DALIA NASSAR | The Romantic Absolute: Being and Knowing in Early German Romantic Philosophy, 1795—1804 | University of Chicago Press 2014


By Dalia Nassar

I first wish to thank both Richard Fincham and Reed Winegar for taking the time to write such thoughtful and engaging responses to my book. It has been a treat for me to think with them about both the issues raised in The Romantic Absolute and general questions on the philosophical reception of Romanticism. It was especially interesting to see the kinds of points they brought up and to note differences in their readings and reactions. I was especially pleased, for instance, by Fincham’s comment that The Romantic Absolute includes discussion of the aesthetic and literary outputs of the Romantics. I think it is regretful that many philosophical accounts of Romanticism overlook their literary corpus, and, although my considerations are not lengthy or comprehensive, I have tried to offer philosophical interpretations of their literary works, focusing above all on Novalis’ Novices at Sais (Lehrlinge zu Saïs), and Schlegel’s Lucinde. Similarly, I appreciate Fincham’s emphasis on the moral significance of the Romantic project, because, as I see it, the metaphysical and epistemological questions that underlie Romanticism are not separable from the question of moral action: its possibility in nature and its relation to the knowing (and thereby creative, active) subject.

There is much to think about in what Winegar and Fincham have said, and although my response aims to discuss all the points that they bring up, the questions they raise should inspire further study and consideration.

I will begin with a question that both Fincham and Winegar raise and which concerns the inclusion of Schelling in the Romantic circle. This question is closely related to another point that they make, namely, what exactly I mean by Romanticism and how it differs from idealism. Fincham in particular maintains that I don’t explicitly define Romanticism. These two points are closely related to my critique of Manfred Frank’s account of Romanticism. Manfred Frank strongly distinguishes Romanticism from German idealism, and places Schelling within the latter camp. In my response, then, I hope to offer answers to both questions: why is Schelling included, and what is Romanticism? Above all, I hope to shed light on the ways that I respond to these questions in the book.

Fincham helpfully provides a synopsis of the three questions I outline in the Introduction and which I consider to be the key questions motivating Romanticism: a) the relation between mind and nature, b) the relation between the one and the many, and c) the relation between the infinite and the finite. I argue that these questions should provide the framework for philosophical Romanticism, and note that although they imply a delimitation of Romanticism, they do so in a very specific and minimal way—as questions rather than answers. I thus intentionally focus on questions as a means of identifying Romanticism, because my aim is not to offer a non-differentiated, linear account of Romantic thought, i.e., an account that assumes that these various thinkers sought to provide the same answers by the same means (i.e., the same structure or format). For this is simply not the case. There were important differences in their responses and in the manner of their responses. Thus by focusing on questions, I aim to highlight the differences in their answers, show how each of them attempted, in his own way, with the specific resources that he had, to provide a significant response to these three fundamental questions. What unites them, then, is their concern with these questions, and, more specifically, their view that these questions were not only central, but also inherently connected. Moreover, as I argue throughout the book, they took these questions to be both epistemological and metaphysical. All of these factors distinguish them from contemporaries who either focused on only one of the questions, or prioritized epistemology over ontology (or metaphysics) or vice versa.

While Novalis develops an ’empirical idealism’ as a response to these questions, i.e., an idealism that seeks to locate the idea in the empirical phenomena, Schlegel develops a ‘hermeneutic idealism’, which, as he puts it, “begins in the middle”, and Schelling a ‘systematic idealism’, based on the view that philosophical knowledge must be based on the unconditioned. Importantly, Schelling’s account of the unconditioned is not identifiable with either Fichte’s or Kant’s, both of whom seek to posit the unconditioned in the activity of the knowing subject. Rather, Schelling argues—along the same lines that Schlegel and Novalis develop—that the unconditioned must be both an ontological and epistemological premise, i.e., it must be “the principle in which thought and being are one” (as he puts it in his early essay Of the I as a Principle of Philosophy [Vom Ich als Prinzip der Philosophie]).

