PETER LARKIN and ALLEN FISHER: Radical Landscape / Romantic Consciousness


Radical Landscape /
Romantic Consciousness



Saturday, April 23rd
11am – 4.30 pm

The event comprises two sessions, from 11.00 a.m. to 1.00 p.m, then from 2.00 p.m. onwards, followed by an open-ended discussion.

£12.00 (Concessions £8)
Contact: Lyndon Davies, Glasfryn, Llangattock, Powys NP8 1PH


01873 810456

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Peter Larkin’s first session will be looking at quotes from and commentary on German Romantic Aesthetics, (ie Holderlin, Novalis, Schelling, Schleiermacher etc and, with reference to this, glancing at Coleridge, too, pointing out that the Romantics were all, more or less, theorists as well.

The second session will zone in on some focal (but sometimes less known) quotes from the British Romantics, mainly Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats and Clare.

During the afternoon, Peter will be joined by Allen Fisher, who will be presenting slides of art-images relevant to the topic. Allen Fisher says:
‘The first batch of images are mainly Friedrich with a few interfaces with Turner and even one from Constable. Shifts of attention from contemplative and mathematical sublime and melancholy to dynamic sublime.
The second batch are mainly Turner with interruptions from Wright, Girtin and Friedrich. Attention upon central or what I would call ‘hollowing’ perspectives with attachments to aspiration.’


Peter Larkin’s Notes for the Seminar.

Radical Landscape / Romantic Consciousness: German Romantics: Quotes (PL annotations)


A:Genius is the talent (gift of nature) which gives the rule to art. Talent, the innate productive capacity of the artist, itself belongs to nature. Genius is the innate aptitude through which nature gives the rule to art. (Kant, Critique of Judgment)

For Kant the aesthetic judgment seems to mediate between the empirical ego and the transcendental ego: it can never be proven to be universal (or governed by concepts) but in enacting it we are somehow compelled to assume it is so. Subjectively, we don’t recognise it as mere personal inclination, it is some sort of commitment, not only an amusement. Has the relation of theology and myth to the natural world been abolished? This was the central aesthetic problem for Schelling, Holderlin and the Romantics. Does Kantian understanding involve a repression of our particular phenomenological relation to objects? (28-9) though even for Kant the imagination was free to go beyond what was strictly attuned to the concept (29). Art tries to escape arbitrary rules, on behalf of freedom and joy, but as tho it were a pure product of nature, not an arbitrary creation of the human mind (31). For Kant the existence of the object remains a joy in itself, not reducible to the pleasure it might give to a subject [32].. ). For Schelling (Phil of Art) the universality present in Greek mythology’s capacity to articulate truth via images is only available in modern art to the artists who create their own closed circle of poetry, and one can see this played out in the sometimes obsessive patterns and micro-preoccupations of avant-garde art and music of our own time (261).

The cognitive powers brought into play by this representation are engaged in free play, since no definite concept restricts them to a particular rule of cognition. This state of free play must admit of universal communication, because cognition with which any given representation of the object is to accord, is the one and only mode of representation valid for everyone.

Even a bird’s song which we can reduce to no rule seems to have more freedom in it and thus to be richer for taste than a human voice singing in accordance with all the rules musical art prescribes (46). The beautiful is a presentation of an indeterminate concept of understanding, the sublime an indeterminate concept of reason. Hence the former delight is one of quality, the latter one of quantity. The feeling of the beautiful is directly with a feeling of the furtherance of life, so is compatible with a playful imagination. But the feeling of the sublime only arises indirectly, being brought about by the feeling of a momentary check to the vital forces followed at once by a discharge all the more powerful (ie chastening and sublimation cf Wordsworth crossing the Alps, Prelude 6: . Imagination–here the Power so called Through sad incompetence of human speech, That awful Power rose from the mind’s abyss   Like an unfathered vapour that enwraps,   At once, some lonely traveller. I was lost;   Halted without an effort to break through; But to my conscious soul I now can say– “I recognise thy glory:” in such strength   Of usurpation, when the light of sense Goes out, but with a flash that has revealed   The invisible world, doth greatness make abode.)

For Kant, because we feel our limits we must also sense what is not limited in ourselves, we sense a formlessness both in ourselves and in nature (37).The organisation of nature has nothing analogous to any causality known to us. Natural beauty may be named the analogue of art, ascribed to objects through reflection on the external intuition of them and only an account of their superficial form. (65) External nature is far from having made a particular favourite of man or from having preferred him to all other animals. Kant sees that in its destructive operations, plague, famine flood, cold etc humans are as little spared as any other animal. (66).

Kant had taught the Romantics it was a postulate of reason itself to seek the eternal, the infinite, the final cause. This transcendental metaphysics needed for the Romantic challenge against extreme emotionalism, and the basis for a philosophy of art, religion, humanity as a powerful synthetic tool for probing the essence of existence. But they rejected Kant’s stoic ethics for the idea of the aesthetic education of humanity, especially Schiller, Schelling and Solger, probably inspired by Shaftesbury. An emotional yearning to live morally, an inner drive to do the good.

B:When we speak of the external world, when we describe real objects, then we proceed like the genius. So genius consists in the capacity to treat imaginary objects as if they were real, and real objects as if they were imagined. Without genius, we would none of us exist at all. Genius is necessary to everything. But what we call genius – is the genius of genius. (Novalis, Miscellaneous Remarks)

Jean Paul: if wit is the playful anagram of nature, then imagination is its hieroglyphic alphabet which expresses all nature in a few images. (162) Only the one-sided talent gives a single tone like a piano string struck by the hammer. Genius is like a string of an Aeolian harp; one and the same string resounds in manifold tones in manifold breezes. (167) The true genius is calm from within; not the upheaving wave but the smooth deep mirrors the world. (168)

Jean Paul: Like love and youth [the genius] weds helpless life with ethereal sense, as at the edge of still water the real tree and its reflection seems to grow from a single root toward two heavens. (174)or the visible scene Would enter unawares into his mind With all its solemn imagery, its rocks, Its woods, and that uncertain heaven received Into the bosom of the steady lake. Wordsworth / There was a boy

C:If I say I am I then the subject and the object are not unified in such a way that no separation can be undertaken within infringing on the essence of the I. On the contrary, the I is only possible via this separation. (Holderlin, Being, Judgment, Possibility)

Fichte refuses to believe with Kant that we have no access to the ground of our being, but for F this access is not cognitive but more a capacity of relation we have to realise for ourselves (61). A sense of the I results as soon as our thinking returns to itself for f (63). Intellectual intuition is the way of doing this but it is never a mere mirror or representation of the self but a dynamic access to the self that doesn’t split the self (64) Thus intuition is an intuition of the action of thinking, thinking as an act and all acts are acts of relation mc (64) Only an unlimited activity such as this can be subsequently limited by actual concrete encounters (66).

Being for Holderlin is the whole of which subject & object are only parts. Being becomes transreflexive, that is, not determinable in the way a subject normally determines an object of knowledge (68). Being must not be confused with imposed identity, since the I can always be or feel separated from itself though knows it is still what it is mc [68]. Oneness is distinct from uniformity or central co-ordination. The choice of the object is the most fundamental act of the I, a free choice from which a new relationship can result (71). The stress is on the creative relation to the object, not just a cognitive one (71). The I recognises itself in the external world, so need not suppress its own divided nature, while poststructuralism relishes an essential ontological wound here which as an internal violence it sees as liberating mc (71)

D:The essence of identity can only be demonstrated in an apparent statement. We leave the identical in order to represent it. This only apparently happens or we are persuaded by the imagination to believe it. What already IS happens, naturally via imaginary separation and unification. (Novalis, Fichte Studies)

Gefuhl is the technical term in Fichte, Novalis and Schleiermacher for the pre-reflexive spontaneity of the I, the source of productive creativity but one based on a depth of perception, not simply subjective experimentalism .

For Schleiermacher, itt might well be impossible to transcend difference but individuality makes no sense without some way of identifying what the individuality is, but neither is it exhausted by any criteria for its identification, ie an entity can be other than itself but not so as to dissolve itself mc (153). The existential fact of consciousness can’t be reduced to any general or abstract means of articulation, and that includes the idea of a signifier

Identity entails a search for relationship and what is the same is not a preconceived totality but a diversity within relations of differences which nonetheless belong together mc. A wrong-headed strategic materialism can become reductive here, because it insists of an exact identity between the whole and the all mc. Absolute identity for the Romantics was never a simple totality but more a continuum where the outside is invited in and the inside offers itself to the external (though that is never a straight-forward process!) but it tries to sidestep the potential ontological violence demanded in the vigilant hunting down of any suspected totality (seen as a completely externalisable deployment of material power). But materiality cannot be so wholly externalised but has its own horizons, reserves and surprises (surprises which are never simply subversive) mc

E:In the tragic, the sign is in itself meaningless, without power, but that which is original is openly revealed. For really the original can only appear in its weakness, but insofar as the sign in itself is posited as meaningless, it equals zero [ie nothing] but the original, the hidden ground of everything in nature can represent itself. If nature genuinely represents itself in its weakest gift, then, when nature represents itself in its strongest gift, the sign again equals zero [ie everything]. (Holderlin, Significance of Tragedy)

A pre-echo of Stevens’ ‘the nothing that is not there and the nothing that is’ (The Snow Man).

F:We will never understand ourselves entirely, but we are capable of perceptions of ourselves which far surpass understanding. (Novalis, Miscellaneous Remarks)

For Novalis: we can know nothing by ourselves, all true knowledge must be given to us [ie knowing takes on the condition of gift, of relationship]. Transcendental poetry is a mixture of philosophy and poetry, a system of tropes feeling its way or apprehending the laws of symbolic construction. (39). Philosophy cannot supply the subject matter of reflection, it can only speculate on what is or already has been given. (61).

The temporality of thinking for Novalis means that any attempt at thinking will be an endless movement from signifier to signifier (78). But he had no sense of a purely negated presence which has to be endlessly deferred, as in Derrida (78). The Romantic sense of art points to its own sense of incompleteness, while trying to relate to or in some sense be formed by what is beyond it. In Modernism there is also a striving for something never fully achieved, but this striving is seen as a motor of production, a form in itself.

