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The Quest of the Absolute

Birth and Decline of European Romanticism

Louis Dupre

Publication Year: 2013

This eagerly awaited study brings to completion Louis Dupré's planned trilogy on European culture during the modern epoch. Demonstrating remarkable erudition and sweeping breadth, The Quest of the Absolute analyzes Romanticism as a unique cultural phenomenon and a spiritual revolution. Dupré philosophically reflects on its attempts to recapture the past and transform the present in a movement that is partly a return to premodern culture and partly a violent protest against it. Following an introduction on the historical origins of the Romantic Movement, Dupré examines the principal Romantic poets of England (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats), Germany (Goethe, Schiller, Novalis, Hölderlin), and France (Lamartine, de Vigny, Hugo), all of whom, from different perspectives, pursued an absolute ideal. In the chapters of the second part, he concentrates on the critical principles of Romantic aesthetics, the Romantic image of the person as reflected in the novel, and Romantic ethical and political theories. In the chapters of the third, more speculative, part, he investigates the comprehensive syntheses of romantic thought in history, philosophy, and theology.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press


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p. C-C

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

The ideas and artistic achievements of a culture reflect the mind’s light on being at a particular epoch. That light waxes and wanes. Ideas emerge,dominate public discourse for a while, and then fade away, only to be rediscovered later. They may be forgotten, but they have become an integral part of a living tradition. They are transitory and yet permanent....

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Chapter 1: What Was and What Is Romanticism?

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pp. 1-20

Because of the overwhelming variety of form and content in a multiplicity of artistic, poetic, religious, and philosophical expressions, often conflicting with one another, some scholars have concluded that it in vain to search for a definition of Romanticism.1 Nevertheless, despite their irreducible differences, all Romantics shared an awareness of ...

Part I: Typology of Romantic Literature

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Chapter 2: English Romantic Poetry

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pp. 23-63

Romantic poetry possesses an ontological significance that is absent from Enlightenment literature. The great odes by Hölderlin, Words worth,Shelley, and Keats, as well as Novalis’s Hymnen an die Nacht, some of Lamartine’s Méditations poétiques, and Hugo’s later, apocalyptic poetry, all contain insights about the mysteries of life and death that earlier...

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Chapter 3: German Romantic Poetry

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pp. 64-94

Romanticism, before even having the name of a movement, and with little or no communication among the original groups, erupted in various parts of Europe. A pre-Romantic movement in Germany came to be known as Sturm und Drang, after the title of Friedrich Maximilian Klinger’s tempestuous tragedy. Its participants agreed on only one goal: the liberation of German letters from the dominance of French literary...

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Chapter 4: French Romantic Poetry

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pp. 95-114

French poetry of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries shows a remarkable poverty of ideas, despite Descartes’ claim that more profound ideas appear in the writings of poets than in those of philosophers. Ideas in France were traditionally communicated in prose. Poetry, particularly Romantic poetry, did not serve to renew thought, as it had done for...

Part II: Systematic Discussionof Romantic Aesthetics, Psychology, and Ethics

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Chapter 5: The Beautiful and the Sublime

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pp. 117-147

Alexander Baumgarten’s Aesthetics (1750) revived the study of art and beauty, once a subject of vigorous debate, from a long philosophical neglect. Critics, artists, and classicists, however, had given aesthetic theory a great deal of their attention. Diderot, in his Letter on the Deaf and the Dumb, had shown how the theory of art as imitation of nature...

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Chapter 6: The Romantic Image of the Person as Reflected in the Novel

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pp. 148-191

The concept of the person, central in Romantic thought, has had a long and complex history. Its earlier meanings are all derived from the Greek term prosōpon (literally, face or mask). During the late Roman epoch, a person was defined more precisely as a subject of rights and duties. The concept gained additional dignity from the Christian teaching that all...

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Chapter 7: Romantic Ethics

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pp. 192-220

No text influenced early Romantic thinkers and poets in Germany more than Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason. In that work the philosopher had given a real content to the self, which had been missing in the Critique of Pure Reason. In the first half of the Critique of Pure Reason the self had appeared as no more than the “unity of apperception,” that is,...

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Chapter 8: Political Theories after the French Revolution

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pp. 221-244

Political theories before the French Revolution were considered part of social ethics. Their conclusions on the art of governing seldom rested on empirical observation. Some, such as Richard Hooker’s Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (1592), Johannes Althusius’s Politica (1610), and even Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan (1651), originated as conclusions of...

Part III: Syntheses of Romantic Thought

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Chapter 9: The Romantic Idea of History

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pp. 247-273

Europe has always been “a civilization extremely attentive to its past,”wrote the French historian Marc Bloch. Their entire heritage has moved Europeans in a historical direction: “Our first masters, the Greeks and the Romans, were history-writing peoples. Christianity is a religion of historians.”1 In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this Western...

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Chapter 10: Philosophical Foundations of Romantic Thought

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pp. 274-308

If we claim that Romanticism formally began with the French Revolution, we must add that it was not the result of that political event.It consisted in a radical transformation of modern consciousness sup-ported by a systematic rethinking of its intellectual foundations. Modern philosophy, from Descartes to Kant, had been largely epistemological...

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Chapter 11: A New Religion?

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pp. 309-336

In this final chapter I return to a subject that had been at the heart of the preceding analysis of the Romantic mind. Religion is a difficult topic,partly because the religious conditions of Europe in the early nineteenth-century were unprecedentedly complex and varied from one region to another. This much, however, appears clear: the secularization that had...

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pp. 337-340

At the end of this study of the spiritual sources of modern culture, begun with my Passage to Modernity, continued with my The Enlightenment and the Intellectual Foundations of Modern Culture, and completed with the present volume on Romanticism, I must pose the question of modernity again. Throughout these pages I have assumed that a real caesura...


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pp. 341-360


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pp. 361-387

About the Author, Back Cover

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pp. 388-389

E-ISBN-13: 9780268077815
E-ISBN-10: 0268077819
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268026165
Print-ISBN-10: 0268026165

Page Count: 376
Publication Year: 2013