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of nature. Yet this is tempered by the simile comparing the mind to
a prism, which suddenly presents the possibility that the mind might
refract what it receives, without distorting it. This picture follows simi-
lar lines to Hazlitt™s account of the cognitive properties of poetry in the
±± Lectures on the English Poets, in which he denies that poetry is ˜a mere
frivolous accomplishment™, claiming, like Wordsworth, that it is ˜graver™
than history: ˜its materials lie deeper, and are spread wider [. . .]™. Admit-
ting that poetry imitates nature, he adds that ˜the imagination and the
passions are a part of man™s nature™: thus, the language of poetry ˜is not
the less true to nature, because it is false in point of fact; but so much
the more true and natural, if it conveys the impression which the object
under the in¬‚uence of passion makes on the mind™.±±
The phrase ˜not less true to nature, because it is false in point of fact™ is
crucial. It indicates that Hazlitt™s argument, in this lecture at least, is that
there is more to truth than either sense-experience or ˜distinctions of the
understanding™; that ˜the excess of the imagination beyond the actual or
ordinary impression of any object or feeling™ constitutes, in itself, a third
form of knowledge.±±µ Hazlitt is attacking Hume™s fact/value division, but
in doing so is walking a tightrope, as elsewhere he seeks to distance art
and poetry from epistemic concerns. In this light, Hazlitt™s uncertainty
±·
Hazlitt™s immanent idealism
over the cognitive status of the productions of genius is another instance
of his dilemma of where to locate ˜knowledge™ with respect to ˜power™.
Elsewhere “ for instance, in The Examiner article ˜Mind and Motive™
of ±±µ “ he dismisses reason and self-interest altogether as principles
of human nature, subordinating them to the love of power, or ˜strong
excitement, both in thought and action.™±±
Thus, the value of poetry for Hazlitt lies somewhere between knowl-
edge and the exertion of power; and that of genius, somewhere between
answering faithfully to nature and commanding it. Certainly, he does
not claim to see any real difference between the two positions in either
of these two cases, as he does not profess that, at bottom, there is any
distinction to be drawn between knowledge and power. Indeed, as he
claims in the lecture ˜On Poetry in General™, fundamentally, ˜knowledge
is conscious power [. . .]™.±±· The difference between the function of rea-
son and the processes of imagination or poetic genius is merely one of
direction: while reason (or understanding) abstracts, projecting the gen-
eral upon the particular, genius distils the world into its particulars, and
˜invents™ by discovering new truths in the course of imitating the in¬nity
of nature. As Hazlitt expresses it in A View of the English Stage in ±±, ˜[i]t
is the business of poetry, and indeed of all works of imagination, to exhibit
the species through the individual™.±± But because it deals with the ¬‚uid and
the limitless, genius cannot provide objects for knowledge. Nor can it
give an account of itself or its operations; it emphatically is not ˜conscious
of its own powers™ “ yet it is precisely this ineffability which guarantees
its sovereignty. Writing of the genius of acting in The Examiner in ±±µ,
Hazlitt opines that ˜the excellences of genius are not communicable
[. . .] for the power with which great talent works, can only be regulated
by its own suggestions and the force of nature™.±±
In much of this Hazlitt was concerned to avoid what he saw as one
of the main failings of Coleridge™s work: namely, the domination of art
by philosophy. In this respect, Hazlitt™s is the more resolute assertion of
a central Romantic theme: that of aesthetic autonomy. The freedom of
the aesthetic was not something which could be reduced to any other
discourse. This did not mean that one could not theorize about art:
merely that one could not explain art™s products or processes exhaustively.
