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Magnificent Rebels: The First Romantics and the Invention of the Self

por Andrea Wulf

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319782,366 (4.09)11
"From the best-selling author of The Invention of Nature comes an exhilarating story about a remarkable group of young rebels-poets, novelists, philosophers-who, through their epic quarrels, passionate love stories, heartbreaking grief, and radical ideas launched Romanticism onto the world stage, inspiring some of the greatest thinkers of the time. When did we begin to be as self-centered as we are today? At what point did we expect to have the right to determine our own lives? When did we first ask the question, How can I be free? It all began in a quiet university town in Germany in the 1790s, when a group of playwrights, poets, and writers put the self at center stage in their thinking, their writing, and their lives. This brilliant circle included the famous poets Goethe, Schiller, and Novalis; the visionary philosophers Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel; the contentious Schlegel brothers; and, in a wonderful cameo, Alexander von Humboldt. And at the heart of this group was the formidable Caroline Schlegel, who sparked their dazzling conversations about the self, nature, identity, and freedom. The French revolutionaries may have changed the political landscape of Europe, but the young Romantics incited a revolution of the mind that transformed our world forever. We are still empowered by their daring leap into the self, and by their radical notions of the creative potential of the individual, the highest aspirations of art and science, the unity of nature, and the true meaning of freedom. We also still walk the same tightrope between meaningful self-fulfillment and destructive narcissism, between the rights of the individual and our responsibilities toward our community and future generations. At the heart of this inspiring book is the extremely modern tension between the dangers of selfishness and the thrilling possibilities of free will"--… (mais)
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Creía que La invención de la naturaleza me había encantado, pero creo que est me ha gustado todavía más. Es un libro maravilloso, para leer despacio (probablemente llevo leyéndolo más de seis meses) y disfrutar cada página.
  aliciamartorell | Apr 14, 2024 |
A bit overlong (although that could have to do with my checkout expiring and having to wait for a second hold to come around from the library) and everyone was named Friedrich... yet I was still able to keep the Schlegel's and Schellings and Schillers straight, with all credit to Wulf, because she breathed some real life into them. A very engaging history of the German Romantic philosophers, all living in the same town at the beginning of the 19th century, getting into feuds and being fired from the university and sleeping with each other. The Epilogue was also interesting and provided pay dirt for everything. It made me want to reread Walden, a book I had and tried to read in my teens and, I suspect, got hung up on that stuffy first chapter. I may give it another go at some point, because Wulf's book gave such good context for the movements that came after, including the Transcendentalists in the U.S. ( )
  lisapeet | Jun 18, 2023 |
M. 3.4
  David.llib.cat | Apr 28, 2023 |
If the purpose of biography is to bring lives to life, this multiple biography is multiply bountiful. With scholarship and panache, Ms. Wulf has put together an engrossing account of one of the greatest groups of geniuses ever to come under one roof. The "Jena set" included Goethe, Schiller, August and Friedrich von Schlegel, Fichte, Schelling, Novalis, Schleiermacher and Tieck.

For a time, sparked by August von Schlegel (and later Schelling's) charismatic wife Karoline, all brought out the best in all. The "invention of the Self," first expounded by Fichte in Wissenschaftslehre (1795) provided common ground for the invention of Romanticism as we know it, unleashing creativity by empowering the artist / thinker as free-willed individual and remaking the world in rehabilitating Nature as a participatory source of life power rather than scientific data or grist for Kant's sensory mill. The Jena set hammered all this out by endless discussion, mutual encouragement, and production of countless books, articles, and illustrative novels. Wulf covers the process at every step.

The group was largely disbanded by the time Napoleon's army swept through Jena in 1806. Wulf follows each member's lives up their sometimes tragic denouements.

Anyone interested in history, philosophy, art, and especially biography itself, is strongly recommended to read this book and to enjoy the many pleasures it affords. ( )
  Cr00 | Apr 1, 2023 |
What a ride that was, and, with a few exceptions, what a bunch of self-absorbed prima donnas. I guess you’d have to be self absorbed to be the vanguard of the invention of self, but still, I liked almost none of these people. If their first name was Friedrich, chances were good I didn’t like them. (Spoiler alert: almost everybody was named Friedrich.) My like list of these people is pretty much limited to those with the Humboldt and Goethe surnames. Schiller was ok – I suspect his poor health made him a more complicated man than he had to be. I also suspect Novalis – the melodramatic proto-goth man-child – would have turned out to have grown up into quite a distinguished gentleman, had he lived a full life. Signs of maturity were apparent before he was struck down by illness. As for the rest of them, I just wanted to box their ears. Friedrich Schlegel was an out right selfish ass, and remained that way the rest of his life.

