She generally gave herself very good advice, (though she very seldom followed it).

- Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

Thursday, August 27, 2009

New Romanticism? What's the World Coming To?

"New Romanticism" is a phrase that, as far as I know, was coined by the writers of my Post-modernism text book (circa Junior year of undergrad) to describe the movement they felt was likely to succeed our current (is it?) state of Post-Modernism. I don't know if we are still living in a post-modern age, or if New Romanticism has already begun - probably we won't know these things until I'm 80 years old. What a waste. But the point is that I agree with the idea that New Romanticism is our next (current? freshly taken?) step.

But what is New Romanticism? Well, if it's anything like anything else (which I guess it is), then it's bound to be a reaction against post-modernism. But then, what's post-modernism? I think (tentatively) that post-modernism is the impulse to embrace chaos in the light of overwhelming, institutionalized and sanctioned insanity. For instance, since the post-moderns realized that the world has gone mad and that nothing can stop entropy, and that the tragedy is that we are all reasonable beings in an unreasonable world, they decided that they should just stop trying to fight the feeling and go with the madness. Accept the chaos. It's the anti-Alice position. Which, to my thinking, is like hiding in a hole inside your mind, but without trying to stay yourself in that hole, which is what Alice somehow achieved. If she hadn't, she probably would have stayed in Wonderland, which is where the post-moderns are. Except that Wonderland might be the world as we know it. Or something.

Anyway, if the world is mad and you don't want to embrace chaos, what do you do? The original Romantics didn't think the world was exactly mad, just that it was corrupt (which is part of the post-modern realization as well, I think). The thing is, they didn't feel helpless in the face of overwhelming odds; they felt that they could change the world to suit them. It's terribly egocentric, I know, that's always been the weird flaw/strength of Romanticism - it's what my eighteenth century lit professor hates and what my nineteenth century lit professor and my Blake scholar professor admire. It's a double edged sword. Wordsworth thought that the mind of man was everything, and that when it was somehow married to the outer universe (Nature) it would produce some sort of perfect state (like nirvana, but the goal would be creation). I think that's what he's saying. Another facet of Romantics is that they are difficult to understand, mostly because their language is so cryptic, metaphysical, or autobiographical to the point of intelligibility. They're always looking inside themselves for the answers, or just the questions. Byron and Jane Austen are pleasant exceptions to that, I think because their share in the Romantic balance of irony and passion (?) is tilted toward irony; Byron knows we're doomed, but he keeps going anyway, not for a hope of changing life or achieving wisdom, but just because he wants to keep going. Austen goes a step further in abandoning the passion/imagination/metaphysical part altogether and just keeping her sense of humor through the irony.

But back to it. What would a New Romantic be like? Well, I think that the current state of the world (and by world I mean the U.S. since I don't know much about the rest of the world, which is anti-Romantic as well as just plain ignorant of me) seems to be one of reeling, discombobulated reaction to the sudden inundation of technology and information. Rent calls the 90's "the information age" and, alternatively, "the isolated age" - which seems like a paradox until you realize it's completely true. We live in a world, as Sarah was saying only the other day, in which you can talk to anyone and get all the information you could possibly desire, and yet you will be spending most of your time alone with your computer (or your guitar, if you're Roger). The Romantics reacted to the French Revolution, the hope of some new world order that collapsed into chaos, so that failure haunts them, and they are sandwiched between that and the Napoleonic Wars, where the government takes a strong arm but doesn't always make the best choices, and if you don't play the game, you probably won't be heard. The Romantics realized, through all of this, that being people of the world was important - Byron traveled all over Europe. We talk now about becoming Global, but a lot of us don't really want to get involved with other countries or think about the world in terms of something larger than the U.S. Which is frightening, and I understand it. Who can comprehend everything? I'm not saying that Byron was really that into other people and cultures, really I think he was a snob, but the idea is there.

So, what I think New Romanticism will be like, artistically, politically, ecumenically, hygienically, this: New Romantics will be more globally conscious, trying to connect the world physically rather than just 'informationally', and maybe even culturally; they'll be more radical in some ways, probably not traditionally conservative, but they'll appreciate the traditions (our Judeo-Christian heritage, as the text books like to call it), or maybe they won't; I think art will become more fantasy centered, perhaps - will be unafraid to experiment in mixing genres and using older forms, stories, inspirations, etc...; I think the New Romantics will be artistic scientists and scientific artists; they'll want to change the world and they'll be egocentric enough to think that they can - and I think that we've already started to see that - to my mind that's the Pres. in a nutshell. They're going to be so Romantic - and there will be those who ascribe to the ironic side of it, but I think the New Romanticists will be much more ironic in their Romanticism than their predecessors generally were. But to be honest, I think we'll need the moving/shaking power of Romantics in order to improve the things that the post-moderns know will never be improved because like all institutionalized philosophies and regimented ideas, they've become a Catch 22 system. (Like our educational system, or so I hear from Sarah) - or from the current literary critics who think that the Humanities won't survive in the University. Where will we go?

We'll have to look to the Transcendentalists, who really are just Romantics in disguise.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I do think postmodernism is played out, and that our contemporary culture plays to a different tune. You may be interested in my new book "Digimodernism: How New Technologies Dismantle the Postmodern and Reconfigure our Culture", out now with Continuum.