The Romantic Subject
The Declaration of Independence puts liberty immediately after life; the French Revolutionary slogan puts it before equality and fraternity. Liberty meant, above all, independence of social constraint. In the Romantic era a subject-centered world-view replaced a value-centered world-view. In this seminar we will examine some of the key philosophical and literary texts that helped define, imagine, and delimit the reach of subjectivity. With Locke and Hume on personal identity as the background, we will begin by working through sections of two of the most difficult and most influential books of the modern era, Kant's Critique of Pure Reason and Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. Then we will turn to the paranoid selfhood of Rousseau's Confessions and the countering ideal of self-formation in the greatest and most bizarre novel of the era, Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship. We will continue with close readings of a selection of Romantic poems and conclude with Heinrich von Kleist's shattering comedy of stolen identities, Amphitryon. We will also read some representative critical and theoretical essays.
This seminar is intended for advanced honors undergraduates and graduate students. There will be several short writing exercises and a critical essay.
Some guiding maxims:
Alexander Pope: Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; / The proper study of Mankind is Man.
Eduard von Mörike: Was aber schön ist, selig scheint es in ihm selbst [But what is lovely, blissful seems it in itself.]
Rousseau: Je voudrais que cet instant durât toujours [I wish that this instant might last forever.]
Goethe: Wenn Norberg zurückkehrt, bin ich wieder sein, bin ich dein, mache mit mir, was du willst; aber bis dahin will ich mein sein. [When Norberg returns, I will be his again, I will be yours, what you will; but until then I will be mine.]
Wordsworth: often do I seem / Two consciousnesses, conscious of myself / And of some other Being.
Keats: Forlorn! the very word is like a bell / To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Kleist: "Halt dort! Wer geht dort?" "Ich" "Was für ein Ich?" ["Stop there! Who goes there?" "I." "What sort of I?"