Yet these are the people who launched a revolution in philosophy with the idea of the inner-self and that self’s freedom in spite of the circumstances it is contained in. I have a niggling argument about whether they truly ‘invented’ the idea of self, as the founding fathers of the United States were big on self-determination, which requires an acknowledgement of the inner self’s freedom, a full quarter of a century earlier, and the French revolution was certainly fuelled by a desire by the people to break away from the established monarch in order to find liberty and equality, neither of which is really possible without some awareness of self. Still, the Jena set were unarguably the first to codify the philosophical implications of the self and how it fits in the whole of the natural world.

So why did I rate the book so highly? Because Andrea Wulf’s writing was superb. I mean, I liked almost none of these people, and yet, I kept reading with avid interest. Only a talented writer can do that. She brought everyone to life – for better or for worse – and placed them into the context of the times they lived in, giving the reader a very real sense of what Jena was like from 1794 through to the battle of Jena in 1806. So highly do I think of Wulf’s writing, that I recently checked out the audiobook of another of her works, Chasing Venus about the race to measure the heavens, something about which I could not care less about. Space holds no interest for me, but I am certain Wulf will make me care about the race to measure it, and the individuals who believed it was worth doing. ( )
1 vote murderbydeath | Mar 12, 2023 |
Mostrando 1-5 de 7 (seguinte | mostrar todos)
In the years immediately before and after the start of the nineteenth century, a generation of young German intellectuals converged on the small university town of Jena, drawn together by the glittering presence of Goethe and Schiller. Out of this gathering emerged Romanticism and Idealism, movements that would determine the course of much of nineteenth-century literature and philosophy. Out of this gathering emerged modernity.

Andrea Wulf’s Magnificent Rebels is an ambitious, engaging and effusive account of this twelve-year period. Her narrative of what she calls “the Jena Set” begins in 1794. At a meeting of the recently founded Natural History Society in Jena, Goethe, at this point in his mid-forties and already established as the presiding genius of German literature, finally met Schiller after years of ignoring him. (Goethe lived just fifteen miles away in Weimar.) They made an unlikely pair: tall, gaunt Schiller overthought everything, while short, paunchy Goethe seemed to get by on infallible instinct. But the two poets clicked. Together they initiated what Goethe called “a new era” of unprecedented collective creativity.

The terms of this era had been set, politically speaking, by the French Revolution. The terror that it unleashed pushed progressive German thinkers into conceiving of Europe as a cultural rather than a military space: Schiller’s journal Die Horen (1795-7), for instance – a key forum for the development of the Jena Set – included his own Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man (1795), which argued that art could help to bring about a kinder, more ethical revolution. Goethe and Schiller’s relationship exemplified that intention, but it isn’t what interests Wulf the most. Rather, the two older poets are the foil for a younger generation of thinkers and critics born in the 1760s and 1770s: Fichte, Novalis, Schelling, Tieck, August Wilhelm and Caroline Schlegel, Friedrich and Dorothea Schlegel, Alexander and Wilhelm von Humboldt. In Germany as in England, early Romanticism was nothing if not a group production.

First on stage is the irascible philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte, whose Attempt at a Critique of All Revelation (1792) was initially taken, in an instance of semi-deliberate misunderstanding, to be Kant’s long-awaited fourth critique. Fichte’s career took off when the sage of Königsberg confirmed the younger man’s authorship. The sudden fame this conferred on Fichte also procured for him a professorship at Jena, as well as a founding role in what would become the defining philosophy of the age: Idealism. Understood as a turn away from the Kantian distinction between the noumenal and phenomenal realms, Fichte’s Idealism focused on the Ich, or self, and on the ways in which it becomes aware of itself. There could be no more appropriate ideology for this most self- obsessed of eras.