Its very nature was bound up with its ineffability. Nonetheless, Hazlitt has
his own problems, and on two fronts. On one side, his immanent idealism
had led him to a worship of undifferentiated power which undermined,
not just empiricism, but the very notion of knowledge in general as
something veri¬able. Concepts such as ˜common sense™ and ˜feeling™,
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
seen in this context, are not deployed by Hazlitt as cognitive processes, but
as ciphers for the kind of supernatural faculties which might ratify such
exertions of power. On the other hand, however, the attempts he does
make to plug an epistemological thesis into this are frustrated by the fact
that the thesis in whose terms he is prone to think “ empiricism “ demands
that mental events correspond to something. Power, however, is singular:
it does not ˜correspond™ to anything but itself. With respect to Hazlitt™s
metaphor, it is more like a black hole than a prism; drawing everything,
light included, into itself. It cannot be bounded by any epistemological
principle, because such principles are themselves functions or aspects of
power.
Consequently, Hazlitt struggles to express what kind of truth-value
might be peculiar to poetry, and often indicates that it is rather one of
compensation for loss of knowledge. Of tragic poetry, for instance, he
writes in ˜On Poetry in General™ that its pleasure is grounded in the
˜common love of strong excitement™, or power. In this, given an object of
terror, we ˜grapple with it in thought, in action, to sharpen our intellect™ “
the energy therein depends upon the abyss between understanding and
truth; upon an absence of one-to-one correspondence between mind
and object. Poetry ˜is the perfect coincidence of the image and the words
with the feeling [of struggle] we have, and of which we cannot get rid in
any other way, that gives an instant “satisfaction to the thought” ™. The
mind is thus permitted the liberty to be pleased with its own projections
and ¬ctions: ˜We do not wish the thing to be so; but we wish it to appear
such as it is.™±°
Hand in hand with this went a deeply ingrained ambivalence about
originality. In ˜Originality™, he describes how, as the original mind
˜advances in the knowledge of nature, the horizon of art enlarges and
the air re¬nes. Then, in addition to an in¬nite variety of details [. . .]
there is the [. . .] I know not what [. . .].™ Imagination is as blind in this,
however, as power necessarily is: its invention when in the re¬ned air of
the outer boundaries of knowledge is ˜little more than the fertility of a
teeming brain™. All the mind has to accompany it into the terra incognita
is a power (if it can be called a power) of association. Yet these are the
conditions of the originality ˜which constitutes either the charm of works
of ¬ction or the improvement to be derived from those of progressive
information™.±± Back in ±±, however, in the lecture on poetry, Hazlitt
had been less persuaded as to the neatness of ¬t between originality and
knowledge, for ˜the progress of knowledge and re¬nement has a tendency
±
Hazlitt™s immanent idealism
to circumscribe the limits of the imagination, and to clip the wings of
poetry™.±
Most revealing of all, however, is Hazlitt™s changing attitude to the
idea of creation. Generally, Hazlitt™s view seems compatible with what
has been characterized as the Platonic or ˜discovery™ model of creation.
Most importantly, the paradigm requires the existence of some object
which is, as it were, waiting out there to be discovered and recombined
in some way. Such a picture can be accommodated by epistemological
foundationalism. Yet it is also clear that there are times when this model
appears insuf¬cient for Hazlitt™s conception of imagination, as when,
for example, he describes the process of creation in the essay ˜On the
Pleasure of Painting™:
One is never tired of painting, because you have to set down not what you knew
already, but what you have just discovered. In the former case, you translate
feeings into words; in the latter, names into things. There is a continual creation
out of nothing going on. With every stroke of the brush, a new ¬eld of inquiry is
laid open; new dif¬culties arise, and new triumphs are prepared over them.±

Despite his use of the term, Hazlitt suggests a process which is more
than just the ˜discovery™ of an inert, passive reality, but a pragmatic,
committed relationship with the world. In painting, what one discovers
is itself a product of previous strokes of the brush, leading to new ¬elds of
inquiry which are not ready-made or ˜given™ to consciousness, but which
are themselves part of the activity. Insofar as they have no existence
separate from the activity of painting, then, such ¬elds are, in a sense,
created ˜out of nothing™. Similarly, in ˜On Genius and Common Sense™,
though Hazlitt insists that the ˜test and triumph of originality, [is] not to
shew us what has never been [. . .] but to point out to us what is before
our eyes and under our feet, though we have had no suspicion of its
existence™, he nevertheless considers Wordsworth as ˜the greatest, that
is, the most original poet of the present day™ on the grounds that ˜like
Rembrandt, [he] has a faculty of making something out of nothing, that
is, out of himself [. . .]™.±
The ambivalence of these remarks reveals that in his aesthetic as well as
in his philosophical writing, Hazlitt remained divided about the relation
between knowledge and power, or an indifference to knowing. Just as he
was nervous about abstraction, in art he only allows the mind to create ex
nihilo (or at least, as if from nothing) on the grounds that its products are
not possible objects for knowledge, representing only nascent knowledge,
±° Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
or power which has yet to become conscious to itself. Pursued elsewhere
by Nietzsche and Bloom, this line of thought would have damaging impli-
cations for epistemology.±µ But rather than fully embrace this challenge
to ˜knowledge™, Hazlitt™s concern that art and genius might thereby be
alienated from truth draws him back to a more domesticated, epistemi-
cally secure Platonic or ˜discovery™ paradigm for creation. In the course
of this, power is in its turn subdued by knowledge.

