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Goethean Romanticism

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  • Mathew Morrell
    Goethean Romanticism An astounding number of Romantic Age philosophers and artists either went insane, committed suicide, died of tuberculosis or of accidents:
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 19, 2007

      Goethean Romanticism

      An astounding number of Romantic Age philosophers and artists either went insane, committed suicide, died of tuberculosis or of accidents: Shelley, Keats, Poe, Beddoes, Holderlin, Hoffman, Schiller, Kleist, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Lautreamont, Dowson, Johnson, Francis Thompson, James Thomson, Nietzsche, Van Gogh. . . 

      Noticeably absent from the above "death list" are many romantic-era artists who matured artistically at the beginning of the Romantic era, not at the deadly end.  The pessimism and life-failure that plagued the late-period romantics (from 1850 to 1900) stacked their corpses into gigantic piles; but the early romantics went about their way, nearly untouched by suicidal self disgust.  Exceptions aside, as a general rule the early romantics are defined by their certainty and optimism.  Consequently, less of them committed suicide or suffered from madness than later generations.  The early romantics would include William Blake, Goethe, Dickens—"yea sayers" who still retained a connection to the Classical Era that preceded them.

      Goethe himself can be regarded as a bridge of sort between 19th century Romanticism and the Classical Age.  In Goethe we see Classicism and Romanticism chemically combined like iron and nickel in Damascus steel; one impulse compelled toward the external sensory world (the world Become), and the other inwardly directed toward the subjective realities of the soul (the world of Becoming).  Goethean science acknowledges both impulses working simultaneously within the observed world, side by side producing Reality.  Consequently his art is totally free of the neurosis that the late romantics harbored against the body's existence in the natural world.

      Van Gogh's final piece:  Wheatfield With Crows. The blues form a strangely transparent atmosphere hinting of spiritual illumination at the height of mental agony.

      DeSade, Schopenhauer, Schiller and most romantics sought after the total subjectivity and freedom that the imagination offered them through art:  art stripped of objective thought content; purely expressionistic forms seeking no mathematical-scientific correlation with natural existence.  Whereas a philosopher in the Classical Era would not have considered him self a genuine thinker unless he was thoroughly schooled in science and mathematics, the Romantic expressed the inner world of human feeling in powerful protest against a depersonalized universe.


      Steiner wrote of Goethe in "The Arts and Their Mission",







      "In art Goethe was a classicist in the sense (if we use words which satisfactorily express his own idea) that he directed his gaze primarily toward the external, the sensory-real. But he was too profound a spirit not to feel a discrepancy between the sensory and that which derives from other realms, home of his soul. Sense-evidence should be purified, elevated through shaping, through an appropriate treatment. Thus Goethe the artist distilled from natural forms and human actions an element which, although presented im-perfectly in the sensory-physical, could be brought to clarity without infidelity to the physical. In other words, he let the divine-spiritual shine through purified sensory forms. Always it was his earnest endeavor not to take up the spiritual lightly in his writings, not to express the divine-spiritual offhandedly. For he was convinced that romanticism can make only a facile, all-too-easy introduction of the spiritual into the physical; not deal with it comprehensively and effectively."

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