There is a truly Romantic spirit which I value supremely when I find it; which is seldom, including very rare instances in myself.
We are, apparently, trapped by deep habits, fears and a kind of sheer incompetence; and therefore find it extremely (sometimes impossibly) difficult to be what we most desire to be; to express what we most desire to express.
The true Romanticism can be found only seldom - for example in some of William Blake's aphorisms and short lyrics, but not in his long poems or most of the rest of his oeuvre.
By the strictest standards; I cannot find Romanticism realized anywhere in Coleridge, although Coleridge knew it, understood it, and sought it; and much the same applies to Rudolf Steiner, Owen Barfield and CS Lewis. All wrote about it, with great insight and value; but did not themselves embody it in their writings.
But writing about Romanticism - including that 'writing about' which is the use of allegory (as with Blake's prophetic works, or some of Barfield's and CSL's stories) - is not the thing itself.
What is meant is being referred-to, but the actuality is not embodied in the writing.
What I am saying is that nearly all writers, in their writing, keep a distance from actual Romanticism: the distance of scholarship, allegory, facetiousness or irony.
Yet True Romanticism can be found in writings; sometimes in obscure authors like William Arkle; but supremely in JRR Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings - which is, I think, why this work holds its unique and elevated position.
Tolkien, here and there - but more often than anybody I know - gives expression to the fullest and truest Romanticism; and in a way that is highly accessible, and easier to appreciate than any other.
This was only possible because Tolkien was himself a Romantic, but then again so were CS Lewis, Owen Barfield and Charles Williams - yet none of these managed to get past the barriers to its expression in the way that Tolkien did.
What I mean by Romanticism, and how it is nearly always blocked, can be seen in The Notion Club Papers (NCPs). In broad terms, this incomplete and posthumously published novel represents an Inklings-based group that is able to break through the crust of convention and constraint to achieve a fully expressed Romanticism.
The NCPs begins with superficial and facetious interaction between its members; a jokey and cynical conversational style of a kind familiar to any English person of the professional classes. This is one type of defensiveness, and it absolutely blocks Romanticism.
Another defensiveness is of conventional values - such as 'scholarship' or 'science' when these are regarded in a consensus fashion. Such conversation serves to suppress individual discernment and creation by a kind of implicit threat related to pointing out its transgression from the group norms; norms that provide coherence and power.
The idea is that group members should fear going beyond the group-approved forms and content, and the fear is of being singled out, stripped of status, and scapegoated, ridiculed, demonized. Such external control may be done with a light touch, ambiguously and deniably; but the message is transmitted nonetheless - and there are few who resist it and none who are unaware of the implications.
So fear is one reason; but also people just don't know how.
Some people are drawn to Romanticism, and are aware that indirect references to the Romantic are not enough - but instead only succeed in emoting. Instead of Romanticism there are just strong and merely-subjective feelings.
The truly Romantic must be transcendent, must embody the divinely creative - directly apprehended; whereas emotions and feelings as-such are merely animal responses to the environment or to inner body states. To rant and rave - to free associate or let-rip - is not of any transcendental value.
Thus the literature of the Beats, Hippies, Sixties Counterculture and New Age is almost wholly worthless from a truly Romantic perspective of written-expression. It may be based upon an accurate diagnosis of the problem, but is profoundly wrong in assuming that liberating the id or collective unconscious is a solution.
To try and suppress human consciousness, delete the self or ego; and assimilate to the un-conscious or 'liberate' the 'instinctive' is not to solve the problem of alienation of Men. It is merely to crave oblivion - to aspire to cease being a Man - to regress Man towards the animal.
It is easy to say what Not to do, to describe the pitfalls in various direction; but there is no formula for what to do instead - which is why it is so rarely achieved.
Nonetheless, the matter can be illustrated, and it has been illustrated in the Notion Club Papers. What happens at times through the accounts of the Notion Club; is that the conversation is able to escape from facetious joking, or mere description, and attain a truly Romantic level that transcends all the pitfalls. We are actually shown what this would be like.
The NCPs begin with the club responding to a story by Ramer - and for some pages the response is merely superficial - full of 'joshing' - mostly good natured, sometimes rather pointed. Some characters (such as Lowdham) adopt a cynical attitude, repeatedly trying to bring the conversation 'down to earth' in an irritating fashion.
It later emerges that this is a defensive posture by Lowdham who is (fearfully) attempting to hold-back an almost-overwhelmingly powerful Romanticism in himself; but at first he is the worst representative among an unserious tendency in the group.
At the other extreme is Jeremy, who is always earnest and never even tries to be witty; indeed he seems to be regarded as something of the butt of group (to be 'shot at' with barbed quips; as being younger, and seemingly more naively enthusiastic). Yet he is in reality the conscience of the Notion Club.
Jeremy goes on to say some of the most profound and important things in the NCPs; and (surprisingly) joins-up with the rambunctious Lowdham to make a complementary team; who whole-heartedly seek to experience the fullest possible Romantic contact with providence and the divine.
It takes several pages of merely scholarly and jocular talk; but the NCP discussion becomes more serious rather suddenly when Guildford says the word 'Incarnation' as his suggested 'method' for space (and indeed time) travel.