 ®  ¬µ  ©  ® : ° ·    ® ¤ °    µ ¤ ©  
The story of Hazlitt™s early philosophical writing is one of power brought
into the service of empirical knowledge through idealism, only to usurp
it. The more convinced he became that reason is not translatable into
˜moral™ truth, the less he was persuaded that there was any need for moral
truth to justify itself to reason; indeed, even to designate itself as a kind
of ˜truth™ at all. Thus, Hazlitt withdrew altogether from a positivist or
cognitivist position, asserting that to act morally or to experience the
world as at once diverse and uni¬ed is to exercise a certain sympathetic
power of mind, and nothing else. This goes beyond the proposition that
moral truth is grounded in sympathy, or common sense, or feeling, and
assumes that such considerations represent an aspect of human existence
which is fundamental to our being. One way Hazlitt has of expressing
this is in terms of the priority of ˜prejudice™. In the Atlas article of the
same name of ±°, he declares that in the balance between reason and
prejudice, ˜we are constantly [. . .] treading on the brink of a precipice;
that custom, passion, imagination, insinuate themselves into and in¬‚u-
ence almost every judgement we pass or sentiment we indulge [. . .]™.±
In ˜Paragraphs on Prejudice™, published in The Monthly Magazine a few
months later, he extends this to logical reasoning in general, arguing
that even the greatest philosopher cannot ˜proceed a single step without
taking something for granted™.±·
Even here, however, Hazlitt is loath to abandon knowledge entirely:
prejudice, he claims, is just a necessary fact of life imposed by ˜all that
mass of knowledge and perception which falls under the head of common
sense and natural feeling, which is made up of the strong and urgent, but un-
de¬ned impressions of things upon us, and lies between the two extremes
of absolute proof and the grossest ignorance™.± This characterization
of common sense is by now familiar, but why Hazlitt feels the need to go
further and apply the word ˜prejudice™ to it is puzzling, unless it is to be
taken that he does not mean it to constitute a kind of knowledge at all, but
±±
Hazlitt™s immanent idealism
rather a state of being. Yet as he inherited it from Burke, the term does
indeed appear to have a cognitive import insofar as it signi¬es the mass
of common wisdom which has built up over ages but which reason may
not scrutinize.± ˜Prejudice™ appears in this light as yet another attempt
to de¬ne an extra-empirical standard of truth in conformity with the
notion of power. Yet this is merely to point out what has been a central
theme of this chapter “ that in Hazlitt™s work indifference and episte-
mology simultaneously remain at odds and symbiotically co-dependent.
