ABSTRACT

Goethe once defined the symbol as that which ‘by fully representing itself refers to everything else’. By representing German thought about the symbol in the ‘Goethezeit’ — not exhaustively, to be sure, but in full recognition of its variety and complexity — the present collection refers to the influence and implications of that body of thought beyond the linguistic, cultural, and chronological boundaries of its grounding, and particularly in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Anglo-American thought, from Henry Crabb Robinson, Coleridge, and Emerson, to Nelson Goodman. This initiative is valuable, it seems to me, less because of a resurgent interest in philosophical aesthetics, even if there are signs of such a resurgence, than because the development of modern critical theory out of German Romantic philosophy has been increasingly occluded in the last two decades — notwithstanding the distinguished efforts of philosophers such as Manfred Frank and Andrew Bowie and literary critics such as Ernst Behler and Tilottama Rajan — by the assimilation of anglophone Romantic studies to nineteenth-century studies, ostensibly a broader field but in practice almost exclusively restricted to British literature and culture, with a particular emphasis on socio-political issues in Victorian Britain. 1 Of course, to speak of the development of critical theory is to imply transformation as well as continuity (and one of the burdens of my own research in this area has in fact been to distinguish a particular Romantic concept of the symbol from its appropriations by later theorists); but neither can be identified outside a shared context. The contributions to the present volume abundantly supply such a context.