Transcendental Exchange: Alchemical Discourse in Romantic Philosophy and Literature Transcendental Exchange: Alchemical Discourse in Romantic Philosophy and Literature
The German idealists developed an epistemology that took from alchemical precepts that in turn informed their spiritual models of genius and the creative process. German idealism largely influenced Romantic conceptions of art and creativity, which then contributed to the Romantic ideal of a poet-prophet. Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Nathaniel Hawthorne further developed their own models of the creative process by incorporating alchemy as an image of the transformation from vision into art. I examine Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” and Hawthorne’s “The Artist of the Beautiful” for their alchemical imagery that articulates such a genius ideal. I also found, however, that these two Romantic works express an awareness of artistic limitations and frustration in the face of this ideal, which illustrates the ambiguity these two writers are known for. But alchemy, as a discourse of contradictions and their negotiation, is a site that accommodates the tension between a posited ideal and the reality of actual experience. As such, alchemy, as an underlying ideology to the poet-prophet, allows for flexibility in an artist’s identity. Furthermore, as a deeply personal philosophy of transformation, alchemy’s image as a work of art suggests the artist’s personal investment in the creative process, which is necessary to art’s viability in an increasingly materialistic world.
School:Brigham Young University
School Location:USA - Utah
Source Type:Master's Thesis
Keywords:transcendentalism alchemy mysticism hermeticism german idealists genius transformation samuel taylor coleridge nathaniel hawthorne immanuel kant f w j schelling g hegel
Date of Publication:03/03/2008