‘The Romantic Imperative: The Concept of Early German Romanticism’ by Frederick C. Beiser

Published by Harvard University Press in 2004.

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The Early Romantics met resistance from artists and academics alike in part because they defied the conventional wisdom that philosophy and the arts must be kept separate. Indeed, as the literary component of Romanticism has been studied and celebrated in recent years, its philosophical aspect has receded from view. This book, by one of the most respected scholars of the Romantic era, offers an explanation of Romanticism that not only restores but enhances understanding of the movement’s origins, development, aims, and accomplishments—and of its continuing relevance.

Poetry is in fact the general ideal of the Romantics, Frederick Beiser tells us, but only if poetry is understood not just narrowly as poems but more broadly as things made by humans. Seen in this way, poetry becomes a revolutionary ideal that demanded—and still demands—that we transform not only literature and criticism but all the arts and sciences, that we break down the barriers between art and life, so that the world itself becomes “romanticized.” Romanticism, in the view Beiser opens to us, does not conform to the contemporary division of labor in our universities and colleges; it requires a multifaceted approach of just the sort outlined in this book.

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