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The triumph of Romanticism ; collected essays

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Dear Dream

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ROMANTICISM
AND BEHAVIOR
Collected Essays II
by MORSE PECKHAM

UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA PRESS
Columbia, South Carolina

Copyright © UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA 1976
FIRST EDITION
Published by the University of South Carolina Press,
Columbia, S.C., 1976
Manufactured in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

2.

Peckham, Morse.
Romanticism and behavior.
Companion volume to the author's The triumph of
romanticism, published in 1970.
Includes index.
1. Romanticism—Addresses, essays, lectures.
Civilization, Modern—Addresses, essays, lectures. I. Title.
PN603.P39

809'.91'4

76-29623

ISBN 0-87249-328-8

Dedicated
with all the gratitude a man can muster to

JOHN C. GUILDS, JR.

£75174

Preface

second collection consists of most of the papers,
V essays, and addresses I have written since its predeces¬
sor, The Triumph of Romanticism (1970). "Romanticism" and
"behavior" may seem strangely associated, but they indicate my
two principal interests. Many years ago I concluded that I could
not comprehend Romanticism unless I had theories of language,
art, cultural history, and epistemology on which I could rest some
weight. My investigations into these problems led me to the con¬
clusion that they could not be understood without a theory of
behavior. With few exceptions the present essays are addressed
to comprehending the character of those problems somewhat more
adequately. Judging, however, by various responses to my pre¬
vious collection and to several of my other books, it would per¬
haps be wise to point out that by "behavior" I do not mean what
the academic behaviorist means. I find academic behaviorism
seriously deficient in its theory. As I said in an essay on art and
disorder, "The irresistible advantage and appeal of all forms of
behaviorism is that the behaviorist insists that all conclusions be
based on, and only on, phenomenally observable behavior. 'What
is the organism doing?' the behaviorist asks, and that is the rock; 
on which he builds his house. It is a very firm rock, though we
have yet to see very much in the way of a house." (The Triumph
of Romanticism, p. 267.) My objection to academic behaviorism is
that it is not nearly behaviorist enough.
I have included after each title the year the essay was written
and in a footnote, when appropriate, the occasion for which it
was prepared. Thus again I express my gratitude for those who
VI

PREFACE

have persuaded me to speak out. Since/ like all my writings, these
essays are interim reports, I have made no effort to eliminate
thematic repetitions and inconsistencies.
Columbia, S.C.
May 1, 1975

Contents

J
2

Preface

vi

I THE ROMANTIC TRADITION

1

Romanticism and Behavior [1974]

3

The Function of History in Nineteenth-Century
European Culture [1971]
3

Reflections on Historical Modes in the
Nineteenth Century [1971]

40

Rebellion and Deviance [1973]

67

Iconography and Iconology in the Arts of the
Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries [1973]

90

Historiography and The Ring and the Book [1967]

109

3

3

32

2

An Introduction to Emerson's Essays [1968]
3

126

Ernest Hemingway: Sexual Themes
in His Writing [1971]
P

139

The Place of Sex in the Work of
William Faulkner [1971]

159

II CRITICAL THEORY

10 Is

the Problem of Literary Realism a
Pseudoproblem? [1969]

177

179

11 Poet and Critic: Or, the Damage
Coleridge Has Done [1969]

196

12 The Deplorable Consequences of the
Idea of Creativity [1970]

13 Literature and Knowledge

[1972]

III BEHAVIOR, EDUCATION, AND SOCIETY

14 The Virtues of Superficiality

[1969]

206
222

247
249

15 The Corporation's Role in Today's Crisis of
^ ^

Cultural Incoherence [1971]

263

Arts for the Cultivation of Radical Sensitivity [1971]

285

17

Cultural Stagnation in American Universities
and Colleges [1971]

313

The Arts and the Centers of Power [1971]

328

Humanism, Politics, and Government in the
Nineteenth Century [1973]

351

The Cultural Crisis of the 1970s [1973]

362

INDEX

381

18
19
2Q

I THE
ROMANTIC
TRADITION

I
ROMANTICISM
AND BEHAVIOR

[1974*]

I

n discussing Romanticism it is still wise, I think, to begin by
making as clear as I can what I propose to talk about. The
word "Romanticism," as Lovejoy long ago pointed out, more
than most terms used in cultural history, is particularly subject
to polysemy. It is no longer very necessary to worry about the
antithesis, once so common, between Romanticism and Classi¬
cism. Some people still worry about that, and it is still not uncom¬
mon to see the two terms thus juxtaposed. But on the whole it is
now reasonably clear to most historians and other scholars that
when one uses Romanticism in an historical sense, it is quite
unnecessary to bring in classicism. This is not to say that lateeighteenth-century Neoclassicism can be pushed out of the pic* Reprinted by permission from Philosophical Exchange: The Annual
Proceedings of the Center for Philosophical Exchange, 1 no. 5 (Summer
1974): pp. 65-83. Copyright © 1974 by the Center for Philosophical Ex¬
change, by the State University of New York, College at Brockport, New
York.

,

3

4
THE ROMANTIC TRADITION

ture when one is discussing the beginnings of Romanticism.
Among literary historians, at least on this side of the Atlantic,
and I think generally on the Continent, Romanticism is thought
of as a more or less clearly identifiable widespread cultural re¬
direction that begins to become observable in the course of the
1790s, though not in the sense of a self-conscious movement,
such as Futurism, for example. Among art historians, however,
and social and political historians and musicologists, the term
continues to include historical phenomena which most literary
historians no longer think of as Romantic. Social and political
historians apparently continue to think of late-eighteenth-century
sentimentalism, utopianism, libertarianism, and anarchism as Ro¬
mantic phenomena, but to the literary historians—I think this
is now generally the case—such attitudes are quite typically En¬
lightenment and can be traced to Enlightenment assumptions,
against which Romanticism was a reaction, or, to put it more
carefully, to the failure of which Romanticism was a response.
Many art historians look at the matter much as do these historians,
a way that to literary historians is very old-fashioned. Art histo¬
rians still tend to decide the issue on fairly simple iconographic
grounds. Since there are storm pictures in the last couple of
decades of the eighteenth century, and since they continue to be
common well into the nineteenth century, they judge both periods
to be Romantic. But there are storms and storms; the significant
matter is not the subject but the way it is handled and the rest of
the iconographic data to be found in the picture. Architectural
historians have traditionally identified Romanticism with the re¬
vival of the Gothic; thus they trace Romanticism in architecture
halfway back or more into the eighteenth century. But there is
a great deal of difference between building a folly or villa or fake
ruin in the Gothic style and building Gothic cathedrals and rail¬
way stations. The one is private, an amusement; the other is
public, central to social life. Literary historians no longer think of
Gothicism or Medievalism as a defining attribute of Romanticism,
the Gothic novel itself being judged as Enlightenment not Roman¬
tic. Their position is reasonably close to that of historians of
philosophy, and that branch of philosophical history known as
the history of ideas has, of course, been of great importance in

ROMANTICISM 5
AND BEHAVIOR

the development of the literary notion of Romanticism. But mu¬
sicologists, who for reasons I cannot fathom seem to think that
cultural redirections in music occur thirty years after they occur
in the other fields of art and also thought, tend to put the begin¬
ning of Romanticism about 1830. To the literary historian this is
very odd. To be sure, he can grasp the early Beethoven as a
typically late Enlightenment or late Neoclassic composer, but he
also sees the kind of profound change overcoming Beethoven's
music in the first decade of the century as the same kind of change
as that which literature shows and also painting, for to him Ingres
and Delacroix are equally Romantic. Indeed, Mozart's intense in¬
terest in baroque music, particularly in Bach, in the last couple
of years of his life, suggests to one with the literary sense of
Romanticism that had he lived he would have moved in the direc¬
tion that Beethoven took—would have become a Romantic com¬
poser—so common in all the arts is the revival of the baroque in
the early nineteenth century.
In the present paper I shall be using the point of view developed
in the last quarter of a century by literary historians, namely,
that if one examines the production of a certain few European
writers—and this includes English writers as well—who were
born in the years around 1770, one can discern a common pattern
of cultural redirection; that that redirection was repeated and
continued by more and more writers born in subsequent years;
and that cultural changes since then have been, in spite of a great
many changes and varieties, a continuation of that innovative
culture which began to emerge in the 1790s and by 1800 is clearly
identifiable. In asserting that high-level emergent culture is still
Romantic I am in disagreement with a good many of my col¬
leagues, who prefer to see Romanticism ending in the course of
the 1820s. For my part I feel that the identification of certain early
Romantic cultural patterns makes it impossible not to see that
these same patterns still obtain, and that the problems of the early
Romantics can be explained in a language which is equally ap¬
propriate today. Before identifying that pattern, however, and
before relating it to a more general explanation of human be¬
havior, it will be necessary to bring forth certain assumptions and
make them as clear as I can.

6
THE ROMANTIC TRADITION

I
The first of these has to do with history itself. What are we
doing when we compose an historical discourse? Can it be said
that we are writing about events? Historians certainly act as if
they think so, and frequently they say so. But if we take the
trouble to watch what they are actually doing, to observe their
behavior, it is apparent that they are doing nothing of the sort.
They are writing about documents and artifacts, and only if this
is grasped can it be seen that historiography has in any sense a
scientific character. A great deal has been written about order in
history, but such efforts always remain unresolved, and for a
very simple reason. The regularity and the causal relationships
said to be found in history are not a feature of history itself but
of historical discourses. The regularity and the causality are at¬
tributes of the verbal behavior of historians, not of historical
events, which are obviously inaccessible. Though it seems rea¬
sonable enough to say that there has been what we call history,
at least reasonable enough to justify historical effort, nevertheless
historical events cannot be observed. All that can be observed is
documents and artifacts.
This puts the historian in an awkward position and seems to
deprive him of all claim to a scientific justification for his enter¬
prise. But the picture, though gloomy enough, is not so gloomy as
that. There are sufficient similarities between the behavior of the
historian and the behavior of the physical scientist to give the
historian at least some respectability, assuming, of course, that
the activity of the physical scientist is the best model for the
acquisition of what we call knowledge. I believe this to be the
case, for the behavior of the physical scientist, in its pattern and
its results, is the behavior of all men in their dealings with the
observable and nonverbal world. The behavior of an Indian pro¬
pelling his canoe through the rapids is not fundamentally differ¬
ent from that of the atomic physicist in his laboratory. To be sure,
the behavior of the physicist is an enormous elaboration of that
basic behavior of a man dealing with the world, and the most
striking difference is verbal, the immensely complex verbal re¬
sponses or explanations of what he has observed. But even that