G:Every plant is completely what it should be, what is free in it is necessary and what is necessary is free. Man is eternally a fragment. (Schelling, System of Transcendental Idealism)

Fragments represented a self-conscious expression that all genuine romantic literature is incomplete, imperfect because striving for the infinite, all life is but a fragment anyway (Jean Paul). Self-contradiction and paradox necessary elements in such an art expressible through the fragment genre. (8) The fragment suggested the preparative as a goal, and as thinking itself as not just a means but an end of thought, a simultaneous self-contained unity in miniature. (9)

For Jean Paul Divine wisdom is always immersed upon the sleeping plant and animal instinct, and is expressed in the mobile soul. (169)

Novalis called the fragments literary seed-houses in which there might be barren grains but so long as a few germinate… There can be no simple reception without co-creation and production, since everyone only receives poetic beauty in parts, like chemical elements which they must compose into a whole in order to contemplate it

H:Deficiency stimulates the healthy body to activity, and excess to rest. Are not works of art the products of a healthy inactivity? (Nature shall become art, and art shall become second nature). (Novalis, On Goethe)

Jean Paul: Every feeling of deficiency supposes a relationship to that which is lacking and thus supposes its partial possession. But only a true deficiency makes possible the impulse toward it, only distance allows direction. (170)

So here is no pure Lacanian lack which can never be represented because it falls out any traceable relationship but interposes a sense of the nothing as nothing, not a nothingness as a promise of some sort.

I:What is the beginning of all thought is not yet thinking. Being itself is not not to be thought, however, even though the blindly existing is that which suppresses everything which derives from the concept, before which thinking goes silent (Schelling, Philosophy of Revelation)

For Schelling the blindly existing is what represses everything which derives from the concept, before which thinking goes silent (Phil of Revelation) [130]. Unprethinkable being is what is not not to be thought, though the beginning of thought is not yet thinking (130).

The individual’s ability actively to determine the universe in cognition and action, which Fichte makes the very ground of intelligibility, depends on the prior ‘activity’ of the universe itself, present before any individual subject.

In Hamann and Schelling there is always a counter-tradition which doesn’t involve a rejection or down-grading of the sensuous (136). For Schelling the idea of nature is not one of deathly objectivity as we ourselves are living organisms of a kind to be found in nature (81). Sch to Fichte: For you nature has no speculative significance, only a teleological obe (81). Nature cannot be there to be dominated or we end up dominating ourselves, an idea later central to the Frankfurt School (82). Schelling concerned with the productivity in nature rather than its products, natura naturans (82). What goes beyond the object is the original productivity of nature (83). The conscious I emerges from an unconscious but never inert nature (cf Merleau-Ponty on emergence)

Gaps between words and sounds are formally nothing but not in the sense of absolute non-being. Such a sense of nothing couldn’t actually be thought because it would have to be thought from a position of always already being in existence. It is instead a determinate nothing, without which articulation couldn’t take place – it is a nothing which has found a way to belong without itself being a positive mc (238).

J:Words have an aesthetic and logical character. Consequently, words are both pure and empirical intuitions as well as pure and empirical concepts: empirical because the sensation of sight or sound is affected by them, pure in so far as their significance is not determined by anything which belongs to these sensations. Meaning results from the linking of the sign, in itself arbitrary but indispensable, with the intuition of the object itself, and via this repeated connection the concept is communicated to and embodied in the understanding as much by the sign as the intuition itself. (Hamann, Writings on Speech)

Words for Hamann are both empirical intuitions as well as empirical concepts as matters of sight and sound are effected by them but significance is not wholly determined by these sensations. Meaning is a process which links a sign, arbitrary and indifferent, but necessary and indispensable, with the intuition of the object. Through this repeated connection the concept gets embodied into the understanding as much by the sign as by the understanding [147]. For Hamann difference is the endless dance of articulation within the diversity of God’s universe, or a divine perichoresis. This is makes difference significant, distinctive, and capable of positive as well as negative relationship mc (147).

The Romantics see the process of reflection as a potential for endless articulation and thus as something actually carried out, actually fulfilled. Hamann saw this endless reflection as a celebration of divine multiplicity (197).

Words as indeterminate objects of empirical concepts are critical appearances, ghosts, nonwords, and only become by their appointment and meaning in use, determinate objects for the understanding. It is by repeated bond of the word-sign and the intention itself that the concept is incorporated in the understanding. There is an oral non-identical repetition including a written moment which is not pure postponement and so sheerly indeterminable, but rather a particular tradition, a repetition with a particular concrete shape according to embodied speakers and spatial (not closed) circles of circumstance. (77)

Revelation as such adds nothing to creation, for the latter is precisely revelatory. God is transcendent, not transcendental, so always addresses the creature as the expressive self of this and other creatures. Nature writes an abbreviated, hieroglyphic version of the divine pictograph, nature and writing are the materials of beautiful, shaping, imitating spirit. (74)

K:The primary Imagination I hold to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM. The secondary Imagination [is] an echo of the former, coexisting with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to re-create. (Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, 1817)       A symbol is characterised by a translucence of the special in the individual or the general in the especial or of the universal in the general. (Coleridge, Lay Sermons, 1816)

Organisms are structures whose parts take part in the purpose of the whole and in such a way that the purpose is not external to them, but, rather, their own purpose. (Manfred Frank)

In art the infinite can appear within the finite in a concrete, sensuous way, and this idea was also basic to Coleridge’s idea of symbolism (108). ). Hegel can’t account for how the interpretation of symbols is never wholly controllable, so that art is never completely containable within a philosophical understanding

For Schleiermacher interpretation can never be complete or symbols fully transcended, given the nature of language (138) but in Coleridge, symbols participate in the very truth they are a witness to, they become part of its texture mc:

For Schelling the sensuous and non-sensuous are one [in language]: what is most graspable becomes a sign for the most spiritual. Everything becomes an image of everything else and language becomes thereby a symbol of the identity of all things (Schelling, Philosophy of Art)

Baumgartner who first inverted the term aesthetics to mean knowledge through perception rather than cognition is one origin for the Romantic sense of the effect of imagination consisting of its oversupply of images to concepts but which can then in some mysterious way go beyond concepts (cf postmodern excess of language over meaning where language pulverises and infinitises meaning) (3)

L:If we look at thinking in reality, everyone thinks in a specific language, and there is already a difference in this. In general we posit thought as identical, but at the same time we posit that it differentiates itself in reality. (Schleiermacher, Aesthetics)

Schleiermacher was one of the first philosophers to take the linguistic turn, the categorical operations of consciousness are in their turn dependent on language, a view already suggested by Hamann in 1794 who was suspicious of Kant’s separation of the sensuous from the conceptual (146).

For Schleiermacher interpretation can never be complete or symbols fully transcended, given the nature of language (138). In Coleridge, symbols participate in the very truth they are a witness to, they become part of its texture mc: For Schl the signifier’s meaning within a real act of communication can’t be reduced to formula repetitions and the surrounding traces and resonances are never entirely foreseeable. Interpretation has to involve ‘divination’ (174).

There are no thoughts without discourse but this doesn’t mean that words themselves do the thinking. Neither what is unique or what is general can be reduced to the other but each trespasses on the territory of the other to articulate itself mc (160). Every speech act is unique, the same words may be used but they don’t constitute the same action. Nothing, not even our mother-tongue, is wholly available to us, and not just because it remains partly outside us, but even our unique personal deployments of it are not completely transparent mc (160).

The aspect of endless difference in the way of the world affects each organism in receptivity (the organic function). Meaning & truth, though, rely upon the establishing of identities from what is given as difference in the organic function (xxv). The schematism of all true concepts is only innate in reason as a living drive. Limit notions are regulative ideas but as they play a necessary constitutive role in any attempt to understand the world, this distinction is untenable. (xxii) The identity of the real and ideal is only a schema. If it is to be living it comes again into the domain of the finite and of opposition.

The modern sense of the irreducibility of pain and loss for the individual suffering it to any more general scheme has its roots in the Romantic idea of art’s incompleteness as it attempts to image the unrepresentable. Romantic art is about a fundamental ontological tension but one that retains a vision of the very completion or consummation which engenders the sense of loss mc (142). Incompleteness is not just an effect of language as what suffers must have some form of existence prior to its being violated by the other – this is another unprethinkable surplus mc (143).

M:If it only it were possible to make people understand that the same goes for language as mathematical formulae – they constitute a world in itself. Their play is self-sufficient, they express nothing but their own marvellous nature, and this is the very reason why they are so expressive, why they are the mirror of the strange play of relations among things. (Novalis, Monologue)

For Novalis the subject is not sovereign but is dependent on language (72). [73]   I need to reflect on myself to discover I am an I, it is already too late (73). The signifier I is not the same as the I that uses the signifier. The signifier is a formal shifter, but its reception is not mc (74

There is always a tension between the general status of any signifying system and its use in practice which can never be completely accounted for in advance (166). The poet is concerned with the truth and complete determinacy of the singular, but the singular is still a participant in a wider universe (169). Poesie is not a radical new creation within language because the possibility of such creation is already present within the radicality of language itself, but this only becomes poetic when actual poetry makes this appear (169). The complete unity of a word would be its exhaustive explanation and this is as little present as any complete explanation of the nature of objects (170). The inadequacy of language flows through the ‘image’ which is always partly outside language, or may thicken and obstruct it in ways beyond its own formal qualities, though never wholly outside the range of what can impinge on language, the unique happening of an unrepeatable moment mc (171). If words are ever reduced to concepts, they always come up against a multiplicity which can’t be united or wholly regulated, but this multiplicity can’t act as any pure negation either mc (171).

Texts are inert or lack any active texture until subjects engage with them in a time and place, even though texts as such don’t have this qualities (204). Intuition contemplates an object without first using analytical concepts – the object is already there, has already been seen and experienced (Schopenhauer) (209). In poetry concepts can give way to non-discursive images, even though poetry is never completely concept free but they don’t generate what is going on mc (209

N:Feeling cannot feel itself. Feeling cannot be represented to itself because it is prior to reflection. It is the very basis of the possibility of philosophy, yet it cannot be represented. If it could be, there would be no philosophy. (Novalis, Fichte Studies)

If the goal of philosophy were fully present for Novalis, then there would be no further need to seek it (77). The limitation of the finite is exactly in attempting to experience what is beyond the finite, but as such already has a basis in relationship, it is not a pure enigma mc (77). For Novalis the notion of a beginning or origin is already a late concept, life has to be already there for us to be able to speculate about its outlines mc (78)

Romanticism acknowledges the undemonstrable nature of the real but resists abandoning the attempt to rediscover the underlying reality of the sensuous (43). Philosophy has got to come to terms with its own sense of incompleteness, which would be a moment of deferral, but completeness or consummation remains a felt lack for the Romantics, unlike Lacan’s lack which is by definition impossible to represent mc . For the Romantics lack or falling short remains saturated within a world of relations mc (43). Nature for them is not just a set of objects but a part of ourselves, but in ways we can never exhaust or master, though that doesn’t sever us from them. A calculative sense of natural determinism would mean a conscious dominance of the object in an absolute externalising of all relations.(44)

O:The whole history of modern poetry is a running commentary on the following brief philosophical text: all art should become science and all science art; poetry and philosophy should be made one. (Schlegel, Critical Fragments)

Schlegel: romantic not a literary genre but an element of poetry more of less dominant or recessive, never entirely absent. Modern art should be towards a fusion of genres in an all-embracing art form, a fusion of poetry and prose into poetic prose and a fusion of philosophy, art, religion and criticism so that each revealed an intrinsic independence. (4)

Schlegel required that both philosophy and criticism must be art if they are to reach their greatest value. (13) Art was a symbolic correspondence and nature a hieroglyph to be deciphered though not into a single meaning or even group of meanings. All texts are only fragmentarily incomprehensible, as one thing cleaves to its opposite and the nature of language is symbolic. The text must stimulate the reader to enliven the words with actual experience from the layering and composition of the textual strata from within

Poetry can only be criticised by poetry, Schlegel’s writings are philosophy as lyric. Criticism must form again what the art work has created, add to it, restore it, shape it afresh (On Goethe) (25) Novalis: the text is more like an onion than a fruit with a pit of meaning at its centre. The unfolding and discovery of the layers and their interrelations is the meaning. Irony reveals discursive meaning as radically unstable and seeks to express meaning as residing in the interplay between experience and art.

