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Night in Novalis, Schelling, and Hegel.

THE ABSOLUTE NIGHT INVOKED BY THE GERMAN ROMANTIC FRIEDRICH von Hardenberg, better known as Novalis, might well have been more influential at the turn of the nineteenth century than previously acknowledged. This image saturating his dithyrambic cycle Hymnen an die Nacht [Hymns to the Night], published in 1800, continues to be read by some in terms of obscure private experiences despite the twentieth-century work of Kate Hamburger, Martin Dyck, and others that show scientific connections. (1) This construal is especially popular in the Enghsh-speaking world and has followed a long tradition of interpreting Novalis that began with the reviews of essayist Thomas Carlyle. In the late 1820s, Carlyle had tied this poet not just to the medieval German mystic Jakob Bohme but also to what he regarded as the "tenebrific constellation" of Immanuel Kant and the "Kantists." (2) Common readers today tend to merge Novalis's night more with a state of spiritual loneliness the Christian mystic St. John of the Cross had called "the dark night of the soul" ["la noche oscura del alma"]. This inclination is not merely the result of a religious metaphor's familiarity; it derives its understanding from an incident linked to the poem's inspiration, an epiphany Novalis experienced at the grave of his first fiancre, Sophie von Kuhn, on 13 May 1797. (3)

The subsequent view that Novahs's spiritual insight was inextricable from his emotional vulnerability has led several critics to identify a wide range of literary influences. Suggestions include August Wilhelm Schlegel's essay on Romeo and Juliet of 1797, Johann Gottfried Herder's mythic poems, the religious writings of Karl von Eckartshausen and Johann Patti Friedrich Richter, or Jean Paul, and Edward Young's Night Thoughts of 1742-45. (4) Young's poem, which had numerous European translations by the end of the eighteenth century, is often cited in view of its thematic resemblance to Novahs's poem and its reputation among German writers such as Herder, Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, Christoph Martin Wieland, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. (5) Novalis might have turned to this reflection on mortality weeks before his graveside experience, but it seems rather excessive to proclaim Young's direct and deep impact. The British surrealist David Gascoyne expresses the same doubt in his introduction to an English edition of Hymnen an die Nacht translated by the American poet Jeremy Reed and published in 1989: Gascoyne notes that Young's poem exudes disgruntlement--its other tide being, after all, The Complaint--while Novalis's achieves "a serene transcendence of bereavement and mourning through the resolution of grief into rapture rather than resignation." (6)

This distinction between two otherwise comparable nights demands that we not only make better sense of Novalis's design but also check our own assumptions about lyrical intensity. Well-meaning critics who rehash the point of his anguish inadvertently perpetuate a tiresome picture of a sentimental artist so devastated by loss that he could barely order his thoughts, let alone argue for them. Even the esteemed Friedrich Hiebel seems to have contributed to this impression when he found Hymnen an die Nacht "deeply rooted in those months of grief" and its "emotional depth" reached only after three years of recuperation. (7) Such views present an obvious interpretive problem: what ultimately saw print in the Schlegel brothers' journal Athenaeum is taken to manifest both a profound mystical self-transformation and a contrary rehance on the overcoming of trauma. Novahs's poem becomes both the product of a strong mind able to integrate and transcend thoughts and the mark of irresolution and maladjustment to life, the product of a weak mind. The inconsistency here is wholly illusory; in what follows I will show that Novalis's main ideas reflect the distinct intellectual currents of his time. His image of night is no casual aesthetic plaything and in fact provided a heretofore uncharted series of reactions from both the philosophers Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

Available textual information about the layers of the poem ought to be clarified first. A short and rudimentary Hymnen an die Nacht did exist in that fateful autumn of 1797, as attested to by Karl von Hardenberg in his biography of his brother Novalis, published in 1802. (8) Meanwhile, portions from a scientific treatise on light, which the poet had promised but did not deliver to Friedrich Schlegel, contributed to the shape of the two eventual six-part manuscripts of the work we now possess. (9) The remaining text making up Hymns Five and Six was written closer to the publishing year of 1800 and inserted with the manifest aim of reinforcing mythic and worldly time and a final sense of total transcendence. Such purposefulness in the structure already favors the inclination to see a more robustly reflective organizing force, an aspect in the poem I attach to the status and development of the insights of Johann Gottlieb Fichte. Indeed, Fichte should join Sophie yon Kuhn as one of what Kathleen Komar considers to be Novalis's "twin influences": Fichte's philosophy of freedom was more than "a welcome source of consolation and potential poetical transformation of sorrow." It was also the means through which the poet learned to integrate the reflexivity of philosophy and art. (10)

Fichte's relevance can be established easily through the fact that Novalis had studied his so-called "science of knowledge" [Wissenschaftslehre] for a year between 1795 and 1796 and some months in 1797. His roughly five hundred pages of notes show, according to Geza von Molnar, not just a deep appreciation of Fichte's thoughts but also a recurring hesitation over his solipsism. The poet saw nature as dynamically "real." (11) In fact, we can observe how a diary entry penned by Novalis sixteen days after his transformative night expressed "the joy of finding the true notion of the Fichtean I" ["die Freude den eigentlichen Begriff vom Fichteschen Ich zu finden"]. (12) Another sixteen days later, in a letter sent to Friedrich Schlegel, he spoke rather of the philosopher's abstruseness and regarded him as "the most dangerous among all thinkers" ["der Gefahrlichste unter allen Denkern"]. (13) Such telling complications are lost if we simply consult Novalis's famous published aphorisms: a fragment from Blutkenstaub [Pollen], which first appeared in Athenaeum in 1798, describes the task of education in clear Fichtean terms as "to take command of one's transcendental self" and "be at once the I of its I." (14) He goes on in another fragment to lament his guide's unpopularity despite having constructed a system less "narrowminded" than that of Kant. (15)