ROMANTICISM

7

AND BEHAVIOR

is but an elaboration of the simple sentence, "If you do so-and-so,
such-and-such will be the consequence—probably." And such
simple sentences are the verbal foundation of both canoeing and
atomics. They are at what, a little carelessly, I call the empirical
frontier of language.
Like the scientist, the historian is also engaged in the construc¬
tion of elaborate verbal explanations. In this they are alike, but
what is the historian's verbal frontier? Does he, indeed, have
any? From one point of view, yes, he does. In the "If .. . then . . ."
sentence above, the inclusion of "probably" is of the greatest
possible importance. Only that can be explained which exhibits
regularity and recurrence. The totally random is beyond expla¬
nation. Hence, for example, it is scientific doctrine that an ex¬
periment must be repeatable before anything can be done with it.
Redundancy of information is the condition of scientific behavior.
I myself think there is something a little dubious about this doc¬
trine and this notion of scientific condition, but at least it does
seem to be the case that any behavior can be stabilized only by
repetition of that activity, and that the condition of that stabiliza¬
tion is redundancy of information, or, more precisely, compre¬
hensible instructions for response. In short, though I believe it to
be the case that the foundation of scientific behavior is the
repeatability of experiment and observation, I would put the
emphasis not on the repetition of either but on the repetition of
the scientist's behavior. He accepts the reliability of an observa¬
tion because he can repeat his response to the observed when
he judges that he has encountered another instance of it. This is
why innumerable repetitions of what are judged to be the same
observations or the same experiments never produce absolute
certainty. Hence, it is always wise to include "probably" in "If
. . . then . . ." sentences, for "probability" introduces statistics,
and statistics is a behavioral strategy for extracting regularity
from the random. When the carpenter says to his apprentice,
"You have to be careful in sawing this kind of wood, because
knots can turn up at any point, and most unexpectedly," he is
saying that the occurrence of knots is not random but only ap¬
proximately predictable. In the same way my own guess is that
the Rhine experiments in ESP reveal the limitations of contempo-

8
THE ROMANTIC TRADITION

rary statistics, a possibility that seems to me to have been in¬
sufficiently explored. For that reason we are not yet in a position
to say that there is such a phenomenon as extrasensory percep¬
tion, though there very well may be. I merely wish to emphasize
that statistics is, after all, something that human beings do; it
does not necessarily reveal the laws of the universe.
Regularity or the occurrence of the nonrandom, then, is the
basis for the enterprise of scientific behavior, of which the con¬
struction of explanation is a part. In what sense can it be said
that the historian is also engaged in nonrandom behavior and thus
is engaged in scientific behavior? The patterned recurrence to be
found in his explanatory constructs means nothing, because that
is the characteristic of all explanatory constructs, including those
of the wildest occultism. The question is. What kind of "If . . .
then . .
sentence can lead him beyond the empirical frontier
of his explanations? It is only there that any recurrence and regu¬
larity, any nonrandomness, of scientific significance is to be found.
If we pay attention to what the historian responds to, the answer
is easy enough. The nonrandomness which is the occasion for the
recurrence of similarity of response in the historian is the distri¬
bution on the face of the earth of documents and artifacts. Docu¬
ments pertaining to English history are more probably to be found
in England than in Tibet, and the probability is increased if the
documents antedate the English penetration of Tibet. Or, one
might say, "If you go to such-and-such a place, then you will find
instances of such-and-such categories of documents and artifacts,
probably." If history had never been written, this possibility of
statistical control would make it possible to write it.
Does the physicist do anything more? There is at least an ap¬
parent difference. The physicist, it is affirmed, can, after he has
located phenomena which he judges to be recurrent, perform ex¬
periments which verify his explanations. The historian, after all,
is limited by the interpretation of the content, or meaning, of his
documents and artifacts. He is involved in the hermeneutic prob¬
lem. How can an interpretation be verified, except by other docu¬
ments and artifacts, which, however, also are subject to exactly
the same kind of hermeneutic limitation? The historian is con¬
fined to the interpretation of verbal and nonverbal man-made

ROMANTICISM 9
AND BEHAVIOR

semiotic configurations. This, it seems, is not the limitation of the
physicist. But is this actually the case? What does the physicist
do? What is his behavior? Briefly, his observation, like all obser¬
vation, such being the nature of perception, is selective; further,
his judgment of recurrence depends upon categorization, and
categorization is a human activity. He judges that two phenomenal
configurations are sufficiently similar to be placed, for his pur¬
poses, in the same category. His behavior is thus conventionalized,
and he too is engaged in hermeneutics, for his activity is based
upon interpretation of what he has observed. His act of verifica¬
tion by experiment is, moreover, just as bound up with interpreta¬
tion as is the historian's verification of interpretation by turning
to other documents and artifacts. From this point of view, then,
the historian is on as sound a footing as the physical scientist.
Neither can arrive at certainty.
Nevertheless, there is a difference, one that increases greatly
the degree of uncertainty as we move from the physical sciences
to historiography. It is not that the scientist is involved with the
present and the historian with the past, for the historian is not
involved with the past. He is engaged in hermeneutic response to
documents and artifacts. His chronological ordering of those doc¬
uments and artifacts is itself a construct and filled with uncer¬
tainty, even though chronology is the closest the historian can
ever come to certainty. Chronology is the precondition of all his
activities. Furthermore, the making of artifacts is itself under
verbal control. Directly or indirectly the historian is responding
to verbal behavior, and moreover to verbal behavior abstracted
from the situation in which it came into existence. The very sur¬
vival of documents and artifacts evinces a randomness which is
impenetrable, and this is a kind of randomness with which the
physical scientist is not faced. Among scientists only the evolu¬
tionary theorist is exposed to the same impenetrable randomness
in the survival of his observables that is the condition of the his¬
torian. For other scientists the selection of the observables is
susceptible to innovation, but for the historian that selection has
already taken place, and there is nothing he can do about it. This
necessarily increases his uncertainty over that of the scientist.
But even this is not the gravest distinction between the two.

10

THE ROMANTIC TRADITION

The scientist can modify his explanations by negative feedback.
Not verification but falsification is what keeps the scientist going.
The occasion of that falsification is the manipulation of the non¬
verbal. Such manipulation results in recategorization, reinterpre¬
tation, and innovative explanation. The historian, on the other
hand, confined to the verbal or to that which is controlled by
the verbal, has no such recourse. His reinterpretation of his ob¬
servables does not arise from negative feedback but from modifi¬
cation of his explanation. Thus historiography proceeds by the
discovery of new documents, by a hermeneutic which makes
judgments of incoherence, and by developing new explanatory
modes. But above all it proceeds by a hermeneutic assertion of the
recurrence of statements or groups of statements sufficiently simi¬
lar to each other to justify categorizing them as modes of the same
statement, that is, by subsuming these documentary statements
under a statement which, controlled by his explanation, he has
generated. Thus the difference between the physical scientist and
the historian is that the latter spends most of his efforts in verbal
behavior, while the former is constantly engaged in a behavioral
interaction with the nonartifactual world, an interaction, more¬
over, that, unlike that of the historian, involves a modification
of his own manipulative behavior. Hence the scientist is con¬
stantly engaged in an activity like that of crossing the street in
heavy traffic, while the historian rarely if ever has the occasion to
modify his physical behavior. Thus the instrumental or directional
character of scientific theory is fairly obvious, but the corre¬
sponding verbal constructs of the historian are far more easily
hypostatized, and the normative and fictive character of those
constructs far more easily ignored.
The traditional, straightforward historian is principally engaged
in the construction of a narrative made up of event statements.
As we have seen, his first problem is chronological; and this is
certainly the basis of the cultural historian as well, but the latter
asserts that he is engaged in constructing a narrative of mental
events, or ideas, or the manifestation of those ideas in works of
art and similar artifacts, such as, for example, instances of his¬
torical discourse. But mental events, even if there are such things,
are not accessible, even at the present moment, let alone in the

ROMANTICISM 11
AND BEHAVIOR

past. What he means by mental events are in fact statements
found in documents and exemplified in nonverbal artifacts,
though to be sure he often has a difficult problem in finding a
statement to go with, or explain, an artifactual exemplification, a
statement, moreover, which must be close enough chronologically
to justify the assertion that the statement and the exemplification
properly go together. For my immediate purposes I shall restrict
myself to statements found in documents.
The cultural historian proceeds, then, by observing the recur¬
rence of certain key terms and statements of an abstract or high
explanatory character, and also by categorizing differing terms
and statements as exemplifications of various explanatory terms
and statements. The latter behavior increases the frequency of
the recurrence that depends upon, and thus facilitates enormously,
his activity. However, there is a difficulty here, and it is the diffi¬
culty found in the usual practice of the history of ideas. The re¬
currence of a term or statement, or the recurrence of his own
explanatory terms which subsume somewhat different terms and
statements, does not necessarily mean that the historian is justi¬
fied in his procedure. The recurrence of even identical terms or
statements is a consequence of the historian's act of categorial
judgment, an act which is carried out by verbal behavior. How
does he know that the individual who made a particular utter¬
ance-—a statement or a term—would make the same judgment
of categorial subsumption about his utterance that the historian
makes? The fact is that the historian can be reasonably sure that
the individual in question would not have made the same subsumptive judgment, and the explanation of why he would not is
indeed the subject of cultural history. However, the fact that at
different times different explanations are given of the same recur¬
rent explanatory terms does not necessarily mean that the differ¬
ing regressive explanations are necessarily dissimilar, though they
might be. The question is whether or not such differing explana¬
tions belong to the same family of explanations. To be sure, this
involves further and more regressive explanatory subsumption,
and so on, in what promises to be an infinite explanatory regress.
The problem, then, is to stop that regress at what, following this
line of reasoning, might be called the family level. Thus, if the

