--Tom Gannon

[circa 1800-1850 . . . with intermittent outbursts to the present day!]
                                  "You say you want a revolution. . . ." –The Beatles

I. INDIVIDUALISM (vs. "Society"/social conformity)
        –cf. 60's hippies, etc.
A. Subjectivity–the Self, the "I" (vs. "objective," social "truths" & norms)
    –authentic "truths" realized from "within," not imposed by social/religious institutions [e.g., William Blake]–>
B. Rejection of tradition (especially Enlightenment [18th-century] Rationalism)
    –exceptions: attraction to earlier (pre-Renaissance) folk literature, medievalism (e.g., many gothic novels), and exoticism (cf. the "Oriental" setting of Coleridge's "Kubla Khan")

Important historical note: Romanticism arose at a time when the Industrial Age and the scientific worldview that began in the Renaissance had pretty much become victorious, ascendent–and Romanticism can be seen, in large part, as a reaction to a "victory" that the Romantics considered dehumanizing, emotionally stultifying, etc.

Basic Timeline/"Buzzwords"
"Age of Reason"The EnlightenmentRomantic Age
"Reason," "Man," "Society," etc."Imagination," "Nature," "Individual," etc.

II. EMOTION (vs. Reason)        –>lots of "!!!!"'s–like in this outline!!!!
A. Emphasis on feelings, "heart" (cf. Wordsworth), sentiment
    (–& sentimentality?!: "I fall upon the thorns of life; I bleed!" [P.B. Shelley])
B. Tendency towards melancholia (in the present) & nostalgia (for the past–thus medievalism, "returns" to childhood, etc.)
    –> the "Byronic Hero": the melancholic loner wandering about the ruins of Europe, cursing humankind and feeling sorry for (and sometimes loathing) himself (cf. both Victor Frankenstein and his "monster")
    –cf. the mantra of Rush Limbaugh and other conservative commentators that conservatives are thinkers, and liberals are merely "feelers." Limbaugh assumes the former to be superior; neo-Romantic poet-scholars like Robert Bly reverse the binary, privileging "feeling" instead.

–the emotional, individualistic, even eccentric & iconoclastic (& at last, "special") "ARTISTE" who creates spontaneously, from "inner," even unconscious, inspiration and genius
    –a notion of the creative process and creative artist that permeates our attitudes even today: cf. today's rock stars & songwriters

        –cf. New Age movements today
A. Attraction to the mysterious (thus exotic, gothic, and/or night settings), the unknown–and the unconscious
    –thus the Romantic SYMBOL: vague & "mysterious," supposedly inexhaustible in meaning
B. Holistic, synthetic psychology–vs. analytical rationalism (the "meddling intellect" that. according to Wordsworth, "murders to dissect")–leading to–>
C. Pantheistic regard for Nature and the "brotherhood of Man"–(all part of the "One")
    "Pantheism" = "everything/all (of nature) is 'God' or the 'One.'" Philosophies of the "One" are called monism, and much Romantic lit. can be seen as a drive towards a monistic union (e.g., Blake's "marriage of heaven & hell," Wordsworth's "marriage of mind & nature"). It's also probably clear to you by now that, against the onslaught of industrialism, science, and rationalism, Romanticism can be said to be a quite "religious" revolt. (See M. H. Abrams' study of Romanticism, Natural Supernaturalism, in which Romanticism is read as, above all, a later manifestation of the Protestant Reformation's urge towards inner truths via a personal relationship with the Godhead.)
D. Organicism, vitalism (vs. the mechanistic views of the Enlightenment): everything, the universe, the world, the mind, is "alive"–and grows, evolves, like a flowering plant (influenced by the relatively new natural sciences of the day, especially biology)
E. Faith in humankind's intrinsic/innate goodness (central here: Rousseau)–especially in rural (& primitive)–vs. urban/industrial–settings (cf. Wordsworth, of course, in this regard)
F. Messianism & Millennialism: "apocalyptic" anticipation of a radical revolution in society and/or consciousness ("and a new day will dawn"–Led Zep!; and "we'll all be one, and join hands, and . . . .")
    –cf. recent social anxiety/anticipation of Y2K; and recall, of course, many a Christian fundamentalist sect's expectation of an imminent "2nd Coming."

V. Defense/Privileging (or Use/Appropriation?!) of the OTHER
A. The Politically Downtrodden: ergo anti-monarchy (cf. P. B. Shelley's "Ozymandias"), pro-(new-)nationalism (e.g., Byron's–fatal–support for Greek independence), and pro-democracy (incl. pro-French Revolution, and Wordsworth's & Whitman's "common-man" personae)
B. Children: 'cuz more in touch with the unconscious roots/origins/truths that we've corrupted, as over-self-conscious adults?
C. Women: more in touch with feelings!?, nature, etc.? [sexist & essentialist, no doubt]
D. Rural/Country Folk: more in touch with the simple life, nature, real work, etc. [And so there is a connection between this aspect of Romanticism and certain threads of Marxism–e.g., Raymond Williams]
E. "Exotic/Primitive" Races: Native Americans (the "noble savage"), for instance, more in touch with–well, all the stuff mentioned in V.A., B., & C.
        [condescending "positive" racist stereotype?]     –cf. Dances with Wolves, etc.?!
F. Nature/Other Species themselves
    –cf. today's environmentalist & "back-to-nature" movements; and note of course, the reputations of Wordsworth, Whitman, et al., as "nature" poets
    [Other "Others": the insane; the elderly; English instructors whose first names are "Tom"]