I thus specifically did not aim to offer a strict definition of Romanticism in terms of their answers to these three key questions, because I think that would inherently overlook or undermine their differences. And these differences are not only important for our understanding of them as individual philosophers, but also for grasping the difficulty of the task before them: offering an account of the Absolute. Thus rather than under-emphasizing their differences, as many accounts of a movement or a school inevitably do, my approach aims to emphasize their differences and through these differences provide an account of the philosophical importance and difficulty of the notion of the Absolute.

My approach, then, is in its own way Romantic—and Fincham is right to note this. For by drawing out their differences, my aim is to demonstrate their unity in and through the difference. And my emphasis on questions rather than answers seeks to achieve precisely this goal.

Now the question remains as to who should be considered a Romantic and who should be considered an idealist, and what distinguishes Romanticism from idealism. This question is, it is important to emphasize, very recent, and in this way markedly differs from the much older question that concerns the meaning and origins of the terms ‘romantic’ and ‘romanticism’ (a question that was concerned with the philological origins of the terms and their significance in identifying the movement[1]). The ‘Romantics’ after all never used the name to distinguish themselves. It was, rather, through the works of Mme de Stael and Heinrich Heine in the early nineteenth century and Rudolf Haym’s in the mid-nineteenth century that the term became an appellation for a movement. Investigations into the notion of Romanticism have thus been largely focused on understanding why thinkers like Novalis and Schlegel invoked the adjective romantisch and the verb romantisieren to describe a certain way of writing or a certain kind of poetry. In this context, Romanticism is generally opposed to the classicism of Goethe, Schiller, and Hölderlin.

However Fincham and Winegar are not asking about the difference between Romanticism and classicism, and are not interested in this much older debate. Rather, their concern is with the differences between Romanticism and idealism. But why should there be any substantial differences between the two, or, more specifically, why should the differences between Romanticism and idealism imply that it is impossible for a thinker to participate in both movements? This is the assumption that underlies their question, and it has become a largely unquestioned assumption. Yet it is problematic on both historical and philosophical grounds. After all, the Romantics did not self-identify as a closed circle, but rather as a loosely knit group who sought to contribute to a larger philosophical project—a project that involved critiquing as well as taking account of the insights of Critical philosophy and Fichtean idealism. Furthermore, the philosophical distinction that Frank articulates between Romanticism and idealism (the distinction that, I think, motivates Fincham and Winegar’s questions) is unsustainable. The claim is that Romanticism is a sceptical movement because it rejected the (Fichtean [and Hegelian][2]) view that consciousness can achieve insight into being. In the place of philosophical insight into being, Frank contends, the Romantics argue that art alone can achieve such insight. There are several problems with this account, the most obvious of which is that Schelling articulated precisely this view most in the System of Transcendental Idealism, such that it would be impossible to exclude him from Romanticism. One might contend that Schelling’s other works do not espouse these fundamental Romantic ideas, to which I would respond: neither do Novalis’ early notes, the Fichte-Studien (Fichte-Studies), which Frank touts as the “most important contribution of philosophical Romanticism”.[3] (Frank’s interest in Novalis, it should be noted, is limited to the first few paragraphs of the Fichte-Studies.)

Another thinker that might be brought up in this regard is Hölderlin. Hölderlin has not been traditionally regarded as a Romantic, because of his classicism (as opposed to the Romantic rejection of classicism) and his close connection to Schelling and Hegel. Thus, philosophically he is distinguished as an idealist (Dieter Henrich). Indeed, if one is to identify Romanticism with a time (1790s), a place (Jena), and a journal (Athenaeum), as Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy did, then Hölderlin is clearly not a Romantic. He had no direct contact with the Schlegel brothers, he did not contribute to their journal, and his only connection to Jena was through Schelling. This is a reason to exclude him. Yet, Frank chooses to include him in his account of Romanticism. Why should Hölderlin be included, and not Schelling, who was much more directly connected to the Schlegel brothers and Novalis, contributed to their journal, and, as I argue in The Romantic Absolute, developed a significant refutation of Fichte’s principle of identity in his early writings?