12

THE ROMANTIC TRADITION

family is epistemological, the question is whether or not the
statement or term in question properly is subsumed by an episte¬
mological statement and if this statement can appropriately be
subsumed by one of the various styles of epistemological theories
available to the historian.
Even so, however, the question of family is more complex than
that, for such a solution makes available only those epistemologi¬
cal theories available in the historian's own cultural situation, but
his problem is to determine whether or not, for example, the
statements and terms in question are properly subsumed under
an epistemological theory no longer available. My assumption is
rather that a more adequate circumscription of a family of ex¬
planations is best determined, not by the recurrence of single
statements or individual terms, but by the recurrence of families
of terms and statements. Yet at this point the metaphor of families
begins to lose its value, because the relationship of the terms is
by no means immediately apparent. "Family" must be used in a
very loose sense so that the observation of the recurrence of such
terms or statements must be prior to the effort to show the family
relationship. On the other hand, the attempt to establish a family
relationship has a dialectical relationship to the observation of the
recurrence. Moreover, as I shall attempt subsequently to show in
the notion of Romanticism, one can assume quarrels within the
family, or even familial adoption—the effort to yoke together
terms and statements which in the course of time are revealed to
be incompatible. This last notion is particularly useful, for the
dynamics of explanation emerges from the judgment of an inco¬
herence and the effort to restructure the explanation so that the
incoherent factor is either made coherent or is eliminated. An
example may be found in the very history of the effort to define
or circumscribe the notion of Romanticism, that is, by the co¬
herent subsumption of various terms and statements under a
single term, "Romanticism," or under a set of familial terms and
statements themselves subsumed by the term "Romanticism."
The term I have in mind is "nature." For a long time an approving
attitude toward the natural world was held to be a mark of Ro¬
manticism. There was much talk about the Romantic "return to
nature." Thus it came about that any pre-nineteenth-century ap-

ROMANTICISM 13
AND BEHAVIOR
proving attitude toward nature was judged to be Romantic. Even
a great scholar, Marjorie Nicholson, was misled into thinking
that since Anglo-Saxon poets indicate that there is a positive value
in an approving attitude toward nature. Romanticism is peculiarly
English. Gradually, however, it was judged that the eighteenthcentury attitude toward nature was somehow different from the
nineteenth; thus the term "pre-Romanticism" came into use. The
next step was to decide, as I believe most students have now
decided, that there is a striking difference between the eighteenthcentury-Enlightenment attitude and nineteenth-century-Romantic
attitude, although as the continued popularity of The Seasons indi¬
cates, the Enlightenment attitude certainly persisted, and indeed
continues to persist at the present time, side by side with the very
different Romantic attitude. To use the present terminology, it
was concluded that the two uses of //nature// belong to quite
different families of terms or statements. With this instrument
of analysis it is possible to observe in Wordsworth the effort to
disentangle the two ways of responding to nature and of re¬
sponding to the word "nature" itself, a shift from judging that
nature and the word are univalent to judging them to be ambiva¬
lent. Considering the richness of European explanatory culture
by the end of the eighteenth century and the semantic shifts
the terms and statements central to the culture underwent in the
course of the nineteenth century, it is not surprising that the
writings of people we call Romantics show considerable internal
incoherence, nor that historians of Romanticism are perplexed and
get strikingly different results when they attempt to construct a
coherent explanation of Romanticism.
From these considerations I propose several further assumptions
from which to proceed. First is that the perception or judgment
of an incoherence in what has been held to be a coherent expla¬
nation is the result of some traumatic event, such as Kant's read¬
ing of Hume or the development of the French Revolution (in
the judgment of at least a few of its contemporaries) into an in¬
creasingly brutalized military dictatorship. Or, to take a case
from my own experience, I was so traumatized by what seemed
to me the hopeless incoherence of Romantic theory in the 1920s
and 1930s that I have been unable to free myself of the problem.

14

THE ROMANTIC TRADITION

A second assumption is the nature of cultural stratification. Thus,
at the present time a small minority of individuals in the Euro¬
pean culture area construct explanations of some phenomena in
what I judge to be the Romantic tradition. A far greater number
construct explanations in the Enlightenment tradition. The youth¬
ful rebels of the 1960s made observations and explanations in the
tradition of the late Enlightenment; almost all regressive justi¬
fications of their judgments and of their observations can be
found in Schiller's Kabale und Liebe, but virtually nothing in the
conclusions of Senancour's Obermann. Bible-belt Baptists, how¬
ever, explain in a style which long antedates the Enlightenment.
In any given document, moreover, various strata may appear side
by side, or even in the same sentence. This is the explanation for
cultural incoherence and lies behind the dynamics of the efforts
to resolve that incoherence.
A third assumption is that of cultural transcendence, the recog¬
nition of an innovative style of explanation. No member of a
family is necessarily innovative; rather, the family as a family,
or pattern, or syndrome, is innovative. Here the cultural historian
runs into further difficulties, for a cultural innovation of several
hundred years ago may appear to him to be platitudinous, since
he is much later in the same cultural tradition and since by his
time so many of the incoherences have been eliminated. Further,
with this instrument of analysis the problem of periodization can
be greatly simplified. A fourth assumption is that of cultural con¬
vergence, which depends upon the observation that various in¬
dividuals may arrive at a similar or virtually identical cultural
transcendence without any knowledge of each other, without cul¬
tural contamination or influence or dependency.
Finally, for me none of this can be convincing unless it can be
explained and justified by an explanatory system which has noth¬
ing to do with cultural history, that is, by a theory of human be¬
havior which, though itself necessarily a part of cultural history,
is not derived from cultural history, even though it may be dem¬
onstrated that it derives from the explanatory style the emergence
of which and the character of which it purports to explain. I can
scarcely here present a full theory of behavior, a theory which I
am currently engaged in writing, but something of it will emerge

ROMANTICISM 15
AND BEHAVIOR

in what follows. At any rate, though its ultimate explanatory re¬
gress I myself judge to be in the Romantic tradition, nevertheless
it is derived not from that—at least not directly—but indirectly,
at best, from an observation of human behavior controlled by
certain explanatory sentences which I see as having been led to
by what I call Romanticism but which are, nevertheless, very
different from the Romantic beginnings.

II
I suggested above that possible alternatives to the notion of
family are pattern and syndrome, and the last is particularly ap¬
pealing to most intellectuals because of its Freudian associations,
Freud himself being very directly in the Romantic tradition; the
syndrome of his own explanations is a pseudopsychologization
of much of Romantic German Idealism. However, this Freudian
association does not make it appealing to me, for I find Freudian
theory as intellectually unacceptable as I find contemporary aca¬
demic professional behaviorism. Further, the notion of syndrome,
like that of pattern, is excessively static, and both terms seem to
imply an immanent or inherent coherence, a coherence far from
the notion of family. For a family is always changing; a family
is still a family even if some members of it are absent or have not
yet appeared; and, as I suggested above, a family can include by
adoption or illegitimacy members which are subsequently dis¬
covered to be alien to it, just as a family can reject various of its
members—delegitimatize them, as it were, or disinherit them,
assert that they do not belong and never have. Now the Romantic
family, the terms which to me can subsume with considerable
success most of the term- and statement-members of the family
to be found in those writers and artists we call Romantic, is
made up of the following, not necessarily coherent, terms (though
most of them are): "explanatory collapse," "alienation," "isola¬
tion," "the antithesis of role and self," "cultural transcendence,"
"redemption," "anti-redemption," and "epistemological tension."
To these terms I shall attempt to give a behavioral explanation.
Explanatory collapse was the traumatic experience to which
over and over again Romanticism has been the emergent response,
not merely around 1800 but ever since. Cultural stratification can

16

THE ROMANTIC TRADITION

explain how this can have been so, for an individual can move
from a more historically regressive stratum of explanation to a
more recent emergent stratum at any time after the newer stratum
has become culturally available. Assuming that Romanticism was
a break with a collapsing explanatory system, it is obvious that in
the beginning the collapse affected only a tiny number of indi¬
viduals in the European cultural area. By 1800 there were only a
couple of dozen that we can be reasonably sure of, if that many,
though judging by bits of evidence here and there, there were
many more who left no record, who were neither artists nor
philosophers nor theologians. The number of individuals who
have had that experience has grown steadily since, a growth
aided by the inroads of Romanticism into the general culture.
Thus, in the course of time, the collapse has come to be precipi¬
tated in two ways; both (like the collapse of the first Romantics)
autonomously and from exposure to Romantic documents and
nonverbal works of art—that is, from exposure to Romantic
propaganda, my position being that all art is ideologically con¬
trolled and might as well be called ideological propaganda.
Explanatory collapse is by no means an uncommon experience.
Psychiatrists encounter it quite often. It can be the collapse of a
fairly simple explanatory mode, one that affects only a small but
crucial area of the individual's behavior and leaves other areas
intact. Thus the quite common sudden appearance of sexual ad¬
venturism in an individual's life, or of heavy drinking, or the
sudden and emergent pursuit of a hobby like target-shooting, or
hunting, or building model railways, is often preceded by an un¬
anticipated and unexplained or, to the individual concerned, un¬
justified defeat in the social hierarchy in which he earns his
living a dismissal from his job or a failure to be promoted or a
transfer to a position of lesser status with his economic institution.
Such an experience can be traumatic, even though on Sundays
and when asked by poll takers the individual continues to be a
believing Methodist. His explanatory grasp of his economic life
is not perceived or judged to be in any way connected with his
social trauma. If such a connection is seen, the explanatory col¬
lapse may well involve and bring down his Christian beliefs.
A similar trauma can be the collapse of erotic life, and by

ROMANTICISM 17
AND BEHAVIOR

eroticism I mean, not sexual behavior, but that peculiar cognition
of a woman, a man, or an old shoe that invests that object with
the power to elicit from the individual a total resolution of ten¬
sions, a paradisiacal state of being. Now explanation itself is a
resolution of judgmental incoherence, and of the tension that
judgmental incoherence elicits. I do not mean that explanation
and eroticization of experience are identical, but that they are
similar in their tension-resolving capacity. Explanation resolves
incoherence, but eroticization eliminates it. Certainly, however,
if one wishes to use such a word as "cognitive/' a word I do not
particularly care for, both are cognitive modes. Eroticism is thus
remarkably similar to religious experience, and indeed whether
we call eroticism a mode of religious apprehension, or religious
apprehension a mode of eroticism, makes, so far as I am con¬
cerned, little difference. It is merely a question of which mode
one prefers to use to explain the other. In any case both erotic
and religious conversion, by avoiding or circumventing explana¬
tory incoherence, are invariably described as granting to the
converted an extraordinary sense of the value of their own ex¬
istence, while, of course, the object of the apprehension is said
to be the cause of that experience of value, and the converted de¬
scribe themselves, that is, their experience of their own value, as
dependent upon the object. Explanation works much the same
way; the resolution of verbal incoherence, whether by what is
claimed to be a logical process, or by a leap of faith (not that there
is much difference), is so often described in language appropriate
to religious or erotic conversion that it seems reasonable to de¬
scribe it also as a mode of conversion. And like conversion, the
result is the sense of the explainer's value and the ascription of
value to the world, though more accurately it is an ascription of
value to the hypostatized explanatory language, accompanied by
the same dependence upon that language. Thus Tennyson could
describe himself as having abandoned belief in all theological
utterances except the proposition that the soul is immortal. With¬
out that, he said, he could not continue to live. In the same way
in popular songs the whining lover sings to a music of whines
that without his beloved life is impossible. Furthermore, the more
metaphysical the explanation—the more removed it is from the