The temporality of thinking for Novalis means that any attempt at thinking will be an endless movement from signifier to signifier (78). But he had no sense of a purely negated presence which has to be endlessly deferred, as in Derrida (78). For Novalis, philosophy is really home-sickness, a desire to be at home everywhere. We thus have a sense of what home might be like, or what it is really not like. Here is a sense not of blank existence but some potential vocation which calls us into being, however much it might be an intermittent and partly garbled message mc (79).

P:Irony is the clear consciousness of eternal agility, of an infinitely teeming chaos. (Schlegel, Ideas)

Schlegel’s irony has its roots in a consciousness of limits. It oscillates between the polarities of understanding and not understanding, of general conceptualities and the infinite particularities of chaos (2). Truth doesn’t reside in generalities, but has to account for difference as well as sameness (4). But Schlegel not a sceptic, the new awareness of infinity or chaos a heightened awareness of the fullness of life. The impulse toward universality cannot exceed the status of a fragment.

The higher form of composition is chemical, the new unit is more than the sum of its parts, is no longer purely mechanical, there is some transformative activity mc (6). The human situation is irony as happening between infinite chaos on one side and the impulse to infinite unity (relatability) on the other, neither side reachable (7). Infinite particularise nonetheless suggest one foundation. Human life is a Schweben, a hovering or an Oscillieren between the poles which allows for an ironic self-consciousness (8) Limitation is not the sole word, enthusiasm and inspiration equally necessary, every man for Schlegel is a ‘restricted god’ Besonnenheit (discretion, circumspection) and Selbstbeschränkenung (self-limitation) are always needed.(10

For Schelling the sensuous/intelligible divide is part of an infinite continuum with no absolute boundary. Derrida recognises micro-boundaries which explode or implode in continuous ontological warfare but at the price of embrittling all these levels of interrelation mc (49). The emergence of the avant-garde in the early 20C refuses all existing forms of communication and resists sensuous beauty but is as such another response to the intuition of the limits of representation (with its highly suspected exchange values) that had already been suggested by the Romantic sublime (51). Schlegel prefigures the postmodern loss of identity and surrender to the other, the feeling of a subjectless generation of endless difference (55).

Q:There is a kind of poetry whose essence lies in the relation between ideal and real, and which therefore should be called transcendental poetry. It begins as satire in the absolute difference of ideal and real, hovers in between as elegy, and ends as idyll with the absolute identity of the two. (Schlegel, Athenaeum Fragments)

For Schlegel unity as a mechanical mode of organisation must be replaced by oneness of imaginative perception, the fragment breaking down any conventional, received unity to actively recreated. (16) For Novalis (Von Hardenburg) irony is presence of mind, the true presence of spirit, which always appears in strange and airy form. For Solger we find transcendence in ourselves beyond the ego when we find all oppositions suspended within ourselves. (18) Schlegel: life can turn in an almost Nietschean way into a virus of itself where its most intense vitality creates as it destroys and if it can’t become anything outside itself it must turn on itself and on its own creation. Here we glimpse a partial return to the Sturm und Drang mentality and a renewed risk of self-absorption seeking self-detonation. Solger: irony the constant unresolved tension between the conditioned and the unconditioned, or (Tieck) the divine-human in poetry. (20)

R:Art is involved in all the operations of our thinking. Art is the free production of the same functions which also occur in the controlled activity of humankind. Not a trace of knowledge arises yet out of all thinking in poetry, it only expresses the truth of a single consciousness, but that doesn’t mean the individuality of meaning cannot become collectively shared. (Schleiermacher, Aesthetics)

Aesthetic production doesn’t produce identical meanings: artistic activity belongs to those human activities which presuppose the individual in its difference from the other, in its uniqueness but in its relatability (158) This doesn’t mean, though, that the individuality of meaning can’t become collective (159). The counterfactual goal of Schl’s philosophy would be what he calls the ‘individual-general’ sustaining a free individuality within a community that doesn’t threaten it or feel threatened by it, ie the person within community rather than the individual a fragment of the collective mc (159).

Against idealism, Schleiermacher insists our thinking be of something not itself reducible to determinate thought, so that the dialectical process via which knowledge develops can begin. This doesn’t give a foundational approach from which to proceed, no self-certainty or observations reports so must be satisfied with arbitrary beginnings in all areas. (xxvii) Language is made possible by schematism, the establishing of relative identities between the organic and intellectual functions. (xxviii) ‘Language only exists via thought, and vice versa, each can only complete itself via the other.’ (xxix)

All real thinking is subjected to difference to differing degrees, only in the limits of thought so established is there an identity. (276) Every person has their place in the totality of being and their thinking represents being, but not separately from their place. (277) Only particular traits can be grasped as formulae, but only to the extent they are opposed by others. That is not a proper combination, rather each person has it in himself as an image. The last supplement of the incompleteness of knowledge lies here on the side of the image, and the complete cycle of individual images must complete the incompleteness of universal knowledge, but that is only possible as a continual approximation. (279) Intuition contemplates an object without first using analytical concepts – the object is already there, has already been seen and experienced (Schopenhauer) (209). In poetry concepts can give way to non-discursive images, even though poetry is never completely concept free but they don’t generate what is going on mc

Religion doesn’t make humans gods but shows how the infinite discloses itself in everything finite. The infinite chaos in which every point presents a world is the most proper and highest image of religion (71). Religion affects activity but only as an accompaniment, one can do everything with it but nothing from it. The sense of affinity and conflict, individuality and unity arises in the individual disposition and is then transferred to nature (72). Miracle is the religious name for event (cf Badiou) as everything can be miraculous (73). Unless everything is separated and limited there would be no objects and religious intuition has to be focussed on definite objects [here the tension between romantic consciousness and radical landscape mc]. Intuition has 3 directions: inward toward the self, outward toward the indefiniteness of the world, and a third oscillating between the 2 inward/outwardly seeking the unity of the other 2 (74) To perceive the infinite in the finite is to preserve the finite as finite, a religion within the limits and radiance of human perception (79). Novalis retained his sense of vision of higher realms, what has been seen from above is not subject to polemical nitpicking from below, while for Schleiermacher the conditions of perception imply a critical stance, including the historical forms of Christianity. (84) For later Schlegel religion was a soaring above the polarities by means of esoteric visions of the unity beyond them. Schleiermacher thought a person could perceive/receive a presentiment of ground from within the polarity without straining the finitude. (95) Religion was the presentiment of a ground and unity for this living reality perceived in and through some particular part of it. Through this intuition all other parts are enlivened and transformed, but not the self nor that in itself which perceives the infinite is metamorphosed. (9

S:My readers will have observed a small water-insect on the surface of rivulets, which throws a cinque-spotted shadow fringed with prismatic colours on the sunny bottom of the brook; and will have noticed how the little animal wins its way up against the stream, by alternate pulses of active and passive motion, now resisting the current and now yielding to it to gather strength and a momentary fulcrum for a further propulsion. (Coleridge, Biographica Literaria, 1)

In a similar way for the Romantics, and very much including Coleridge, the self’s relation to the outside world, to nature and landscape, involves a continuity under tension in which the asymmetry and mutual irreducibility of different domains is reimagined as in harmony, singing or resonating together, when held under positive stress mc.

The existential fact of consciousness can’t be reduced to any general or abstract means of articulation, ie a pure signifier (156). Poetic deviations from any impersonal linguistic norm are inherent in the very nature of language, they are its living viscosity as well as its slippery instability (there is texture, matters of relative density of figuration and expression, as well as pure text, this is what constitutes a materiality open to horizons. (157).

T:Chemistry is the passionate ground: surfaces – structures – cavernous landscapes – atmospheres – cloudlandscapes. The entire landscape should form an individual – vegetation and inorganic nature – fluid firm – nature variations. (Novalis, Studies in the Visual Arts)


British Romantic Poets


I crossed the dreary moor
In the clear moonlight: when I reached the hut
I entered in, but all was still and dark,
Only within the ruin I beheld
At a small distance, on the dusky ground
A broken pane which glittered in the moon
And seemed akin to life. There is a mood
A settled temper of the heart, when grief,
Become an instinct, fastening on all things
That promise food, doth like a sucking babe
Create it where it is not. From this time
That speck of glass was dearer to my soul
Than was the moon in heaven. (Wordsworth: Incipient Madness, 1797)



“My Friend, enough to sorrow have you given,
The purposes of wisdom ask no more;
Be wise and chearful, and no longer read
The forms of things with an unworthy eye.
She sleeps in the calm earth, and peace is here.
I well remember that those very plumes,
Those weeds, and the high spear-grass on that wall,
By mist and silent rain-drops silver’d o’er,
As once I passed did to my heart convey
So still an image of tranquillity,
So calm and still, and looked so beautiful
Amid the uneasy thoughts which filled my mind,
That what we feel of sorrow and despair
From ruin and from change, and all the grief
The passing shews of being leave behind,
Appeared an idle dream that could not live
Where meditation was. I turned away
And walked along my road in happiness.” (Wordsworth: The Ruined Cottage, 1798)



one evening, (surely I was led by her),
I went alone into a Shepherd’s boat,
A skiff that to a willow-tree was tied
Within a rocky cave, its usual home…
The moon was up, the lake was shining clear
Among the hoary mountains; from the shore
I push’d, and struck the oars, and struck again
In cadence, and my little Boat mov’d on
Even like a man who walks with stately step
Though bent on speed. It was an act of stealth ]
And troubled pleasure; not without the voice
Of mountain-echoes did my boat move on,
Leaving behind her still on either side
Small circles glittering idly in the moon…
A rocky steep uprose
Above the cavern of the willow tree,
And now, as suited one who proudly rowed
With his best skill, I fixed a steady view
Upon the top of that same craggy ridge