The point I want to make then is this: to raise the question about Romanticism and its difference from idealism is already to assume that there is such a difference, and to assume, furthermore, that this difference is so deep that it does not allow thinkers to participate in both movements, or to contribute to the two movements at different times in their lives. This is an assumption that, if examined, does not hold. Furthermore, the inclusion or exclusion of any thinker from a movement as loosely defined as Romanticism is based on largely historical and institutional reasons, having more to do with the author’s reception history than with his philosophical position. Finally, given the differences between the various thinkers within the movement and their alternating positions, it is impossible to offer an unequivocal definition of Romanticism that is not inherently problematic.

Nonetheless, by distinguishing the three key questions, and emphasizing that for the Romantics, they are inherently both epistemological and ontological questions, I offer an account of Romanticism that necessarily excludes certain thinkers—i.e., those who do not develop a philosophical account of nature, because they are not interested in the ontological character of the Absolute, or those who do not seek to consider the relation between nature and culture, nature and history, because they do not regard the act of knowing as implicated in being. My emphasis on the philosophy of nature is not arbitrary, but rather gets to the core of the philosophical questions of the time: the relation between being and knowing, between nature and mind, between the activity or productivity of nature and the productivity of the mind. These questions were, as both Fincham and Winegar note, central to Kant’s Third Critique, and the Romantics were certainly inspired by Kant’s first attempt to offer answers to these fundamental concerns; however, and again as Fincham notes, Kant’s answers were far too vague and rudimentary and the Romantics sought to offer answers that were more developed and concrete than Kant’s. This should give the reader further insight into how my reading of the Romantics fundamentally differs from Frank’s: the Kant that most inspired them was the Kant who was concerned with reconciling the claims of nature and the claims of freedom, and not the Kant who argued that consciousness can never achieve insight into being because, as Frank sees it, being always escapes knowing (or self-consciousness).

I appreciate Fincham’s attempt to reconcile my reading with Frank’s. He writes at the end of his review that

we can reconcile Frank’s claims concerning Romanticism’s sceptical dimension with Beiser’s and Nassar’s claims that Romanticism is a species of absolute idealism, that is, an idealism that claims that the Absolute precedes and is irreducible to the principle of identity and self-consciousness.

While I think this statement correctly depicts my perspective, I am not sure whether it does Frank’s, especially given his claim that the Absolute cannot contain self-consciousness, but rather is in some ways opposed to it. It is this aspect of Frank’s interpretation that I find problematic; for the Absolute, as Absolute, cannot stand outside of or in opposition to anything, including self-consciousness. As soon as the Absolute is opposed, then it can no longer be considered Absolute. Thus, as I see it, the Absolute must be the mediating ground of self-consciousness (knowing) and being, of mind and nature, of the finite and infinite. It is both being and knowing, and, as such, it is neither the one nor the other.

This again connects to a point that Fincham makes regarding the unity of The Romantic Absolute. Given that the book is divided into three sections, he wonders what the underlying connection between the parts might be. He offers three responses, and explains that the last of these is possibly the most compelling:

Nassar might respond by claiming that it is the articulation of the ‘inherently relational’ conception of the Absolute which is the essential feature of early German Romanticism.

I agree with Fincham’s assessment that this is the most compelling of the three responses; however, I disagree with his worry about this response. The problem, as he sees it, is that there is no such conception of the Absolute in Schelling’s Of the I as a Principle of Philosophy (Vom Ich als Prinzip der Philosophie) or his Presentation of My System of Philosophy (Darstellung meines Systems der Philosophie). Of the I is a very early text published in 1795, while the Presentation comes after the System of Transcendental Idealism, and is regarded as the beginning of Schelling’s ‘identity philosophy’. It was published in 1801. The reason I disagree with Fincham’s worry with regard to Of the I is because I think the text does in fact offer such an account of the Absolute. In this early text, Schelling articulates an important critique of Fichte’s conception of the unconditioned I. Contra Fichte, Schelling argues that the I=I is a later concept, and is dependent on an original productivity, an “absolute causality”. This absolute causality cannot be reduced to either self-consciousness or nature, because it is the mediating ground of both. As such, it is inherently relational, and the source of both being and knowing. (I will discuss this in more detail below.) I think that Fincham is right, however, about the Presentation, which I consider to be a unique text in Schelling’s corpus, in that it offers an extremely static account of the Absolute, one that he recants within a few months in his Further Presentation of My System of Philosophy (Fernere Darstellung meines Systems der Philosophie).

