Monday, September 8, 2008

Novalis Review

An interesting review appeared today in NDPR by Jane Kneller. She is reviewing the new translation by David Wood of Novalis's Notes for a Romantic Encyclopaedia: Das Allgemeine Brouillon. Her review is very positive, but what I find interesting is that she sets up Wood's translation and introduction as a challenge to the work of Manfred Frank. Frank has defended the thesis that Novalis's Fichte-Studies are his most important and philosophical work, and against Dieter Henrich, Frank has claimed that the Fichte-Studies are also the most thorough critique of Fichte's foundationalism presented in the 1790s. What is interesting about the Fichte-Studies is that as Novalis moves away from Fichte, he appears to become more Kantian.

Novalis's Romantic Encyclopaedia is much more than a critique of Fichte or an investigation of the Critical Philosophy--it is in the words of Kneller "an important set of short essays, aphorisms, fragments and musings on the sciences and the nature of systematic knowledge. In true early romantic fashion it is wide-ranging in content and style, touching on topics from art to experimental method in the sciences, from philosophy and religion to butter softening, colic, gout, fever and the symbolism of human dress."

Both of these works are significant and essential to understanding Novalis's thought. Frank spends little time writing about Novalis's more poetic and wide ranging fragments like those found in the Encyclopaedia, which is unfortunate and to some extent might limit his understanding of the Fichte-Studies. As far as I can tell, the two projects continue a similar like of investigation that is focused on understanding the limits of science and systematization. Maybe they should be even read together, as a single project. In that case, the question of which is more important or more mature looses some of its allure.

4 comments:

augenblick said...

Hi Gabe, I was wondering what you think of the idea that post-Kantian German philosophy constitutes a series of attempts to deepen, expand, and situate Kant's account of finitude. Could Hegelian absolute idealism and German Romanticism be seen not as contradictory (one insisting upon the infinite, the other on the finite) but rather as two competing strategies to philosophically conceptualize human finitude?

Gabriel Gottlieb said...

Augenblick,
I think that is a fine way to look at things, though the 'infinte' does play a role (of course different roles) in both the romantics and Hegel's thought. Your point is a very broad one, though it is right I think that all these thinkers hold on to certain Kantian ideas about doing philosophy from the human standpoint. Understanding where they all depart can be done by carefully following how they each differently understand Kant's Copernican turn. I think the Copernican turn is very much a thesis about finitude.

augenblick said...

Hey Gabe, this is Jim Luceno. We had classes together at New School.

You mentioned in your original post how Novalis is trying to re-Kantianize Fichte. I read Schelling as doing a similar thing at the end of the System of Transcendental Idealism. I think for Schelling, the mere givenness of a sensory manifold isn't a comprehensive enough figure of man's finitude. I think he tries to deepen that notion of finitude with his analysis of art.

And although there's a reading of Hegel where we're overcoming our finitude left, right, up and down, I think he too can be understood as trying to find a way to deepen our notion of finitude. I took Jay Bernstein to be arguing something along these lines in his analysis of forgiveness at the end of the Spirit section. Forgiveness is forgiveness of our finitude, the fact that we make mistakes, don't live up to our ideals, etc. I think it's important that forgiving finitude is not the same thing as abolishing it or dissolving it in a higher, infinite subjectivity.

Anyway, that's what I was on to. Good blog, by the way. I've been reading it for awhile now. Just got around to saying 'hello' today, though. :-)

David W. Wood said...

Hi Gabe,
Thanks for drawing attention to the review. Yes, I believe you are right in your characterization of Novalis's Brouillon as focusing on the limits of science and philosophy, as well as a little-known reflection on romantic systematicity. I hugely admire Manfred Frank's works, especially of course his investigations into the anti-foundationalism of the early German romantics, but I disagree with his reading of their total lack of systematicity and thoroughgoing irrationality. Of course, these aspects are also extremely prominent in their writings (and have almost become bywords for the popular definition of romanticism itself), but there are other writings and elements (such as their Platonism, mathematicizing and the role of infinitude in the human condition, and their striking post-1797 Fichticizing) that are simply hard to reconcile with Frank’s restriction to the early Fichte Studies. Thus, I agree, it is a shame that Frank does not tackle later writings, particularly Novalis's Encyclopaedia project. - David