Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Romantic Spirit versus the Classical Modern Mind: Different Paradigms and Worldviews

Wanderer at the top of a mountain
The wanderer above the sea of fog  by Caspar David Friedrich 

During the period known as Romanticism, there was conscious rebellion against the previously established and prescribed order, namely Classicism. The Romantics had their own particular beliefs regarding religion, politics and the functions of art. They believed that humans had unlimited potential once given the opportunity to develop themselves and once they were able to discard all the negativity and constraints imposed upon them by a corrupt and malignant society.

They subscribed to the idea set forth by Rousseau that humans should be free regardless of their status in society, purposely including slaves, outcasts and pariahs in this category. Another point was that humans were inherently good and that it was only through contact and influence of society that they became evil and corrupted.

In addition, the Romantics believed that rational thought was enmeshed with the classical view and that it was rather imagination and feeling that would set humanity free. Their literary works reflected that philosophy. What mattered most was feeling in all its passionate forms.

Mysticism and the occult became trademarks of many Romantics as they looked beyond organized religion for the satisfaction of their existential cravings. Alchemy found many adherents; many were obsessed with finding the secret formula to turn lower metals into gold, and the quest for the philosopher's stone or an elixir of life were other characteristics of the times.

However, it was Modernism that yearned for a return to classical standards. They disagreed with the Romantics and their revolution and thought that humans were limited in their potential. To them, it was absurd to think otherwise. They subscribed to a more deterministic view, which should be reflected in art as well.

Order and careful planning brought out the best in humanity and was necessary for works of art. It was conscious work and elaboration and not just flights of imagination or intuition that defined the writer's craft. The Romantics for them were grounded in no man's land and needed a wake-up call to return to ordinary life, which had its own beauty.

Accuracy and precise description and imagery were of great importance for this modern movement. It brought with it a more conscious interest with the form or structure of the work. It was a return to reason over emotion because the Modernists believed it was more reliable and more beneficial for humanity as well as art.

As we can see there is a clash of two different, almost opposite worldviews at work here. Nowadays, we might side with the modernists, although a postmodern movement is questioning that again. The writer's craft for most of us is related with strong editing skills and an avoidance of (overly) sentimental styles. But deep inside the romantic quest is also part of our inheritance, and I believe that in its controlled and somewhat subdued form it is equally important for life and art.

1 comment:

Philosophy Complex said...

Nice entry, but I hope you can present your own views than just merely describing them.

I think what is important is not about taking sides, but the reconciliation of both sentiments and rationality.