This brings me to the first point that Winegar makes: he asks me to clarify the ways in which the Absolute is both an epistemological and ontological category for Novalis, Schlegel and Schelling. As Winegar notes, my claim is that the Absolute does not simply denote an epistemological conception—such as a Kantian regulative ideal, or a first principle—or an ontological account of reality—such as Spinoza’s substance. To think that the Absolute implies either the one or the other is to misunderstand the Romantic project, which aims to overcome the dualism between mind and nature, between knowing and being, rather than reinstate them. In other words, for the Romantics, the Absolute is both the ground of knowing and the ground of being, because it is neither solely a principle of knowledge, nor solely a principle of reality, but a ‘higher ground’ that unites both. Because it is not reducible to either, and is not a ‘thing’ at all (as both Schlegel and Novalis argue), the Absolute is best understood as relationality or mediation itself, rather than any one thing or one principle.

This leads directly to my interpretation of Novalis, and especially to my account of his early notes, the Fichte-Studies, with which Winegar takes some issue. Winegar seems uncertain about my interpretation and wonders whether it might be best to argue that Novalis’ views shift throughout these notes so that what he comes to claim at the end decisively contradicts what he states at the beginning. More specifically, Winegar claims that while he agrees with my interpretation of the latter part of the work, he is unsure as to whether my interpretation holds with regard to its beginning, particularly to the first note.

I am sympathetic to Winegar’s view that there are significant transformations in these notes, and make a similar claim in the book, concluding that these notes should therefore be considered with caution and not regarded as a straightforward philosophical work. This is particularly significant in relation to the vague and changing ways in which Novalis employs the terms Seyn (Being) and nur Seyn (mere or pure Being). For while at times Novalis seems to imply that there is such a thing as “mere being”, at others he states that “being is […] an absolute relation [Seyn ist (…) eine absolute Relation]”, adding that “nothing in the world is merely [Nichts in der Welt ist bloß]” (NS 2, 247, Nr. 454).

Nonetheless, I think that Winegar has not fully grasped my interpretation of the first note, which I should add, has been particularly significant in the philosophical literature on Novalis in the last two decades. The note reads:

In the proposition “a is a” lies nothing other than a positing, differentiating and connecting. It is a philosophical parallelism. In order to make “a” more clear, “A” is divided. “Is” is posited as universal content, “a” as the determined form. The essence of identity can only be presented in an illusory proposition [Scheinsatz]. We abandon the identical in order to present it [um es darzustellen]—Either this takes place only illusorily—and we are brought to believe it by the imagination—what occurs, already is—naturally through imaginary separation and unification—Or we represent [vorstellen] it through its non-being [Nichtseyn], through a non-identical [Nichtidentisches]—Sign […]. (NS 2, 104, Nr. 1)

Novalis’ concern here is with the way in which we presume to present identity. His argument is that no such presentation is possible: as soon as we present identity (a=a), we are already dividing it. There is, in other words, no way by which to present identity. I emphasize identity, because in this note, Novalis is not concerned with being (nur Seyn), as so many interpretations assume, but with identity and its presentation: “we abandon the identical in order to present it.” His claim specifically concerns the philosophical attempt to articulate and represent the most fundamental logical premise. It does not concern being or mere being. The presumption in the literature, however, is that it does, and that Novalis’ claim is that mere being cannot be represented, is beyond or outside of representation (and therefore Novalis is a sceptic critic of idealism!). I do not see any reason to make this further claim, at least not on the basis of this note.

