Reflecting on “Romanticism” we see ourselves
I post below two passages from the Preface to Lacoue-Labarthe’s and Nancy’s The Literary Absolute, a study of twelve texts from the Athenaeum (Jena: 1798-1800).
The original French version L’Absolu littéraire appeared in 1978, the English-language translation in 1988, i.e., a solid generation ago. The francophobic likely to reject the volume out of hand might be more circumspect did they know the investigation carried out by Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy parallels the equally generally unacknowledged thinking of the German-language scholars Dieter Henrich and Manfred Frank and England’s Andrew Bowie. Those who find such matters too philosophical or overly-intellectual were already answered in the Athenaeum: “If some mystical art lovers who think of every criticism as a dissection and every dissection as a destruction of pleasure were to think logically, then ‘wow!’ would be the best criticism of the greatest works of art….”—Friedrich Schlegel, Critical Fragments, 57.
A veritable romantic unconscious is discernible today, in most of the central motifs of our “modernity” [or “postmodernity”]. Not the least result of romanticism’s indefinable character is the way it has allowed this so-called modernity [or postmodernity] to use romanticism as a foil, without ever recognizing–or in order not to recognize–that it has done little more than rehash romanticism’s discoveries.
…it is not difficult to arrive at the derivatives of these romantic texts, which still delimit our horizon. From the idea of a possible formalization of literature (or of cultural production in general) to the use of linguistic models (and a model based on the principle of auto-structuration of language); from an analytic approach to works based on the hypothesis of auto-engendering to the aggravation of the problematic of a subject permanently rejecting subjectivism (that of inspiration, for example, or the ineffable, or the function of the author, etc.); from this problematic of the (speaking or writing) subject to a general theory of the historical or social subject; from a belief that the work’s conditions of production or fabrication are inscribed within it to the thesis of a dissolution of all processes of production in the abyss of the subject. In short, we ourselves are implicated in all that determines both literature as auto-critique and criticism as literature. Our own image comes back to us from the mirror of the literary absolute. And the massive truth flung back at us is that we have not left the era of the Subject.