A complex negotiation with Fichtean ideas may be seen in that central entity of Hymnen an die Nackt which sharpens Novalis's thoughts on life and is addressed worshipfully even in the title. This appears as "the holy, inexpressible, mysterious Night" ["der heiligen, unaussprechlichen, geheimnisvollen Nacht"] after an opening admission:
   What living person, bestowed with sense, does not love above all
   the wonderful phenomena of far-flung space around him, the
   all-joyous light--with its colors, its beams and waves, its gentle
   omnipresence, as a waking day. Like life's inner soul it is
   breathed by the giant world of restless stars and swims dancing in
   its blue tide--it is breathed by the sparkling ever-tranquil stone,
   the sensuous sucking plant, and the wild burning multiform
   beast--but above all that splendid stranger with the sense-filled
   eyes, the gliding gait, and the softly closed melodic lips.

   [Welcher Lebendige, Sinnbegabte, liebt nicht vor allen
   Wundererscheinungen des verbreiteten Raums um ihn, das
   allerfreuliche Licht--mit seinen Farben, seinen Strahlen und Wogen;
   seiner milden Allgegenwart, als weckender Tag. Wie des Lebens
   innerste Seele atmet es der rastlosen Gestirne Riesenwelt, und
   schwimmt tanzend in seiner blauen Flut--atmet es der funkelnde,
   ewigruhende Stein, die sinnige, saugende Pflanze, und das wilde,
   brennende, vielgestaltete Tier--vor allen aber der herrliche
   Fremdling mit den sinnvollen Augen, dem schwebenden Gange, und den
   zartgeschlossenen, tonreichen Lippen.] (16)

This vivid description introduces us to the whole Kantian realm of empirical knowledge, through whose ground of scientifically absolute space and time every phenomenon is experienced and its truths ascertained. Yet, in a plainly Fichtean apprehension, entirety is shown to be only the I's Not-I, the site of the ego's less conscious auto-positing of an opposite, or "oppositing" [Gegensatz]. While this Not-I is needed precisely by the ego to become self-aware, it is, on its own, still not the Urprinzip, the primordial truth.

Outside of a pursuit of this true ground, light and night--Novalis's domains of visibility and absence signifying the "dark" I's binding of itself through its Not-I--are but separate incompatible halves. A thinker's goal thus must be to find a fundamental possibility for integration, and, on this note, Fichte and Novalis part ways: while the idealist sees the ego as freed directly by self-reliance into truth, the poet senses some strong force within his I's empirical vision that turns it towards noumenality, which Manfred Frank calls "an original passivity." (17) Three points coincide for Novalis here: first, in critique of Kant for whom there can be only knowledge among phenomena, science's inability to ground itself and an inner unease with pure sense are shown also to be knowledge of a sort that opens radically into the noumenal realm. Secondly, now in defiance of Fichte, while philosophical truth can be said to recover the completeness entailed in transcendence, a private and intense awareness of lack is still necessary to establish this passage in genuine human terms. It is such a perspective that allows us to speak of the pre-eminence in Novalis's system of both a "Sophic experience" to transform a Fichtean worldview and a poetry that can reshape the scope of intellectual meditation from its premises up. Thirdly, given that night is where all corporeal bodies are submerged and that it is the site of our shared retreat from work and daily living, it offers a natural image--the only one possible--for all-encompassing noumenality, the sum of everything that can never feature in the sensual cosmos or with scientific proof.

This confluence of critical strands deftly unites two main subjects: Novalis's noumenal Absolute, in which all things exist primordially without differentiation, and his phenomenal night, which holds under its "cloak" ["Mantel"] what can affect us "invisibly, powerfully in the soul" ["unsichtbar kraftig an die Seele"]. (18) Whether their relation to each other is metaphoric or literal we cannot tell, but the Romantic night is exactly that doubled thing which is constituted through an unconditional embrace of meanings that are both aesthetic and reflective. It is, surely, not a pantheistic metonym for the entire Absolute since its essence shrouds and intimates in equal capacity the original Heimat, or homeland, we yearn for and shall return to some day. The hymns, in fact, familiarize us at length with a "mighty womb of revelations" ["Offenbarungen machtiger Schoss"] that is distinguished by the stable qualities of eternity, unity, divinity, transcendence, and supreme love. (19) Love is described by Novalis, in his entry on psychology for a work in progress collected as Das Allgemeine Brouillon [The General Notebooks], as "the final goal of world history--the One of the universe." (20)

Schelling and Hegel contra Novalis

I have shown so far Novalis's extensive use of Fichtean knowledge and his philosophical response, and these points are affirmed by several scholars of German Romanticism today. Aspects in the poet's systematic answer are, furthermore, similar to those in the thoughts of another early appreciator of Fichte, someone who likewise sees the ego not as the site of noumenal consciousness but rather as its mere partial condition: Schelling. The friendship of Novalis and Schelling in Jena aside, the scope of these men's agreement centers on a need for each consciousness to think itself into the Not-I--to go out and, contra-Fichte, conceive other thoughts--in order to reach the Absolute. Both poet and philosopher recognize that the human duality of mind and body is a split frustrating the individual's basic wish to feel at home in the universe and thus signals a decisive twist in the order of nature. Both of them arrive at the same conclusion that a proper explanation of human existence is central to the completeness of any universal system of oneness. Where they ultimately differ, however, is more revealing, and, from 1798 onwards, Novalis certainly set out to foil what he considered to be Schelling's willful deviation from the plain truth of things.

