Further Notes on Romanticism

I am an unabashed fan of many OTT things. And as I continue to ply through material and look at paintings for the new series on Romanticism I find that I’m running across many really fantastic moments and amazing paintings. I’ve been discussing with friends and colleagues ideas about Romanticism, and once we’re able to get past the facile understanding of the concept, we begin to see deeper, more involving ideas. Right now we’re struggling to define the differences in European and American Romantics – especially in the 19th century and the mid 20th century – how Romanticism fueled Expressionism and what about that ideal, idea, had to be changed in order to make it part of the American Avant Guard and the larger American culture. In either case it didn’t last long and that too is part of the American Character. We chose Hollywood over Walden, or more specifically, we chose the Hollywood version of Walden.

We are still arguing and ruminating and I’ve begun to wonder if I’ve started this series far too soon. The directions are many and the decisions are few. Anyway, part of the research involved has to do with how we process our thoughts and emotions – how those things are aligned to individuality and choice, because for the Romantic – choice is everything and it defines the individual, it frees the individual and it begets the moral struggle within the individual. The Romantic, contrary to popular culture, is not necessarily about love, though that may be a part of the choice. No, the deeper struggle is against predetermination, structure and heirarchies – God, the State, the institution, the academy, the a priori principle, the learned and received aesthetic. It is about the morals and ethics of individual choice and the prices paid for that involvement. It is about Free Will. This will play directly in our discussion of aesthetics and in our critique of the Postmodern.

But for now I’ve embedded Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes for one specific reason. You’ll see it at the end of the sequence – after the exposition, the theatricality of the moment and the explanation. (Nevermind that this entire scene is about visual thought, about connections, conjectures and understanding brought about by seeing and observation.) For the European Romantic there is the presentation of understanding of the moral choice made in one’s life. We see it in Delacroix and Gericault, in Courbet, in Manet, Matisse and Picasso as well. But for now we deal with a popular literary character and the enormity of Holmes’ world, his raison d’etre, his choice, as it’s laid bare with a compliment. “We’re not jealous of you. We’re proud of you.” What Jeremy Brett does is amazing to behold. It is an actor who is connected to a deeper understanding of the enormity of his own life and how that has been bound up with the character he is portraying. The waves of emotion, of life, choice, individuality, and morality play all over his face and we’re not quite sure any longer if it’s Holmes or Brett that we are seeing. WE don’t experience it, the character does and the actor, in this case, the Romantic who embodies it, allows us to see just that. We are presented the understanding of the moral choice and it is through our empathy, our connection to those choices that we begin to understand something deeper within our own individuality as well. For me this is a guiding principle of the European Romantic.

In America we do this differently, and we’ll discuss that in another post. For now you’ll just have to do with a few notes….

One thought on “Further Notes on Romanticism

  1. I am reading “Landscape Theory” ed. Rachael Zaidy DeLue and James Elkins, and ran across a passage that seemed to fit, somehow, with your current topic:

    “Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ has plenty to offer in terms of standing up for an immersive, reciprocal relationship between the phenomenal subject and his wooded surroundings. However, in visiting the Massachusetts state park at Walden Pond, and by stepping inside the reconstruction of Thoreau’s modest cabin, one is struck most by inventory: by the lists provided of building supplies, foodstuffs, heating materials, books, candles, and so on. The scenery, of course, also delivers its pleasures, but the twenty-first-century tourist (at least this one) is amazed most of all by the unequal ratio of natural landscape to human things, of creatures to comforts.” (from Jennifer Jane Marshall, in the “Assessments” section of “Landscape Theory.”

    Ms Marshall goes on to say: “Landscape depends on things.Its very perception, experience, production, and representation are possible only first given the presence of objects: windows and walking shoes, cameras and composses…. By suggesting…landscape’s reliance on cultural artifacts, I mean to maintain the thesis of landscape as a cultural (and even an ideological) production. At the same time,… by incorporating materiality (and material cultural studies) into theorizations of landscape, it is possible to maintain the deeply contextual, radically contingent nature of phenomenological interpretation.” (p.201, paperback edition)

    Thoreau is at the heart of American literary Romanticism and he and Emerson pretty much defined it. That’s why this passage struck me as relevant to your visual study.

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