[In romantic criticism] we are faced, at once, with a fatal confusion between two selves: the one specific, particular, historical, and chaotic, the other capable of the lofty lucidity of total self-understanding. The gap between the two is so wide as to have become comically proverbial. (Paul de Man)
The nineteenth-century campaign to raise music to [a] lonely, sacred eminence was an exacting one, almost against nature. Undivided silent attention to a musical performance does violence to basic human impulses, among the most devout listeners as among the unlettered. (Peter Gay)
Word is that the German Idealists and Romantics were dreamy folk whose hearts leapt up when they beheld a rainbow in the sky. So they were. Yet in their own estimation the leap was always as much a result of a nervous disturbance in the heart muscle as of euphoria. (David Farrell Krell)
Tautology, hyperbole, repetition – in the many symbolic economies of the early German romantics, redundancy and intense figurative overdetermination often go hand in hand, as if the very act of representing the world were laden with expectations, meanings and promises that cut across or contravene that moment of imagining, that moment of making imagery and idea. And yet the various forms of romantic criticism – of scholarships that, ‘after’ Romanticism, have sought to capture and discipline that ‘epoch’ – have invariably been touched, on the one hand, by a certain over-heated interpretative fervour (as a kind of intense identification) and, on the other, by a certain detached analytical coolness, as if a ‘safe’ response (an antidote, even) to the ‘heat’ of the object of study were called for. For Paul de Man, it is the criticism on Friedrich Hölderlin in particular that plays out the tension between fierce identification with the poet and a theology of radical detachment, between an accounting for that lucid ‘self-understanding’ prophet and the chaotic-historical figure of the poet.
The tendency of romantic criticism to mimic its object is nowhere more intensely apparent than here: critics wheel in grand circles around the delicate obscurity of late Hölderlin, and yet pick endlessly through the ‘philological’ question of the poems’ constitution (elisions, order, punctuation). The duality revisits the core epistemological problematic of romantic criticism, encapsulated in the question as to whether we engage it as a coherent otherworld, a symbolic economy that can sustain itself, or ground it in its material specificity, connect it to places, people, times, material economies? As Paul de Man would have it, the choice for the critic of literary romanticism is between the hermeneutic and the historicist methods, between the ‘empirical self of the author and the self that appears as the speaking voice in the work’. (De Man)