This catalytic element in their disagreement was the emerging clarity of Schelling's materialistic program. By the time he wrote Ideen zu einer Philosophie der Natur [Ideas Towards a Philosophy of Nature] in 1797, Schelling had disavowed every interest in science's endless elaboration of nature in strict physiological terms. His refined search for abstract laws of intelligence drove him to construe dynamic modes such as chemistry, heat, light, electricity, magnetism, and gravity as showing a principle of worldly polarity and an underlying unity that grounded it. Novalis's strongest fears were soon confirmed when Schelling went on to propound an idea of a World Soul one year later; this animating power embodied not just natural life but also the freedom enabling basic concepts of the human. The argument provided Schelling with a clean reabsorption of noumenality into immanent truths and would establish what scholars of Schelling have regarded as a phase in his development tied to the "pantheistic" influence of Baruch Spinoza. This turn so appalled Novalis that he would take an opposing stance and stress that an individual's duty must be to make aesthetic every part of a Naturphilosophie, if only to recover, through subjective imagination, the truer face of the Absolute.

Novalis embraced the general Jena call to "Romanticize" [Romantisieren], as captured in what is arguably his most famous battle cry: "The world must be made Romantic." (21) To represent something is to reciprocate the given in nature's self-presentation: while a creative exercise may seem innately one-sided, its truths--unlike those of science and Naturphilosophie--are never passive in registering the way things avail themselves of artistic knowing. In a letter to Caroline Michaelis-Bohmer, the wife of August Schlegel who would later marry Schelling, Novalis noted how his antagonist Schelling's mind possessed all but "that gift of representation which makes Goethe the most remarkable physicist of our age." (22) His qualifying words are central as they effectively turn admiration on its head to say that Schelling would have nothing to offer without imaginative reformulation. There is yet another play of ideas: "mind" further invokes the Schellingian World Soul whose creativity Novalis is mocking as being so rigid that its cosmos must remain sterile, unable to reproduce anything materially. With the same set of values in operation, Novalis names the scientific Goethe, in his only known long piece of criticism written in 1798, as a "wholly practical poet" who refuses to ignore realms of cognitive meaning that fall outside of logical intelligence. (23) Schelling responded to this kind of taunting by finding such views privileging manifestations over intelligence naive, but his dismissal should not obscure for us the true value of Novalis's provocation outside of their open disagreement.

Indeed, what a focused study of Schelling's language may reveal is Schelling's own curious reorientation thereafter to poetic imagery, a feature highlighting the depth to which Novalis had penetrated his thought. I point to one particularly poignant instance in a roundabout way, by means of someone else's impassioned critique of the philosopher. These words appeared six years after Novalis's death and involved a different ill-fated friendship made in Jena, one between Schelling and Hegel. In Phenomenologie des Geistes [Phenomenology of Spirit], published in 1807, the late-maturing Hegel schemes to push ahead in the competition between transcendental systems by using his own preface to mock earlier versions of the Absolute such as Fichte's and Schelling's. Putting forward his "full body of articulated cognition" against a "monochromatic formalism" both tedious and abstract, this former roommate of Schelling extols the main virtues of synthesizing everything through time rather than some type of spatial synchronicity. He bemoans how "[n]owadays we see all value ascribed to the universal Idea in this non-actual form" and attacks the mindless "hurling of all distinct, determinate entities" into a familiar "abyss of vacuity." At this point, a certain thinker is censured for having invented an Absolute as useful as--the words are now legendary--"the night in which, the saying goes, all cows are black." (24)

Controversy still surrounds the basis for Hegel's mention of such a night, but its intended target for assault is never in doubt. Although Schelling's name does not appear anywhere in the preface, no knowing reader of Hegel has mistaken the subject to be anyone other than Schelling. Hegel, in fact, takes great care to scatter mentions of an abstract identity "A = A" connecting self and nature--an essential feature of Schellingianism--and derides a recurring failure of late to stress the significance of determination and deferentia. However, there is a dimension that is still not discussed much even though Karl Jaspers drew attention to it as early as 1955, in Schelling: Grosse und Verhangnis [Schelling: Size and Calamity]. Hegel's idea of a parodic night actually came from Schelling, who conjured this image four years earlier to warn his readers about how his own intricate system ought not to be construed. Schelling had already anticipated in 1803 such a scenario where carelessness might lead some to find in his Absolute "nothing but a pure night" and, "being unable to know anything in it," to fade "into a mere negation of multiplicity." (25)

This fact proves Hegel's appropriation of the image, and we can further use his acquaintance with Schelling, which began through their collaboration on a journal between 1802 and 1803, to deepen the point. Hegel himself had hinted at his borrowing: in a letter dated 1 May 1807, he tried to reassure Schelling that the rumored assault was aimed not at him but at the ignorance that "makes so much mischief with your forms" and "degrades your science into a bare formalism." After scrutinizing this troublesome preface, Schelling wrote back to acknowledge a rampant "bad use of my ideas" and to ask Hegel to help by disinvolving him clearly in future editions of Phenomenologie des Geistes. (26) No such accommodation was made, and, just as revealingly, Hegel never replied: the whole awkward episode is recounted with flair by Jason M. Wirth in The Conspiracy of Life to illustrate the start of a more familiar and far-reaching feud between the two. (27) My own focus on signs of discursive transformation reveals the shifting origin of an imaginative turn which both made. While Hegel's attack on Schelling relies on the latter's ridicule of his own bad readers, the earlier account is still not the genuine article. Schelling's night drew on Novalis's, against which Schelling seemed anxious to juxtapose, in order to differentiate, his undifferentiating Absolute.

