Novalis, Nature, and the Absolute
“Novalis, Nature and the Absolute” examines the ways in which the early German romantics understood nature as a world both independent from and constitutive of the human sphere. Drawing upon the works of Friedrich von Hardenberg (Novalis), the essay shows that this period of post-Kantian German philosophy (for which Novalis is taken to be paradigmatic) offers a neglected but much needed antidote to instrumental views of nature. The essay examines the role of the “Absolute” or noumenal nature in early German romanticism, as well as the notions of “inner” and “outer” nature as the early German romantics understood them. Inner nature, i.e. individual human subjectivity, is fundamentally determined by the individual’s relationship to nature outside the subject. This outer nature includes both the non-human and the human environment, and the reunification of the individual with that environment is what the early German romantics came to see as the Absolute. In this regard, their ontological commitments are far different from those of the German idealists after Kant.
Human inner nature can reunite with outer nature, both in other individual human beings and with the environment. The chapter argues that this process involves a twofold imaginative operation. On the one hand, it involves the imaginative engagement of the individual with the ordinary, everyday objects and occurrences in outer nature, in a process that enlivens these objects for the individual and recreates in her a sense of nature’s intrinsic value. On the other hand, imaginative engagement with nature also recasts the experience of nature’s incomprehensible size and power into a moment of acceptance and even a sense of belonging to nature. It is shown that these philosophers view nature within us as capable of respectfully embracing nature outside us. The essay concludes with a reflection on the work of the contemporary artist Wolfgang Laib, considered as the successor to Novalis.
List of Abbreviations
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