Fichte’s influence grew. Few of his students fully understood what he wrote, but for the young poet Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg) he was a “second Copernicus”, revolutionizing our view of internal consciousness. The dreamiest of thinkers, Novalis developed a death wish following the passing of his fifteen-year-old fiancée, Sophie von Kühn. By day a mild-mannered inspector of mines, by night a herald of Sichselbstfindung, or self-discovery, Novalis gave voice to subterranean experiences both literal and metaphorical in Hymns to the Night (1800). The most representative poems of early Romanticism, they exemplify the turn away from Enlightenment metaphors to an earthier, chthonic idiom.

By 1796 the Schlegels had arrived: first the philologist August Wilhelm and his wife, Caroline, and then, in due course, his younger brother Friedrich and his lover, Dorothea. The Schlegels form the central quartet of Wulf’s story, quarrelling and collaborating their way through the end of the eighteenth century. The central role falls to Caroline Böhmer-Schlegel-Schelling – the name alone tells a story of shifting alliances. Sharp-witted and charismatic, she was essential to everything the group thought or wrote. Novalis declared her the heart of Jena; her brother-in-law Friedrich celebrated the “esprit de Caroline”; Ludwig Tieck wrote that the squint of her blue eyes cast a spell on everyone. Had her squint been less marked, to paraphrase Pascal on Cleopatra’s nose, the history of Romanticism might have different.

Yet Caroline was no mere appendage to the men. She wrote or co-wrote many of her husband’s articles and reviews, and helped him translate many of Shakespeare’s plays: as Roger Paulin notes in his biography of the elder Schlegel (2016), the title page of his Shakespeare edition should have read “Translated with Caroline Schlegel’s assistance”. Epigraphs from Caroline’s letters adorn every section of Wulf’s book, giving her the role of an ersatz narrator – one who, at times, takes us on a potted tour of Jena and its most significant buildings (helpfully represented on a map). Wulf is excellent at this kind of descriptive prose, evoking the sights and sounds of the city with an almost classical enargia. We feel the excitement of living through the period alongside her vivid characters.

By the time Friedrich Schlegel arrived in Jena, Romanticism was in full swing. We even get to follow the emergence of the term: first appearing in the pages of Athenaeum (1798-1800), the short-lived journal at the heart of the group’s aesthetics, romantisch was defined by Friedrich as indicating “progressive, universal poetry … for ever becoming, never perfected”. Shakespeare, as presented in August Wilhelm’s Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature (1809), as well as in his translations of the plays (later revised by Tieck), provided the Romantic ideal, untamed and organic where French classical tragedy was tame and pedantic. The definition of “Romantic” was itself organic, evolving as it developed across various genres into something more than the sum of its arts. Its open-ended, incomplete nature was part of its appeal, leaving space for the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks – for imagination, it had become clear, was the essence of Romanticism.

Almost anything could be Romantic poetry, as the Schlegels saw it. Even science and nature could be works of art. Experimental researchers such as Alexander von Humboldt (the subject of Wulf’s previous study, The Invention of Nature) impressed the “demi-god” Goethe with their bold attempts to galvanize frogs. In an age divided between Neptunists, who believed the Earth’s geology had been formed by a retreating ocean, and Vulcanists, who held that it had been shaped by eruptions and earthquakes, scientific experiment was in the air. “All art should become science and all science art”, suggested Friedrich Schlegel in 1797; “laboratories will be temples”, wrote his friend Novalis in 1798. The qualities that we now associate with artistic Romanticism – imaginative fervour and emotional intensity – were applied to a broader spectrum of human endeavour.

Wulf is above all interested in how these qualities were epitomized by their proponents. Much of the most important theorization of the period was first published in journals launched for this purpose, in particular Die Horen and Athenaeum. Collaboration – whether between Goethe and Schiller, August Wilhelm and Caroline Schlegel or the two Schlegel brothers – was fundamental to the project of “symphilosophising”, as Friedrich put it. Conversation, combination, communion: working together, for the Jena Romantics, was almost a religion – a religion enshrined in the one-page manuscript known as “The Oldest System-Programme in German Idealism”, co-authored by Hegel, Hölderlin and Schelling. Progressive thought, in late eighteenth-century Germany, was collective thought.