A history of such personal attempts at specification is fascinating: even Hegel introduces a comic night for bovines merely in the context of a series of veiled attacks on his contemporaries. The hit list in the preface of Phenomenologie des Geistes is conventionally thought to start with Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Friedrich Schlegel, and Friedrich Schleiermacher, pass through Fichte and Schelling, and then turn on Novalis. In his earlier Jena lectures on the history of philosophy, given between 1805 and 1806, Hegel discussed Schelling on his own but placed Novalis with Schlegel and Schleiermacher as Fichte's major proponents and Jakob Friedrich Fries, Freidrich Bouterwek, and Wilhelm Traugott Krug as minor ones. Novalis's fascination with the "minutiae" of "inward life" was described as tragic there since his so-called subjective "extravagances" drove him through either madness or a dizzying negative "vortex of reflecting understanding" into death. (28) This cold analysis by Hegel had a more vicious dimension: it alluded to the poet's suffering from consumption, which was what had killed his beloved Sophie too. It further pointed to his immaturity and demise just seven months after Hymnen an die Nacht was published as well as the mode of introspection which had made the poem wildly popular.

Now a year later, in his grand polymorphous text on Geist, Hegel connects not only his sense of negativity to Novalis's image of night but also Novalis's fixation on death to a misplaced belief in beauty. He asserts that an abyssal confrontation with death is "of all things the most dreadful" and thus "requires the greatest strength"; yet, being weak, "Beauty hates the Understanding for asking of her what it cannot do." We then hear from Hegel about how true Geist would strive patiently to transform the negative and not behave--the words recalling Schelling's once more--"as when we say of something that it is nothing or is false, and then, having done with it, turn away and pass on to something else." (29) This comment is astounding in its use of Schelling's own insight to demolish Novalis's thoughts on mortality even as another remark a few pages before has set up the Romantic night to mock Schellingian philosophy. Resolving thus the question about Hegel's night of cows, I propose that Hegel's blow to Schelling is built on their shared belittling of Novalisian thought. For both, Novalis has strayed from actual negativity and so exposed the sterility of mere beauty, but, for Hegel, Schelling undermines himself by seizing on this logic to differentiate his own principle of primal indifference.

Schelling and Hegel: Learning from Novalis

I have discussed the attacks on Novalisian Romanticism by both the early Schelling and Hegel: the latter's preface of 1807 further used the slighted image to criticize Schelling for arguing too poetically. Now I want to claim that Hegel's charge might be nasty but was not baseless. Schelling did attempt after 1807 to integrate a literary night into his own reflective system. This effort is visible in his still underrated work Bruno, oder uber das gottliche und naturliche Prinzip der Dinge [Bruno, or On the Natural and the Divine Principle of Things] of 1802, which introduces a quasi-Schellingian Absolute via an imagined dialogue with the sixteenth-century thinker Giordano Bruno. In the conversation, an idealistic night first appears as something that is set up in opposition to sentient life, as when a stone is said to be "in absolute identity with all things" since, in its being, "nothing steps forth from self-enclosed night." (30) Animal life is conversely described as manifesting cosmic totality less through its corporeality than through the feature of its self-isolation. Such a quality is propounded as having found its purest moment in the human being, through whose exception "the universe pours forth its treasures." (31)

The formulation is then reversed when Bruno admits that greater individuality must divorce a thing from light, "the eternal idea of all corporeal things," and commit it to "that which does not exist, but is the ground of existence." (32) With this strange realm announced as "primordial night, the mother of all things," darkness is said to reside in two places absent to empirical truth, as ground of both opaque matter and noumenality (Bruno, 176). Night is, in other words, "proven" by the simultaneous mystery of scientific grounding and the impossibility of penetrating to noumena: "no form is generated in an external fashion, but only through the inner, living artistry that is inseparable from matter's essential reality" (176). In a central paradox, the persistence of physicality and the infinity of spirit firstly join hands to show the nature of an original cause. Secondly, because this transcendence does not rise to divine dawn and God Himself is not yet integrated into universal revelation, the idea's distinct influence cannot be, as is sometimes supposed, Bohme. Michael G. Vater, who has struggled with the same question of attribution, points rather to a scattering of philosophers of origin that include Plato, Bruno, Spinoza, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. (33) To this list, I add Novalis, from whom Schelling must have learned to insert light, the "day of matter," between the night as nothing and as everything and to construe it in terms of gravity. (34) Yet, what distinguishes Schelling here is still his Fichtean neglect of private feeling and his attention to spatializing absolute time in stages, a course that would prove vital to his properly Bohmean project, Die Weltalter [The Ages of the World].

One other dimension in Schelling's and Novalis's continued agreement then needs mentioning: given that Schelling's realms of light and reason are directly compatible, his night that parenthesizes day must also signal a world both before and beyond rational thought. Reason may relate to the "one light that illuminates all things," but, for the other "force of gravity," which "teaches bodies to fill space" and so "lends existence and essence to the creations of thought," a parallel mode has to be known. The answer is quietly apparent: in System des transcendentalen Idealismus [System of Transcendental Idealism], published in 1800, this thinker already describes art as "at once the only true and eternal organ, and document of philosophy." Art admits what systematic reflection can never show "in external form": namely, an unconscious productivity and its identity with the conscious act, that is to say, not just reason's overt articulation but also the scope of freedom enabling both its activity and potential. In a twist to conventional wisdom, Schelling is saying that art can ground "with universal validity" the truths that even great contemplators see but "in a merely subjective fashion"; this recognition establishes for him the ensuing means to proclaim that art is actually objective philosophy. (35)

The curious dynamic between art and truth is developed with greater intensity in an important series of Jena lectures that Schelling gave between 1802 and 1803, collected as Philosophie der Kunst [Philosophy of Art]. These lectures open with a candid question of how one can claim to "subject to [reflective] construction that which is just as incomprehensible in its origin as it is miraculous in its effects." (36) Once again, Schelling expertly inverts the focal issue here and declares that a science of art is obligatory because it is the creative product that allows an idealist to view "the inner essence of his own discipline as if in a magic and symbolic mirror." In other words, what art reflects is no less than the essence of philosophy to philosophy; it shows to the thinker how reason is simply a free decision to step out and recover art's status as both its origin and possibility of execution. A philosopher's task must therefore be reconstrued so as to "express immutably in ideas that which true artistic sensibility actually intuits"; thinking itself has to be put forward as the course through which art opens up its primal being and becomes, via honest engagement, the All in All. (37)

