Gerhard von Kügelgen, Portrait of Casper David Friedrich

What is Romanticism?

Instructor: Morgan Meis
Bethlehem Building
1450 McKinstry Street
Detroit, MI 48209

Baudelaire once wrote that Romanticism is situated neither in choice of subject nor exact truth, but in a way of feeling. Maybe that’s why the word ‘romantic’ seems to apply to everything from Schlegel’s philosophical fragments, to Wordsworth’s poetry, to the fiction of the Brontë sisters, to paintings by J. M. W. Turner, to piano compositions by Robert Schumann. Is there a sensibility that holds all these diverse works together?

In this class, we’ll explore the contemporary resonances of Romanticism in the 21st century. As the first attempt in Western art and philosophy to question the basic assumptions of The Enlightenment, Romanticism has often been depicted as privileging imagination over reason. At its worst, this has led to associations with fascism; at its best, Romanticism has been an important check on the excesses of rationalism in all its guises. Today, the debate around Romanticism seems as vital as ever, probing us to ask what really makes us human and to consider the role of reason and sentiment in our lives.

Students will explore these themes by examining short tracts by Schlegel, Jacobi, Schelling, as well as other works by early German Romantics. We’ll also read poetry and fiction by Novalis, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and E.T.A. Hoffmann, among others. Finally, we will examine a selection of writings by Walter Benjamin and contemporary French neo-Romantics such as Jean-Luc Nancy. Our two guiding questions will be, “What is Romanticism?” and, just as importantly, “What does it mean for us today?”

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30pm
October 23 — November 13, 2017