In Hazlitt, this tension becomes self-conscious when he, like Keats and
Lamb, simply vacates the ¬eld of speculation altogether. This rhetori-
cal manoeuvre can be detected throughout Hazlitt™s writing, from his
acknowledgement in the ˜Remarks™ that his argument against Hartley
is pursued ˜without ¬rst ascertaining (if that were possible) the manner
in which our ideas are produced, and the nature of consciousness, both
of which I am utterly unable to comprehend™±° to the supposition in
the lecture ˜On Abstract Ideas™ that such facts of the mind are somehow
˜equally evident and unaccountable™.±±
I have mentioned that the apparent inconsistencies and puzzling am-
biguities in Hazlitt™s work are largely the product of his relationship to
empiricism; a relationship which was neither one of conformity nor out-
right rejection, but ambivalence. Much as he tried to escape from it, the
British empirical tradition was the mould which formed the cast for his
attitudes towards the basic problems of knowledge. The most important
aspect of this training was the ingrained presumption in contemporary
empirical thought that truth was a measure of the extent to which the
basic elements of our mental furniture corresponded to an object which
was ˜given™ in perception. Hazlitt came to question this, however, as it
became clear that both his theories of moral reasoning and abstraction
exceeded such conditions. The central premise of the ±°µ Essay that the
mind has an active and legitimate legislative role to play in con¬guring
possible candidates for moral knowledge, presumes a creative capacity
in the mind which violates the conditions of empirical knowledge.
The problem Hazlitt faces, then, arises from the discrepancy between
his positions on morality and art and the epistemological language he
uses as a matter of habit. Initially, Hazlitt™s efforts focused upon making
empiricism more congenial to the outlook of his moral and aesthetic the-
ories. The principal instrument of this endeavour is the argument from
abstraction, but, as this comes to demand further reinforcement from a
heavily revised notion of common sense, the ˜instinctive perception™ of
coalescent association, analogies of perception taken from painting, and
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
increasingly exotic hypotheses about the nature of the faculties, it became
clear that it challenged something more fundamental than empiricism,
namely foundationalism. The consequences of the theory of abstraction
are either an epistemic de¬cit which must be conceded to the sceptic
and accepted with a shrug of the shoulders, or a profound questioning
of philosophy™s construction and elevation of ˜knowledge™.
Through his theory of abstraction, Hazlitt is progressively inclined
to a position less concerned with knowing as such, and more with the
nature of being, or power. The opacity of power, and the absence of any
calibration of knowledge, mean that it is always dif¬cult to see where
truth ends and power begins. The obscurity of the concept of common
sense “ part-knowledge, part feeling, part power “ epitomizes this side
of Hazlitt™s thought. His ideas of abstraction and originality, though in
one sense opposed as bilateral functions of power “ one being the power
of delimitation, and the other that of particularity “ inevitably fold into
each other. Hazlitt gives no account of how to differentiate between
the generalizing power of mind he outlines in ˜On Abstract Ideas™, and the
particularizing power he identi¬es in ˜Originality™. To his mind, in the ¬nal
analysis there can be no such distinction, for this would be to subordinate
the principle of power to another which ˜transcends™ it.
Once again, however, the Hydra of truth raises its head at the point
where it is crushed. Hazlitt™s notion of common sense, from the perspec-
tive of epistemology, raises questions rather than dismissing them. Thus,
when Hazlitt™s perceiving subject believes he knows something to be the
case by common sense, he is like the sighted man in perfect darkness:
he feels that he can see in the dark, though what it is that he sees which
his blind companion cannot, remains a mystery. And this represents the
predicament of Hazlitt™s epistemology in general: there is nothing to de-
termine what degree of power counts as knowledge other than power
itself.
To someone who had completely divested himself of epistemological
foundationalism, this would merely be grist to the mill. For Hazlitt, how-
ever, it leads to some uneasy moments, as the ¬‚uidity of the knowledge“
power equation returns to haunt him. In particular, he hesitates over the
cognitive status of art and the type of creativity represented by the origi-
nal genius. Wordsworth and Rembrandt, as he claims in ˜On Genius and
Common Sense™, are typical of genius™s power to give the rule to reason
by virtue of their power of creation ex nihilo. It is, indeed, ˜the power
over those [ideas] which are not given, and for which no obvious or
precise rule can be laid down™.± Yet Hazlitt often displays a suspicion
±
Hazlitt™s immanent idealism
of creation as naked power, as in his criticism of Shelley™s poetry for
˜indulging its love of power and novelty at the expense of truth and
nature [. . .].™ ˜Poetry,™ he continues, in contrast to his own observations
on painting, and his comments on Wordsworth and Rembrandt, ˜we
grant, creates a world of its own; but it creates it out of existing materials.