The bound of the horizon, for behind
Was nothing but the stars and the grey sky….
I dipp’d my oars into the silent lake.
And, as I rose upon the stroke, my Boat
Went heaving through the water, like a swan
When from behind that craggy steep, till then
The bound of the horizon, a huge Cliff,
As if voluntary power instinct,
Upreared its head: I struck, and struck again
And, growing still in stature, the huge cliff
Rose up between me and the stars, and still,
With measured motion, like a living thing,
Strode after me. (Wordsworth: Prelude, 1, 1805)

The roaring dell, o’erwooded, narrow, deep
And only speckled by the mid-day sun;
Where its slim trunk the ash from rock to rock
Flings arching like a bridge; — that branchless ash,
Unsunned and damp, whose few poor yellow leaves
Ne’er tremble in the gale, yet tremble still,
Fanned by the water-fall!   (Coleridge, This Lime-Tree Bower, 1797)



‘Tis calm indeed! So calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill and wood,
This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams! The thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not:
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companiable form… (Coleridge, Frost at Midnight, 1798)



Shadow of the Tree in the ruffled water distinguishable from the Breeze on the water only by its stationariness. The white rose of Eddy-foam, where the stream ran into a scooped or scolloped hollow of the Rock in its channel – this Shape, an exact white rose, was for ever overpowered by the Stream rushing down in upon it, and still obstinate in resurrection it spread up into the Scallop [sic], by fits & starts, blossoming in a moment into a full Flower. Hung over the bridge & musing, considering how much of this Scene of endless variety in Identity was Nature’s – how much the living Organ’s. What would it be if I had the eyes of a fly! (Coleridge, Notebooks, October 1803)



Far, far above, piercing the infinite sky,

Mont Blanc appears–still, snowy, and serene;

Its subject mountains their unearthly forms

Pile around it, ice and rock; broad vales between

Of frozen floods, unfathomable deeps,

Blue as the overhanging heaven, that spread

And wind among the accumulated steeps;

A desert peopled by the storms alone,

Save when the eagle brings some hunter’s bone,

And the wolf tracks her there–how hideously

Its shapes are heap’d around! rude, bare, and high,

Ghastly, and scarr’d, and riven…


Thou hast a voice, great Mountain, to repeal

Large codes of fraud and woe; not understood

By all, but which the wise, and great, and good

Interpret, or make felt, or deeply feel. (Shelley: Mont Blanc, 1817)


(That very day,

From a bare ridge we also first beheld

Unveiled the summit of Mont Blanc, and grieved

To have a soulless image on the eye

That had usurped upon a living thought

That never more could be. Wordsworth, Prelude, VI, 1805)



And as a willow keeps
A patient watch over the stream that creeps
Windingly by it, so the quiet maid
Held her in peace: so that a whispering blade
Of grass, a wailful gnat, a bee bustling
Down in the blue-bells, or a wren light rustling
Among seer leaves and twigs, might all be heard. (Keats, Endymion I, 1818)
Say, doth the dull soil
Quarrel with the proud forests it hath fed,
And feedeth still, more comely than itself?
Can it deny the chiefdom of green groves?
Or shall the tree be envious of the dove
Because it cooeth, and hath snowy wings
To wander wherewithal and find its joys? (Keats, Hyperion, 1819)



I loved her [ie Nature] rudest scenes, warrens, and heaths,
And yellow commons, and birch-shaded hollows,
And hedge rows, bordering unfrequented lanes
Bowered with wild roses, and the clasping woodbine
Where purple tassels of the tangling vetch
With bittersweet, and bryony inweave,
And the dew fills the silver bindweed’s cups
I loved to trace the brooks whose humid banks
Nourish the harebell, and the freckled pagil;
And stroll among o’ershadowing woods of beech. (Charlotte Smith, Beachy Head, 1807)



For passers bye I never pin
No troubles to my breast
Nor carry round some names
More money from the rest
Im swordy well a piece of land
Thats fell upon the town
Who worked me till I couldnt stand
And crush me now Im down

Alas dependance thou’rt a brute
Want only understands
His feelings wither branch and root
That falls in parish hands
The much that clouts the ploughmans shoe
The moss that hides the stone
Now Im become the parish due
Is more then I can own

Though Im no man yet any wrong
Some sort of right may seek
And I am glad if een a song
Gives me the room to speak
Ive got among such grubbing geer
And such a hungry pack
If I brought harvest twice a year
They’d bring me nothing back (Clare: Swordy Well, 1832-7)



Allen Fisher: Some Notes for the Seminar

Link to Related Artworks 1

Link to Related Artworks 2

Radical Landscape / Romantic Consciousness[1]

Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851)

and Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797)

with additional examples from

John Constable (1776-1837) and Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)

For Glasfryn Seminars 23 April 2016


Today we are going to look at Romantic landscape painting. To be true to this subject at the outset this idea will include many paintings that depict representations of the sky as an overt subject, in many paintings this subject will in fact be the sea and, in two examples, interior scenes looking out to the sunlight. The attention to landscape will of necessity be prospective, an attention to contemplative practice that implicitly notes that a meditational landscape would be a contradiction in terms.[2]

Interleaving the discussion today is another which will not be fully expressed, but will no doubt intrude upon what is said. This is my work in progress on the concept of the Sublime in relation to the beautiful, and my attentions to the complex of Frenzy and Self-Control. The former concept is being elaborated from the seventeenth-century work of John Dennis, particularly regarding Homer, Virgil, Horace and Milton, and the subsequent work in the eighteenth-century by Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant. Then the former concept and latter attentions in the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, Aby Warburg and, in our own time, Gilles Deleuze, Gene Ray and Philippe-Alain Michaud. Examples from Dennis, Burke, Nietzsche, Ray and Michaud have been added as an addendum. Examples from Kant and Deleuze have been included in the text and in footnotes.

To facilitate our aesthetic comprehension, the pictures have been organised into constructive groups. The inevitable consequence of this, given the practical caution of our situation, will mean that some pictures with more than one implicit design, and thus offering the potential of dual productive consequence, will nonetheless only be shown once. This means that I will often refer to more than one constructive attention within what would at first appear to be a singular aesthetic focus. The session has been organised into two sections. In the first I will give attention to horizons and contemplation, the dynamic sublime and the constructed diagonal and then the dynamic construction I have named hollowing. In part two we will look at proportional planning, Gothic and Romanesque arching, a review of hollowing, contemplation and attention to displaced centres and focal areas.


part one

horizons and contemplation

Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840)


Wanderer Across the Sea of Fog, Caspar David Friedrich, 1818.

The Wanderer stands directly on the central plumb-line contemplating almost exactly at the vortex of an inverted triangle and in two constructed diagonals, but most emphatically from his own place of gaze out towards the peaks beyond the descending hills, over a sea of fog or cloud or both, above the world of the living towards the cosmos beyond, on a route defined by the design of the picture.

This is 1818, the changes consequent in scientific and industrial opportunity in northern Europe are fully underway. This is also the period when aesthetic judgement has for many philosophers, poets and artists can be considered to have what Gilles Deleuze names as two types: ‘As long as we remain with aesthetic judgment of the type ‘“this is beautiful” reason seems to have no role: only understanding and imagination intervene. Moreover, it is a higher form of pleasure which is discovered, not a higher form of pain. But the judgement “this is beautiful” is only one type of aesthetic judgement. We must examine the other type; “this is sublime”. In the Sublime, imagination surrenders itself to an activity quite distinct from that of formal reflection. The feeling of the sublime is experienced when faced with the formless or the deformed (immensity or power). It is as if imagination were confronted with its own limit, forced to strain to its utmost, experiencing a violence which stretches it to the extremity of its power …’ (Deleuze 1984: 50)[3]


The Monk by the Sea, Friedrich, 1809-10.

A few years before 1818, in a longer tunic, the monk stands on a modulating beach contemplating the cosmos over a low constructed horizon. In August Wiedmann’s words, ‘unimpeded contemplation of the magnitude and mystery of Creation’ and in ‘… contemplation of nature … longing to fuse with the Whole.’ (Wiedmann 1986: 113)[4] Von Kleist remarked, … as if one’s eyelids had been cut away.’ [5] ‘The projected vastness at the same time communicates a feeling of dreadfulness, a form of metaphysical disquiet which [humans experience] confronting the overpowering oppressiveness of an illuminated inexplicable universe.’ (1986: 114)

He stands to the left of the constructive division of what the nineteenth century named the Golden Section.[6] These divisions appear to be almost incidentally inherited from neo-classical design and not conceptually applied.The very low horizon spells out its Romanticism, the cosmos above the horizon dominates his contemplation, gives considerable weight down upon the small section below in a ratio of more than 4: 1.


Drifting Clouds, Friedrich, 1821.

These proportions are almost repeated in Drifting Clouds, eleven years later, where the horizon of the green hills marks out a distinction from the more distant hills, that recur across the canvas almost to the top partly lost in cloud cover indicative of the elevation, an echo of the Wanderer’s view. Wiedmann recalls that ‘A.W. Schlegel noted … “Nature at its flattest and most monotonous is the best teacher of a landscape painter”, This impoverished nature makes for “a sense of frugality” in the artist which knows how to please the mind with but “the slightest hint of higher life” in the landscape. (1986: 133)


The Large Enclosure near Dresden, Friedrich, ca. 1832.

The Large Enclosure, near Dresden, continues the use of a low horizon and develops a curving foreground centrally constructed with comparative symmetry in the tree forms and sky shape with its valley off centred as part of the contemplative construction, the eye led in, after its initial left to right Euro-reading, led in by the boat sail and mast, off centre diagonally left to the single tree and from the left via the mast to the opening between the distant tree line. Wiedmann notes, ‘the overwhelming effect is of a monumental simplicity based on sweeping horizontals and complementing diagonals and parabolic curves.’ (1986: 114-115)


Morning in the Riesengebirge,Friedrich, 1811,

The reading from the right corner in this early morning in the Riesengebirge in 1811 takes the viewer immediately to the invented crucifix on the mountain top with two figures before it, one in white lifting or laying a hand on a figure in black. This private narrative remains private. The viewer’s eye taken from the foreground across the top of hills into a misted and faded horizon. The red stone foreground leads us through middle ground blues and greys into a white background. Wiedmann notes, ‘Deficient in drawing the human form, Friedrich had his close friend, the painter Georg Friedrich Kersting sketch in the tiny male and female figure. The latter, lightly clad, pulls the former meant to be Friedrich himself—towards the base of the Cross.’ (1986: 151)


Moonrise over the Sea, Friedrich, 1822.

The diagonal dynamic is re-emphasised in the evening Moonrise over the Sea ten years later. Three figures on the shore watch the approaching ships. This is a typical construction on the dynamic in which the viewer travels in a contra-direction to the oncoming signifiers of movement in the ships and contra to the reading from left to right. Wiedmann sees, ‘a “boundless Whole” illuminated by a rising moon whose light turns into a silvery streak on the silent sea.’ (1986: 131) ‘The contemplative repose of these figures recalls F. Schlegel’s notion that only in longing does [humankind] find stability and peace.’ (Wiedmann 1986: 131) A.W. Schlegel wrote, ‘To begin with, each thing represents itself … its essence being revealed in its appearance. (Hence it is a symbol of itself.) Subsequently, it represents that to which it is related and by which it is affected. Lastly, it is a mirror of the universe.’ [7]


Abbey in the Oakwood, Friedrich, 1809-10.

