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232Philosophy and Literature Eco above all — it may well serve a useful purpose despite its obvious shortcomings . Emory UniversityWalter L. Adamson Romantic Contraries: Freedom versus Destiny, by Peter L. Thorslev, Jr.; ? & 225 pp. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984, $21.50. Is there life after différance? Or, what is the prospect for ontology, teleology, and responsibility — in short, Being-as-we-know-it — after quantum mechanics? These questions arise in reading a fine contribution to the tradition of A. O. Lovejoy and Meyer Abrams, Peter L. Thorslev, Jr.'s Romantic Contraries. The explicit issue is the rise of classical mechanical physics from the mid-seventeenth to late eighteenth centuries and the psychological effects on Romantic writers: "the intellectual and emotional implications ofcosmic mechanism for concepts of freedom and destiny" (p. 35). Of the two axes making Thorslev's useful grid, the first stands for the possibility or "sense of self expression" and the second for a universal process giving trans-individual "sanctions to man's values and aspirations " (p. 54). Thorslev does not question the importance of these concerns, arguing that freedom and destiny "are not abstract philosophical issues; they are immediately relevant and vital to all of us" (pp. 6-7). Thorslev first traces the evolution of eighteenth-century cosmology from the early mechanists to the later materialists — from the clockwork, mathematical, "even idealistic" universe to that composed of "an indefinite number of billiard ball-like corpuscles of indivisible matter" (p. 36). Our sense of this shift in eighteenth-century episteme is still recovering from a simplistic over-estimation of Newtonism, and Thorslev ably evokes how the full implications of determinism "became only gradually apparent" and how various conceptions of freedom and destiny interacted with those implications. But despite the subtle portrayal of their interaction, one clearly sees taking shape the post-romantic contraries of science and humanities that have in turn shaped this book. The refreshing difference here is the author's commitment to science, which leads him even to mock "the literati" who "have turned their backs on the modern world, and become blind traditionalists and reactionaries, or worse" (p. 34). The second half of the book presents the three "Romantic Alternatives" — the "organic," "gothic," and "open/ironic" universes — which "grew out of a conscious or unconscious reaction to the myth of the mechanized universe of the eighteenth-century physics and rational theology" and which "had the effect of Reviews233 restoring to man some sense of individual freedom and, some sense of a social and universal destiny" (p. 81). The recasting of such Romantic commonplaces into such commonplace terms should prove an uncommonly effective classroom routine. The organic universe, that distinctively Romantic fiction, turns at first on presuppositions "of unity, of historicity, and of morality" (p. 108) predicated on the "fit" between mind (human nature) and nature. But with the almost immediate rupture of that uneasy fit (see Blake on Wordsworth), morality is replaced by the sublime spectacle of ordered power and with the unanswerable question of innocent suffering, the organic universe subsides, pretty vaguely, into "a context: a sense of endless creativity, but also a sense of limits" (p. 125). "Gothic," evidently reflecting meta-Romantic contraries meeting the Romantic ones, offers "a pessimistic protest to the optimism either of mechanistic science or of organic faith" (p. 131). This is the least satisfactory and the shortest chapter in the book, the problem being, perhaps, that "gothic" is opposed to identified individuality ("rash self-assertion is indeed a crime in the Gothic universe: one might almost say that it is the only possible crime" (p. 141) and as such is contrary to the author's contraries. The chapter closes with the "Ancient Mariner," leaving one to ponder the complete absence of Frankenstein. The final alternative is "the open universe and romantic irony," which offers "the minimum ofdestiny with the maximum of freedom" (p. 143); but since "most Romantics were more concerned to reassert a sense of destiny than to accept unconditioned freedom" (p. 145) it is "relatively atypical," indeed, "Enlightenment rather than Romantic." The establishment of this "closer affinity" of Romantic irony with "eighteenth century Enlightenment" (p. 166) is especially welcome and could be extended to benefit our...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 232-233
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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