18

THE ROMANTIC TRADITION

observable world by successive explanatory regressions—the
greater the dependence upon it, for the more remote it is, the
greater the number of sentences it is capable of subsuming, and
the greater number of lower-level explanations it is capable of
organizing. Men will die for faith, explanations, and love, includ¬
ing that eroticization of self known as honor. It is curious how
interchangeable is the language of each of these modes of con¬
version; the lover feels himself redeemed by his love, the insulted
man redeems his honor in a duel; a metaphysic is seen as capable
of redeeming the world, though actually it can only redeem
verbal behavior, and faith redeems the soul. A verbal statement
of any kind of conversion, then, I shall call the redemptive mode,
or more simply the redemptive, while a rejection of the validity of
any kind of conversion I shall call the antiredemptive.
From this point of view explanatory collapse can be under¬
stood as a mode of deconversion, the effect of which is quite the
contrary to explanatory conversion, for it is the judgment of in¬
coherence in an explanation once seen as coherent, and the con¬
sequent loss of the power of explanations to resolve tensions and
therefore the loss of value both to the verbal construct and to the
deconverted himself. Religious and erotic deconversion, however,
tends to have consequences strikingly different from those of
explanatory deconversion. In the redemptive state of the former
the attention and the interest are directed to states of being, to
internal conditions, and this attention and interest are con¬
comitants of the circumvention of explanatory incoherence. But
in the explanatory deconversion the effect is to turn the interest
of the deconverted outside of the state of being, and beyond
language to the nonverbal world. The explanation for this is that
language, like all culture, is, when considered from a behavioral
point of view, directions for performance. The language of re¬
ligion and of eroticism, circumventing as they do explanatory
incoherence, are directions for manipulating states of being, that
is, for manipulating what is inside the skin, to produce a tensionfree or paradisiacal internal weather. The language of explanation,
however, arises initially from the judgment of incoherence in the
world outside the skin or in the world inside the skin when what
is inside the skin is judged to be neither quantitatively nor qualita-

ROMANTICISM 19
AND BEHAVIOR

tively different from what lies outside of it. Explanatory language
consists of directions for dealing with the world. The collapse
of explanation, therefore, tends to lead to an explanation-free
exploration of the nonverbal. Thus the man who has lost his
job turns to sexual adventurism, Wordsworth turns to an exami¬
nation of the dimensions of ponds, and the scientist whose theory
has failed him turns to the random manipulation of his instru¬
ments. Erotic and religious deconversion, to be distinguished
from the collapse of an explanation couched in the terms of theo¬
logical rhetoric, leads to a quasi-psychotic inability to act, while
explanatory deconversion leads to naively empirical exploration
of some segment or category of the nonverbal, which can be either
natural or man-made. The initial effect of Wordsworth's explana¬
tory collapse or deconversion was a lengthy concentration upon
mathematics, something he judged to be metaphysically neutral,
a nonverbal set of signs free from verbal explanation.
The explanatory collapse to which Romanticism was a response
was the collapse of an epistemology, though, to be sure, it was
not always presented in that mode. Rather, since epistemological
rhetoric is the explanatory mode most regressive from the non¬
verbal and nonartifactual, it can be used to subsume other mani¬
festations, and of course virtually all of the principal Romantic
figures were directly interested in epistemology. At the end of
the eighteenth century two epistemological modes were culturally
available, idealism and empiricism, though of course these were
available in a great variety of epistemological rhetorics. Using an
old-fashioned terminology, the idealistic position, the older one,
the explanatory stratum first laid down, was that the categories
of the subject can exhaust the attributes of the object, while the
more recent one, which had gradually been emerging for several
centuries, was that the categories of the object can exhaust the
attributes of the subject. Preferring as I do a behavioral rhetoric,
I would put the epistemological problem thus: What happens
between the input of sensory data and the output of semiotic
behavior, or the production of nonverbal and verbal signs? Is
semiosis isomorphic with the sensory data to which it is a re¬
sponse? or is it not? And if it is not, how can we know whether
it is or not? Or is this the wrong question? And if so, what is the

20

THE ROMANTIC TRADITION

right one? We do seem to be able to cross a heavily-trafficked
street in the middle of a block, but then on the other hand we
sometimes get run over. We can be reasonably certain, to be
sure, that perception itself, of any kind, selects, simplifies, or¬
ganizes, and constructs, but then on the other hand we can be
equally certain that that activity is modified by perceptual ex¬
perience itself. The question is, then, can the disparity or tension
between sensory input and semiosis be resolved by an explana¬
tion, or not?
In these terms the older epistemology, the Platonistic-Christian
tradition, asserts that the disparity can be resolved by an expla¬
nation which ascribes ultimate validity to semiosis, or the subject,
while the newer empirical-Enlightenment tradition asserts that
it can be resolved by an explanation which ascribes ultimate
validity to the sensory input, or the object. In the course of the
eighteenth century, most strikingly in Hume, skepticism reemerged, a more powerful skepticism than the ancient variety,
for the issues had become much clearer. It amounted to an ex¬
planatory demonstration that empiricism, the judgment that the
object determines the subject, is, after all, a judgment of the sub¬
ject. It is we who say that the world determines us, not, after all,
the world that says so. This was devastating, not in itself, but
because the newer epistemology had emerged in response to a
judgment of incoherence in the older. The new skepticism thus
asserted that the newer epistemology, far from being an antith¬
esis or correction of the old, was merely another form of it,
just as the collapse of the values of the French Revolution led to
perception that Revolutionary Utopianism, the illusion of Abso¬
lute Freedom, as Hegel called it, was no more than a secularization
of the Christian heaven. This meant that the failure of the French
Revolution, its degeneration into a brutal and militaristic dictator¬
ship, was not merely a political failure but an epistemological
failure. It was a failure of the ultimate explanatory modes of
European culture. Nor was skepticism a possibility, though a
good many Romantics tried it, for, as Kant and others came to
realize, skepticism is itself a judgment of the subject, and in the
way of skepticism lay, as once again Kant and others realized, the
already impressive accomplishments of the physical sciences, or

ROMANTICISM 21
AND BEHAVIOR
natural philosophy. Of the vast array of efforts to get out of this
dilemma, to restructure one's relation to the world in response to
this trauma of explanatory collapse—made crucial though not
initiated by the failure of the French Revolution—it is impossible
to speak here. To do so would involve, indeed, a history of nine¬
teenth- and twentieth-century explanatory culture and its exem¬
plification in art and science. Nevertheless, the thrust of these
efforts can, I believe, be subsumed in small compass. But first it
is necessary to speak of both the consequences and the great sig¬
nificance of that trauma of explanatory collapse.
Romantic literature is filled with wanderers. They are alienated
from their society and they are isolated from contact with their
fellow human beings. How can this be explained? The first im¬
portant factor is what the wanderers are actually engaged in
doing. Their wandering is search behavior, and this is indicated
by what is judged to be a successful outcome, the consummation
of the search, the arrival at a new integration, an innovative mode
of redemption, though the nature of that redemption is currently
the central problem of the theory of Romanticism, and to it I must
return. This search character of their wandering is particularly
salient in Alastor, for in that work there is no consummation, no
goal is reached. To use what I have already presented, this wan¬
dering is the common response of explanatory collapse, and in¬
deed sexual adventurism—as in Don Juan, and in Byron's and
Shelley's own lives, and in the lives of a great many Continental
Romantics—was commonplace enough in Romanticism, just as
it is today in the lives of middle-class suburbanites who lose their
jobs or suffer hierarchical humiliation, or who, having achieved
the goals of their youth, are without goals. The values by which
they live are no longer effective, but for the greater Romantics
those values were the values of epistemological rhetoric, which
explained and justified and validated all other values. Only a
wandering search over the face of the earth, all of Europe, or
much of Asia and America—only this search could adequately
symbolize the devastation of the trauma they had experienced.
Indeed, when you start counting up, it is instructive to observe
how many of them were exiles from the lands of their own origin.
The explanation for this searching is that for individuals who

22

THE ROMANTIC TRADITION
are accustomed to having their goals determined for them by a
highly regressive explanatory rhetoric—ontological and epistemological—an explanatory collapse leaves them with no resources
for goal-setting and decision-making, leaves them without verbal
directions for behavioral performance. Although I can scarcely
justify my next step here, it is my position that the principal out¬
put of human energy goes into the limitation of the range of be¬
havior. A goal, an interest, a purpose in life, a hobby, a faith a
drug, a scholarly problem, falling in love are all strategies for
limiting the range of behavior, for placing within as narrow
limits as possible the activity of decision-making, that is, freedom.
Further, the more regressive the explanatory collapse, the more
extensive the range of the search behavior. The ordinary sexual
wanderer has the range of his wandering limited by the valuebelief that sexual prowess is the perfect symbolization of ag¬
gressive adequacy, but for the Romantic

for whom explanatory

collapse involved the inability to control his behavior by any of
the ultimately regressive European values

the search behavior

approached and sometimes arrived at a randomization of be¬
havior, symbolized by the enormous geographical area covered by
so many of the Romantic literary wanderers. The consequence is
large-scale alienation. The humiliated suburbanite is scarcely able
to alienate himself from his income-producing institution, but he
can, with a little effort, alienate himself from his marriage. But
the large-scale alien is alienated from all values, that is, from all
behavior-limiting, decision-making cultural directions, or at least
from those that are dependent upon high-level explanatory re¬
gression. But often enough, as the Romantic documents show,
even eating and sleeping are seriously disturbed.
This leads to a complex of Romantic motives, a sub-family—
to carry out the metaphor I have been using—of Romantic factors:
alienation, cultural vandalism, and selfhood, or the distinction
between self and role. I have been talking about the Romantic
"self" for a great many years, but I have always wondered what
it is that I have been talking about. If language, as I believe, is
instructions for performance, and one of the performances it

i

instructs us to do is to look for something, what does the word

f

"self" instruct us to look for? Many years ago I judged that there

:

ROMANTICISM 23
AND BEHAVIOR

was a connection between the negative or wandering stage of
Romantic emergence and the self, but what that connection was I
could not grasp. Now I believe it to be the case that what we look
for when we judge "self" to be instructions for observation is
negational behavior, and this conclusion also explains the phe¬
nomena of alienation and cultural vandalism.
I do not use "vandalism" idly. This stage of Romanticism may
be examined today in apparently pointless vandalism by young
men and women who have been well brought up in middle-class
homes. Such vandalism, including occasionally murder, is by
no means pointless. If all behavior is adaptational, then all be¬
havior is an attempt to control the environment for what is
judged to be the benefit of the individual. Thus all acts are ag¬
gressive. Even perception, since it is selective and structuring,
is an act of aggression, while what we call submission is con¬
cealed aggression or seduction. If you cannot control another
human being directly, you can trap him, you can disarm him by
submission. It is the standard and universal strategy at all but
the top level in any hierarchy, even in the constantly shifting
hierarchy of marriage. The consequence of this aggressiveness is
that the most explosive condition for the individual is the feeling
of helplessness, the feeling that he has no aggressive control over
his environmental situation. Of the strategies open to him—
psychotic collapse into inactivity, suicide, or symbolic aggression
—all may be found in the history of Romanticism. Symbolic
vandalism is no less real for being symbolic. I call it symbolic
because the vandalism is performed under circumstances from
which the possibilities of retaliation by others is absent. Empty
houses are splendid targets for adolescent vandalism. What van¬
dalism produces in the individual is a powerful sense of selfhood,
of being a man, and his own man; it is that sense of sudden glory
which Hobbes called the result of the aggressive act of laughter.
"I" is opposed to "they," and not the "I" but the "they" are the
victims.
Now the typical adolescent vandal, whether he is caught or not,
ordinarily grows up to be a respectable citizen, not at all alienated.
With the Romantics it was different, for they were not vandaliz¬
ing empty houses but rather the behavior-validating and -in-

24

THE ROMANTIC TRADITION

structing rhetorical modes of European high culture, and the
Romantics were cultural vandals, without exception. The ex¬
planatory collapse they had experienced was, after all, confined
to them as initially individuals isolated from each other, but
of course the explanation collapsed only for them, and continued
in the bulk of the population to this day. That cultural vandalism,
that all-encompassing negation of available high-level explana¬
tions and validations, is the behavior subsumed by the term "self"
as distinguished from "role." When Julien Sorel shoots Madame
de Renal, Stendhal gives us one of the most powerful exempli¬
fications of Romantic cultural vandalism. With this act Julien
at last established his selfhood. The values and behavior of the
"others" are judged to be those of individuals who have no selfconsciousness, who have suffered no explanatory collapse be¬
cause of their mindless inability to grasp the incoherence of their
culture. They are not autonomous individuals, but players of
social roles. Autonomy, therefore, is to be established by attack¬
ing those values and behaviors, by negation of their explanatory
and validatory sufficiency, that is, by alienation and cultural
vandalism, the strategies by which selfhood is experienced. This
tension between self and role, this continuous alienation and
vandalism, is of course utterly anti-erotic, and in this stage of
Romantic emergence, which I long ago called Negative Romanti¬
cism, the Romantic hero is most often presented as incapable of
love, incapable of resolving those tensions. Thus Julien Sorel's
shooting of Madame de Renal is an anti-erotic act, as well as an
antireligious act, taking place as it does in a church. Further, his
subsequent symbolic isolation in prison leads to the next member
of the Romantic family.
The usual pattern of the modern humiliated individual who
turns to sexual adventurism and to the cultural vandalism of his
marriage is, once he has re-established the sense of selfhood by
means of aggressive sexuality, to return to his marriage and his
family or to begin a new one. That is, he returns, like the ado¬
lescent vandal, to the socially validated behavioral patterns of his
culture, to his role. But the Romantic had dismantled European
explanatory culture. Once his selfhood had been established by
alienation and vandalism, it was impossible for him to redeem

ROMANTICISM 25
AND BEHAVIOR

himself by returning to the culture; even if, like Coleridge, he
returned to Christianity, it was a new Christianity that he in¬
vented himself. The truly Romantic alien could only innovate a
new mode of escaping the tension of negation, autonomy, and
vandalism, a tension increased by the continuous searching for a
strategy to limit behavior and control decision-making. His goal
thus became necessarily a culturally transcendent redemption,
which was given various names—the infinite, the blue flower,
and so on. Thus it became necessary to sustain and if possible
to increase his wandering and searching behavior. The solution
for this problem lay in isolation. Here again I must make a step
which I cannot explain here but can give only the behavioral
principle itself. Culturally transmitted behavior is the overwhelm¬
ing mass of human behavior, but any behavior pattern, such is
the character of the brain, spreads into a delta-like pattern of
deviation unless it is not only transmitted but continuously main¬
tained by the repetition of cultural instructions. This process I
call semiotic redundancy, the sociocultural mechanism which
sustains limitations on the range of behavior and thus channels
it through time. It is not sufficient to learn a behavioral pattern;
we must be told constantly to repeat it and how to repeat it.
Further, the degree to which redundancy is effective depends
upon the rate of interaction of the individual with other indi¬
viduals. The higher the interaction rate, the better behavior is
limited and channeled, and the lower the interaction rate, the
greater the randomization of behavior, the effect of the delta-like
spread into deviancy. However, the greater the randomization of
behavior, the greater the statistical probability for the innovation
of a new and fruitful mode or pattern of behavior. The scientist
whose theory fails him randomizes his behavior until he strikes
on something which he judges to be capable of fruitful develop¬
ment, and the higher the cultural level, the more frequent are
social spaces for the randomization of behavior. Thus an ex¬
tremely important member of the Romantic family is isolation,
the steady reduction of the individual's interaction rate, the low¬
ering of his rate of exposure to redundant cultural instructions,
and the statistical increase of the probability of an innovative
response to even familiar utterances and artifacts. Thus the re-

26

THE ROMANTIC TRADITION

interpretation of age-old utterances and artifactual signs is a con¬
stant in the Romantic tradition, a factor indeed that makes the
enterprise of the cultural historian of Romanticism so perplexing
and the objects of his study filled with ambiguities. Hence social
isolation is extraordinarily common in Romantic documents, both
imaginary and biographical. Furthermore, so long as the alienated
and culturally vandalizing autonomous individual maintains a
high interaction rate, his condition continues to be one of be¬
havioral limitation. What he encounters in his wanderings consists
of negative redundancy. Hence as the Romantic seeks to resolve
the tension of alienation, he turns to nature, not because of the
presence of nature but because of the absence of man, and Ro¬
mantic documents become increasingly full of instructions to
reject familiar responses to stimulus configurations and to con¬
tinue rejecting them until a fresh response occurs. The point is
that a fresh, or completely deviant, response may possibly be
exploited to produce a culturally transcendent mode of redemp¬
tion from the tension of alienation and vandalism.
Before proceeding to the final members of the Romantic family
it is worth pausing to emphasize the historical importance of what
I have called Romanticism's negative phase. The preconditions
of adaptationally and culturally fruitful innovation are explana¬
tory collapse, alienation, autonomy, vandalism, low rate of inter¬
action, and randomization of behavior. The cultural establishment
of this discovery and its cultural preservation through literary
and other documentary redundancy, as well as artifactual re¬
dundancy, was possibly the most important innovation for which
Romanticism was responsible. Its importance lies in the fact that
any society, any large-scale complex of interrelated behavioral
patterns maintained by redundancy and high interaction, is
adaptationally inadequate to the degree its energy is chiefly
expended on limiting the range of behavior to validated modes
and patterns of behavior. This is the price of its survival. Never¬
theless its survival also depends upon adaptationally appropriate
innovative modifications of such patterns, that is, upon cultural
transcendence. Until Romanticism only the socially stabilizing
mode of survival had been socioculturally organized and estab¬
lished in explanation and experientially. Romanticism, as the con-

ROMANTICISM 27
AND BEHAVIOR

sequence of a uniquely severe explanatory trauma, discovered the
second principle of social survival, which has always been in ex¬
istence of course, but which, before Romanticism, had not been
socioculturally organized and established. This is one of the two
reasons I have for judging that we still live in the Romantic period,
or rather, that a small but highly important segment of explana¬
tory culture and its exemplification in art is Romantic and has not
been transcended, though it has appeared in innumerable forms
and in an enormous variety of metamorphoses. The second reason
for this judgment is the character of the redemptive modes the
Romantic tradition has innovated, and above all the internal
incoherence of those modes, which has given the Romantic tra¬
dition its extraordinary dynamism, its high rate of cultural change.
For the Romantic, then, whose explanatory collapse was
severe and traumatic, there was no return. Radical explanatory
innovation was the only possibility, and even though he might
reject explanation and turn to an experiential or nonverbal
mode of fusion of subject and object—a mode that, following
the model of Kant, became known as the aesthetic mode of
apprehension—still even that was explained and justified in lan¬
guage, in verbal behavior. As I have suggested, nonverbal re¬
demptive response is not significantly different from verbal.
Both are modes of reducing or eliminating the tension between
subject and object, between sensory input and semiotic response.
Further, this kind of aesthetic response can be culturally main¬
tained either by language or by observation and imitation of
behavioral paradigms, as in Oriental religious institutions and
traditions. For Romanticism, however, lacking such institutions,
the establishment and propagation of this aesthetic ideology de¬
pended upon verbal redundancy. Though it was not a response to
verbal explanation, nevertheless it was a response to verbal ex¬
planation as instructions for a particular mode of behavior. Hence
throughout the history of Romanticism to the present there has
been considerable confusion and difficulty, since it is exceedingly
difficult, for all but a few temperaments, to experience such a
response with the help of only verbal directions and to be certain
one has indeed had the experience the language has directed one
to have. Further, once the ineffable and indescribable experience