Although the intended meaning of the word incarnation is never given a satisfactory explanation in the NCPs, it can be inferred from usage and context that what it partly means is a kind of reincarnation involving mind-to-mind connection - whereby a modern person has (or develops) the ability to experience events in the past that were experienced by his hereditary ancestors.
Hereditary - but not by a genetic mechanism, but really more a matter of spiritual ancestry: the sharing of a spiritual orientation across (perhaps) very-many generations.
Specific heredity emerges later in the NCPs when Lowdham and Jeremy become - for a while - 'possessed' by former identities of men in Numenor during the lead-up-to and events of that lands cataclysmic (literally world changing) drowning.
They become able to speak the Numenorean languages, and re-enact some of the ancient events - and in doing so they apparently create a 'cannel' by which the actual Numenorean storm breaks-through into modern England to wreak considerable havoc.
This carefully-prepared direct mind-to-mind human connection - which has an implicitly general and providential aspect, never explained in the surviving fragments of the NCPs - is an actual expression of Romanticism in the text.
But in this early stage of the NCPs the main Romantic protagonist is Ramer; who has - it gradually emerges - succeeded in travelling both in space and time; but without any reference to either incarnation or reincarnation. Instead Ramer seems to have developed a way of attuning his mind to non-organic 'things' - such as a meteorite.
Ramer was eventually able to re-experience the 'life' of this meteorite from its remote origins buried in some remote celestial object, through its journey through space and the eventual burning entry through earth's atmosphere.
It seems that by Incarnation, Tolkien may intend also to include this implicit 'animism'; a living universe whereby there are no 'things' but only 'beings' - and whereby 'inorganic'/ mineral entities are possessed of memory and consciousness of a type.
This is an aspect of Romanticism that recalls the consciousness of ancient tribal Man and the early childhood of every Man; and it recurs whenever the perspective reaches its strongest expression.
Thus Ramer can commune-with (and participate-in the consciousness of) a rock; much as Lowdham is able to do with his remote Numenorean ancestor -- and also his more recent Anglo-Saxon ancestors of Mercia; which 'inheritance' is the posited mechanism by which he spontaneously knew this language.
(It seems, from multiple comments in his letters and private conversation, that this spontaneously knowledge of Mercian Old English also applied to Tolkien himself.)
(Note: There are many other examples of such 'animism' - communing with living, conscious realities in non-human animals, plants and minerals - all-through The Lord of the Rings.)
It is by this means of fiction - but fiction-presented-as-real - that JRR Tolkien was able to express True Romanticism. How he did this is ultimately a matter of genius - coming from the divine creativity innate in all Men to some degree; and Tolkien in this particular fashion.
If Tolkien had not himself regarded his fictions as really-real, and been writing from the heart; then there would have been nothing real for him to communicate.
But Tolkien also achieved this rare literary feat by his careful and rigorous techniques of framing the fictions in a quasi historical fashion (for the NCPs by means of the Foreword; in LotR by the Prologue and Appendices), of creating a fictive-sense of depth by reference to untold stories and hinted back-histories; and in the Notion Club Papers by a gradual ascent from the mundane chit-chat at the beginning to the fullness of sincere, unguarded, heart-felt Romantic interaction among club members in later passages.
I well know the role of defensive facetiousness being guilty of over-applying it myself. I'm considering a different and more conscious approach, that of (generally speaking) restricting humour to occasions where a morale boost is needed. Jokiness shouldn't be par for the course. This approach I think would requires a generous allowance for facetiousness in others. Similarly I dislike and avoid swearing (brit. for 'cursing') but tolerate it in other men as far as possible so as not to encourage it by opposing it.
This post speaks loudly to me - "The condition of Man" certainly shows itself in daily discourse, where serious communication of deeper thought is frustratingly restricted - or indeed halted in its tracks - via numerous defenses, cynical attitude being one of them (joking another, as the comment above points out).
i know not whether 'Romanticism' here is strictly the same thing, but for some years I have sought to unearth something of likeness in my discussions with certain friends - whom I have considered to be "bent" towards this kind of deliberation.
In these discussions, I have found that Tolkien himself gave a good practical tip in LoTR with the mouth of Boromir (though Ring-possessed at the time), when he says to Frodo that "two together may perhaps find wisdom." The societal checks and threats to "straying" are indeed greatly weakened - or even dropped - when two individuals of honest mind can discuss such things in peace and confidence. Then, more than anytime else, I have been able to hold real communication with someone on how things are and what we could know of them - the really-real of this World. With only two people present, there can be no authority of majority normalcy. Just bare souls and ideas honestly tossed to and forth.
This kind of mentality and thought process is easiest to find when being just by oneself, of course, but problem with that is it seldom transcribes into words, into anything of form. A company of above two, on the other hand, (even benevolent) nigh always rebuffs or waters down anything approaching of transcendence.
This transcendent (to me at least) escapes description, but it manifests itself often in a fleeting image, or a certain hue of sky on a particular landscape. Rarely the definite idea(s) it carried upon first "finding" can be clearly recollected, but in those images something always remains to revisit.
You certainly have heightened the priority of NCPs in my Tolkien read list with this!
You "cannot find Romanticism realized anywhere in Coleridge".
Not even Kublai Khan?
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