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Michael Fischer ACCEPTING THE ROMANTICS AS PHILOSOPHERS The romanticsarenot widely regarded as philosophers, at least not in philosophy departments, where they are seldom taught.1 Some of the reasons behind this exclusion of the Romantics involve a general disdain for literature; other reasons suggest a more specific uneasiness with Romanticism itself—with its apparent interest in animism, its selfindulgence , its coolness toward reason, and, perhaps above all, its refusal to abide by Kant's containment of skepticism. These complaints are not the invention of paranoid or obtuse academic philosophers (as some literary critics might like to think). In fact, some ofthese objections have dogged the Romantics from the beginning. There is something risky, or outlandish, about Romanticism that these criticisms bring out. I want here to pursue what is at stake in accepting the Romantics as philosophers. In discussing what may be threatening about Romanticism , I will be drawing on the work of Stanley Cavell. Unlike most professional philosophers, Cavell declares his indebtedness to the Romantics , but unlike some literary critics, he appreciates the dangers of the Romantic quest that he nevertheless joins. The Romantics often leave Cavell feeling nervous and wretched, as Thoreau left Emerson— and as Cavell leaves many of his own readers. Cavell affirms Romanticism while acknowledging the risks that have repelled some ofits critics: hence his usefulness to me here. The Romantics' quarrel with Kant perhaps best accounts for the contempt , or indifference, that Romanticism can inspire in academic philosophers . Cavell pictures Kant as arriving at a settlement with skepticism , a compromise that concedes the inaccessibility of things-inthemselves , while reassuring us of our right to say that "we do know the existence of the world, or rather, that what we understand as knowl179 180Philosophy and Literature edge is ofthe world."2 For Kant, again as Cavell portrays him, limiting knowledge—by relinquishing any claim to know things-in-themselves— is necessary to shoring up knowledge, to our still claiming that there is such a thing. By "knowledge" Kant, in effect, means science: he saves science by positioning it between skepticism (the denial of knowledge) and fanaticism or dogmatism (the expansion of knowledge beyond acceptable limits). By affirming the possibility of (scientific) knowledge, Kant thus contains skepticism, or at least curtails its damage. But by putting thingsin -themselves beyond knowledge, he also gives in to skepticism. According to Cavell, the Romantics balk at this trade-off, saying, in effect, "Thanks for nothing." 3 Knowledge of things-in-themselves is precisely the knowledge that the Romantics are most interested in. From this point ofview, Kant concedes too much to skepticism—and gets too little in return. Resisting Kant accordingly entails putting us back in touch with things, or bringing us face-to-face with them, which in turn means showing that we can face things or shy away from them, presumably as we can confront or avoid people. Cavell finds examples of Romantic writers facing things and even listening to them in Waiden, the "Intimations" ode, and other texts.4 But I want to focus here on a poem that Cavell does not mention, "Tintern Abbey," where Wordsworth speaks of that blessed mood, In which the burthen of the mystery, In which the heavy and weary weight Of all this unintelligible world, Is lightened:—that serene and blessed mood, In which the affections gently lead us on,— Until, the breath of this corporeal frame And even the motion of our human blood Almost suspended, we are laid asleep In Body, and become a living soul: While with an eye made quiet by the power Of harmony, and the deep power ofjoy, We see into the life of things. (11. 37-49) By "things" Wordsworth means nothing less than "all objects of all thought" (1. 101), "all that we behold / From this green earth"(11. 1045 ), "all the mighty world / Of eye, and ear" (U. 105-6). He specifically mentions "setting suns" (1. 97), "the round ocean and the living air, / Michael Fischer181 And the blue sky" (11. 97-98) and he declares himself "a lover of the meadows and the woods, / And mountains" (11. 103-4). In these lines—and others I need not cite—the world...


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