VI. [Poetic] Style: EXPERIMENTATION (vs. traditional literary forms)
    In the (Neo-)Classical age of English poetry (to about 1800), most everyone wrote in heroic couplets, dang near all the time!–indicative of a love/need for "order" like the ornate gardens & witty, painted-up society that characterized that era. (The Romantics, instead, preferred mountains and the "wild" to such prettified cultural accoutrements.)
A. Content (& emotion!) emphasized over form (i.e., [inspired] feelings/ideas supposedly determine/precede form)
    –therefore greater freedom & "spontaneity" in versification–>
B. Prosody: greater metrical & stanzaic variety
    –England: (more) ballad stanzas, blank verse, Italian sonnets, irregular odes . . .
    –U.S.: (all that, plus) Whitman's free verse!
C. Language: greater "musicality" (Keats, Poe, Tennyson, Swinburne); tendency towards the vernacular
    (Wordsworth: I'm tryin' to use the "real language" of "real men")
        –cf. the Beats, contemporary rappers, et al.


"GOOD" ("God")1 "EVIL" ("Satan")1
"Man"/Humankind Nature/the "Animal" (other species)
  "CIVILIZATION"   (the) Primitive, "Savage," the Other
  (Social) Hierarchy ("vertical")   (Social) Levelling: fraternité, egalitarianism ("horizontal")
  Society, Tradition, Conformity   the Individual, Subjectivity (incl. the artist-genius)
  the Status Quo   Revolution; Messianism & Millennialism
  Order (e.g., the "garden," the "machine")   Chaos (e.g., the "wild")
  the known, the empirical (and the conscious)   the unknown, the mysterious (and the unconscious)
  Math & Science   Arts & Humanities
  The Enlightenment (and [neo-]Classicism)   Medievalism, Gothicism, Primitivism (and Romanticism, of course)
Male (patriarchy; yang principle) Female (matriarchy; yin principle)
  Active (incl. bellicose)   Passive (incl. pacifist)
White (race) Minority (races)/people of "color"
Upper Class/Bourgoisie Lower/Working Class (≈ Marxism)
Urban (& the sophisticated dandy) Rural (& the country "folk")
the (Imperial) Nation, the Homeland the Exotic, the Colonial, the "Borderlands"
the Adult the Child (also: the insane, the elderly, etc.)
"I" (the Self, the "Same") "Thou" (the Other) [Or in the case of other species, "It"!]
"Life" (and denial of Death) "Death" (incl. acceptance of ~)
Ego (Consciousness) (the) Unconscious (incl. Freud's Id; Jung's Shadow & Anima . . .)
  "Mind" (intellect, socialized conscience)   "Body" (instinct, sexuality)
  Left Brain   Right Brain
  Reason & Logic   Imagination, Intuition, Emotions ("feeling," "heart")
  Analytical (& Convergent) Thinking   Holistic (& Divergent) Thinking
  Dualism [like this outline!]   Monism (the "One"), Pantheism
  Mechanistic ("machine"; cf. Deism)   Organic ("flowering plant")
  Verbal, Visual   Nonverbal, Auditory
  (Linear) Time; Progress; Cause & Effect   Circular (or non-)Time ("eternal present"); Space; Synchronicity
  cocksure Scientism, Positivism   Melancholia, Nostalgia
  [but also:] cynicism, irony, "nay-saying,"
tragic worldview
  "cosmic" affirmation, "yeh-saying,"
cosmic-comic worldview
Classical/Dominant/Hegemonic Romantic/Subversive/Repressed
  Formalism (e.g., heroic couplets)   Experimentation in/"Organic" form
    (e.g., irregular odes, free verse; vernacular diction)
  (conscious, crafted) Allegory   (unconscious, spontaneously inspired) Symbolism
  Classical symphony (Haydn, Mozart)   Romantic symphony (later Beethoven); Romantic "tone poems"
  Apollonian (the aesthetics of order & reason & control)   Dionysian (the aesthetics of the natural, the "wild," the ecstatic)
{Contrasting examples here could be supplied ad nauseam.}
Light/White Darkness/Black
  day, sun . . .   night, moon . . .
Upper Lower
  sky, "Heaven"   underground, earth, (bodies of) water, "Hell"
the machine, the garden, etc. wild plants & animals, "exotic" or "primitive" humans . . .
1 All these binaries can be reversed/revalued, depending upon one's point of view! (Blake's, and Nietzsche's, main modus operandi, BTW)
** Final Note: ROMANTICISM, indeed, can be "defined" as the (re-)privileging of the subjects, themes, and attitudes in the right-hand column (though really left-handed, "sinister"!). However, this insurrection & protest against the dominant hegemony didn't begin c. 1800, but rather has been a compensatory, counter-cultural gesture throughout the history of Western Civilization–what Gary Snyder calls the "Great Subculture," or Deep Ecologists Devall and Sessions, the "perennial philosophy"; ergo my contention that "Romanticism" is alive and well to this day. (Bly contrasts all this with what he calls the "Old Position," the hubris of rationalism that characterized the centuries before the Romantic revolution; but it's clear from his explications thereof that the attack on the "Old Position" was really a revival of an even older way of knowing the world.)



Date Created: 4/10/03

Last Revised: 1/9/12

# of visits to this page since 8/25/03:  

< >