Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Novalis and Final Participation

Novalis sculpted by the aptly-named Fritz Schaper - perhaps the most beautiful of great thinkers?

I have been aware of the 'German Romantic' Novalis (1772-1801 - he died of TB at age 28) for a long time, but also knew I was not ready to tackle him.

And indeed I misjudged the nature and scope of his achievement; since I assumed Novalis was solely a lyrical poet and romantic novelist - yet I know from experience that this kind of achievement is not translatable.

(I have tried and failed to appreciate lyrical poetry and poetic prose in translation so many times that I have ceased trying.)

Yesterday I felt ready - and discovered that Novalis was a philosopher, scientist and professional mining engineer who wrote on these - and all other - subjects for a projected Encyclopedia (lost for c. 150 years and only translated into English 11 years ago).

I then encountered some of his aphoristic/ 'fragment'-ary philosophical writings; and have seen enough to recognise that Novalis was someone who was embarked in the same cultural project as ST Coleridge; and that - like Coleridge - he was himself writing from a state of consciousness that had attained Final Participation (no wonder Barfield was so powerfully drawn to Novalis!).

After just a day, it already looks like Novalis will be joining my very small and select pantheon of those who (like Goethe, Blake, Coleridge, Steiner, Barfield, Arkle) significantly understood the single most-important issue of human developmental-evolution as it presents to Western consciousness.


Jonathan said...

So, which Novalis should I read first?

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Same question. All I've read is Heinrich von Ofterdingen, in translation.

Bruce Charlton said...

From two days worth of reading... Novalis Philosophical Writings - translated by MM Stoljar seems to have a lot of good stuff in it - including the famous collection of aphoristic 'fragments' usually called 'Pollen' - here called Miscellaneous Observations (for some reason). I'm also reading through Notes for a Romantic Encyclopaedia ed/trans DW Wood, which is fascinating.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Novalis's Miscellaneous Remarks (billed as "the original version of Pollen), as translated by Alexander Gelley, can be read online for free at

(You can also download it at the exorbitant rate of a dollar a page, but it's short enough to read online. I've also created a PDF from screenshots which I'd be happy to mail to anyone who wants it.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I should emphasise that I am reading Novalis through the understanding I have derived from Steiner's GA (opus) 2, 3 & 4, and Barfield and the Romanticism Comes of Age theses. It makes simple perfect sense as such. But the people (literary types, translators) who write *about* Novalis make him out to be crazily complicated/ comnfused/ unrealistic.