Dr. Stephen Prickett (English, University of Kent, UK) will present “Backing into the Future: Romanticism, Secularization and the Reinvention of Literature.”
In his Third Critique, Immanuel Kant assumes that literature – and specifically poetry – is naturally the premier art form, in essence encapsulating all other arts. Poetry, he writes, “expands the mind… with a wealth of thought, to which no verbal expression is completely adequate, and so rising aesthetically to ideas.” For those who would further theorize Romantic aesthetics, from the Schlegel brothers to Germaine de Staël or Coleridge, such thinking typifies a new concept of “literature” that spread rapidly across Europe at the end of the eighteenth century. Yet it is, to say the least, extraordinary. What can Kant mean by putting forward an idea of poetry – by its definition surely an exclusively linguistic medium – as having the power to convey thought for which “no verbal expression is completely adequate”? What kind of a view of language dismisses itself at the outset a being both inarticulate and inadequate? This “re-invention” of literature as a value-laden aesthetic reaching beyond words has been linked with a growing need to describe social processes of rapid and unprecedented change. But that, in itself, raises further questions about language, perception, and historical continuity. This talk will discuss this and other paradoxes of Romantic aesthetic theory.