Mr. Shelley is the maker of his own poetry “ out of nothing.™± This fear
of unfounded expression, of creation without foundations or ˜existing
materials™, ensures that in Hazlitt™s writing the cyclical play of indiffer-
ence and epistemology, power and knowledge, continues ceaselessly.


Coleridge and the new foundationalism




A chain without a staple, from which all the links derived their
stability, or a series without a ¬rst, has been not inaptly allegorized,
as a string of blind men, each holding the skirt of the man before him,
reaching far out of sight, but all moving without the least deviation
in one strait line. [ . . .] Equally inconceivable is a cycle of equal truths
without a common and central principle, which prescribes to each
its proper sphere in the system of science.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria±

Romantic writing oscillates between knowledge and knowledge-indif-
ference. It moves between philosophy™s conception of knowledge and
a more holistic perspective on ˜life™; between a desire for foundational
truth and an acceptance of being as something we are always already
in. These are irreconcilable but incorrigible attitudes, the products of
Hume™s ultimatum to philosophy to justify its linkage of truth and
value which more recently has become a challenge to justify its con-
nection of truth and meaning. The Romantics express what it is to
think and live in this condition of ambivalence, producing a mode of
discourse which is tactical rather than strategic, oscillating between
earnest epistemological quest and an indifference to knowledge which
is sometimes playful and ironic, but involved with exploring reality in a
way which avoids, as Andrew Bowie describes the German Romantics™
bˆ te noire, ˜the separation of the everyday “life world” from the sys-
e
tematically determined spheres of science, technology and modern
bureaucracy™. Consequently, representations of Romantic thought as
fundamentally indifferent, that is, as committed to a phenomenological
media res, a new para-philosophy of decentred knowing “ or, alternatively,
as always destined to deconstruct its own ¬gures of understanding “
suppose a resolution (whether in ˜being™ or the ˜abyss™ of meaning)
which the equal and opposite commitment to truth in Romantic writing
contests.
±
±µ
Coleridge and the new foundationalism
This tension is at its most agonistic in non-¬ctional prose, and in par-
ticular the essay, wherein the essentially circular rhetoric of the Romantic
˜high argument™ struggles with a medium more ¬tted to the consequen-
tial reasoning of discursive argument. So far, I have discussed the work
of a poet professedly writing prose under protest (Wordsworth) and the
work of a prose writer with a recurring inferiority complex about poetry
(Hazlitt). I now want to turn to the case of a poet turned compulsive
prose writer, namely Coleridge. In each of these writers the resistance
and compulsion to found their experience upon knowledge is subtly
different. What distinguishes Coleridge from his contemporaries is that
his own vision of a ˜new condition™ for philosophy emerges against the
background of his belief in the possibility of a rehabilitated a priori meta-
physics. Crucially, this directs him to attempt what hitherto seemed
impossible: the placing of Hume™s ˜value™, the creative life of ¬guration
and projection, not within the quasi-cognitive domains of ˜poetic truth™
or ˜power™, but back within philosophy™s grid of reasoning “ albeit a grid
now reconstructed as unsystematic and intuitional.