The dynamic of Moonrise over the Sea contrasts with the stillness of the ruined Gothic abbey, the imagined slow movement of the monks around it, the symmetry of treated trees, the foreground grave yard and indications of spaded earth in the centre dug in readiness for a grave. The coffin appears to be approaching bourn by a small group of figures in the centre beneath the arch and to the side of a crucifix. The slight upward line from right to left in the darkness above the whiteness of the sky above the faint Moon leads the eyes out of the picture in the funeral direction, from left to right.

The painting was exhibited as the companion to The Monk by the Sea.


Full size sketch for Hadleigh Castle, John Constable, ca. 1828-29, and

Hadleigh Castle. The Mouth of the Thames — Morning after a Stormy Night, Constable, 1829.

This is John Constable’s full size oil sketch in the Tate, factured in 1828; the final painting derived from it was exhibited in spring 1829. The consequent painting, altogether calmer, is in Yale. The work is part of a response to the death of Constable’s wife. The horizon is lifted to the midpoint. The scene is a thirteenth-century ruined castle near the end of the Thames estuary, 150 feet above the river. In the distance the Thames meets the Nore and then the North Sea on the horizon.

The picture confirms the funeral direction. The coastal path to the ruin with the walker and dog towards diagonally from the left lower corner directly towards the top right. In the later finished painting now in Yale there is an optimistic and newly accentuated diagonal from the right. In this large sketch the clouds and storm birds reenforce the solemn production that only hints at an optimism in the shifts of sunlight crossing over the left to right diagonal.

It is proposed that Constable only made one visit to this site, fourteen years before this sketch was painted. This proposal is in need of reappraisal in the light of the accuracy of the visual description.

In July 1814 Constable had written to Maria Bicknell, who was to become his wife,

‘I walked upon the beach at South End. I was always delighted with the melancholy grandeur of a sea shore. At Hadleigh there is a ruin of a castle which from its situation is really a fine place — it commands a view of the Kent hills, the Nore and North Foreland & looking many miles to sea.’ [8]

When he exhibited the final painting in 1829 he included with it an extract from the ‘Summer’ section of James Thomson’s The Seasons in the Royal Academy catalogue:


‘… The Desert joys

Wildly, through all his melancholy bounds.

Rude Ruins glitter; and the briny Deep,

Seen from some pointed promontory’s top,

Far to the dim[9] horizon’s utmost verge,

Restless, reflects a floating gleam.’ [10]



dynamic sublime and the constructed diagonal

Friedrich (1774-1840) and J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851)


Arctic Sea (aka The Wreck of the Hope), Friedrich, 1823-24.

Friedrich’s Artic Sea, sometimes known as The Wreck of the Hope, demonstrates the concept quickly and convincingly. The terror of the shifting ice almost entirely conceals the shipwrecked Hope. The phenomenon of ice landscape like this, which may at first appear to be imaginary, in fact describes Friedrich’s realist intent. This is Jim Brandenberg’s photograph of an ice landscape in 2016.[11]


Photograph of ice landscape from 93 Days of Spring, Jim Brandenberg, 2016, photograph, National Geographic magazine, April 2016, digital edition.

In Friedrich, the foreground perspective has been displaced by the middle ground perspective — the viewer looks up in the former and looks slightly down into the middle in the latter. This dual viewing area is common in north European paining, particularly evident in earlier Flemish and Prussian art before and after the work of Dürer offered a more rational geometry.


The Fall of an Avalanche in the Grisons, J.M.W. Turner, 1810.

The dynamic diagonal from the righthand corner is again iterated by Turner in his falling avalanche in the Grisons. The diagonal is contra-shifted to the fall of the rock crushing the wooden building in the foreground. The diagonal dynamic is picked up again in the rain mist in the distance.


The Shipwreck, Turner, exhibited 1805.

Turner’s Shipwreck offers this counter force again where the direction of the mast and sail run at ninety degrees to the sinking hollow of the rescue boat and passengers as the sea prepares to descend upon them.


Pages 12 & 18 of 21 from Shipwreck sketchbook, Turner, ca. 1805.

You can see from Turner’s wonderful drawings in his Shipwreck sketchbook ho

w that contrast — originally with a focus on the disruption and the hollowing sea — was then contrasted with a constructional dynamic.


the dynamic hollowing



Peace. Burial at Sea, Turner, 1842.

Turner’s Peace: Burial at Sea commemorates the burial of David Wilkie off the coast of Gibraltar, he had died during his journeyfrom the Levant. The picture shows a steamboat and two ships bracketing what almost seems like a nativity, in any case another ship caught in the fire of the sun across which Turner has depicted smoke in a dynamic diagonal. The black foregrounded shipping produces a hollow or window in the centre. The horizon is at halfway — a realist intrusion into the sublime proposal.


Snowstorm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps, Turner, 1812.

In Turner’s Snowstorm: Hannibal and His Army Crossing the Alps, the hollowing takes on a dynamic role in a sublime construction with flows of diagonals and a vast hollowing sky described by the blue black storm around the bright sun, pointed to by the participants on the ground as if pointing to a portent in the sky. This demonstration of the Dynamically Sublime in 1812 provides a precedent for what can follow.[12]

Ruskin writes of Turner’s persistent “sadness” which came to conquer him: “He was without hope” and wherever he looked “he saw ruin and twilight”, the “Faint breathing of the sorrow of night”.[13]


Valley of Aosta: Snowstorm, Avalanche, and Thunderstorm, Turner, 1836-37.

In 1836-37 we see comparable construction in Turner’s Valley of Aosta: Snowstorm, Avalanche and Thunderstorm, with a soft diagonal valley from the right in a seminar with the fierce water moving in from the left and producing a scenic valley beneath the roaring turn of the weather and landscape above it. It is almost apocalyptic and an almost complete circle.


Snowstorm: Steamboat off a Harbour’s Mouth, Turner, 1842.

The dynamic sublime is again demonstrated in 1842, Snowstorm: Steamboat off a Harbour’s Mouth with itssloping horizon, its black and red smoke moving diagonally to the right hollowing white light off-centre on the right parallel to the righthand rain sheets, the mast bowing in the fierceness of the storm.


All of these works of hollowing in Turner anticipate his 1843 Light and Colour (Goethes Theory) – the Morning after the Deluge – Moses Writing the Book of Genesis, with its encompassing geometric circle.


Buttermere Lake, with Part of Cromackwater, Cumberland, a Shower, Turner, 1798.

This dynamic calms down in Buttermere and takes on the mathematical Sublime.[14] The hollow in the sky over the fells, the low horizon of the lakeside. The lifting curve of the rainbow and its reflection in the water. The hollow in the sky illuminates the fields in the middle ground between the dark lake and the hills.


In all of these works there is a new interest in weather, but also the weather’s capacity to signal inner turmoils of the self in a process of construction. The hollowing out structures are one of the characteristics of sublime work and why many artists include bridge and arch forms as windows into a world beyond.


Abergavenny Bridge, Monmouth, (aka Llanfoist Bridge)

Clearing up after a Showery Day, Turner, 1799.

Here, painted by Turner, is Llanfoist Bridge over the River Usk with the Blorenge Mountain in the background near a confluence with the River Gavenny. A central cow glances back at the painter as he disturbs the ground beyond the picture, presumably in a boat or on the bank of the river.





part two

proportional planning;

Gothic and Romanesque arching;

hollowing and contemplation reviewed;

return to displaced centres;

contemplation; focal areas and hollowing

proportional planning


Fishermen at Sea, Turner, 1796.

From Turner’s first oil painting in 1796, Fishermen at Sea, we can recognise the proclivity to hollow and plan off-centre foci, in this case the Moon and moonlight and reflected hollow from the sky in the water. The position of the Moon marks an exact Golden Section ratio division[15]with a wonderfully dramatic contrast of light and black. The lantern in the boat falls directly under the Moon. The silhouetted formation of rocks in the background are the Needles, off the Isle of Wight.


Limekiln at Coalbrookdale, Turner, ca. 1797.

A similar division and bias, albeit less exact, informs his Lime kiln at Coalbrookedale in the following year.


The White House at Chelsea, Thomas Girtin, 1800.

Girtin in the same period (1800) uses this measured division more casually in his White House at Chelsea and the house, in Battersea and its reflectionseen from across the reach of the Thames, with a Romantic low horizon. Girtin’s division of the picture is to the right of the ideal line.

‘Looking upstream from a spot close to the present-day Chelsea Bridge, Girtin’s view shows, from left to right, Joseph Freeman’s mill, the horizontal air mill, the white house in the area now occupied by Battersea Park, Battersea Bridge, and Chelsea Old Church. Strictly speaking, therefore, the title should read Chelsea Reach Looking towards Battersea …’ [16]


Gothic and Romanesque arching


This painterly planning and constructive reference is considerably highlighted in the use of Gothic and Romanesque arches and thus hollows or windows within them — described — illustrated by the following four pictures.


Transept of Tintern Abbey, Turner, 1792 and The Interior of Tintern Abbey Looking Towards the West Window from the Choir, Girtin, 1793.

Turner’s Transept of Tintern Abbey uses the arches and windows in a perspectival series, starting with foreground arch to the right of centre followed by the next arch further off-centre and the background arch another step further off-centre, a practice Turner has learnt from other painters treating the same and similar architectural scenes. Girtin depicts a similar view, but with an increased foliage and variety in the arches depicted.


Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Meadow, Constable, 1826.

Even Constable is persuaded by this approach to this preference in his framing of Salisbury Cathedral from Bishop Fisher’s Meadow, over the Avon. The cathedral spire is almost exactly at the Golden Section division. In another seventy years Cézanne will pick the preference to contribute to his series of Large Bathers in Pennsylvania and in London.


Interior of a Great House: The Drawing Room, East Cowes Castle, Turner, ca. 1830 and Interior of a Cottage,Turner, ca. 1801.

Turner painted this Interior of a Great House: The Drawing Room at East Cowes Castle with its funeral light roaring at the Romanesque doorway —which was almost anticipated in this earlier watercolour from an interior of a cottage, with the income of light from a doorway and its window on the world beyond in the corner.


hollowing and contemplation reviewed


in Turner’s contemporaries like Friedrich, but also in his precedents in the painted work of Joseph Wright of Derby.

Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon, Friedrich, ca. 1824.

This fashionable couple gaze out to an off centre Moon, with a lead back into the painting from the righthand slope and menaced by, animated by, the lower branches or roots of a tree leaning to the right.


Chalk Cliffs on Rügen, Friedrich, ca, 1818.