Collaboration, inevitably, also meant confrontation. It was in the nature of such an intense period to be short-lived, like the journals that came to define it, and a series of fights, feuds and scandals duly ensued. The first and perhaps most consequential of these was between Schiller and the Schlegels. In part it was the usual story of younger intellectuals trying to replace their elders. But it was also temperamental: Friedrich Schlegel could not resist attacking others, even the influential (and notoriously thin-skinned) Schiller. By the middle of 1797 the younger Schlegel had written a series of negative reviews of Die Horen, criticizing its reliance on translations of foreign literature – much of which had been done by his brother August Wilhelm. Schiller promptly dropped them both.

The fallout was significant, because it was Schiller who had drawn the elder Schlegel to Jena in the first place. But worse was to follow. Fichte – threatened by the arrival, in 1798, of the younger philosopher Friedrich Schelling, whose Naturphilosophie sought to replace the “Idealism of the Ich” with the “Idealism of Nature” – published an article declaring God to be little more than a principle of morality. Offended by his revolutionary views in politics as well as religion, the Duke of Saxe-Weimar declared Fichte “a whole new species of heretic” and launched an investigation. Fichte was forced into resigning his professorship in 1799 and moved to Berlin, associating himself with other radicals such as the younger Schlegel and the theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher. The idealism of Idealism was beginning to pall.

On a personal level, too, things were getting complicated. Caroline Schlegel, in an open relationship with August Wilhelm and never short of admirers, had fallen for the twenty-three-year-old Schelling, whom she married in 1803. Friedrich Schlegel, for his part, had met the restless writer Dorothea Veit, unhappily married to a Berlin banker. The two fell passionately in love, scandalizing polite society by living together and openly celebrating their romance in Friedrich’s novel Lucinde (1799). The group’s members became more combative, filling the pages of Athenaeum with attacks on their many enemies. Schelling, superbly, even wrote to a hostile journal demanding to review his own work. The communion of self with self, the ultimate aim of Romanticism, was finally complete.

Wulf is fascinated by the romantic life of the Romantics. Female thinkers emerge as unheralded heroines, none more so than Caroline and Dorothea Schlegel, who undertook a still unknown amount of the writing attributed to their husbands. The Jena Set, in this regard, was radically progressive, affording (at least some) women the opportunity to participate – if not to publish – in the journals of the day. The subsequent dissemination of their ideas owed much to one very particular woman: Madame de Staël, whose bestseller On Germany (1810), conceived in collaboration with August Wilhelm Schlegel, brought the Romantic idea of the liberated self to a wider European audience. Perhaps inevitably, male practice did not always live up to female theory: Napoleon suppressed what Goethe called “the Staël-Schlegel book”, while figures such as Fichte and Novalis held surprisingly traditional views on marriage. For all their progressive politics, it was the male self that the Jena Romantics mostly wanted to liberate.

That they were successful in doing so is clear not just from their influence on the English Romantics – the standard example being the Germanophile Coleridge – but from their reception across Europe and beyond. “Germanomania”, as the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz put it, swept the western world, and “Europe” constituted a key category in the Romantic imagination, as attested by another short-lived journal, Friedrich Schlegel’s Europa (1803-05). The pathos of the preface to the first issue leaves the reader in no doubt as to Schlegel’s lofty aims, which were “to spread the light of beauty and truth as widely as possible”. That light carried on spreading well after the end of the movement: Wulf’s epilogue gallops through its more obvious heirs, from the American transcendentalists to the European modernists. A somewhat cursory comparison between Lucinde and Finnegans Wake fails to make the case for direct influence – Joyce had read about the Jena Set in Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria and “might also have studied other translations and critical essays” – but there are certainly parallels between Schlegelian Romanticism and Joycean modernism in their treatments of subjectivity, fragmentation and overambitiousness.

The remaining question is why Jena Romanticism took hold where and when it did. Reaction against the Enlightenment is one answer, but why in Germany? De Staël’s explanation was that German thinkers escaped to an “Ideal” world because their reality was so underdeveloped – because Germany, in short, did not yet exist, divided as it was between the hundreds of competing principalities that formed the Holy Roman Empire. Facilitated by the freedom from censorship that such a fissiparous political landscape permitted, Romanticism emerged as a manifestation of what Helmuth Plessner would later call the verspätete Nation, the delayed nation that would accrete, then expand, so explosively in the twentieth century. In the meantime culture developed in place of country.

