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Romantic Theory

Forms of Reflexivity in the Revolutionary Era

Leon Chai

Publication Year: 2006

This original study explores the new idea of theory that emerged in the wake of the French Revolution. Leon Chai sees in the Romantic age a significant movement across several broad fields of intellectual endeavor, from theoretical concepts to an attempt to understand how they arise. He contends that this movement led to a spatial treatment of concepts, the primacy of development over concepts, and the creation of metatheory, or the formal analysis of theory. Chai begins with P. B. Shelley on the need for conceptual framework, or theory. He then considers how Friedrich Wolf and Friedrich Schlegel shift from a preoccupation with antiquity to a heightened self-awareness of Romantic nostalgia for that lost past. He finds a similar reflexivity in Napoleon's battle plan at Jena and, subsequently, in Hegel's move from substance to subject. Chai then turns to the sciences: Xavier Bichat's rejection of the idea of a unitary vital principle for life as process; the chemical theory of matter developed by Humphry Davy; and the work of

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

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pp. vii-xvii

In recent years, the fate of theory has given rise to much concern. To see why, it’s only necessary to take a quick look at the current scene: since 1990, roughly, no new forms of theory, and, instead, a lot of restatements, with some variation, of earlier viewpoints. Perhaps the most noticeable trend, in fact, has been a tendency to combine some of these. The new eclecticism, you might call it. Yet even the combination of different...


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pp. xix-xx

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1 The Triumph of Theory

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pp. 1-20

Picture the scene to yourself: a tiny island, situated in the middle of a small lake. The stillness of the water furnishes a natural inducement to meditation, or reverie. The foreground, meanwhile, offers an appropriate spot: a bench by the shore, where a seated woman, nursing an infant, gazes on a stone tablet graced by a votive inscription. But the focal point, toward which the spectator’s eye is unerringly directed, remains...

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2 Forms of Nostalgia

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pp. 21-51

In many ways, the nostalgia for classical antiquity begins in antiquity itself. Take, for instance, Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli, completed sometime around A.D. 135. If you make the journey out to Tivoli from Rome (about seventeen miles), you discover on arrival that the villa doesn’t lie anywhere near the center of the town. Instead, you have to find your way to the outskirts, where the town begins to shade off almost imperceptibly...

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3 The Movement of Return

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pp. 52-87

When dawn came to the outskirts of Jena on October 14, 1806, it brought only a slight improvement in visibility. The previous night had begun clear and cold, tinged by frost. But as the hours passed, a dense fog had gradually settled over the entire area. By 6 a.m., daylight was barely discernible. Nevertheless, some 46,000 French troops lay massed in position...

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4 The House of Life

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pp. 88-112

A portal, flanked by two arched window-spaces. Above the portal, a stone plaque with the inscription H

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5 Beyond Radical Empiricism

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pp. 113-132

From 1801 to 1812, the lecture theater of the Royal Institution figured as one of the most fashionable meeting places for London society. In our effort to reconstruct the scene, it’s only natural to begin with the room itself. Here, then, you would have steeply banked rows of seats arranged in a semicircle so as to converge on an open space. Above, a gallery supported by posts over the ground floor. At night, lamps attached...

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6 Galois Theory

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pp. 133-152

It’s easy to picture the scene. The time: near dawn on May 30, 1832. The place: a field near the Glacière pond, in the Gentilly district of Paris. Two young men, accompanied by their seconds, arrive on the field at a prearranged time. They talk briefly and take up their pistols while the seconds assume their customary places. The two young men then turn their backs to each other and step off twenty-five paces....

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7 Toward a Definition of Reflection

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pp. 153-166

It is, in many ways, the archetypal Romantic text. It begins as an anthology of extracts from Archbishop Robert Leighton, with notes by the editor. Later, the extracts are arranged systematically, so as to conform to a particular conceptual scheme. Meanwhile, the notion of a full-length commentary gradually assumes a larger role in the project. Eventually the commentary, rather than the Leighton extracts, becomes the...

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8 The Dream of Subjectivity

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pp. 167-186

It starts with a dream. In her 1831 Introduction to Frankenstein, Mary Shelley describes a conversation (June 17, 1816) at the Villa Diodati (near Geneva) between Byron and her husband. Her Introduction says they talked about ‘‘the nature of the principle of life, and whether there was any probability of its ever being discovered and...

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9 The Limits of Theory

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pp. 187-212

At some point, any inquiry into the promise or potential of theory also has to ask where its limits are. For Friedrich Hölderlin, the limits of theory are, quite simply, those of thought itself. But to arrive at the limits of thought we have to find out what thought can’t conceptualize. Unlike some of those who questioned the primacy of theory...

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pp. 213-219

At the end, we come back to history. For a study like the present one, that would imply a look at Romantic theory in terms of its relation to the Romantic period. Certainly, Romantic theory itself had from the outset an awareness of its historical moment. In his Preface to the Phenomenology, Hegel observes that ‘‘ours is a time of birth and of transition to a new era.’’ But if Romantic theory was fully aware of its historical moment...

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pp. 221-233

From history it’s only natural we should turn to the present. Which is to say: from Romantic theory in its own time to its relation to contemporary theory. And rather than give what would at best amount to a brief, inadequate survey, it seemed to me better to treat the topic very selectively. Specifically, I want to look at how a few contemporary theorists have chosen to respond to Hegel. If Hegel was in many ways exemplary...


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pp. 235-261

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Bibliographic Essay

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pp. 263-273

Although my book focuses mostly on forms of theory in the Romantic period, it’s perhaps only natural for any study of this kind to be construed (to some extent) as an attempt to propose a new paradigm for Romantic studies. With that in mind, I begin with some earlier efforts to define the field conceptually...

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pp. 275-276


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pp. 277-283

E-ISBN-13: 9780801889462
E-ISBN-10: 0801889464
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801883965
Print-ISBN-10: 0801883962

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2006