My interpretation, in contrast, is that identity is the illusion. Further in the notes, Novalis states that “being does not express identity” (NS 2, 247, Nr. 454). Rather, being implies opposition and difference. This goes hand in hand with Novalis’ later conception of the Absolute as a relational, transforming, temporal reality that cannot be reduced to a logical principle (identity). The problem, then, specifically concerns identity—and this first note offers a critique of identity. This critique is, in turn, reiterated by Schlegel and Schelling.

A key aspect of my interpretation, as Winegar and Fincham note, concerns Goethe’s influence on romanticism. Fincham generally agrees with my account of Goethe’s influence, though he wonders whether it can be traced even further back than I have traced it (for instance in the case of Schelling). I would be interested to hear more about this point. Winegar, however, questions my interpretation of Novalis’ Goethean inheritance of the notion of a non-sensible intuition; in contrast, he contends, Novalis’ account can be taken as an “idealized interpretation in science”.

To begin with, Novalis was deeply influenced by Goethe’s science, as evident in his various statements on Goethe. These statements do not only demonstrate his intimate knowledge of Goethe’s scientific practice, but also his attempt to carry it out. As Novalis put is: “Goethean treatment of the sciences—my project” (NS 3, 452, Nr. 967). What specifically attracted Novalis to Goethe was Goethe’s emphasis on both observation and reflection, which should not be mistaken for what Winegar calls an idealised interpretation of science, if by that he means something like a Kantian conception of the relation between the a priori and the empirical.

Goethe rejected the methodology that we see in Kant’s a priori construction of nature (in the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science, for instance), where necessity is the outcome of rational construction, in favour of a methodology that seeks to locate necessity in the phenomena themselves—i.e., not in an a priori principle from which they may (or, as in the case of organised beings, may not) be derived. Goethe and Novalis agree with Kant that empirical experience is incomplete and reductive if it amounts to the mere collection of data. They disagree, however, with Kant’s conception of the a priori and his view that proper science must be based on the rational construction of empirical phenomena. What Goethe realised, and what Novalis learned from Goethe, was that true empiricism (what Novalis calls “genuine empiricism”) must aim to transform one’s very way of perceiving and thinking, such that the phenomena that one perceives are not fundamentally divorced or separable from the idea that they express, i.e., the idea is seen in the phenomena, and not beyond or outside of the phenomena. In other words, the meaning and significance of a phenomenon is in the phenomenon, not in an a priori principle or construction that is imposed on it, or a cause that precedes or conditions it. The aim of intellectual (or non-sensible) intuition for Novalis is to arrive at the idea that is presented in the phenomenon, such that, as Goethe puts it, thinking and observing are inseparable. It is thus significantly different from an idealised science, if in this science one does not regard the idea as real and as manifesting itself in the phenomena. As Kant explains, insight into the idea cannot be achieved through the discursive understanding. Only an intuitive understanding can achieve it, because it alone does not separate the idea (the whole) from the phenomenon (the parts), but sees the whole and parts as mutually determining and thus inseparable.

A question that Winegar and Fincham bring up concerns Hegel. Winegar specifically asks what the relationship is between Schlegel and Hegel, given the apparent proximity of their thought. This is a large theme, and for this reason it would be difficult to offer an adequate answer to the question in one paragraph; however, I think it is right to see a lot of Schlegelian themes in Hegel—the historicisation of thought, the emphasis on the study of history and the claim that it is only by studying the history of philosophy that one can understand philosophy. But this is not to claim that Schlegel is a ‘Hegelian’. That would be anachronistic. Rather, the opposite is the case: in Hegel, we find reiterations of many of Schlegel’s most significant claims (there is some indication that Hegel attended Schlegel’s Jena lectures in the winter semester 1800—01, where Schlegel formulated these ideas).