Other, more local factors played a role, not least the thriving centre of culture that was Weimar, which administered Jena on behalf of the Duchy of Saxe-Weimar. One of the most significant absences in Wulf’s narrative is any sustained engagement with Weimar classicism. Goethe and Schiller were a half-generation older than the Jena radicals, and so played correspondingly semi-detached roles in their development, as contested parent and fiery elder brother respectively. Their own relationship, from 1794 to Schiller’s death in 1805, is often taken to be the core of Weimar classicism, but Wulf has little to say about it, and the importance of Herder (for example) to the older generation is barely mentioned. As early as 1795 Schiller told Fichte that “posterity will turn us from contemporaries into neighbours, although we actually had little in common”. The tension between “classical” and “romantic” aesthetics, central though it was to the period, is underarticulated in Wulf’s telling.

Such intellectual absences are a function of her concentration on group biography. The work that the Jena Set produced – the reason we remember them, after all – sometimes comes across as an afterthought, a brief addendum to the main business of living together and falling out. Faust, for instance, which Schelling called “the deepest, purest quintessence of our age”, warrants only a page of discussion (perhaps because it sits between the classicism of Weimar and the Romanticism of Jena?). We hear about the première of Schiller’s great trilogy Wallenstein – the Schlegels, Fichte and Schelling all made the trip to the theatre in Weimar, where Goethe acted as host and impresario – but learn little of its substance, perhaps because it does not correspond with the Jena emphasis on self- celebration. Caroline Schlegel may have hated the play and preferred the champagne – “Caroline hadn’t enjoyed the first part, she told her husband, so why should she endure the second?” – but the public disagreed and fought for tickets. The danger of focusing so tightly on a central perspective is that it elides the broader context.

Wulf’s book reads as much like a novel as an intellectual biography. She is an expert at compressing her sources – letters, diaries, journals – into the kind of prose we recognize from nineteenth- century realism, complete with free indirect discourse (“Friedrich Schlegel was having fun”; “Duke Carl August was furious with Fichte”). This is fair enough – the sources are meticulously documented – but it raises the question of whether Wulf retains sufficient critical distance. Perhaps, in the end, her subjectivity is only too apt. Novalis suggested to Caroline Schlegel that they should turn their lives into a novel, and Andrea Wulf has taken up the challenge – not in the sense that Magnificent Rebels is made up, but in the sense that she imagines the lives of the Jena Set from the inside out. It is a considerable achievement.

Ben Hutchinson is German Literature editor at the TLS and Professor of European Literature at the University of Kent. His collection of essays, On Purpose, will be published in 2023
adicionada por AntonioGallo | editarTLS, Ben Hutchinson (Sep 2, 2022)
 
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"From the best-selling author of The Invention of Nature comes an exhilarating story about a remarkable group of young rebels-poets, novelists, philosophers-who, through their epic quarrels, passionate love stories, heartbreaking grief, and radical ideas launched Romanticism onto the world stage, inspiring some of the greatest thinkers of the time. When did we begin to be as self-centered as we are today? At what point did we expect to have the right to determine our own lives? When did we first ask the question, How can I be free? It all began in a quiet university town in Germany in the 1790s, when a group of playwrights, poets, and writers put the self at center stage in their thinking, their writing, and their lives. This brilliant circle included the famous poets Goethe, Schiller, and Novalis; the visionary philosophers Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel; the contentious Schlegel brothers; and, in a wonderful cameo, Alexander von Humboldt. And at the heart of this group was the formidable Caroline Schlegel, who sparked their dazzling conversations about the self, nature, identity, and freedom. The French revolutionaries may have changed the political landscape of Europe, but the young Romantics incited a revolution of the mind that transformed our world forever. We are still empowered by their daring leap into the self, and by their radical notions of the creative potential of the individual, the highest aspirations of art and science, the unity of nature, and the true meaning of freedom. We also still walk the same tightrope between meaningful self-fulfillment and destructive narcissism, between the rights of the individual and our responsibilities toward our community and future generations. At the heart of this inspiring book is the extremely modern tension between the dangers of selfishness and the thrilling possibilities of free will"--

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