11-Symbolism - 011_Symbolism.doc READINGS: SYMBOLISM...

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011_Symbolism.doc READINGS: SYMBOLISM Background: Eugen Weber, Consciousness and Confusion Baudelaire, Various Poems Background: Eugen Weber, CONSCIOUSNESS AND CONFUSION, Movements, Currents, Trends , pp. 203-208, 218-219. The great positive message of the nineteenth century was one of human capacity, self- sufficiency, and progress. History appeared to be the story of man's increasing control over his environment and over himself. In a vulgar sense, the world was seen as a finite place with infinite possibilities, and this vision was translated into the politics, the economics, the literature, and the education of the time. The Positivistic followers of Auguste Comte, of Taine, of Zola thought it possible to explain and rule the world. But a reaction against them soon developed-in England, in Germany, in France- that stressed anti-Positivistic factors such as the unknown, the mysterious, and the wonderful. The first notes of this reaction were sounded in France by Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud, and Mallarme; in England by Walter Pater and Herbert Spencer; in Germany by Schopenhauer and Wagner who themselves harked back to earlier Romantics like Novalis and Holderlin. Largely ignored at first, the reaction persisted and grew through the 1870's, parallel to the then dominant Naturalism and Positivism, keeping up a running fire of dissent from the dominant view. The great white hope of Positivistic doctrine had been that mystery could be destroyed and the unknown, source of superstition and its attendant ills, be driven out or, at least, back. Yet even in its heyday of the 1870s the strongholds of the unknown held fast and mystery soon began to reaffirm itself, partly because science had not kept the overweening promises that had been made on its behalf, and partly because then (and women even more) are seldom content with merely material explanations. Herbert Spencer, who had long opposed the Comtian conception of a world totally open to positive investigation and understanding, published his First Principles in 1862 the first part of which was devoted to establishing the notion of an Unknowable and the argument that the power behind the visible world must remain forever unfathomable for us. The 1870's saw the First Principles translated into German and French, and the Spencerian Unknowable became available on the continent to reinforce Hartmann's idea of the Unconscious-an all-powerful and intractable spirit that lay behind and was the prime mover of worldly reality-and also the pessimism of Schopenhauer which was beginning to make its mark in Germany and beyond. Schopenhauer's thought was not intentionally antiscientific, but his despair before the findings of science helped supplement the growing disillusion over its "failures." Meanwhile, the internal disagreements and rival theories of the scientists themselves spread doubt of the possibility of arriving at unique positive truths, and persuaded many that the wisest attitude would be an eclectic one in which the end would be
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This note was uploaded on 02/15/2011 for the course HISTORY 106 taught by Professor Dennis during the Spring '11 term at Loyola Chicago.

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11-Symbolism - 011_Symbolism.doc READINGS: SYMBOLISM...

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