What attracted Coleridge to this project was the entirely new direction
opened up by Kant™s suggestion that the foundations of knowledge lay in
thought, rather than in objects. The possibility of a positive, philosophical
refutation of empiricism (and thereby scepticism) through transcendental
argument took hold of Coleridge ˜with a giant™s hand™ while reading Kant
in the opening years of the nineteenth century. He saw that in the Critique
of Pure Reason Kant had proposed a complete reorientation of philosophy,
steering it between the Scylla and the Charybdis of sceptical empiricism
and speculative metaphysics, towards an attempt to understand the a
priori foundations of experience itself. It is the same project that lies
behind Coleridge™s excited claim to Poole in ±°± that, having perused
his predecessors ˜from Aristotle to Kant™, he has ˜overthrown the doctrine
of Association [ . . .] and with it all the irreligious metaphysics of modern
In¬dels™. It is still evident in his thinking to the end of his career. In his
Logic manuscript, unpublished at his death, he echoes Kant™s dictum that
though ˜all our cognition commences with experience, yet it does not on
that account all arise from experience™, and supports this with an oft-used
analogy of his own:µ
The term ˜transcendental™ means the same as ˜sciental™, but with an additional
signi¬cance. All knowledge is excited or occasioned by experience, but all knowl-
edge is not derived from experience, such, for instance, is the knowledge of the
conditions that render experience itself possible, and which must therefore be
supposed to exist previous to experience, in the same manner as the eyes must
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
pre-exist to the act of seeing, though without that act of seeing we never should
have learnt that we possessed eyes.

Here, with Kant™s assistance, Coleridge outlines a template for the
kind of transcendental argument towards which Hazlitt had been mov-
ing in the Essay. It was this new foundation of conceptual conditions
which, Coleridge hoped, would ˜staple™ the ˜circle of truths™ into place,
so avoiding the in¬nite sceptical regress of empirical conditions. Unlike
Hazlitt, Coleridge was prepared to accept that such a staple would have
to be a priori in nature. Yet his reception of transcendental argument
was conditioned by a subsequent tradition of post-Kantian philosophy
in Germany, much of which was in overt reaction against the foundation-
alist and knowledge-centred method of Kant™s critique. Both Jacobi and
Schelling, for example, saw Hume™s division of knowledge and life as
pernicious, and both suspected that the projective subject/inert object
dualism which sponsored it was covertly reproduced in Kant™s separa-
tion of phenomenal and noumenal realms. At the same time, Coleridge
would have learned very different lessons from these ¬gures with regard
to whether this predicament was a problem for or a symptom of a philos-
ophy construed as the quest to ground human life and experience upon
certain knowledge. For Jacobi, such alienation was itself the product of
too much philosophizing and too little faith. For Schelling, however, phil-
osophy™s groundlessness, though self-in¬‚icted and irresolvable, remained
inescapably a philosophical problem.
In this way the question which in Britain had hardened into a Hobson™s
choice between naturalism and a moribund empiricism, presented
German thought with a number of possible new avenues for philoso-
phy, the scope of which is too various to begin to cover here. One way
of viewing this range, however, is as an unstable spectrum of positions
stretching from Kant™s neo-foundationalism through varying registers
of epistemic indifference, neither of which escapes the inevitable back-
slide towards its antagonist. At one end of the scale Kant™s attempt to
extend his critique to practical reason and aesthetics itself encouraged,
on one hand, a discourse of will in Fichte and the early Schelling, and,
on the other, the cultivation of an ironic aesthetic in Schiller and the
Schlegels which remained ambivalent between awareness and unknow-
ingness. More positively, Fichte and Schelling (and later, of course, Hegel)
moved to rescue dialectic from the futile paralogisms of Kant™s critique
and recast it as the methodology of a system in which epistemic indif-
ference was brought back within the fold of a constructive, rather than
±·
Coleridge and the new foundationalism
merely compensatory, para-philosophy of intellectual intuition. Mean-
while, at the extreme of indifference, in the work of Jacobi, Schopenhauer
and the later Schelling, there remained the voice inhabiting the darker
corner of the discourse of will, one which envisaged no compensation
other than faith, resignation, or sheer activity, and which engaged with
philosophy only to undermine it.
This is a necessarily brief thumbnail sketch of post-Kantian philoso-
phy in Germany, but even here it is clear that Coleridge was diving into

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