Monday, September 08, 2008

Kneller, Jane. "Review of Novalis' NOTES FOR A ROMANTIC ENCYCLOPEDIA." NDPR (September 2008).

Novalis. Notes for a Romantic Encyclopaedia. Trans. and ed. David W. Wood. Albany: SUNY Press, 2007. David Wood's translation of the unfinished collection of notes that Novalis (pseudonym of Friederich von Hardenberg) intended as "material for an encyclopedics" is a welcome contribution to the growing literature in English on the philosophy of the early German romantics. The fact that these are "unfinished" notes should by no means deter the reader. This is an important set of short essays, aphorisms, fragments and musings on the sciences and the nature of systematic knowledge. In true early romantic fashion it is wide-ranging in content and style, touching on topics from art to experimental method in the sciences, from philosophy and religion to butter softening, colic, gout, fever and the symbolism of human dress. Taken as a whole, the notes represent the beginnings of a philosophical experiment that, if successful, would support the hypothesis that a unified methodology is possible for the arts and sciences. Novalis' vision was that this could only be carried out successfully by philosophers who were both scientists and poets, and who could "treat the sciences both scientifically and poetically." The Notes for a Romantic Encyclopaedia, or the Allgemeine Brouillon as the editor of the 1929 German edition called it (literally, "general rough draft"), is a preliminary gathering of materials that Hardenberg hoped to pull together into a book that would embody the ideal practices of any science: "All good researchers -- physicians, observers and thinkers, proceed like Copernicus -- They turn the data and methods around, to see whether or not they fit better this way" (92, #517). It was to be a book that would model the artistry, or at least the aesthetic dimension, of scientific practice. What Novalis called the "magic wand of analogy" is at work throughout these notes. Musical terminology is used to illuminate physiological claims, chemical terms describe religion, etc. This book deserves to be read not simply for its many poetic moments ("Philosophy is really homesickness -- the desire to be everywhere at home" (155, #857)) but for the overall vision that gives the poetry its theoretical punch. That lovely characterization of philosophy, for instance, when read in the context of the surrounding material (it follows a comment on the nature of pain and pleasure, motion and interruption, and the feeling of powerlessness), is presented as a medical diagnosis: Philosophy is a symptom of human vulnerability. . . . Read the rest here:

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