28

THE ROMANTIC TRADITION

has been attained, the temptation to explain it and justify it
verbally is so powerful it becomes or is judged to be a necessity,
since it was a negation of non-Romantic explanatory traditions,
still omnipresent in the culture. As a response to an explanatory
collapse, it required an explanatory justification. Otherwise it
could not negate those non-Romantic traditions. Thus it is
reasonable to put the principal emphasis on emergent or innova¬
tive Romantic explanations, the explanatory cultural transcen¬
dence of Romanticism.
In Blake's remark that he must create his own system or be
subject to another man's and in his mythological poems, it is
apparent that innovative explanation maintains the sense of self¬
hood, a perpetuation necessary for cultural transcendence and
to sustain the sense of selfhood in the face of what it negates in
the culture, which is almost everything of an explanatory char¬
acter. Yet Blake's effort is a very primitive example of such
transcendence, for his elaborate mythology was little more than
the exemplification of a neo-Platonic and Hermetic redemptive
explanation, regressive to the sixteenth century. It was a mytho¬
logically concealed return to an already existent and available
mode of verbal redemption. Consequently the tendency in the
study of Romanticism in the past few decades to take Blake as
a model Romantic has been responsible for a serious distortion
of Romanticism and for an emphasis upon the Romantic innova¬
tion of redemptive explanations. One group of Romantics, right
up to the present, has responded to explanatory collapse by
generating innovative explanations. But another group and an¬
other tradition has done something quite different. The two
traditions, the incoherence between which has been the source
of the extraordinary innovative dynamism of the Romantic tra¬
dition, can be presented in the form of two questions: one.
Redemptive explanations having failed, what new redemptive
explanation can I create?"; the other, "Redemptive explanations
having failed, how can I create an antiredemptive explanation, an
anti-explanatory explanation?" One asks, "What new explana¬
tion will suffice?" The other, "Why do men create explanations?"
The first question and the answers to it were controlled by the
overwhelmingly powerful European, and indeed human, tradi-

ROMANTICISM 29
AND BEHAVIOR

tion, emerging at least since the beginning of the Neolithic and
probably before, that the human goal is properly redemption and
that its highest verbal goal is properly a redemptive explanation:
in short, Paradise. This resulted in what is often called the apoca¬
lyptic Romantic tradition, and the identification of Romanticism
with the search for the apocalyptic, a search which is after all
quite easily satisfied, has given us only one part, and that the
more historically regressive part, of Romanticism. After all, the
overwhelming part of human culture is aimed at the reduction of
tension, and in particular the reduction (such is the nature of lan¬
guage and the rest of semiotic behavior) of epistemological and
ontological tension—its reduction and ideally its elimination.
Thus it is not surprising that redemptive or apocalyptic Roman¬
ticism should have occurred, nor is it any more surprising that
scholars, subject to the enormous cultural innovations and dis¬
turbances of the twentieth century, should respond by an interest
in it. The scholarly and critical interest in apocalyptic Romanti¬
cism, especially during the sociocultural disturbances of the 1960s,
is itself a redemptive response, a repetition, since the dominating
high culture of the United States is almost pure Enlightenment,
of what the apocalyptic Romantics themselves underwent. But
this repetition also explains the intense interest in the mythologi¬
cal modes of Romantic apocalypticism. In early human history—
so far as we can understand it at all on the basis of pitifully few
records, themselves involving dreadful hermeneutic problems—
mythology was most likely the first stage of an explanatory re¬
gress from the observable. I think Comte was probably right in
that. However, modern mythology, aware that it is mythology,
is an effort to resolve the inadequacy of abstract explanation by
masking it in exemplary language. This accounts I think for the
notes of hysteria and sentimentality so often found in the writing
of those scholars who insist that the heart of Romanticism is a
mythology of apocalyptic redemption. For the real issue of the
explanatory collapse of Platonistic-Christian idealism, of Baconian-Enlightenment empiricism, and of skepticism itself at the
end of the eighteenth century is that explanation itself collapsed.
Hence the question. Why do men create explanations?
The first great answer was Hegel's, although Senancour an-

30

THE ROMANTIC TRADITION

ticipated much of what was to come, as did Schiller in his last
period. To Hegel the category of Being is empty. An explanation
of Being is not derived from Being but is the Geist's, that is, cul¬
ture's response to Being. The validity of that response must
rest upon the Absolute; but when, at the end of the Phenome¬
nology, the Absolute is achieved, it turns out to be as empty a
category as Being. The only thing to do is to go back to Being
and start all over again, though this time with the Spirit's con¬
scious awareness of what it is doing. Men create explanations
because explanation is the condition of their existence, but even
so it is only an instrument for sustaining that existence. An ex¬
planation is to be found only in the acceptance of the impossibility
of redemption. There is no resolution of the tension of subject
and object, of the tension between sensory stimulus and semiotic
response. A splendid modern example of this position is to be
found in Wallace Stevens' "The Well-Dressed Man with a Beard."
After a marvelous evocation of tension resolution, of Paradise,
of affirmation following upon negation, he suddenly breaks off
and writes, "It can never be satisfied, the mind, never." An ex¬
planation is a supreme fiction. When we weary of the imagina¬
tion, we turn to the necessary angel, reality.
I would not deny that apocalyptic Romanticism, redemptive
Romanticism, explanatory Romanticism, was indeed Romanti¬
cism, but rather I would assert that it was the historically regres¬
sive mode of Romanticism, responding to explanatory collapse
by innovating culturally transcendent explanations. And I would
also assert that compared with antiredemptive, anti-explanatory
Romanticism it was relatively superficial, for in contrast this
subtler Romanticism recognized that the explanatory collapse
which was the cultural trauma that precipitated Romanticism was
the collapse of explanation itself. It was the fundamental inco¬
herence of these two modes of Romantic response to cultural
trauma that has been responsible for the astonishing culturally
innovative dynamism of high explanatory culture and its artistic
exemplification for the past 180 years. For nearly two centuries
various modes of redemption have been innovated, most of which
still remain with us: social redemption, as with the various forms
of socialism as well as Marxism; erotic redemption; scientific

ROMANTICISM 31
AND BEHAVIOR

redemption; redemption by means of art; redemption by means
of sex, the most widespread mode today, since it has the greatest
potential for popular appeal and even has sacred texts, the month¬
ly issues of Playboy; redemption through Oriental mysticism; re¬
demption by means of drugs; even redemption by means of radi¬
cal reinterpretations of the rhetoric of Christian theology, as with
Coleridge and many others. However, avant-garde artists today
are busily engaged in a self-conscious destruction of art, but art
can scarcely be destroyed, since it is an adaptational strategy.
Rather, what they are engaged in destroying is what remains the
most potent redemptive mode for the redemptively inclined mem¬
bers of high culture, the redemptive notion of art. Art having
been used as a fortress from which to negate the adequacy both
of the traditional mode of redemption and of the nineteenth- and
twentieth-century innovative modes of redemption, that fortress
can itself be destroyed. As this happens, I think we will see in
the scholarship of Romanticism a turning away from the still
fashionable limitation of Romanticism to its relatively superficial
apocalyptic or redemptive mode, and a turning toward its more
penetrating tradition, the anti-explanatory, the antiredemptive,
the refusal to accept any consolation for the irresolvable tension
of human existence.

2
THE FUNCTION OF
HISTORY IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY
EUROPEAN CULTURE

[1971*]

E

arly in E?a de Queiroz's comic and satirical novel The Illus¬
trious House of Ramirez is a passage which illuminates
brightly the function of history in nineteenth-century Europe:
A colleague of his . . . had founded a magazine called The Fatherland,
"with the lofty intention" (the prospectus sonorously affirmed) "of
reawakening, not only among the academic youth but throughout the
country, from Cape Sileiro to Cape Santa Maria, the dying love of the
beauty and grandeur and glories of Portugal!" Devoured by this idea,
his Idea, and feeling that here lay his career, almost his mission,
Castanheiro incessantly and with the stubborn ardour of an apostle,
proclaimed throughout the taverns in Sofia Street, through the cloisters7
of the University, in his friends' rooms amid cigarette smoke, "the
necessity, caramba! of reviving tradition! of clearing Portugal, caramba!
of the deluge of foreign matter inundating it! . . . [His aim was to]
reawaken a consciousness of our heroism in this disheartened nation."
* Prepared for an international seminar on history, held in Venice in
April 1971. Reprinted by permission from Survey 17, no. 3 (Summer 1971) •
31-36. Copyright © 1971 by the Oxford University Press.
32

THE FUNCTION OF HISTORY IN 33
NINETEENTH-CENTURY EUROPEAN CULTURE

Writing in the 1890s, E<pa de Queiroz clearly regards such am¬
bitions as absurd and, as he later indicates, old-fashioned, some¬
thing properly belonging to the 1840s.
Inspired by Castanheiro, the novel's hero sets out to write an
historical novel, and E<;a de Queiroz shows very well who was
the most popular disseminator of historicism in the nineteenth
century, and who more than anyone else was responsible for
that dissemination—Sir Walter Scott—just as in the passage
quoted above the capitalization of "Idea" suggests the great
philosophical historicizer, Hegel. The link between nationalism
and historicism is perfectly obvious in both Scott and Hegel,
and that link certainly is to be found in The Illustrious House of
Ramirez, in which the author is particularly concerned with the
transition from historicism to parliamentarianism by way of a
self-seeking political corruption. That theme is suggested in the
phrase "here lay his career, almost his mission." Nevertheless,
nationalism and historicism are not necessarily linked. Indeed,
the link may have been something of an accident. It is not with
the nationalistic use of historicism that I am concerned here, but
with something quite different. A hint may be found in the
phrase, "the necessity of reviving tradition, of clearing Portugal
of the deluge of foreign matter inundating it."
There is no denying the nationalistic emphasis here, nor would
I suggest that that emphasis is other than the most reasonable
primary interpretation of the passage. If, however, we put
aside the nationalism and examine the passage at a more remote
level of explanation, an interesting pattern emerges. The phrases
to be abstracted for a nonnationalistic interpretation are "re¬
viving tradition" and "clearing X of foreign matter." At a still
more remote level of explanation, the two ideas here are "the
restoration of X's true character" and, connected with that, "the
purification of X of alien attributes." Applying these formulas
to historicism divorced from nationalism, one can interpret the
function of nineteenth-century historicism as redeeming by res¬
toration and purification whatever is subjected to historical
explanation. The pattern that now emerges is "redemption by his¬
tory" or, more properly, "redemption by historicizing."
Whenever a pattern of redemption is encountered in secu-

