
Italy is the other iconic precedent for the cultural advancement of claims to belong to Staël’s Europe. And yet its most outstanding Romantic literature emerged from Leopardi’s disagreement with Staël’s advice to Italian writers on how to be modern. Arguably, much of Italian literary expression in the Romantic period is energized and even structured by the shape of the polemic with Staël. This debate explicitly connects literary and political questions. Once that connection is established, the possibilities for a literary politics expand considerably. In the absence of a contemporary Italian society creatively and critically conversant with itself, Leopardi’s range of writing, his imagined sociability of different discursive activities in his encyclopedic Zibaldone di Pensieri, acquires an exemplary political charge. But other avenues to modernity as well as this one are mooted here, most vividly in Manzoni’s genuine interest in an underclass whose subjection revealed a myriad different purposes too complicated for a single ideological solution. Manzoni’s piety in fact anticipates that immersion in horror of post-Holocaust narrating of the unmanageable task of redress and compensation.
The management of discourses, then, can be strikingly in tune with nationalist aspirations. Or investments in individual discourses can help characterize a European leitmotif momentarily in the possession of one nation rather than another. We have seen that an economical way of explaining this, taken up here, is to show that Geography is always historical and History always geographical. Both discourses reciprocally locate each other in spatial and temporal coordinates borrowed from the other, each lending their own national colouring to the abstract grid or chronology of the other. Within national geographies, too, the historical plot of writing and thinking can sometimes be best caught in spatial shifts—Heidelberg, Dresden, Berlin, and Vienna. Medical research shows France taking over from Germany, and demonstrating the way forward for the emergent life-sciences. German self-experimentation, though, relocated the logic of scientific research closer to speculation in ways that recruited the philosopher poets, like Goethe, Novalis and Ritter, and set up new analogies between artistic and scientific creativity—practically and not just existing in the wish-list of the Jena Frühromantiker. These affinities may have appeared subsequently to have gone underground for a while, but have been rediscovered in the narrative art of Darwin and others.
Other discourses, even those as apparently different as religion and celebrity, reach for the exception rather than the rule. They target a particularity in human experience or (p. 10) character which suspends the usual order of things, whether scientific, ethical, or even aesthetic. Both expand on an inherent instability in the Romantic conception of the self, in the case of celebrity doubling the individual through the growing development of mass media and improved communication which the study of celebrity simultaneously maps. Religion is shown to use older teleological arguments to describe the human project as a continual outgrowing of a succession of institutional accommodations. And hence we can be shown an intelligible line running through the affective expansiveness of Schleiermacher to its Hegelian rationalization. This conceptualization is certainly something initially necessary for religion to keep its identity, but, for Hegel, it tends to transform religion, like art, into its own philosophy.
The issue, then is whether religion can retain its specificity or characteristic power of deregulation, thus impacting on other discourses to describe ‘a hyper-pluralist conception of moral and political community’. Of course, the varied political discourses of the time can themselves be seen to be engaged in the remedying of a modern ‘diremption’, or sundering of the ties of community and belonging on which politics had been thought to be founded. National myth and tradition tend to replace public opinion as the foundation of political legitimacy. Liberalism is only maintained by an open-endedness or ‘post-Kantian perfectionism’ which, in Benjamin Constant’s case, converged on a religious interest. Philosophy, too, supports aesthetics because ‘dissonances’ between key constituents of Romantic modernity—between the warm ‘life-world’ and the cold world of a growing free-market capitalism, between ideas of a common culture and the specialized technological sophistication or esotericism increasingly expected of scientific explanation—cry out for new myths and narratives to connect these parts to a whole. The breadth of the conceptual front on which this took place is perhaps what is distinctive of the Romantic confrontation of the crisis.
Both religion and celebrity dramatize rather than describe; they set up performative opportunities for us, roles in excess of our conventional identity, place-holders for what we are capable of or what our human potential actually might be. Correlatively, the contemporary sense of theatre exceeded any discipline or tradition to produce a new, active culture, a formative praxis rather than a literary or philosophical reflection. Literally, drama spilled into the streets. The piazza then returned the compliment and filled the theatres with plays fuelled by its contemporary political debates. Both street and playhouse combined to translate current discontent or aspiration into articulate dramatic form.
Behind all discourses, however, lies the enabling idea of language as such. Romantic period writers and thinkers in almost every country were engaged in the study both of the plausibility of language as the human universal, and, locally, of the consequences of the alignment of linguistic specificity and nation. These could conflict. A linguistics could be constrained to serve particular political purposes, the emancipation of a group of native speakers of a language from the hegemony of non-native speakers. At the same time, for international emancipatory movements like pan-Slavism, linguistic boundaries had to be politically porous. A language was one source of identity, but language as such seemed an inalienable human character. But was our access to language always not (p. 11) nationally inflected, always the language of a particular interest? And, if so, was to establish the identity of a particular language-community also to establish an undeniable political interest, or, in the language of the time, a national interest—an interest which could either justify the forming of new nations, or fuel a kind of irredentism of older nations directed at pockets of those speaking their language in newly established nations?
As the chapter here on language concludes, questions of this kind take us far beyond Romantic period disputes, but highlight the influence of the way Romantics brought such questions to reflection. They also take us back to the principles organizing this Handbook. To group Romanticisms by language, but with this kind of knowingness, is precisely to avoid mapping Romanticism by country; but it is also to recognize that the themes of Romanticism are still primarily located in particular nations and their struggles for ascendancy. Fundamentally, though, the survey of cultural activity of the kind given by this book must imply that validation of success in this international competition is the achievement of a sense of European belonging which had many more versions than the remapping of Europe coming out of the Congress of Vienna. Romantics for the most part were engaged in writing another unofficial story, and their literatures, philosophies, and discourses, taken generally, build up an alternative picture which events of 1820, 1830 and 1848 tried to realize. At these moments Europe is virtually defined by the ubiquitous unrest and unease with itself generated from Romantic manifestos.
The unofficial story, so visible in political aspiration, is, I have been emphasizing, what is made detectable across many forms of Romantic endeavour by these chapters. Collaboration, hybridity, historical transformations cast by ‘the magic wand of analogy’ as Novalis called it, are the source of those transpositions of discourses characteristic of the period. These shape-shiftings are not intended to flout the discipline of individual discourses so as to produce mixed metaphors or pathetic fallacies. To ‘Romanticize’ the world, for minds like Novalis and Friedrich Schlegel, was to be ‘progressive’, and it is that Romantic notion of the progressive which is the burden of Romantic lateral transfiguration in contrast to the orthodox linear model more familiar to us. A dedicated European perspective is needed to present this ambition in all its strengths and weaknesses, and here it is. (p. 12)