We are able to point once again to Novalis, at the "heart of [whose] philosophy" hes a similar awareness that art or poetry is "truly absolute real." (38) This does not mean that a poem supersedes reasoned reflection in value but rather states, as Novalis does in one of his last fragments, that "[p]oetry is true idealism," the "self-consciousness of the universe." (39) Novalis even called philosophy "[t]he poem of the understanding," "the greatest impetus that the understanding gives itself about itself," some two years before Schelling would see nature as "a poem lying pent in mysterious and wonderful script." (40) "Understanding" for the poet connotes Kant's Verstand--defined as the self's instantaneous power to produce what it senses to itself--and these words belong to a compilation called Logologische Fragmente [Logological Fragments], where "logology" is his invented term for self-reflexive philosophy. Not so much a suspicion that Novalis and Schelling might have exchanged ideas as Schelling's own failure to match Novalis in consistency proves my point that Novalis possessed the stronger belief then. Quite independent of the question of Novalis's success with "transcendental poetry," or poetry clarifying how "[p]oetry dissolves the being of others in its own," (41) Schelling's relation between his ideas on art and their medium of presentation was, by contrast, highly turbulent before 1810.

In Novalis's case, the night harmonizing all multiplicities in the day refers as much to his universal noumenon behind the night as to poetry, his chosen vehicle whose duality of expressed and latent meaning the night also shows. Schelling, on the other hand, may argue a compelling case for art-derived reflection and employ poetic forms to deepen his thoughts, but his nocturnal image is used to negate possibilities of misinterpretation and delimit contemplation itself. If his Brunoesque night, like Novalis's, corresponds to an indifferent Absolute, his earlier discussed self-explanation conversely demands an inner conceptual distance from the poet's faulty "pure night," "a mere negation of multiplicity" where one can never know anything. It is this fundamental mistake in Schelling that Hegel exposes when he deliberately confuses him with Novalis and calls his Absolute by the name of the poet's, mocking it as "cognition naively reduced to vacuity." (42) Only Hegel is contemptuous of a full grounding of philosophy in art and so expands his rival's dismissive image to show how, when he tries to explain what he does not mean, he still ends up proclaiming it in the same breath.

Given such an accomplished rhetorical move, the question must be raised: can Hegel himself be charged with putting to philosophical use Novalis's night? Donald Phillip Verene's significant book Hegel's Recollection combs through the Hegelian text for distinct imagery and uncovers a long list of instructive metaphors. Verene names the "topsy-turvy world" [verkehrte Welt], images of masters and of servitude, the unhappy consciousness [ungluckliche Bewusstsein], the "spiritual animal kingdom" [geistige Tierreich], and the "beautiful soul" [schone Seele] but strangely overlooks Hegel's "night of the world" [Nacht der Welt]. He nonetheless reads Phenomenologie des Geistes dazzlingly as "a colossus of systematic memory" showing how "consciousness brings forth its starting points and restarting points in the course of its being" through its "whole gallery" of"metaphors, ingenuities, and images." (43) Crucially, the relation here between "picture" and "education," where Bild enables Bildung, remains merely playful if the philosopher does not go on to resolve it in a reflexive manner. Defying his precursors, Hegel therefore asserts that even the way the imagination thinks, visible in both art and religion, must be aufgehoben, sublated, into absolute knowing, Every image ought to be led into its Begriff, its concept: this is a classic Hegelian insight, the tenet of a mature transcendental system for whose decisive image Hegel had looked, in fact, to Novalis.

Hegel's preparatory lectures at Jena, made between 1805 and 1806, famously open with the claim that Geist complements its "being-in-itself" with negativity, the "for-itself," by objectifying itself, turning itself into "image, Being as mine." This image is then described to us as stored in "the Spirit's treasury, "its Night": "The human is this Night, this empty nothing which contains everything in its simplicity--a wealth of infinitely many representations, images, none of which occur to it directly, and none of which are not present." Pure subjectivity is, "in phantasmagoric representations," "night everywhere," so that "here a bloody head suddenly shoots up and there another white shape, only to disappear as suddenly," its image qua night being "many-sided" in form and determinacy. (44) This fascinating early Hegel Vater has found to be "an essentially Schellingian thinker." Yet, if even his night resembles the non-Bohmean subjective darkness of Schelling's Identitatsphilosophie, may we not acknowledge an ongoing agon with Novalis too? (45) The later Hegel dismisses Novalis as a schone Seele lacking "actual existence" and "entangled in the contradiction between its pure self and the necessity to externalize itself," but is it not Novalis's night that still emerges when Hegel sees in a human eye an abyss where "the night of the world hangs out toward us"? (46)

Schelling's Weltalter: Beyond Novalis

The two philosophers' treatments of the Romantic night can now be summarized as follows: Schelling takes apart the Novalisian image to pursue its reflective and aesthetic features separately while Hegel subjects its art to the force of its philosophical intuition. This clarity ought to challenge a notion popularized by Slavoj Zizek in The Ticklish Subject, which ignores Novalis's role in the relationship between Schelling and Hegel. To be sure, Zizek rightly identifies Kant's transcendental imagination--the "mysterious, unfathomable root of all subjective activity" which, "in its negative, disruptive, decomposing aspect," disperses an organic whole into "spectral apparitions"--in the Hegelian Nacht der Welt. (47) This "confused multitude of 'partial objects'" is described as unlike the spiritual void known to mystics since its dismantling of "every objective link" through a violent "empty freedom" posits it rather as the "primordial Big Bang" that throws things out of joint. Where Zizek errs is in his vital second attribution, which names Schelling in relation to Hegel's connection of darkness and madness to a philosophical notion of subjectivity. The link is anachronistic because Schelling, at this time of his rival's night-propounding lectures of 1805-6, simply did not come close to such an idea. By making the mistake, Zizek further risks suggesting that Schelling's later work, Die Weltalter, was more a direct answer to Hegel than a mark of the concrete influence of Novalis.