34

THE ROMANTIC TRADITION

larized European culture, the reasonable assumption is that a
secular pattern has emerged from a Christian pattern. The tempta¬
tion to reduce the secular pattern to the Christian pattern may
very well be a wise temptation to succumb to. It is not quite
enough to cry "Reductionism!" If no new factor has been added
in the pattern, it may very well be that the innovative pattern is
indeed nothing but the original pattern in which the terms have
been changed but the structure remains unaltered. I believe this
can be said, for example, of Marx in the 1840s and probably
throughout his intellectual career. For "God created Man, who
sinned, and as a necessary consequence of that sin, given the
nature of God, God sent His Son to redeem Man from sin," it is
no perversion to substitute, "History created Society, which
sinned in producing Capitalism, and as a necessary consequence
of sinful Capitalism, History will send the Proletariat to redeem
Man from Capitalism." The identity of the two patterns is made
more probable by pointing out that both Christianity and Marx¬
ism promised an ideal world after redemption—the one in heaven,
the other on earth—the State or Satan (the instrument of man's
sin) or Capitalism having withered away. In the sect of Universalism, even Satan is to be redeemed. In the same way, Marxist
rhetoric is not merely an analytic rhetoric—whether of histori¬
ography or economics—but a rhetoric which ascribes evil, even
intentional evil, to its object.
However, the mere presence of redemptionism in a secular pat¬
tern that has succeeded a Christian pattern is not necessarily
sufficient to justify a reduction of the innovative secularism to
a traditional Christianity. Redemption" is certainly a concept
of considerable vagueness, but, however vague, it is not exclu¬
sively Christian. Though it is doubtful if it can be said with
sureness that it is a human universal—to be found in all cultures
—it is common enough outside of Christianity to make it possible
to assert that in secularized Western culture a pattern that in¬
cludes redemption may exclude Christianity. The basic pattern
of Marxism, however, appears to me to be such that it adds
nothing to the patterns of Christianity, its departure from which
involved little more than substitution of terms. (I would not deny
that that pattern enabled Marx to make a great many acute and

THE FUNCTION OF HISTORY IN 35
NINETEENTH-CENTURY EUROPEAN CULTURE

valuable propositions.) On the other hand, the pattern of "re¬
demption by historicizing" can conceivably be so far from the
patterns of Christianity that reductionism to Christianity is a
temptation properly to be resisted.
Christianity is, of course, a religion of history, in that it hinges
on two unique historical events, the Revelation and the Incar¬
nation, but it is by no means to be identified with "redemption by
historicizing. In Christianity the historical process is immanent
m history itself, in this also being identifiable with Marxism. Re¬
demption by historicizing is quite a different matter. In Christian¬
ity the historical process is revealed to the individual—initially
through biblical inspiration; subsequently (after the Incarnation)
through the Church, or through a church, or through Grace. Simi¬
larly, in Marxism the immanent historical process is discovered
by the inquirer; it is something to be found in the object by the
subject. On the other hand, in redemption by historicizing the
emphasis is not on a process immanent in history, in the object,
but rather on the activity of historicizing; the emphasis is on the
experience of the subject, on the subjective consequences of his¬
toricizing to the subject, not on the objective determination of
immanent structure or teleology in history.
I believe that this, or something very like it, is the point of the
final pages of Hegel's Phenomenology. History, to put it in nonHegelian terms, consists of a series of interpretations of the
world. Each interpretation is partially adequate and partially in¬
adequate. As each interpretation is put to use and tested against
actual situations, its internal incoherences are revealed. As they
become increasingly intolerable, the next step is to preserve what
was adequate in an innovated pattern of interpretation. Yet this
development of a new interpretation is not in itself as important
as the conscious realization of the structure of that process of
development. That realization—not the structure of the process—
is the distinctively Hegelian contribution. Just as Hegel anticipated
that he would be superseded, so the importance of the realization
is that it prepares whoever grasps it to realize, in time, its not-yetapparent incoherences and to transcend it. Thus, to the sympa¬
thetic, the Phenomenology marks a period of peculiar importance
in history, for a realization of the structure of the historical

36

THE ROMANTIC TRADITION

process makes it possible to transcend the historical process and
to move into a larger freedom. From this point of view, Marx
did not, as he claimed, turn Hegel right side up after all; he
merely poured him into an already existing Christian mold.
Now I am not concerned with whether Hegel was right or not.
For my personal taste, he is far too optimistic. Rather, I am con¬
cerned with the pattern he appears to exemplify: that which historicizing of explanation does, or is felt to do, for the individual
who engages in it. The very rhetoric, if nothing else—and there
is a great deal else—of the final paragraph on history in the
Phenomenology indicates that redemptionist interests are at work.
Further, it is possible to apply at this point the formula given
above: The function of nineteenth-century historicism is to re¬
deem by restoration and purification whatever is subjected to
historical explanation. In Hegel the "whatever" is the historicizing subject. To use a word commonly found throughout the nine¬
teenth and twentieth centuries, it is the "self" that is restored
and purified. Hegel disintegrates what today we would call cul¬
ture, personality, and role. Only the pure self, or the Absolute,
free from all attributes, is left. Thus stripped naked, it has nothing
to do but to be engaged with concrete situations and to re-create
the world, that is, to reinterpret the world from this point of view.
To be aware that we live in a world interpreted by our own
interests grants us a freedom to innovate and to manipulate in¬
terpretations that is not granted by the commitment to any par¬
ticular interpretation. It is the freedom to maintain an irresolvable
tension between subject and object. Be that as it may, the pattern
to be observed is the transcendence of the current conceptions of
society, personality, and culture. (For convenience, this pattern
may be abbreviated as "cultural transcendence," a term hence¬
forth to be taken as including personality and society [or role] as
well.)
This makes it possible to propose a few formula for the func¬
tion of nineteenth-century historicism. The redemptive power of
historicizing enables the historicizing individual to transcend his
necessarily inadequate and even destructive culture. However—
and this is particularly important for the comprehension of nine¬
teenth-century redemptive historicizing—the transcendence does

THE FUNCTION OF HISTORY IN 37
NINETEENTH-CENTURY EUROPEAN CULTURE

not precipitate the individual into a new cultural stability; rather
it condemns him, or frees him—the choice is a matter of taste_
to a permanent cultural instability. To put it another way, cul¬
tural transcendence, rather than cultural commitment, becomes
the mode of existence. Cultural transcendence as a mode of ex¬
istence is another way of expressing the formula suggested above,
the acceptance of an irresolvable tension between subject and
object (old-fashioned as those terms may be). Very abstractly,
the process involves several stages: recognition of cultural in¬
coherence, alienation, historical explanation, and cultural tran¬
scendence.
The basic pattern of nineteenth-century—i.e.. Romantic—alien¬
ation was analyzed by Hegel himself, though the grandiose scale
on which he worked tends to conceal it. That pattern is, of course,
the recognition of a cultural incoherence and the transcendence
of the culture, discussed above. From this point of view, his ex¬
planation of history is a projection upon history of his own self¬
alienation from his own culture, observing that pattern to have
happened over and over again in the course of history. This is not
to suggest that his insight into the processes by which various
interpretations of the world have become culturally established is
necessarily invalid. Quite the contrary. Like any theory of history,
however, his is necessarily selective and incomplete. Indeed, it
may even be asserted that he did not write a theory of history
so much as a theory of the relationship among a few books, ar¬
ranged in chronological order. The important point is that he
perceived the process of alienation and cultural transcendence be¬
cause he had experienced it himself. More precisely, he had ex¬
perienced the alienation. The Phenomenology is his effort—his
voyage of discovery, as he called it—to transcend that alienation.
Since he had experienced the incoherence of his own culture, it
was, of course, impossible for him to transcend that incoherence
by returning to commitment to his own culture. So what at first
appears to be an explanation of culture by historicizing that
culture, turns out, more profoundly, to be Hegel's explanation
of himself by historicizing himself.
In the early decades of the nineteenth century, the solution of
the problem of alienation by historicizing the personality is a

38

THE ROMANTIC TRADITION

phenomenon frequently to be found among the advanced think¬
ers of the time. Wordsworth is an excellent example. Goethe, in
Faust, used a middle strategy of displacing the personality into
history, thus combining—in a single strategy—alienation, historicizing the personality, and historicizing the culture. Scott moved
from alienation to historicizing the culture, simultaneously pre¬
senting, with great incoherence, a pre-nineteenth-century ide¬
ology. Historicization was to become a popular strategy. The
subsequent realistic novels apply historicizing to the present, as
the Goncourts were fully aware. It is as if it were first necessary
to historicize the past—as opposed to moralizing it in the pre¬
nineteenth-century manner—before the same strategy could be
applied to the present. In the work of Flaubert all modes can be
discerned. From this point of view, both the character and the
tradition of Freud are quite obvious, as are his conclusions. Ex¬
periencing his own internal incoherence, and his consequent
alienation both from himself and from his culture—it amounts to
the same thing—Freud subjected himself to a rather novel kind
of historicizing; he found his explanatory mode for self-historicizing in family relations. Subsequently he accused his culture
of sexual incoherence, and thereafter devoted himself to histor¬
icizing his patients. The result was consistent with the pattern:
The patient is not cured but is inured to a permanent mode of
cultural transcendence. To be cured would mean to return to the
culture as functional within that culture. And to be sure, that
sort of cure was the best Freud expected for the great majority of
his patients. A few, however, entered what Philip Rieff has aptly
named a "covert culture." That is, as others had discovered be¬
fore Freud (Browning and Tennyson, for example), the culturally
transcendent individual is both alienated from his culture and
socially functional within it.
The emergent cultural problem of the nineteenth century, then,
was alienation. The solution was cultural transcendence by his¬
toricizing, a strategy no doubt derived from Christianity but by
no means to be reduced to it. In philosophy, in historiography, in
the emerging social sciences, and in the arts, the advanced and
advancing thought of the nineteenth century can be understood
as lying along a continuum between two poles—one being histor-

THE FUNCTION OF HISTORY IN 39
NINETEENTH-CENTURY EUROPEAN CULTURE

icizing the culture and the other historicizing the personality.
Each instance on the continuum has its roots in the perception of
incoherence within the individual's own culture, or within a
special instance of his culture, his own personality. The percep¬
tion of that incoherence is the source of alienation.
Alienation in this sense, however, is not to be confused with
the term "alienation" as it is commonly used today—for example,
in discussing alienated youth. (At least the term is commonly
used in this sense in the United States.) Such alienation should
more correctly be called polarization by negation. One set of
cultural values is perceived as incoherent and is judged as unac¬
ceptable, and another set is perceived as coherent and judged as
acceptable. This is mere moralizing, as both Hegel and Nietzsche
were aware, for the perception of polar opposites or the juxtapo¬
sition of affirmation and negation is not the perception of inco¬
herence but rather of reflective or mirror coherence. Polarization
obeys the norms of logic, but the perception of incoherence
emerges when the norms of logic are judged to be failing or, at
best, inapplicable. This is the source of the perception of the
uncrossable gap between language and the world—so common
in the nineteenth century, in Browning and Hegel, as well as in
Nietzsche; prefigured in the eighteenth century in Hamann; and
strongly realized in the first decade of this century in the recently
recovered work of Fritz Mauthner. Hence, moralizing is seen as
a linguistic process, and as something to be transcended by his¬
toricizing. It is not surprising, then, that the polarized of today,
the miscalled alienated, are profoundly and even violently antihistorical, for they have not reached the stage of alienation, the
precondition to historicizing and cultural transcendence.
Perhaps—because of the weakening and disappearance for
many of Christianity, and the weakening and disappearance of
the historical component within Christianity—-historicizing has
become increasingly unavailable as a strategy, particularly within
the popular culture, from which, more and more, members of
high culture must be recruited. Whatever the reasons for the
current antipathy to historicizing, the results are unfortunate, for
my studies have shown me no mode of cultural transcendence yet
available other than that offered by historicizing.