There are, of course, fundamental differences, which have been enumerated by a number of scholars. I will only mention a few that directly relate to my study. Schlegel identifies himself as a “fragmentary systematician” because he rejects the notion of a systematic construction of philosophical knowledge, based on a first principle and composed of further deducible principles. The very notion of a first principle is contradictory, he argues, because it aims to offer a beginning free of presuppositions; however, by positing some thing or object as the starting point of thought, one necessarily makes a supposition. Thus, like Novalis (and Schelling) he rejects the idea that the I=I is a presuppositionless and self-evident first principle (precisely because, as Novalis’ note from the Fichte-Studies demonstrates, it implies difference, which in turn implies a knowing subject and a known object). Rather than starting with a first principle, Schlegel contends, philosophy must always “start in the middle”, because only such a beginning is without any implicit presuppositions. Whether Hegel’s system begins with a first principle is a disputed question (Schelling, in his late lectures on the history of modern philosophy, argues that he did); however Hegel does develop a complete system, which contrasts to Schlegel’s emphasis on fragments, openness and becoming. A fragment is not a proposition, and thus cannot be proven by a preceding condition, or provide the deductive proof for a proceeding claim. A system of fragments thus cannot proceed linearly, from one fragment to the next, for a fragment is intentionally open to further interpretation and can enter into numerous relations, rather than only one and purely deductively. Thus in contrast to the attempt to develop a deductive system of knowledge based on an unconditioned or presuppositionless principle, Schlegel’s system does not assume any unconditioned (i.e., a first principle) but begins with conditions and seeks to understand these conditions (i.e., fragments) in their context and through their various and changing relations. A system of fragments, then, demands that we rethink the very way in which we grasp objects: not by determining their anterior causes or conditions, but by understanding them in their various appearances over time. In these ways, I think, it differs from the Hegelian system and the Hegelian model of knowledge.

I will now turn to Schelling. Winegar states that I consider Schelling’s position to be “more Spinozistic than Fichtean”. I don’t think this is a fair account of my interpretation; as I put it, Schelling is “between Fichte and Spinoza” and ultimately rejects Spinoza on Kantian-Fichtean grounds. Spinoza, as Schelling sees it, is not critical enough because he does not adequately account for the active character of knowledge and the relation between this activity and the Absolute (or, for Spinoza, substance). Thus I agree with Winegar when he claims that Schelling is attempting to unite Spinoza’s monism with Fichtean freedom; but it is important to explain how exactly he seeks to do this and it is certainly not by simply accepting Fichtean premises. Rather, the reconciliation between monism and freedom, between nature and mind, takes place through developing a non-Fichtean conception of the I as unconditioned. Schelling’s key insight, against Fichte, is that the structure of self-consciousness which grounds the I (the formal structure “I am I”) is a later concept, dependent upon an original positing or “absolute causality” (and, in response to another point brought up by Winegar with regard to the difference between Schelling and Fichte’s conceptions of the unconditioned, it is for this reason that Schelling distinguishes his conception of the unconditioned from Fichte’s, who argues that the unconditioned requires “certainty”. For, as Schelling realises, certainty implies a self-conscious I that can achieve this certainty; however, if the self-conscious I is a later concept, then certainty cannot ground the unconditioned).

Thus Schelling distinguishes the self-conscious I from a more original activity, out of which both the I and nature emerge. Schelling identifies this original activity as the Absolute. Now Schelling makes this important distinction between the original activity of the I and the formal structure of self-consciousness in his early writings, and it is for this reason that I argue (in contrast to most Schelling interpreters), that the resources for Schelling’s later philosophy of nature must be located in his early works. For it is this account of the Absolute as activity that enables him to conceive of nature not merely as product (along Fichtean lines) but also, and more significantly, as productivity, as Schelling puts it in 1799.