This opens up to a clear window in which Friedrich and his wife join Friedrich’s brother on Rügen island to celebrate their new marriage. At first I thought that the couple were discussing plants, whilst the brother contemplated the sea and yachts. In fact they are contemplating or being sublimely whelmed by the sheer cliff drop beneath them, a potential for the mathematical sublime.




return to displaced centres;

contemplation; focal areas and hollowing


Cave at Evening (aka Grotto in the Gulf of Salerno), Joseph Wright of Derby, 1774.

The tradition of hollowing and windowing was strongly evident in Wright of Derby’s work in the eighteenth century (from 1753 until his death in1797) using a variety of descriptions. The most dramatic and obvious are his views out from the interior of a cave, a grotto at the Gulf of Salerno, from darkness to daylight,

and from darkness to moonlight.

Grotto in the Gulf of Salerno, Moonlight, Wright, 1774.


or through the arch to Virgil’s tomb in Naples

Virgil’s Tomb: Sun Breaking through a Cloud, Wright, 1785.


or towards the fall of water in Rydall near the Wordsworths’ cottage in Cumberland.

Rydall Waterfall, Cumbria, Wright, 1795.


Bridge through a Cavern, Moonlight, Wright, 1791.

Wright in fact anticipates many Romantic and modern traits. His hollow with a displaced Moon, over a bridge formed window and in this moonlit moment at Matlock Tor,

Matlock Tor by Moonlight, Wright, between 1777 and 1780.


or this one against a lighthouse in Tuscany.

Moonlight with a Lighthouse, Coast of Tuscany, Wright, exhibited 1789.


In fact Wright had a passion for off-centred foci.


Cottage on Fire, Wright, 1793.

The Moon literally in the shadow of this Cottage on Fire,


or as a contrast to an iron foundry.

Ironworking, Attributed to Wright of Derby, undated, on display at Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, Coalbrookedale.


The Annual Gitandola at the Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome, Wright, 1775-76.

The Moon almost pushed into oblivion in contrast to the fireworks at the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome.


Derwent Water, with Skiddaw in the distance, Wright, between 1795 and 1796.

These contrasts and displacements are to the fore in changing weathers and planned-for descriptions at Derwent Water with Skiddaw,


none more so than the Eruption of Vesuvius in 1776.

Vesuvius in Eruption, with a View over the Islands in the Bay of Naples, Wright, 1776.

Additional Notes for Radical Landscape / Romantic Consciousness


This Addendum includes examples (1) regarding the Sublime: John Dennis, Thomas Gray, Edmund Burke and Gene Ray; (2) regarding Frenzy and Self-Control: Friedrich Nietzsche, Philippe-Alain Michaud, ,Aby Warburg, J. J. Wincklemann and G.E. Lessing.


  1. Regarding the Sublime.


John Dennis was a pioneer of the concept of the sublime as an aesthetic quality. After taking the Grand Tour of the Alps he published his comments in a journal letter published as Miscellanies in 1693, giving an account of crossing the Alps where, contrary to his prior feelings for the beauty of nature as a “delight that is consistent with reason”, the experience of the journey was at once a “pleasure to the eye as music is to the ear”, but “mingled with Horrours, and sometimes almost with despair.” The significance of his account is that the concept of the sublime, at the time a rhetoric term primarily relevant to literary criticism, was used to describe a positive appreciation for horror and terror in aesthetic experience, in contrast to Ashley Cooper, The Third Earl of Shaftesbury’s more timid response to the sublime.

For tho mear Enthusiasm is but Madness, nothing can be more noble than that which is rightly regulated; and nothing can come nearer that which I fancy to be a true description of Wit; which is a just mixture of Reason and Extravagance, that is, such a mixture as reason may always be sure to predominate, and make its mortal Enemy subservient to its grand design of discovering and illustrating sacred Truth.’ (Preface to Miscellanies in Verse and Prose 1693 [1939: 6])[17]

Now let us consider Two very Masterly Images, out of the Second Book of Virgil; the First is the Hewing down of a Tree, which appear’d so admirable to Julius Scaliger, that he affirm’d, that Jupiter could never have mended it; and the Second gave Occasion for that incomparable Statue of Laocoon, which I saw at Rome, in the Gardens of Belvidere, and which is so astonishing, that it does not appear to be the Work of Art, but the miserable Creature himself, like Niobe, benumm’d and petrify’d with Grief and Horror.

The First, besides its Greatness, carries Terror along with it. Virgil compares the Destruction of Troy, which had been Ten Years besieg’d, to the Fall of a Mountain Ash, at whose Root the labouring Swains had been a long Time hewing with their Axes.


And as when sturdy Swains, with frequent Strokes,

Hewing with all their stretcht-out Arms,

let drive At the firm Root of some aspiring Oak,

Which long the Glory of the Mountain stood,

That ev’ry Moment formidably nods,

And shakes the lofty Glories oj its Crown, Till,

broken by repeated Wounds, at last, Down it

comes rushing with a fatal Groan,

And tears the Earth, and rends the solid Rock, And

still is dreadful in its hideous Fall.

Now here I desire the Reader to consider, how the Poet raises his Spirit, as soon as he sets his Image in Motion, and brings in Terror to his Relief…  ‘For all the Passions, when they are very great, carry Fury along with them, and all the afflicting Passions, together with Fury, carry Vehemence and Severity. And the Poet hereby setting his Image in motion, had set it before his Eyes, and so made it the more terrible. Let us now consider that of Laocoön… Which in English Blank Verse runs thus;


Laocoön, now great Neptune’s Priest, by Lot,

The solemn Sacrifice, a mighty Bull,

Prepar’d to slay it when, lo! from Tenedos

Two huge Twin Serpents of prodigious Size,

(A shiv’ring Horror chills all my Life Blood,

At the bare Thought, and freezes ev’ry Nerve!)

Their monstrous Folds incumbent on the Main,

With equal haste come rowling tow’rds the Shore.

Their spotty Breasts erect above the Waves,

And bloody Crests, look fearful to the Eye.

Their other Parts come winding throuqh: the Flood,

In many a waving Spire in the Sea resounds,

While with the scaly Horrors of their Tails,

They swinge the foaming Brine.

And now they land! now dart their flaming Eyes,

Distain’d with Blood, and streaming all with Fire!

We, pale and bloodless at the dismal Sight,

All in a Moment, trembling, disappear.

They to the Priest direct their flaming Way,

And of his little Sons, each seizing one,

Around their Limbs they twine their snaky Spires,

And on their little trembling Joints they feed:

A dismal Feast! And while their wretched Sire,

With piercing Shrieks, comes rushing to their Aid,

At him, with Fury both, at once, they dart,

And clasping him with their vast pois’nous Folds,

Twice round his Waste they twist, and twice his Neck;

And stretching o’er his Hand, their dismal Heads

And lofty Crests, upon the dying Wretch

They dreadfully look down: He, all in vain,

With all his Might, his brawny Muscles strains,

And stretches his extended Arms, to tear

The pois’nous and inextricable Folds,

And from their Intrails squeezes horrid Gore.

And now, tormented, hideously he roars,

And, stamping, stares from his distracted Eyes.

Thus madly bounds about the impetuous Bull,

When from his Wound he shakes th’ uncertain Ax,

And, bellowing, from the bloods) Altar broke.


And now here we find a deal of Enthusiasm; which is nothing but the Elevation, and Vehemence, and Fury proceeding from the Great, and Terrible, and Horrible Ideas. For the Poet setting his Image in so much Motion, and expressing it with so much Action, his inflam’d Imagination set it before his very Eyes, so that he participated of the Danger which he describ’d, was shaken by the Terror, and shiver’d with the Horror. And what is it but the Expression of the Passions he felt, that moves the Reader in such an extraordinary Manner. But here let us observe, how the Spirit of the Poet rises, as the Danger comes nearer, and the Terror grows upon him …

Let us consider beside, what prodigious Force all this must have in the Connexion, where Religion adds to the Terror, increases the Astonishment, and augments the Horror. For ’twas by the Direction of Minerva, that this terrible Incident was brought about, who had combin’d with Juno to destroy the Trojans, as has been at large declar’d in a former Critical Treatise. And thus we have endeavour’d to shew, how the Enthusiasm proceeds from the Thoughts, and consequently from the Subject. But one Thing we have omitted, That as Thoughts produce the Spirit, the Spirit produces and makes the Expression; which is known by Experience to all who are Poets: for never any one, while he was rapt with Enthusiasm, wanted either Words or Harmony; and is self evident to all who consider, that the Expression conveys and shews the Spirit, and therefore must be produced by it. So that from what we have said, we may venture to lay down this Definition of Poetical Genius: Poetical Genius, in a Poem, is the true Expression of Ordinary or Enthusiastick Passions proceeding from Ideas to which it naturally belongs; and Poetical Genius, in a Poet, is the Power of expressing such Passion worthily: And the Sublime is a great Thought, express’d with the Enthusiasm that belongs to it, which the Reader will find agreeable to the Doctrine of Cecilius. Longinus, I must confess, has not told us what the Sublime is, because Cecilius, it seems, had done that before him. Tho’ methinks, it was a very great Fault, in so great a Man as Longinus, to write a Book which could not be understood, but by another Man’s Writings; especially when he saw that those Writings were so very defective, that they were not likely to last. But tho’ Longinus does not directly tell us what the Sublime is, yet in the first Six or Seven Chapters of his Book, he takes a great deal of Pains to set before us the Effects which it produces in the Minds of Men; as for Example, That it causes in them Admiration and Surprize; a noble Pride, and a noble Vigour, an invincible Force, transporting the Soul from its ordinary Situation, and a Transport, and a Fulness of Joy mingled with Astonishment. These are the Effects that Longinus tells us, the Sublime produces in the Minds of Men. Now I have endeavour’d to shew, what it is in Poetry that works these Effects. So that, take the Cause and the Effects together, and you have the Sublime. (1939: 221-222)

Longinus does not directly tell us what the Sublime is, yet in the first Six or Seven Chapters of his Book, he takes a great deal of Pains to set before us the Effects which it produces in the Minds of Men; as for Example, That it causes in them Admiration and Surprize; a noble Pride, and a noble Vigour, an invincible Force, transporting the Soul from its ordinary Situation, and a Transport, and a Fulness of Joy mingled with Astonishment. These are the Effects that Longinus tells us, the Sublime produces in the Minds of Men. Now I have endeavour’d to shew, what it is in Poetry that works these Effects. So that, take the Cause and the Effects together, and you have the Sublime. (1939:223)

I now come to the Precepts of Longinus, and pretend to shew from them, that the greatest Sublimity is to be deriv’d from Religious Ideas. But why then, says the Reader, has not Longinus plainly told us so? He was not ignorant that he ought to make his Subject as plain as he could. For he has told us in the beginning of his Treatise, that everyone who gives Instruction concerning an Art, ought to endeavour two things: The first is to make his Reader clearly understand what that is which he pretends to teach: The second is to shew him how it may be attain’d. And he blames Oecilius very severely for neglecting the last; how then, says the Objector, comes he himself to have taken no care of the first? Is it because Oecilius had done it before him? If so, it was a very great Fault in Longinus to publish a Book which could not be understood but by another Man’s Writings; especially when he saw that those Writings were so very defective, that they would not probably last. But what, continues the Objector, if Oecilius had not done it before him? For Longinus tells us, that Oecilius makes use of a multitude of Words to shew what it is; now he who knows any thing clearly, may in a few Words explain it clearly to others; and he who does not, will make it obscure by many.

