Sunday, May 25, 2008

Romantic Revolutions

As I fumble about in the fog of history, I notice something interesting: I have not been taking a random walk, after all—as I had supposed--but have been circling round and round the main point rather, and gradually closing in on it: the deep connection between the romantic 'revolution' (that may not be the right word but I can't think of a better) in literature and the arts at the turn of the century (the 19th of course) and the great political revolutions of modernity—beginning, naturally, with the mother of them all in France in the 1790s.

Wordsworth as a young man was a great admirer the Revolution—he had been on a walking tour in France as the earth was beginng to shake and had been quite taken up with the excitement of it all. But he was not thinking politically—or at least not consciously so—when, in his 1800 Preface to The lyrical Ballads he said that the language of poetry had become merely artificial and that poets had better begin to speak the real language of ordinary men if they expected anyone to pay attention to their poetry. (In fact, by that time, he like a lot of other reasonable people, had been horrified by the bloody mess that France had become.)

In Wordsworth and The Revolution, two very different things are juxtaposed (here, by me of course): at about the same time that the revolutionaries were saying that the traditional language, assumptions, procedures, institutions of politics in France—and by implication Europe—are dead, finished, useless; wipe the slate clean and start over; Wordsworh, and others, were saying something similar about poetry (but not about music. Not yet.)

1 comment:

  1. Major developments in politics and the arts often go together. The existence of democracy in ancient Athens coincided—approximately—with the writings of some of the greatest playwrights in history: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripedes, and Aristophanes.
    When the Roman Republic was replaced by the Empire, Roman civilization and Latin literature together began an extremely gradual decline that finally ended with the end of the Roman Empire and the subsequent end, in 1453, of the Byzantine Empire.
    The brilliant writing of the Tang Dynasty ended when it was conquered by the Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty. Chinese art revived under the Ming Dynasty and declined after the Mings were replaced by Qing (Manchu) Dynasty. Literature and music were reborn when the Guomindang took over and disappeared absolutely under Chairman Mao.
    Now that China has modified its beliefs and adopted Marxist Capitalism, cinema and music are flourishing.
    Thinking and exploring are good for the soul, good for the arts, good for the state, and good for science. Democracy is the political realization of the scientific method. Creative art is the esthetic realization of bold thinking.