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Mimesis and Its Romantic Reflections

Frederick Burwick

Publication Year: 2001

In Romantic theories of art and literature, the notion of mimesis—defined as art’s reflection of the external world—became introspective and self-reflexive as poets and artists sought to represent the act of creativity itself. Frederick Burwick seeks to elucidate this Romantic aesthetic, first by offering an understanding of key Romantic mimetic concepts and then by analyzing manifestations of the mimetic process in literary works of the period. Burwick explores the mimetic concepts of "art for art's sake," "Idem et Alter," and "palingenesis of mind as art" by drawing on the theories of Philo of Alexandria, Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Schiller, Friederich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, Thomas De Quincey, and Germaine de Staël. Having established the philosophical bases of these key mimetic concepts, Burwick analyzes manifestations of mimesis in the literature of the period, including ekphrasis in the work of Thomas De Quincey, mirrored images in the poems of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, and the twice-told tale in the novels of Charles Brockden Brown, E. T. A. Hoffmann, and James Hogg. Although artists of this period have traditionally been dismissed in discussions of mimesis, Burwick demonstrates that mimetic concepts comprised a major component of the Romantic aesthetic.

Published by: Penn State University Press

Front Cover

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

I first drafted the ideas developed in this book as a resident fellow of the University of California Humanities Research Institute (UC Irvine) in 1991. For their comments and criticism, I am especially grateful to the other fellows: Marian Hobson, Ludwig Pfeiffer, Walter Pape, Elinor Shaffer, and Barbara Stafford. Throughout our collaborative residency, Murray Krieger was always...


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pp. ix

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pp. 1-15

In Mimesis:The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (1946), Erich Auerbach moves from Schiller and Goethe to Stendhal and Balzac, passing over those writers whom he labels romantic. They were no longer concerned, he says, with the representation of reality. Instead, they had become preoccupied with the “fragmentation and limitation of the realistic.” To the extent that they made any attempt at all...

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1: Art for Art’s Sake

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pp. 17-44

In spite of its prominence in the Aestheticism of France and England, the concept of l’art pour l’art, with its presumed freedom from moral purpose, actually had its origin in Germany. It is perceived as being a term that came into usage with Gautier and Baudelaire, was imported into England by Pater, and reached its culmination in the Decadence of the fin de siècle. Crucial to the concept is its resistance to, or defiance of...

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2: Mimesis and the Idem et Alter

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pp. 45-76

M. H. Abrams begins his explanation of the shift from art as imitation to art as expression in “Romantic Analogues of Art and Mind” by citing Wordsworth’s definition of poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” Abrams was certainly right in arguing that Wordsworth’s metaphor revealed the new emphasis on creativity as the expressive “overflow” of the mind. Unfortunately, one of...

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3: Mimesis of the Mind

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pp. 77-106

Along with fancy and imagination, the distinction between copy and imitation is essential to Coleridge’s critical theory. Thus he repeats it, again and again, whenever he explains the creative process. The earliest formulation occurs in the Notebook entries of October–December 1804.1 In subsequent reformulations, he began to elaborate the distinction in terms of...

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4: Mimesis, Ekphrasis, Crisis

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pp. 107-134

The verbal description of a visual work of art bears the name given it in Greek antiquity: ekphrasis. The poet, by representing the work of the painter or sculptor, is offering us a mimesis of a mimesis which pretends to be externally directed, even when it is not: Homer never saw the shield of Achilles; Keats’s Grecian Urn existed only in his own imagination...

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5: Reflections in the Mirror

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pp. 135-159

One reason that critics have dated the decline or even the demise of mimesis from the end of the eighteenth century is that the poets of the romantic period displayed little confidence in the rationalist strategies of representation.1 Indeed, their poetry is often about the instability of representation. Even if it explores subjectivity, an arena of experience for which most languages offer only a meager vocabulary, poetry requires...

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6: Mimesis and the Twice-told Tale

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pp. 161-184

“All the world’s a stage” (As You Like It, Act 2, scene 7, line 47), declares the melancholy Jacques, whose lines are often cited as testimony to that reverse mimesis whereby life is said to imitate art. Another such pronouncement on life as redundant imitation is spoken by Lewis (“a beardless boy, a cocker’d silken wanton”): “Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale / Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man” (King John, Act 3, scene 4, lines 108-9).1 In his...


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pp. 185-195


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pp. 197-203

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780271052694
E-ISBN-10: 0271052694
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271033273
Print-ISBN-10: 0271033274

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2001