To this I answer, that tho Longinus did by long Study and Habitude know the Sublime when he saw it, as well as any Man, yet he had not so clear a Knowledge of the nature of it, as to explain it clearly to others. For if he had done that, as the Objector says, he would have defin’d it; but he has been so far from defining it, that in one place he has given an account of it that is contrary to the true nature of it. For he tells us in that Chapter which treats of the Fountains of Sublimity, that Loftiness is often without any Passion at all; which is contrary to the true nature of it. The Sublime is indeed often without common Passion, as ordinary Passion is often without that. But then it is never without Enthusiastick Passion: For the Sublime is nothing else but a great Thought, or great Thoughts moving the Soul from its ordinary Situation by the Enthusiasm which naturally attends them. Now Longinus had a notion of Enthusiastick Passion, for he establishes it in that very Chapter for the second Source of Sublimity. Now Longinus, by affirming that the Sublime may be without not only that, but ordinary Passion, says a thing that is not only contrary to the true nature of it, but contradictory to himself. For he tells us in the beginning of the Treatise, that the Sublime does not so properly persuade us, as it ravishes and transports us, and produces in us a certain Admiration, mingled with Astonishment and with Surprize, which is quite another thing than the barely pleasing, or the barely persuading; that it gives a noble Vigour to a Discourse, an invincible Force, which commits a pleasing Rape upon the very Soul of the Reader; that whenever it breaks out where it ought to do, like the Artillery of Jove, it thunders, blazes, and strikes at once, and shews all the united Force of a Writer. Now I leave the Reader to judge, whether Longinus has not been saying here all along that Sublimity is never without Passion.

That the foremention’d Definition is just and good, I have reason to believe, because it takes in all the Sources of Sublimity which Longinus has establish’d. For, first, Greatness of Thought supposes Elevation, they being synonymous Terms: And, secondly, the Enthusiasm or the Pathetique, as Longinus calls it, follows of course; for if a Man is not strongly mov’d by great Thoughts, he does not sufficiently and effectually conceive them. And, thirdly, the figurative Language is but a Consequence of the Enthusiasm, that being the natural Language of the Passions. And so is, fourthly, the Nobleness of the Expression, supposing a Man to be Master of the Language in which he writes. For as the Thoughts produce the Spirit or the Passion, the Spirit produces and makes the Expression, which is known by Experience to all who are Poets; for never anyone, while he was wrapt with Enthusiasm or ordinary Passion, wanted either Words or Harmony, as is self-evident to all who consider that the Expression conveys and shows the Spirit, and consequently must be produc’d by it.

Thus the Definition which we have laid down being, according to Longinus’s own Doctrine, the true Definition of the Sublime, and shewing clearly the thing which he has not done, nor given any Definition at all of it; it seems plain to me, that he had no clear and distinct Idea of it; and consequently Religion might be the thing from which ’tis chiefly to be deriv’d, and he but obscurely know it: but that Religion is that thing from which the Sublime is chiefly to be deriv’d, let us shew by the Marks which he has given of the latter; which will further strengthen our Definition. 1. Says he, that which is truly Sublime has this peculiar to it, that it exalts the Soul, and makes it conceive a greater Idea of it self, filling it with Joy, and with a certain noble Pride, as if it self had produc’d what it but barely reads.

Now here it is plain, that the highest Ideas must most exalt the Soul, but Religious Ideas are the highest.

The more the Soul is moved by the greatest Ideas, the more it conceives them; but the more it conceives of the greatest Ideas, the greater Opinion it must have of its own Capacity. By consequence the more it is moved by the Wonders of Religion, the more it values it self upon its own Excellences. Again, the more the Soul sees its Excellence, the more it rejoices. Besides, neligious Ideas are the most admirable; and what is most admirable, according to the Doctrine of Aristotle, is most delightful. Besides, Religious Ideas create Passion in such a manner, as to turn and incline the Soul to its primitive Object. So that Reason and Passion are of the same side, and this Peace between the Faculties causes the Soul to rejoice; of which we shall have occasion to say more anon.

2. The second Mark that Longinus gives of the Sublime, is, when a Discourse leaves a great deal for us to think. But now this is certain, that the Wonders of Religion are never to be exhausted; for they are always new, and the more you enter into them, the more they are sure to surprize.

3. The third Mark is, when it leaves in the Reader an Idea above its Expression. Now no Expressions can come up to the Ideas which we draw from the Attributes of God, or from his wondrous Works, which only the Author of them can comprehend.

4. The fourth Mark is, when it makes an Impression upon us, which it is impossible to resist.

God, who made Man for himself, and for his own Glory, and who requires chiefly his Heart, must by consequence have form’d him of such a nature, as to be most strongly moved with Religious Ideas, if once he enters into them. So that the Impressions which they make, are impossible to be resisted.

5. The fifth Mark is, when the Impression lasts, and is difficult to be defaced.

Now that the Impressions which Religion makes upon us are difficult to be defaced, is plain from this, that they who think it their Interest to deface them, can never bring it about.

6. The sixth Mark is, when it pleases universally, People of different Humours, Inclinations, Sexes, Ages, Times, Climates. Now there is nothing so agreeable to the Soul, or that makes so universal an Impression, as the Wonders of Religion. Some Persons are moved by Love, and are not touch’d by Ambition; others are animated by Ambition, and only laugh at Love. Some are pleas’d with a brave Revenge, others with a generous Contempt of Injuries; but the Eternal Power, and the Infinite Knowledge of God, the Wonders of the Creation, and the beautiful Brightness of Virtue, make a powerful Impression on all.

I must confess I have wonder’d very much, upon Reflection, how it could happen that so great a Man as Longinus, who whenever he met a Passage in any Discourse that was lofty enough to please him, had Discernment enough to see that it had some of the preceding Marks, should miss of finding so easy a thing as this, that never any Passage had all these Marks, or so much as the Majority of them, unless it were Religious.

But to return to Terror, we may plainly see by the foregoing Precepts and Examples of Longinus, that this Enthusiastick Terror contributes extremely to the Sublime; and, secondly, that it is most produced by Religious Ideas.


Thomas Gray travelling the Alps with Horace Walpole in 1739, writes Richard West, ‘Not a precipice, not a torrent, not a cliff, but is pregnant with religion snd poetry.’ From the Lake District in 1769 addressed to Thomas Wharton he writes, ‘…that turbulent chaos of mountain behind mountain roll’d in confusion.’ (Gray 1935: 125 and 127)[18]


Edmund Burke wrote: ‘The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature, when those causes operate most powerfully, is Astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other, nor by consequence reason on that object which employs it. Hence arises the great power of the sublime, that far from being produced by them, it anticipates our reasonings, and hurries us on by an irresistible force. Astonishment, as I have said, is the effect of the sublime in its highest degree; the inferior effects are admiration, reverence and respect.’ (1958 [1987]: 57)[19]


In his introduction, Gene Ray noted: ‘In traditional bourgeois aesthetic, the feelings nearest to what we now associate with trauma went by the name of the sublime. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the material effects of developing capitalism reconstructed subjectivity according to its needs. The new bourgeois subject that emerged was strung between two contradictory logics: that of an economic self compelled to wage the war of all against all and that of a legal and political self with claims to formal equality and a shared national identity. Reflecting the ideological role of natural law and right in bourgeois rationalism, and in partial compensation for this splitting in the structure of subjectivity, new aesthetic experiences of nature emerged and were codified into a new discipline. While the feeling of the beautiful simulated that reconciliation with nature missing from modern bourgeois life, the feeling of the sublime was a complex mix of terror and enjoyable awe, triggered by encounters with the power or magnitude of raw nature.

In the twentieth century, the genocidal catastrophes of human making displaced the natural disaster as the source of sublime feelings and effects— but with a crucial difference. In bourgeois aesthetics, exemplified by Kant’s 1790 Critique of Judgment, the pain of imagination’s failure before the power or size of raw nature was compensated for by reason’s reflection on its own super-sensible dignity and destination. Nature’s threat to dominate the human was contained by human capacities for self-admiration. In the wake of Auschwitz and Hiroshima, however, the ruined dignity and destiny of human reason and its moral law can offer no compensatory pleasure. The terror of the sublime becomes a permanent, ghastly latency, compounded by the anguish of shame. “And shame, as Marx said, is a revolutionary sentiment.”?

These essays take seriously Adorno’s call to confront the categories of traditional aesthetics with catastrophic history. These engagements with contemporary an and politics work to demystify and reorient the sublime through a dialectical treatment that opens it to history and links it to the psychoanalytic category of trauma. They ask whether a sufficiently historicised and demystified category of the sublime would liberate the “transformed truth” of its feeling for the work of mourning and radical politics. Adorno had begun to push the sublime in this direction in his unfinished Aesthetic Theory. Bur the link had already been made, if implicitly, by Walter Benjamin as early as 1939, when he revised his notion of “aura” by heuristically conflating Proust’s memoire inuolontaire with Freud’s theory of trauma from the 1920 Beyond the Pleasure Principle.’ (Gene Ray 2005: 5)[20]


2. Regarding Frenzy & Self-Control.

Extract from Friedrich Nietzsche.


‘We will have achieved much for the study of aesthetics when we come, not merely to a logical understanding, but also to the immediately certain apprehension of the fact that the further development of art is bound up with the duality of the Apollonian and the Dionysian, just as reproduction depends upon the duality of the sexes, their continuing strife and only periodically occurring reconciliation. We take these names from the Greeks who gave a clear voice to the profound secret teachings of their contemplative art, not in ideas, but in the powerfully clear forms of their divine world.

With those two gods of art, Apollo and Dionysus, we link our recognition that in the Greek world there exists a huge contrast, in origins and purposes, between visual (plastic) arts, the Apollonian, and the non-visual art of music, the Dionysian. Both very different drives go hand in hand, for the most part in open conflict with each other and simultaneously provoking each other all the time to new and more powerful offspring, in order to perpetuate for themselves the contest of opposites which the common word “Art” only seems to bridge, until they finally, through a marvellous metaphysical act, seem to pair up with each other and, as this pair, produce Attic tragedy, just as much a Dionysian as an Apollonian work of art.