The signs--a nocturnal imagery, Hegel's tying of insanity to pure self, and his case against a schone Seele, whose fear of soiling its own interiority leads to madness or death--all point to the likelier presence of Novalis. In this last part of my argument, I will build on how an outward philosophical repression of the poetic night and, by extension, of the distinction between artistic and philosophical premises was already under way from the mid-1800s. I will show that, against such a backdrop, it was Schelllng who would make a surprisingly deeper inverse commitment to expanding the meaning of the Novalisian night. Following the traumatic death of his wife Caroline in 1809, Schelling embarked on a radical and fiercely emotional inquiry into the nature of God and His exact role in the emergence of both worldliness and evil. This unfinished project, which was aborted many times for the next two decades, had its first mention in a diary entry dated 15 September 1810 with the tide "Die 3 Weltalter in d. Nacht." Some months later on 27 December, Schelling wrote that he had "begun in earnest" after a "violent hurricane in the night" that seemed to be both literal and symbolic. (48)

While acknowledging Schelling's capacity for daring self-reinvention, I also note the following: like Novalis, Schelling favored a poetic vision at a time of private grief and justified this by relating the debt of life and thought to a universal primordial ground. His work opens with the claim that the importance of seeing "the whole of things from beginning to end" is tied to God having "self-referentially" shrouded every point of origin "in dark night." (49) When he laments that "[m]ost people turn away from what is concealed within themselves" just as they "shy away" from "the depths of the great life" and from glancing into the "abysses" of time, the echoes of his earlier words and Hegel's are unmistakable. What surely demands our full attention here is a more assured sense of Schelling's difference from Novalis, which we observe in his mention of recent popular misreadings that treat the ancient mystical night as not the "first" and "lowest" but "the uppermost being." Although he still agrees with Novalis on this night as first ground since "precisely what negates all revelation must be made the ground of revelation," (50) Novalis's night assumes a cyclic shape, where endings and origins meet:
   The full life billows on
   Like an endless sea.

   Just one night of ecstasy--
   One eternal poem--
   And all our sun
   Is God's face.

   [Es wogt alas voile Leben
   Wie ein unendlich Meer.
   Nut eine Nacht der Wonne--
   Ein ewiges Gedicht--
   Und unser aller Sonne
   Ist Gottes Angesicht.] (51)

Yet, for Novalis, the evolution of love into communion with God, of night into day, does not imply a change in the Absolute itself but merely the perfection of our consciousness of how we relate to it. Upon reaching personal transcendence, our rising up is revealed to be only a sinking back, as the poet puts it, into "des Vaters Schoss" ["the Father's lap"]. (52) Schoss here is double-edged, and it means not just "lap" but also "womb" and "bosom," suggesting less of a paternal orthodox Absolute than an androgynous Gnostic one. By contrast, Schelling argues his ontological cosmogony in a more systematic way: from the start, he recognizes that an essential circularity such as that found in Novalis's vision can hardly produce anything since it fails to explain its own initial desire to get anywhere. It cannot give a reason, in other words, for why anything should have begun to generate form and life at all. Under this critique's rubric, Schelling then establishes the necessity of a principle of linearity as well as a profound claim about the nature of beginnings. His dictum states that a beginning can only materialize "insofar as it is not that which should actually be," that is to say, "not that which truthfully and in itself has being." (53)

The reason why a blissfully wholesome origin is still incomplete is explained via the fact that a stable, and thus static, Absolute would have no need of any notion of process whatsoever, This question must rather be reversed to offer a recognition that, because an origin does exist, the Absolute in time has to be conceived as everything but that which it strives so hard to become. From here, Schelling makes an ingenious substitution of primordial reality, the realm of life before linear history, with an underlying circular motion which he posits as a development in lack since it cannot begin despite its strong longing to be elsewhere. The insertion shows itself to be satirical in gesture once we are able to note how Schelling is effectively relegating the entire Novalisian cycle of emerging and falling to the interest of a less-than-healthy, unknowing Absolute, one incapable of initiating its own self-actualization. After all, the Romantic system does not care to explain why the rotary path of personal evolution should take place and may conversely imply either an ever-moving self's non-relation to the fixed Absolute or the Absolute's own cognitive lack.

To complete his philosophy of origin, Schelling must now account for this oddity, and he approaches the issue by setting the craving to be outside against a contrary desire to pull back and withdraw within instead. True primal life as such comprises not just one but two quasi-Newtonian equal and opposite forces shaping a "first potency," which is in itself not God but, more accurately, a ground in God through which God and God alone can and must arise. Schelling's next logical step is to invoke what is traditionally the Christian idea of God as a paradox, a Being who is absolutely free to think and act as He pleases and yet can do nothing along the lines of "unthinking" or "unmaking" Himself. This fact--that God's own absolute necessity is not at odds with His absolute freedom but entails its very possibility--is what we are led to see as the logical foundation for His relation to all things. Because freedom and necessity are already united without contradiction in the divine, the eternal paradox of being which the Almighty "proves" further outlines the history of God's successive attempts to resolve the primordial tension between drives that defines His unfulfilled past.

