Whose Spirit is This? Some Questions about Beginnings and Endings

  • J. Edward Chamberlin
Part of the Warwick Studies in the European Humanities book series (WSEH)


My title, ‘Whose Spirit Is This?’, comes from a poem called ‘The Idea of Order at Key West’, written in the early 1930s by the American poet Wallace Stevens. Stevens had long been interested in the poetry and the painting, as well as the aesthetic philosophy and the polemic, of the fin de siècle. His first book Harmonium had incorporated the excesses, what he called the ‘essential gaudinesses’, of that period, and celebrated the lively negotiation between the prerogatives of art and life which characterised imaginative discourse at the end of the nineteenth century. ‘The Idea of Order at Key West’, which appeared in Stevens’s second book Ideas of Order (1935), was a retrospective tribute to a period in which categories of artifice and naturalness, and of the material and the spiritual, provided new ways of describing art (or as some of the more pathologically minded thought, of diagnosing its condition), a period in which people talked, among other things, about the spirit of art and the spirit of nature.


Nineteenth Century Golden Section Vienna Circle Fibonacci Series Psychical Phenomenon 
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  1. 1.
    Wallace Stevens, Collected Poems (New York: Knopf, 1954) pp. 128–30.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ramon Fernandez, ‘On Classicism’, in The New Criticism: An Anthology of Modern Aesthetics and Literary Criticism, ed. Edwin B. Burgum (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1930) pp. 247–8Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Oscar Wilde, ‘The Critic as Artist’, in Plays. Prose Writings and Poems, ed. lsobel Murray (London: J. M. Dent, 1975) p. 56.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    This phrase was first used by Ruskin in 1856, in The Elements of Drawing. There is a useful analysis of its implications in E. H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion (London: Phaidon, 1962) esp. pp. 246–8.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    There is a discussion of the exhibition and its impact in Samuel Hynes, The Edwardian Turn of Mind (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968) pp. 307–45 passim.Google Scholar
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    Translation by Michael Sadler, authorised by Kandinsky. Excerpts had been published in Alfred Steiglitz’ publication Camera Work (New York) in 1912. A second English edition, authorised by Mme. Kandinsky, with considerable retranslation by Francis Golffing, Michael Harrison and Ferdinand Ostertag, appeared in 1947, and was entitled Concerning the Spiritual in Art (New York: George Wittenborn, 1947).Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    Mach’s writings include The Science of Mechanics (1883) and The Analysis of Sensations and the Relationship of the Physical to the Psychical (1886). There is a useful brief commentary on Mach in James R. Newman’s The World of Mathematics, vol. 3 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1956) pp. 1784ff.Google Scholar
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    For a fuller discussion of this, see J. E. Chamberlin, Ripe Was the Drowsy Hour: The Age of Oscar Wilde (New York: Seabury Press, 1977) esp. chapter 4, pp. 117–52.Google Scholar
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    Arthur Symons, The Symbolist Movement in Literature, ed. Richard Ellmann (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1958) pp. 2–3.Google Scholar
  10. 22.
    This association is made by William Dunham in Journey Through Genius: The Great Theorems of Mathematics (New York: John Wiley, 1990)Google Scholar
  11. Morris Kline’s Mathematics in Western Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1953) pp. 395–409Google Scholar

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© J. E. Chamberlin 1992

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  • J. Edward Chamberlin

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