In order to get closer to these two instinctual drives, let us think of them next as the separate artistic worlds of dreams and of intoxication, physiological phenomena between which we can observe an opposition corresponding to the one between the Apollonian and the Dionysian….’ (Nietzsche 2008)[21]


The following is from a chapter by Philippe-Alain Machaud which I have annotated in relation to Aby Warburg, but also in relation to J. J. Wincklemann and G.E. Lessing.[22]

Warburg defines the recording of motion as a persistence of intermediary states in the displacement of the figure: for the onlooker, its perception requires an identificatory attention —of an almost hypnotic type— through which an exchange takes place between the subject and the object. The discrete, controlled hallucination to which the art historian surrendered in the figure of the nymph (undoubtedly a photographic reproduction) has a precedent— and possibly finds its deeper meaning— in an experi­ment conducted by Goethe, a century earlier, as he contemplated the Laocoön group:

To seize well the attention of the Laocoön, let us place ourselves before the groupe with our eyes shut, and at the necessary distance; let us open and shut them alternately and we shall see all the marble in motion; we shall be afraid to find the groupe changed when we open our eyes again. I would readily say, as the groupe is now exposed, it is a flash of lightning fixed, a wave petrified at the instant when it is approaching the shore. We see the same effect when we see the groupe at night, by the light of flambeaux.[23]

Like Warburg with the nymph, Goethe called upon an artificial perceptual stimulus to activate the image unfolding before his eyes as if by a flicker effect. That this image was the Laocoön is clearly not insignificant: it is a sign of the intimate collusion, to which Warburg would repeatedly return, between the motif of the snake and the representation of movement.

For Winckelmann, the Laocoön was an example of static seren­ity, the violent contradiction between the calm appearance of the hero’s face and the twisting of his limbs compressed by the snakes squeezing them, an image of mastered and transfigured pain:

The pain is revealed in all the muscles and sinews of his body, and we ourselves can almost feel it as we observe the painful contraction of the abdomen alone without regarding the face and other parts of the body. This pain, however, expresses itself with no sign of rage in his face or in his entire bearing.[24]

Goethe, by blinking at the group representing the hero and his sons being overwhelmed by snakes, causes the undulating move­ment of the reptiles, which had been arrested, to surge forth. At the moment in which the figures become animated, the spectator witnesses the dislocation of the principle of composition stipulat­ing that the plastic arts and painting depict one action alone, at the very moment this action takes place. Such was Lessing’s opin­ion, likewise using the example of Laocoön, as he compared the visual arts (painting and sculpture) with poetry:

The artist can never, in the presence of ever-changing Nature, choose and use more than one single moment, and the painter in particular can use this single moment only from one point of vision …. [I]t is certain that that single moment, and the single view­ point of that moment, can never be chosen too significantly. The more we see, the more we must be able to add by thinking. The more we add thereto by thinking, so much the more we can believe ourselves to see.[25]




[1]The seminar events are being led by Peter Larkin and myself. This title, provided by Peter, is the heading for all of these events.

[2] The meditational is distinct from the contemplative in painting, made evident most clearly in the distinction between trompe-l’oeil and Still Life, between the iconic and the perspectival. A few artists in the twentieth century have set out to be both in the same picture. (For example in some of Braque’s constructionist work like Violin and Palette, 1909and in the work of the 1970s and later work of Jasper Johns., such as Racing Thoughts, 1983.) Characteristics of trompe-l’oeil, noted by Jean Baudrillard include a ‘vertical field, the absence of a horizon …’ (Baudrillard. ‘The Trompe-l’oeil’ in Norman Bryson (ed.). Calligram. Essays in New Art History from France, Cambridge, New York, &c.: Cambridge University Press, 1988: 53)

[3]Gilles Deleuze. Kant’s Critical Philosophy. The Doctrine of the Faculties, 1963, translated by Hugh Tomlindson and Barbara Haberjam, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.

[4]August Wiedmann. Romantic Art Theories, Henley-on-Thames: Gresham Books, 1986.

[5]S. Streller (ed.). Heinrich von Kleist. Werke und Briefe, 4 volumes, Heidelberg, 1968, in Wiedmann.

[6]The geometry for the ‘Golden Section’ can be seen in Euclid’s Elements(300 BCE)and in Luca Pacioli’s Divine Proportions (1509). The term “Goldener Schnitt” can first be read in lesson-books on geometry and mathematics in Germany in the 1830s: in Ferdinand Wolff, Lehrbuch der Geometrie. Berlin: Reimer, 1833: 127; in Martin Ohm. Die reine Elementar-Mathematik. Berlin: Jonas, 1835: 194, n. on Prop. 5; and in Johann F. Kroll. Grundriß der Mathematik für Gymnasien und andere höhere Lehranstalten. Eisleben: Reichardt, 1839: sec. 178, p. 189. In 1849 a small book about the special properties of the Golden Section from a mathematical-geometrical point of view came out, August Wiegand. Der allgemeine goldene Schnitt und sein Zusammenhang mit der harmonischen Teilung. Halle: H. W. Schmidt, 1849.

The term was made clear to architects and artists in 1854 by Adolf Zeising. Neue Lehre von den Proportionen des menschlichen Körpers aus einem bisher unerkannt gebliebenen, die ganze Natur und Kunst durchdringenden morphologischen Grundgesetze entwickelt und mit einer vollständigen historischen Uebersicht der bisherigen Systeme begleitet. [A new theory of proportions of the human body from a previously undetected source, the whole nature and art penetrating morphological fundamental laws and accompanied with a complete historical survey of the previous systems]. Leipzig: Weigel, 1854.

[7]E. Lohner (ed.). August Wilhelm Schlegel. Kritische Schriften und Briefe II, p. 83.

[8]R.B. Beckett (ed.). John Constables Correspondence, Volume II. ‘Early Friends and Maria Bicknell (Mrs. Constable)’, Ipswich: Suffolk Records Society, 1964: 127.

[9]This word is printed as ‘blue’ in the printed editions of Thomson. e.g. James Thomson. Thomson’s Poetical Works, edited by George Gilfillan,Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1853: 42.

[10]James Thomson. The Seasons, lines I65- I70, as printed in the Royal Academy catalogue, 1829, cited by Graham Reynolds. Constable’s England, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983: 160.

[11]From 93 Days of Spring, National Geographic, 2016.

[12]After the section heading ‘The Dynamically Sublime in Nature’ … Immanuel Kant notes: ‘Might is a power which is superior to great hindrances. It is termed dominion if it is also superior to the resistance of that which itself possesses might. Nature considered in an aesthetic judgement as might that has no dominion over us, is dynamically sublime.

‘If we are to estimate nature as dynamically sublime, it must be represented as a source of fear (though the converse, that every object that is a source of fear is, in our aesthetic judgement, sublime, does not hold). For in forming an aesthetic estimate (no concept being present) the superiority to hindrances can only be estimated according to the greatness of the resistance.’ (Immanuel Kant. The Critique of Judgement [1790],translated by James Creed Meredith, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952 [1991]: 109)

[13]Robert L. Herbert (ed.). John Ruskin. Modern Painters V, London, 1856-60, p. 328.

[14]After the section heading ‘The Mathematical Sublime’ … Immanuel Kant noted: ‘Sublime is the name given to what is absolutely great. …It must therefore, be a concept of judgement, or have its source in one, and must introduce as basis of the judgement a subjective finality of the representation with reference to the power of judgement. Given a multiplicity of the homogeneous together constituting one thing, and we may at once cognise from the thing itself that it is a magnitude (quantum).’ (Kant 1790, translated 1952 [1991]: 94-95)

Deleuze noted: ‘… the common sense which corresponds to the feeling of the sublime is inseparable from a ‘“culture”, as the movement of its genesis. And it is within this genesis that we discover that which is fundamentally to our destiny. In fact, the Ideas of reason are speculatively indeterminate, practically determined. This is the principle of the difference between the mathematical Sublime of the immense and the dynamic Sublime of power (the former brings reason into play from the standpoint of the faculty of knowledge, the latter from the standpoint of the faculty of desire). So that, in the dynamic sublime, the supra-sensible destination of our faculties appears as that to which a moral being is pre-destined. The sense of the sublime is engendered within us in such a way that it prepares a higher finality and prepares us ourselves for the advent of the moral law.’ (1984: 52)

[15]In a 25 cm wide reproduction the ratio is 9.5: 15.5 which reads out as 1: 1.618.

[16] Greg Smith. Thomas Girtin: The Art of Watercolour, London: Tate Publishing, 2002: 209.

[17]Edward Niles Hooker (ed.). The Critical Works of John Dennis, Volume I, 1692-1711, Baltimore: The John Hopkins Press, 1939.

[18] Paget Toynbee and Leonard Whibley (eds.). Correspondence of Thomas Gray, 3 volumes, Oxford University Press, 1935.

[19]Edmund Burke. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, 1754, edited by James T. Boulton, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958 (1987).

[20]Gene Ray. Terror and the Sublime in Art and Critical Theory. From Auschwitz to Hiroshima to September 11. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

[21]Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. The Birth of Tragedy Out of the Spirit of Music, 1872, translated by Ian C. Johnston, Vancouver, 2008.

[22] An annotated copy of chapter two. ‘Florence 1: Bodies in Motion’ from Philippe-Alain Michaud.Aby Warburg and the Images in Motion, translated by Sophie Hawkes, New York: Zone Books, 2004, pp. 67-91 and notes at pp. 349-352.

[23] J.W. Goethe, Goethe on Art, trans. John Gaze (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), p. 81.

[24] J.J. Winckelmann, Reflections on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture, trans. Elfriede Heyer and Roger C. Norton (La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1989), p. 33.

[25] G.E. Lessing, Laocoön (New York: Dutton, 1961), p. 14.

Link to PDF: Allen Fisher Radical Landscape Romantic Consciousness Notes for the seminar



Peter Larkin was born in the New Forest and spent his first 17 years only a few miles outside it. For most of his working life he was a librarian at Warwick University. A major concern of his writing has been with matters of landscape and ecology, often focusing on the predicament and analogical patterning of the woods and plantations which residually border our lives. His poems, often in prose, explore underlying phenomenological and theological ‘arguments’ in the mode of continuously noted variations and takes on ‘outdoor’ perception. He is the author of Terrain Seed Scarcity (Salt), Leaves of Field (Shearsman) and Lessways Least Scarce Among (Shearsman). He has been interviewed for Intercapillary Space and for Cordite and contributed to Harriet Tarlo’s Ground Aslant anthology.

Allen Fisher has been involved in performance and poetry since 1962. A poet, painter, publisher, editor and art historian, he has produced more than 140 chapbooks and books of poetry, graphic and art documentation. He currently edits Spanner, lives in Hereford, and is Emeritus Professor of Poetry and Art at Manchester Metropolitan University. He has exhibited paintings in many shows, including a one-man show in London in 2003.




Glasfryn Project

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