Winegar challenges my claim that Schelling models his notion of intellectual intuition on Spinoza’s account of the third kind of knowledge. After all, Winegar argues, this form of knowledge “is common in the medieval and early modern periods”, such that there is “no strong reason to claim that Spinoza, rather than say the Christian Platonic tradition or the mystic tradition, was the primary influence on Schelling’s theory of intellectual intuition”. This is an important point, and raises the question of Schelling’s various influences during the early 1790s. It does not, however, imply that Schelling was not influenced by Spinoza, nor does it imply that Schelling did not learn from Spinoza’s third kind of knowledge. The fact that Schelling names Spinoza as a primary influence in these early writings should give us reason to think that Spinoza was indeed an influence. Furthermore, Schelling specifically invokes Spinoza’s theory of knowledge and methodology in these works, and considers them to be most relevant for his purposes. Thus he lauds Spinoza’s methodology because it aims to overcome an abstract account of the Absolute; as he puts it, “Spinoza sees the unconditional in the absolute not-I, but not in an abstract concept nor in the idea of the world, nor of course in any single existing thing. On the contrary he inveighs vehemently […] against it” (HKA 1/2, 109). To this, Schelling adds a lengthy footnote which references Spinoza’s account of intuitive knowledge:

For Spinoza the lowest level of knowledge is the imagining of single things; the highest is pure intellectual intuition of the infinite attributes of the absolute substance [reine intellectuale Anschauung der unendlichen Attribute der absoluten Substanz], and the resulting adequate knowledge of the essence of things. This is the highest point of his system. (HKA 1/2, 110G)

In light of these positive statements, and in light of Schelling’s overall aim to develop an intellectual seeing of the Absolute in and through its various manifestations, it seems highly likely that Spinoza was an important influence on Schelling’s account of intuition.

Much more can be said about these important points; however, I will stop here and again thank both Reed Winegar and Richard Fincham for the time, energy and thought that they put into their comments on The Romantic Absolute. I hope that my answers to their questions will serve as further impetus for continuing our conversations on Romanticism and idealism, and look forward to future discussions, whether on-line or in person, on the significance and relevance of this exciting moment in the history of German philosophy.


[1] See for instance Hans Eichner (ed.), ‘Romantic’ and its Cognates: The European History of a Word (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1972).

[2] It was not until his 1989 work on early Romantic aesthetics, Einführung in die frühromantische Ästhetik (Frankfurt a/M: Suhrkamp, 1989), that Manfred Frank put forth the thesis that in Romanticism (and especially in Novalis’ early notes, the Fichte-Studies [Fichte-Studien]), we witness a “break” with the idealist tradition of both Hegel and Fichte. This contrasts with Frank’s earlier interpretation of Romanticism (expressed as late as 1987), where he argues that if we are to speak of a “surpassing [Überbietung]” of Fichtean philosophy, then we must, on the one hand, think of it in terms of an “intensification” of the meaning of the term “identity”, which was already central in Fichte’s philosophy, and, on the other hand, see it as a “radicalization” of the critique of a model of reflection that was already present in Fichte’s thought. Thus, in 1987, Frank regards Romanticism as continuing the Fichtean tradition in significant ways—by intensifying and radicalizing it. See Manfred Frank, ‘Intellektuale Anschauung’, in Die Aktualität der Frühromantik, ed. Ernst Behler and Jochen Hörisch (Paderborn: Schöningh, 1987), pp. 96—126, here p. 115.

[3] Frank, Einführung, p. 248. As I argue in The Romantic Absolute, Novalis’s account of art in the Fichte-Studies is deeply reminiscent of Fichte’s and his account of the artwork in fact is an almost perfect quotation from Fichte’s Über Geist und Buchstab in der Philosophie. There is thus no reason to see in these early writings a radical departure from Fichte, especially not when it concerns the relationship between cognition and art. See The Romantic Absolute, pp. 34 and 275n.52.

© Dalia Nassar, 2015.

Dalia Nassar is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sydney. She specializes in German Romanticism, German Idealism, the philosophy of nature, aesthetics, and environmental philosophy. Among other publications, she is editor of the collection The Relevance of Romanticism: Essays on German Romantic Philosophy (Oxford UP, 2014), and co-editor of the special section of the Goethe Yearbook vol. 22 (2015) on ‘Goethe and Environmentalism’.