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Michael Lowy and Robert Sayre: a definition of romanticism.

Straddling the history of art and the history of thought, Michael Lowy and Robert Sayre provide in these passages from their book on romanticism what may be the most accurate definition of the romantic phenomenon. Their definition has the benefit of weakening traditions that, with the interpretations made of them, seemed unconnected or even contradictory, despite being generally recognized as romantic. In particular, this explanation reviews the chronology of these traditions and shows the relationship with another phenomenon on a global scale: the Industrial Revolution.

"What is romanticism? An apparently undecipherable enigma, the romantic fact seems to challenge all analysis, not only because its plethoric diversity resists any attempt to reduce it to a common denominator, but also, and principally, as a result of its fabulously contradictory character: both (or alternatively) revolutionary and counterrevolutionary, individualist and communitarian, cosmopolitan and nationalist, realistic and fantastic, retrograde and utopian, disgusted and melancholic, republican and monarchist, red and white, mystical and sensual. Contradictions that cross not only the romantic phenomenon as a whole, but also the life and work of a given author and sometimes a single text ... In addition, it should be [noted] that since the nineteenth century, the term romantic has been used to designate not just writers, poets, and artists but also political ideologues, philosophers, theologians, historians, economists, etc ... From our point of view, romanticism represents a criticism of modernity, that is to say, of modern capitalist civilization, in the name of the values and ideals of the past (pre-capitalist, pre-modern) ...

It should be noted that, like it or not, romanticism is a "modern" criticism of modernity ... Even when revolting against it, the romantics cannot avoid being profoundly formed by their times. Thus, when they react in terms of the feelings, when reflecting, when writing against modernity, they feel, reflect, and write in modern terms. They are not looking outside, nor are they a critique from outside, but far from it. The romantic view constitutes a self-critique of modernity."

Revolte et melancolie. Le romanticisme a contrecourant de la modernite (Revolt and Melancholy: Romanticism against the Tide of Modernity), M. Lowy and R. Sayre Editions Payot (1992)

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Publication:Encyclopedia of the Biosphere
Article Type:Excerpt
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2000
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