Regardless of which one of three surviving versions of Die Weltalter we read--crudely distinguished by a commitment first to necessity, then to freedom, and finally to their combination--Schelling's explanation for the state of the universe is radically opposed to Novalis's. Like Novalis, Schelling propounds a single principle behind the emergence of evil, illness, and falsehood: all three are expressions of cosmic lack set in contrast to the proper ideals of goodness, health, and truth. However, when Novalis names each individual's great divine mission as "the education of the earth," his intention is to render private knowledge absolute by having us read each moment and situation in life into the context of the Absolute in order to recover life's essential meaning. (54) For Schelling, the weakness of evil lies in its being not so much a lesser negative feature on the route to wholeness as a concurrent reality of choice: evil is "an inner lie" that "lacks all true Being" and yet, like lies, exists to be exposed as "that which, by nature, has being in endeavoring to be." (55) Because the complete universe was initially issued through a divine self-destabilizing act to escape an eternity of fruitless self-circulation, the present world can never be a place with clear being but must always conflate awkwardly what lacks being and what is still becoming, or the evil that negates being and the good that is still incompletely justified.

Does this not allow us to see Schelling as indeed having reformulated his own indecision about Novalis's night by not resisting it but rather exploiting its posited ambiguous structure to uproot and supplant its content systematically? Unlike the poetic night, this Schellingian version instates the stark responsibilities of choice and shows that a private will towards evil effects not just a retardation of one's spiritual growth but, more crucially, a universal and ontological devastation. Unlike the Romantic, Schelling consciously seeks to get behind even pure subjectivity and the mere moral command to yearn to rejoin the Absolute in order to lay bare what is truly at stake in the same imperative. As a result, the idealist succeeds at length in redeeming his own nocturnal focus from the early Hegelian charge of naive meaninglessness for having deferred too much to the vision of Novalis. He achieves this by learning a trick or two from his rival and doing what is, at heart, a very cheeky and deceptive thing, by showing na'ivety to be the forte of Novalis all by himself.

National University of Singapore


Carlyle, Thomas. Critical and Miscellaneous Essays: Collected and Republished. 3 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1894.

Dyck, Martin. Novalis and Mathematics: A Study of Friedrich von Hardenberg's Fragments on Mathematics, and its Relation to Magic, Music, Religion, Philosophy, Language, and Literature. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1960.

Frank, Manfred. The Philosophical Foundations of Early German Romanticism. Translated by Elizabeth Millan-Zaibert. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004.

Gascoyne, David. "Novalis and the Night." In Hymns to the Night, by Novalis. Translated by Jeremy Reed, 7-18. Hampshire: Enitharmon, 1989.

Hamburger, Kate. Novalis und die Mathematik. Eine Studie zur Erkenntnistheorie der Romantik. Halle and Saale: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1929.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Hegel and the Human Spirit: A Translation of the Jena Lectures on the Philosophy of Spirit (1805-6) with Commentary. Translated and introduced by Leo Ranch. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1983.

--. Hegel: The Letters. Translated by Clarke Butler and Christiane Seiler. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984.

--. Hegel's Lectures on the History of Philosophy. 3 vols. Translated by Elizabeth Sanderson Haldane and Francis H. Simson. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1892-1896.

--. Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by Arnold Vincent Miller. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977.

Hiebel, Friedrich. Novalis: German Poet--European Thinker--Christian Mystic. 2nd ed. New York: AMS Press, 1969.

Hughes, Glyn Tegai. Romantic German Literature. London: Edward Arnold, 1979.

Jaspers, Karl. Schelling: Grosse und Verhangnis. Munich: Piper, 1955.

Komar, Kathleen. "Fichte and the Structure of Novalis' 'Hymnen an die Nacht.'" The Germanic Review 54 (1979): 137-44.

Molnar, Geza von. Novalis' "Fichte Studies": The Foundations of his Aesthetics. The Hague: Mouton, 1970.

Novalis. Notes for a Romantic Encyclopaedia: Das Allgemeine Brouillon. Edited and translated by David Wood. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007.

--. Novalis Schriften. 6 vols. Edited by Paul Kluckhohn, Richard Samuel, Gerhard Schulz, Hans-Joachim Mahl, and Martina Eicheldinger. Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1960-1999.

--. Philosophical Writings. Edited and translated by Margaret Mahoney Stoljar. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997.

Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von. The Ages of the World. Translated and introduced by Jason M. Wirth. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000.

--. Bruno, or On the Natural and the Divine Principle of Things. Edited, translated, and introduced by Michael G. Vater. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984.

--. The Philosophy of Art. Edited, translated, and introduced by Douglas W. Stott. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989.

--. System of Transcendental Idealism. Translated by Peter Heath. Introduced by Michael G. Vater. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1978.

Wirth, Jason M. The Conspiracy of Life: Meditations on Schelling and His Time. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003.

Verene, Donald Phillip. Hegel's Recollection: A Study of Images in the Phenomenology of Spirit. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985.

Zizek, Slavoj. The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology. London: Verso, 1999.

(1.) Kate Hamburger, Novalis und die Mathematik. Eine Studie zur Erkenntnistheorie der Romantik (Halle and Saale: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1929). Martin Dyck, Novalis and Mathematics: A Study of Friedrich von Hardenberg's Fragments on Mathematics, and its Relation to Magic, Music, Religion, Philosophy, Language, and Literature (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1960).

(2.) Thomas Carlyle, Critical and Miscellaneous Essays: Collected and Republished, 3 vols. (London: Chapman and Hall, 1894), 1: 59-73. The publication of "State of German Literature" in the Edinburgh Review in 1827 established Carlyle's reputation as a skillful exponent of German culture. His brief thoughts on Novalis here were expanded later into a full-length article in the Foreign Review, where he would maintain that the poet in his craft was still "no less Idealistic than as a Philosopher" (Essays, 1:444).