3
REFLECTIONS ON
HISTORICAL MODES IN THE
NINETEENTH CENTURY

[1971*]

W

hen Sir Walter Scott died, Carlyle wrote in his journal,
"He understood what history meant; that was his chief
intellectual merit. ... He has played his part, and left none like
or second to him."1 Did Carlyle mean that in making others un¬
derstand the significance of history, whatever it might be, Scott
was playing his part? If this seems not too unreasonable an inter¬
pretation of Carlyle's remarks, the explanation is that probably
no one had a greater responsibility than did Scott for one of the
most important transformations in the nineteenth century—the
historicization of European culture. Certainly Scott was not alone.
Hegel contributed mightily, but Hegel's contribution was con¬
fined to high-level culture. Scott worked at a considerably lower
* Reprinted by permission from Victorian Poetry, Stratford-upon-Avon
Studies 15 (London: Edward Arnold, 1972), pp. 277-300. Copyright © 1972
by Edward Arnold (Publishers) Ltd.
130 September 1832, in J. A. Fronde, Carlyle: The First Forty Years
(Longmans, Green, & Co., 1882), 2:310-11.

40

REFLECTIONS ON 41
HISTORICAL MODES IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

cultural level, so much so that it was not until his death that
Carlyle could find a good word to say for him or could recognize
the importance of the part he played. Furthermore, Scott's mode
of writing historical novels could easily be applied at a consid¬
erably lower culture level than that at which he normally worked.
Ainsworth and Dumas modeled themselves upon Scott but were
even less intellectually and culturally demanding. Hugo, on the
other hand, could use the Scott tradition at a higher level in
Notre-Dame de Paris and did the same thing in his historical
plays. Les Burgraves is more demanding than a Waverley novel.
Moreover, Manzoni performed at a cultural level which Scott
never attempted to reach, though without Scott it is doubtful
if there could have been an I Promessi Sposi. Scott made history
accessible; he made it familiar; he made it comfortable. Macaulay
recognized this when he set out to write a history that would be
as appealing as Scott's novels, and he seems to have felt that the
audience he wished to reach would not have existed had it not
been for Scott.
On the other hand, it is not true that European culture was
without historical consciousness before the nineteenth century.
On the contrary, it may reasonably be said that the Renaissance
began when certain Florentine humanists undertook to think
about Cicero, not in universal categories, but rather in relation to
the circumstances of the culture in which he grew up and lived.
History and the development of a discipline of historical dis¬
course were important elements in the four centuries before 1800
—a period ushered in by a culture crisis and terminated by a cul¬
ture crisis more severe and fundamental than any of the minor
crises during that period. Yet in these four Renaissance centuries,
as they may perhaps be called, historicized culture was very dif¬
ferent from the historicizing culture of the nineteenth century.
Historical discourse, as distinguished from mere chronology, was
dominated by an interest in models, positive or negative. To our
taste, formed by the nineteenth century, even the incomparable
and delicious Gibbon, unrivaled for intellectual entertainment, is
abstract. His figures, fascinating as they are, are self-subsistent
monads; there is little or no feeling of social depth, and environ-

42
THE ROMANTIC TRADITION

mental detail is quite lacking. He offers us a vast and endlessly
amusing comedy of manners presented on a stage virtually with¬
out scenery.
He is best understood if one visualizes his events as if they
were historical paintings by Tiepolo, or as if they were to be
found in Metastasio's libretti for historical operas. Handel's
Rodelinda takes place during the rule in Italy by the Lombards,
as does Davenant's Gondibert, but in neither is the historical
setting of the slightest importance. They could happen any¬
where. So in Tiepolo s classical paintings the scenery and the
architecture are universalized. Both are virtually identical with
the scenery and architecture for paintings from Tasso. To be
sure, in the Villa Valmarana in Vicenza there is some suggestion
of classical costume, but there are also Renaissance, Roman, and
Moorish costume details. In the Palazzo Labia in Venice and in
other paintings of Antony and Cleopatra, she invariably appears
in a sixteenth-century dress, but Antony is just as invariably in
Roman armor, though not armor that any Roman ever wore.
In what I have called the Renaissance centuries, the past func¬
tioned as did the country life in the pastoral poetry of the same
period. It was a backdrop used to isolate an interactional prob¬
lem, morally conceived, from its social situation. The interest of
that isolation was to detach the problem from its social and en¬
vironmental ramifications. Even in Robinson Crusoe we learn
very little about life on a tropical island. Defoe was not interested
in how an individual relates himself to, and establishes himself
in, an unfamiliar environment—though that was the interest at
work in Swiss Family Robinson and Jules Verne's The Mysterious
Island. Defoe was interested in isolating the moral problem of
the individual as individual, that is, of the individual in moral
interaction with himself. Just as the portrait of Friday is not a
contribution to cultural anthropology, the island is merely an
isolating backdrop. Clearly these works are not critiques of social
management, nor of validation, nor of explanation (metaphysics).
They are studies of how these fundamental modes of human ac¬
tion are manifest in moral problems and conflicts. So in the plays
of Racine and Voltaire, as in Addison's Cato, the past is not con¬
ceived as an atmosphere that made people different from the

REFLECTIONS ON 43
HISTORICAL MODES IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

people in the audience, but, as in Shakespeare, is a way of isolat¬
ing and selecting moral attributes of the people in the audience.
In Gibbon and other historians there is little or no sense of the
pastness of the past, of the otherness of the past, but rather of
the sameness. Consequently in pre-nineteenth-century historical
discourse both the visual appearance of the past and the total
social environment were equally neglected. But the otherness of
the past, its pastness, the difference of its visual appearance, the
strangeness of past modes of interaction—these were precisely
what the nineteenth century was interested in. These were pre¬
cisely the factors which gave the novels of Scott their strength
and an appeal that is still attractive.

I
The first notable appearance in English literature of this sense
of the otherness of the past is in a work we normally would not
consider an historical work at all, Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey."
I cannot paint / What then I was." To be sure, he proceeds to
do so in considerable detail, but the important cultural break
which led to The Prelude had been made. In his Confessions
Rousseau is a monad on which the world impinges and which
impinges on the world; it maintains, however, its monadic sta¬
bility. In The Prelude Wordsworth historicizes the personality.
If we jump forward a hundred years, we find Freud, whose aim
was to make Wordsworths out of his patients. Not only, as in The
Prelude, does Freud explain a present condition of the personality
genetically, not only does he account for it by its past history,
he goes even further. He defines the neurotic as one who has re¬
mained a monad, as one who has not transcended the past. The
technique of psychoanalysis involves, first, the historicization of
the personality and, second, a transcendence of the historical
forces responsible for that personality. But here, as in Words¬
worth, the peculiar character of Romanticism emerges. In
transcending its own past, the successfully psychoanalyzed per¬
sonality (such personalities are extremely rare; even Freud was
never absolutely sure that he was one himself) transcends a very
recent sociocultural past—so recent that it is continuous with the
sociocultural present in which the transcending process takes place.

44

THE ROMANTIC TRADITION

Such a personality, then, transcends its own culture. A critique
of oneself (as opposed to a moral judgment of oneself) necessarily
involves a critique of those forces responsible for oneself. The
proper effect of psychoanalysis, as Freud was perfectly aware, is
an alienation from one's culture and society. As Philip Rieff has
pointed out, the rare individual who is successfully psychoana¬
lyzed enters a covert culture, a concealed subculture, just as
William and Dorothy Wordsworth and Coleridge, in their aliena¬
tion, established and entered a concealed covert culture, complete
with spy. Freud, in short, was brought up in the tradition of Ger¬
man Idealism and nineteenth-century German Romantic culture.
Faust is the model for his patients, for Faust, reaching the limits of
his culture, and seeking to escape those limits, first had to explore
that culture, including—as in the Classical Walpurgisnacht—
the past of that culture. He had to resist the temptation of the hypostatized moment, the temptation to be a monadic personality.
He had to reach the point of accepting the eternal feminine, the
eternal not-I, the eternal otherness which draws us forever
onward.
It may be hazarded, then, that, from the first emergence of
nineteenth-century culture, the interest in the otherness of the
past was rooted in the perception of the otherness of a former
state of the personality, a state which, as in "Tintern Abbey," is
judged to have been transcended. That sense of self-transcendence
was, therefore, something to be maintained, since the new state
was judged to be superior to the former state, for the new
state was founded on the resolution of problems encountered in
the old. Thus the discontinuity of personality, its fluidity, and its
permanent potentiality for self-transcendence became attributes
to be maintained. As in Hegel's Phenomenology, self-estrange¬
ment was perceived as desirable, since it and it alone offered the
possibility of freedom. The personality, therefore, came to be
conceived historically and also progressively, not—as before the
nineteenth century—in reference to cultural improvements but
rather in reference to terms of freedom. Since, however, there was
almost no cultural support for such a position—since, indeed, the
weight of culture, particularly its religious aspect, was all on the
side of the monadic continuity of the personality—it was neces-

REFLECTIONS ON 45
HISTORICAL MODES IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

sary to devise strategies for the maintenance of the sense of
otherness. This is the resolution of the apparent incoherence in
Tintern Abbey/' the fact that the statement of the inability to re¬
construct a former state is followed by a detailed reconstruction
of that very state. It is as if Wordsworth were saying: "I cannot
describe my former state; but to maintain my present state it is
necessary to do so; therefore I create an imaginative construct
of that state." Thus the construction of otherness became a cen¬
tral ingredient in innovative nineteenth-century culture, which
was, it must always be remembered, quantitatively only a very
small part of the century's total cul