I have just finished reading Geoffrey H. Hartman’s “Romanticism and Anti-Self-Consciousness”. I thought it was fascinating, especially the first couple of pages where he referenced the importance of the fall from Eden and how man perceives himself.
I thought it was much like Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. They all share the ironic, paradoxical, and very fascinating themes.
For example, Hartman writes that the Romantics believed that “every increase in consciousness is accompanied by an increase in self-consciousness” At first this seems like a contradicting thought. However, it is true. The more intelligent and observant a person gets the more aware they become of their surroundings and of themselves. With knowledge come questions of all topics, especially when your environment is constantly changing. The Romantics lived in a time when many historical and scientific break thous were being made. Therefore it is only natural for them to question the purpose of their existence, to constantly strive for perfection, and to question man’s affection for nature when they are witnessing severe exploitation of it.
It is also not surprising that they would turn to the Bible as well in their quest for answers. The fall from Eden is especially important to them because it signifies the point when man lost his pureness and innocence. To the Romantics, most men have become corrupt and overcome with materialistic and superficial things. Hartman quotes Kleist “…to return to the state of innocence we must eat once more of the tree of knowledge” I think this is a very significant quote. To me, Kleist means that man has gone so far beyond the point of return that the only option is to strive for more knowledge in order to understand what he has lost. However, the ultimate knowledge belongs to God and therefore “…the hand that inflicts the wound is also the hand that heals it”
This quote reminded me of the affection that the victim can sometimes have toward their abuser. Hostages for example, sometimes after their rescue they refuse to give any information about their abuser because they have developed feelings toward them. God has punished man and sent him to Earth, but man still wants to go back to Heaven and does everything in his power to do so. It is because Eden is the most pure and corrupt free place in the eyes of the Romantics.
I also liked the reference to the “Rhyme of an Ancient Mariner” by Coleridge. I think that the Romantics view most men as “mariners” They have had the chance to explore the world, and sail across the seas, and see all the wonders of the world. Instead of enjoying them, however, they have become obsessed and power hungry, making every action destructive. They have destroyed nature (much like the albatross that has been killed) perhaps without knowledge of consequences. Ironically their tries to better themselves end up being more destructive and now they are paying the price. It seems that the Romantics are puzzled with man’s ability to lose humanity. That makes them self-conscious but the fact that they are trying to answer that question makes them conscious.