The Blue Flower of Novalis: Symbol of Romanticism
I. Thoughts About the Insult "Nobody Cares."
That phrase has become the ultimate retort for me, personally. It's like, how do you refute that observation? Either A) "People DO care!" which makes you sound like a loser or B) It doesn't matter if people care, which makes you sound like a psycho. The fact is, we do live in a world with other people, and it is only in relation to others that we ourselves exist. Reality is, in fact, socially constructed. This does mean that there is literally no point to doing x unless someone else is aware of it. That last sentence has some profound implications, since I think we all like to think that there is tons of stuff we do just "for ourselves" but nothing could be further from the truth. WIthout other people there is no separate self to be established.
II. Book Review: Friedrich Schiller, On The Aesthetic Education of Man, in a Series of Letters
Ok here's a little pop culture bit to sweeten the mighty load of Friedrich Schiller: The intellectuals of this period, inspired and defined by Goethe's seminal teen-angst classic The Sorrows of Young Werther. Werther's style is still seen today in the goth subculture- moopy, depressed, poetic, etc. Basically that's a combination of Anglo Byronic romanticism and German romanticism. One of the main symbols of the Werther/Schiller era of German Romanticism is the blue flower of Novalis. (Wiki)
I see Schiller as being the actual embodiment of the Werther character, particularly after finishing the Aesthetic Educations of Man, a book I've now read three different times (undergraduate, law school, last month.) That's probably because I see this book as kind of the birth of Romantic Pop Culture. Basically, Schiller took Kantian idealism and crossed it with a popular format (i.e. they're written as "letters") Unlike Kant, you can actually read Schiller, since this book is only 140 pages long.
The reason this book is still relevant is that Kantian idealism underlays most popular manifestations of Romanticism, but most people who consider themselves "Romantics" literally have no idea what Kantian idealism means. Myself included. Thus, by reading this one 140 page book, you can kind of get a handle on the relationship, and gain a better understanding of artists who are influenced by this time period. Like Depeche Mode... or, for a more hipster specific reference, Dr. Octagon's classic Blue Flowers. Cue lyrics:
Look at the land... Blue Flowers!
Drawing by the purple pond, in the purple pastures Blue Flowers!
Drawing by the purple pond, yellow ink that flows Blue FlowersRomanticism runs strong and deep in all of the Western nations. It is, in fact, the primary ideology for people dissatisfied with reality Just think about the prevalence of the "lonely hero." It's also the primary posture of artists of all stripes. The more "popular" the art, the more romantic it is likely to be.
Romanticism is both current and 400+ years old. Thus, contemporary artists can manipulate the audience by being more aware of the symbols and modes of thought of something like Romanticism, since the listener WILL respond: Think of all the people wearing Depeche Mode T-Shirts with Blue Flowers and Tour Dates printed on the back. That's pure, unadulterated, 18th century German Romanticism. The modern artist is inevitably an interpreter/re-interpreter of symbols with long-standing cultural resonance.
III. The Beauty of the Primitive: Shamanism and the Western Imagination by Andrei Znamenski
Romanticism isn't just an artistic phenomenon, its influence extends all the way through the social sciences, from soup to nuts. The whole idea of social sciences is susceptible to romantic criticism/interpretation since any sensible practitioner of sociology or anthropology realizes that their field is about as scientifically rigorous as the comments section on Brooklyn Vegan. Following that trend, there are certain subjects that have benefited from this relationship. The study of Shamanism/Ancient Religion is no doubt one of those subjects. A hundred years ago, people didn't take Shamanism seriously. It was inevitably discussed in the context of Siberian tribes, the word "shaman" derives specifically from that usage.
This entirely Russian and a little bit Finnish scholarship was seized by post WWII sociologists in Europe and America as there was a rise in academic critiques of modernist subjects and approaches. Social Scientists began to elevate Shamanism and broaden it's application into North and South American indigenous culture. This trend came to a head in the book Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy by Eliade. Eliade was followed by the psychedelic revolution of the 60s, and we all know where Shamanism went after the 60s.
Znamenski, a scholar of Russian decent, takes us all the way through from Siberia, to the United States and back to Russia without missing a beat. In his knowledgeable eye, the "neo-Shamanism" movement is an extension of the great rise in post-60s "unchurched" spirituality. Znamenski repeatedly argues that most criticism of this movement is simply in denial about how wide spread these believes are, and notes that the rise of a now established religious like Mormonism happened within the same, observed, historical context. In that way I would say that the unchurched are still waiting for their prophet, or that the whole movement is inherently unreadable, much in the same way Pagans were in Greek and Roman times.
This book is both authoritative and as well written as a magazine articles, without suffering from any scholarly deficiencies. Znamenski knows his stuff.
IV. The Retort to "Nobody Cares"
"Only one person has to care."