(3.) Novalis, Novalis Schriften, 6 vols., ed. Paul Kluckhohn, et al. (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammet, 1960-1999), 1:158.

(4.) Glyn Tegai Hughes, Romantic German Literature (London: Edward Arnold, 1979), 71.

(5.) The first German translation of Night Thoughts was undertaken in prose by Johann Arnold Ebert and published as D. Edouard Youngs Klagen, oder Nachtgedanken uber Leben, Tod und Unsterblichkeit [Edward Young's Complaints, or Night Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality] in 1751. It stands with Christian Bernhard Kayser's hexametric version, completed in 1763, as arguably the poem's most significant early reworking.

(6.) David Gascoyne, "Novalis and the Night," in Hymns to the Night, trans. Jeremy Reed (Hampshire: Enitharmon, 1989), 10.

(7.) Friedrich Hiebel, Novalis: German Poet--European Thinker--Christian Mystic, 2nd ed. (New York: AMS, 1969), 68.

(8.) Novalis, Schriften, 4:533.

(9.) Novalis, Schriften, 4:242.

(10.) Kathleen Komar, "Fichte and the Structure of Novalis' 'Hymnen an die Nacht,'" The Germanic Review 54 (1979): 139.

(11.) Geza yon Molnar, Novalis' "Fichte Studies": The Foundations of his Aesthetics (The Hague: Mouton, 1970).

(12.) Novahs, Schriften, 4:42.

(13.) Novalis, Schriften, 4:230.

(14.) Novalis, Philosophical Writings, ed. and trans. Margaret Mahoney Stoljar (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997), 28.

(15.) Novalis, Philosophical Writings, 42.

(16.) Novalis, Schriften, 1:131. Of the two versions available to modern scholars, I take my text from the form officially published in Athenaeum; the other form is an initial handwritten manuscript arranged wholly in verse. See Novalis, Schriften, 1:130-58. For the sake of the instances where precision does matter, I have attempted my own translation here and elsewhere in the article.

(17.) Manfred Frank, The Philosophical Foundations of Early German Romanticism, trans. Elizabeth Millan-Zaibert (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004), 169.

(18.) Novalis, Schriften, 1:131.

(19.) Novalis, Schriften, 1:145.

(20.) Novalis, Notes for a Romantic Encyclopaedia: Das Allgemeine Brouillon, ed. and trans. David Wood (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007), 8.

(21.) Novalis, Philosophical Writings, 60.

(22.) Novalis, Schrifien, 4:261.

(23.) Novalis, Philosophical Writings, 111.

(24.) Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. Arnold Vincent Miller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 9.

(25.) Quoted in Karl Jaspers, Schelling: Grosse und Verhangnis (Munich: Piper, 1955), 302.

(26.) Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Hegel: The Letters, trans. Clarke Butler and Christiane Seller (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), 80.

(27.) Jason M. Wirth, The Conspiracy of Life: Meditations on Schelling and His Time (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003), 12-23.

(28.) Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Hegel's Lectures on the History of Philosophy, 3 vols., trans. Elizabeth Sanderson Haldane and Francis H. Simson (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1892-1896), 3:510. Elizabeth Sanderson Haldane and Francis H. Simson's late-nineteenth-century translation rather than the 1990 California edition issued by Robert F. Brown and J. M. Steward is used here. This choice is necessary: the former reties on Karl Ludwig Michelet's classic collation of the early Jena manuscript with what is now lost, the transcripts of Hegel's own students. Brown and Steward's text uses the lecture series of 1825-26 where the cited passage and reference to the Romantics are both expunged and only Krug, Fries, Bouterwek, and Gottlob Ernst Schulze are named as minor derivative thinkers.

(29.) Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 19.

(30.) Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph yon Schelling, Bruno, or On the Natural and the Divine Principle of Things, ed., trans., and intro. Michael G. Vater (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984), 160.

(31.) Schelling, Bruno, 160.

(32.) Schelling, Bruno, 126.

(33.) Vater, Introduction to Bruno, 1-112.

(34.) Schelling, Bruno, 208.

(35.) Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, System of Transcendental Idealism, trans. Peter Heath, intro. Michael G. Vater (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1978), 231-33.

(36.) Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, The Philosophy of Art, ed., trans., and intro. Douglas W. Stott (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), 5.

(37.) Schelling, Philosophy of Art, 8.

(38.) Novalis, Philosophical Writings, 117.

(39.) Novalis, Philosophical Writings, 158.

(40.) Novalis, Philosophical Writings, 54. Schelling, System of Transcendental Idealism, 232.

(41.) Novalis, Philosophical Writings, 56.

(42.) Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 9.

(43.) Donald Phillip Verene, Hegel's Recollection: A Study of Images in the Phenomenology of Spirit (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985), 3-4.

(44.) Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Hegel and the Human Spirit: A Translation of the Jena Lectures on the Philosophy of Spirit (1805-6) with Commentary, trans, and intro. Leo Rauch (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1983), 86-87.

(45.) Vater, Introduction to Bruno, 85.

(46.) Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 406-7. Hegel, Hegel and the Human Spirit, 87.

(47.) Slavoj Zizek, The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology (London: Verso, 1999), 29-35.

(48.) Quoted in Jason M. Wirth, Translator's Introduction to The Ages of the World, by Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000), vii.

(49.) Schelling, Ages, 3-4.

(50.) Schelling, Ages, 15-16.

(51.) Novalis, Schriften, 1:153.

(52.) Novalis, Schriften, 1:157.

(53.) Schelling, Ages, 13.

(54.) Novalis, Philosophical Writings, 28.

(55.) Schelling, Ages, 48.
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Title Annotation:Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Author:Gwee, Li Sui
Publication:Studies in Romanticism
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Mar 22, 2011
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