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Romantic Poetry and the Sublime. HUM 2052: Civilization II Spring 2010 Dr. Perdigao February 8-12, 2010. From Goethe’s Faust (1808, 1832).

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romantic poetry and the sublime

Romantic Poetry and the Sublime

HUM 2052: Civilization II

Spring 2010

Dr. Perdigao

February 8-12, 2010

from goethe s faust 1808 1832
From Goethe’s Faust (1808, 1832)
  • “I’ve studied, alas, philosophy, / Law and medicine, recto and verso, / And how I regret it, theology also, / Oh God, how hard I’ve slaved away, / With what result? Poor fool that I am, / I’m no whit wiser than when I began! / I’ve got a Master of Arts degree, / On top of that a Ph.D, / For ten long years, around and about, / Upstairs, downstairs, in and out, / I’ve led my students by the nose / To what conclusion?—that nobody knows, / Or can ever know, the tiniest crumb! / Which is why I feel completely undone.” (525)
  • “So I may penetrate the power / That holds the universe together, / Behold the source whence all proceeds / And deal no more in words, words, words.” (525)
rejecting renaissance ideologies
Rejecting Renaissance Ideologies
  • Mephisto dresses as Faust and renounces the tradition, says to “Despise science, heap contempt on reason” (558) while emphasizing “Make-believe and pure illusion” (558).
  • Criticizes the disciplines:
    • Chemists “make fools of themselves and never know it” (560)
    • “You’ve got to study metaphysic, . . . Come to class with your homework done, / The sections memorized, each one, / So you are sure there’s no mistake / And no word’s said not in the book. / Still, all you hear set down in your notes / As if it came from the Holy Ghost” (560)
    • “Medicine’s an easy art to master. / Up and down you study the whole world / Only so as to discover / In the end it’s all up to the Lord” (561)
    • Theology “a science” where it’s easy to “lose your way” (561), lack of certainty, as fallible as law
violent change
“Violent Change”
  • American and French revolutions developed from convictions about the “innate rights of individual human beings,” “Protestantism in political form” (485)
  • French Revolution—ideas about the “sacredness of the individual” (485), informing William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, small radical group “English Jacobins”
  • Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)
  • Liberty, equality, fraternity, centers of French and American revolutions; national identities created
  • Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (1776), laissez-faire economics; Darwin, Marx and Engels
  • Development of a “middle class”; Charles Dickens and William Thackeray, “moral mediocrity” (489)
the romantic experience
The Romantic Experience
  • Inventions—steam engine, spinning jenny, cotton gin (487)
  • Urbanization—move to cities
  • Individualism: Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) questions “power of reason to provide the most significant forms of knowledge,” emphasizing reason as guide (487)
  • Self vs. society
  • Civilization as “agent of corruption” (491)
  • Social protest extends to writing, to poetry
  • Emotion and experience (Goethe)
  • American Civil War, rights of African Americans, reading and writing: slave narrative
  • sacredness of the individual
  • suspicion of social institutions
  • belief in expressed feeling as the sign of authenticity
  • nostalgia for simpler ways of being
  • faith in genius
  • valuing of originality and imagination
  • an ambivalent relation to science


constructing romanticism
Constructing Romanticism

Three generations:

  • Blake and lyrical ballads
  • Wordsworth and Coleridge
  • Byron, Shelley, and Keats

Where are the women? (Emily Brontë, Christina Rossetti, Rosalía de Castro, Anna Petrovna Bunina, Emily Dickinson [489])

  • Keats’s idea—we have a series of fragments and the goal of putting them together as a whole
  • “transcendent and ideal subjects,” “areas of critical uncertainty,” with the aim to “rediscover the ground of stability in these situations,” a “second-order quest for desire itself”
  • Truth associated with act of creation, not object
  • Romanticism—dissolution of boundaries between humans and humans and God
  • For classical and modern philosophers—fear of this dissolution—pushing to limit but not beyond
romanticism and idealism
Romanticism and Idealism

Classical Aesthetics Romantic Aesthetics

  • Edifying tales for morals, imitates virtue, moral less discovery of pre-formed world but

things (like in Plato); truth, nature are imitated generates its own world--autogenetic

imitation: creation

  • 1. focus on art object to be imitated artist as hero
  • 2. the experience of spectator (Aristotle’s catharsis) Kant’s genius, universal
  • 3. capture what is true creation rather than imitation
on frankenstein
On Frankenstein
  • “What kinds of action can be defended as reasonable? What are we to make of the discrepancy between the ‘mad’ scientist’s reason, and the ‘Godwinian’ reason exercised by his ‘hideous progeny’?” (Hindle xii).
  • Godwin’s “rational philosophy”: new system based on “universal benevolence” to create a just and virtuous society, emerging from the “exercise of reason and free will” developed in an enlightened society that is free from “superstitions of religion, the despotisms of government and the property fetishes attached to marriage and inheritance, for all these tended towards the establishment of selfishness, division and malevolence” (xxxii), contradicts 17th century Hobbesian view of “self-interested” man
  • “The Romantic idealism of Shelley and his ‘over-reaching’ heroes was, like all idealisms, based on a faith in man’s, or more correctly, men’s supposedly ‘divine’ or creative powers. It is Mary Shelley’s critique of where such highly abstracted creative powers can lead when put in a ‘realizing’ scientific context and then driven along by ‘lofty ambition’ and ‘high destiny’”(xxiv).
contextualizing the monstrous
Contextualizing the Monstrous
  • Prometheus—two versions
  • Greek mythology; Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound
  • Ovid’s Metamorphoses (she was reading in 1815): plasticator, “figure who creates and manipulates men into life, rather than ‘saves’ them” (xxviii)
  • Rousseau’s “unfallen state of innocence” (xxxii), corrupted by society: monster as “progeny”
  • Don Quixote—shared “single vision” (xxxviii)
  • Gothic novel or science fiction?—supernatural intact, violator punished (xl)
  • Mary Shelley’s account of its genesis (9-10)
  • Doppelgänger (xlii)
mephisto s science
Mephisto’s Science?
  • “eager desire to learn,” “secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn,” the “metaphysical,” the “physical secrets of the world” (39)
  • Cornelius Agrippa: ancient as “chimerical” and “modern science” as “real and practical” (41), but Victor is unaware
  • Paracelsus (Swiss alchemist and physician, empirical observation), and Albertus Magnus (Dominican theologian, magic to pursuit of knowledge, natural science), reference to Newton
  • Untaught peasant versus most learned philosopher: “He might dissect, anatomise, and give names; but, not to speak of a final cause, causes in their secondary and tertiary grades were utterly unknown to him” (41)