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neously, non-absoluteness). Moreover, for Coleridge the Identity of the
Prothesis is beyond conceptualization; it is ˜transcendent to all production™
(emphasis added), or the ˜Punctum invisibile, et presuppositum™. Con-
sequently, it is ˜©®¦ ¦ ¬™. But this is precisely the kind of postulating
of noumenal essences that Hegelian dialectic is designed to overcome. It
was a central concern of Hegel™s that the Absolute could be articulated:
there was nothing worth knowing that could not be known rationally,
i.e. in terms of a system within which knowledge of the Absolute was
immanent. On his view, ˜[t]he True is the whole. But the whole is nothing
other than the essence consummating itself through its development. Of
the Absolute it must be said that it is essentially a result, that only in the
end is it what it truly is [. . .] the spontaneous becoming of itself.™±·
Coleridge, however, was never wholeheartedly a coherentist about
knowledge, much less about truth. His commitment, amply demon-
strated in the Logic as elsewhere, to foundational ¬rst principles of knowl-
edge, principles which grounded cognition and experience, show that he
held a fundamentally linear view of epistemic justi¬cation which jarred
with both the dialectical and voluntaristic axes of his thought. He may
have discarded the empirical ˜given™ of Kant™s sensory manifold, but he
could not easily reject the epistemological ˜other™, whether that was the
synthetic a priori proposition, the transcendent divinity or the ˜Trans-
Alpine™ provinces of Biographia.±
Coleridge™s attachment to epistemological and metaphysical grounds
paradoxically meant that his embryonic decentred ˜para-philosophy™
of dialectic, having fallen foul of these foundations, hardened into an
˜anti-philosophy™ of epistemic indifference. As with Jacobi, Schelling
and Schopenhauer, the ¬‚ight from foundations itself betrayed a repressed
sentimental longing for knowledge lost. Thus, Coleridge™s further at-
tempt to pragmatize knowing by cultivating a central role for will and
°·
Coleridge and theosophy
the ˜faith of reason™ merely served to emphasize how bottomless these
foundations were, so intensifying the sense of epistemic loss. Whereas
the voluntaristic turn would lead Pierce, James and Dewey to aban-
don the traditional construct of ˜knowledge™ as certainty prior to action
in favour of a result-orientated, open-ended and creative approach to
experience, the Janiform nature of Coleridge™s thought results in the
very absence of foundation being marked as a foundational mystery,
the ˜ineffable™ Prothesis. For Dewey, with foundationalism there was ˜no
place for genuine discovery, or creative novelty™:
As soon as and whenever it is assumed that the of¬ce of knowledge is to lay
hold of existence which is prior to and apart from the operations of inquiry and
their consequences, one or other of these errors or some combination of both
of them is inevitable. Either logical characters belonging to the operations of
effective inquiry are read into antecedent existence; or the world as known is
reduced to a pulverized multiplicity of atomically isolated elements, a Kantian
˜manifold™; or some machinery is devised, whether of an ˜idealistic™ or ˜realistic™
sort, to bring the two together. When, on the other hand, it is seen that the
object of knowledge is prospective and eventual, being the result of inferential
operations which redispose what was antecedently existent, the subject-matters
called respectively sensible and conceptual are seen to be complementary in
effective direction of inquiry to an intelligible conclusion.±
With Coleridge, however, creativity always hovers between being
something which needs to be justi¬ed, and that which, as with Dewey,
itself displaces linear explanation. Coleridge™s thinking then, internalizes
a number of divisions. On the most general level, this cleavage occurs
between, on one hand, the imperatives of foundational epistemology
and, on the other, para-philosophical and anti-philosophical forms of
epistemological indifference. In this, at least, he shares his predicament
with Wordsworth and Hazlitt.

®  ¬µ © ®
Described this way, Coleridge™s predicament is one which many philoso-
phers today might acknowledge as more or less inevitable. In Coleridge™s
case, however, the foundationalist compulsion to ground our knowledge
of the world vies with his Christian reverence for an ˜invisible™ nature,
which in turn drove his Jacobian concern that the aspirations of knowl-
edge, and thus of philosophy, be curtailed. Unlike Jacobi, however, in
Coleridge knowledge and anti-knowledge are momentarily bound in a
dialectical relationship whereby the communicative Logos emerges from
° Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
Absolute Will. Yet in the very process of articulating this relationship
Coleridge™s therapeutic, non-apodeictic para-philosophy becomes a
knowing philosophy. Indeed, the problem of philosophical investigation
for Coleridge is that it can not disclose new areas of experience and real-
ity, but not without ceasing to be philosophy. Wherever he opens up the
circle of being, the line of knowing is already present, waiting to close it
down. In this way, the outcome of his attempt ˜to reduce all knowledges
into harmony™, is knowledge itself.
Conclusion: life without knowledge




While we are reasoning concerning life, life is gone [ . . .].
David Hume, ˜The Sceptic™±

When he urged every enlightened reader to commit to the ¬‚ames those
volumes of ˜sophistry and illusion™ which contained neither abstract nor
experimental reasoning, Hume was aware that such an injunction would
precipitate the division of value from fact, of what mattered deeply to us
from what could be known by us. Henceforth, the choice confronting
speculative minds would not so much concern the nature of the philoso-
phy they followed, as whether philosophy itself was to be preferred over
˜life™, or the domain of experience which lay outwith Hume™s forked epis-
temology. Indeed, it seemed to many that epistemology had only itself
to blame for its predicament. Philosophy in general, as Lamb observed
of the ˜Humeian™ in particular, had become inhuman. If it was to over-
come its own sceptical alienation from value, the question which phil-
osophy faced was: must knowledge know itself completely in order to
count as knowledge? Looked at from a slightly different perspective, this
question becomes: would such absolute knowledge even be knowledge?
This eighteenth and early nineteenth-century problem is the converse of
that perennial paradox of late twentieth-century theory and historicism,
much of which assumes an epistemic grounding through the very pro-
cess of never permitting that ground to settle. While the modern critique
silently attests to its unconditioned consciousness through its ceaseless
examination of its own contingent conditions, the ˜knowledge™ of episte-
mology ultimately aspires to groundlessness; which is to say, a condition
beyond itself, life, in which the dualism of knower and known, thought
and being, is annulled.
Indeed, the two discourses face the same dilemma from opposite sides,
in that both are ¬nally forced to confront the ¬gure of a ground which
is impossible but inescapable. In the eighteenth century, naturalism, the
°
±° Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
¬rst sustained philosophical response to Hume, internalizes this ambiva-
lence. In particular, Reid™s defence of a pre-epistemic common sense
slides between positing a naturalized but unknowing belief and a belief
which itself grounds a rehabilitated knowledge. For the Romantics, such
a settlement was poor compensation for the freedom lost by binding the
mind to nature. The only other immediate route around the impasse of
knowledge seemed to be the supernatural road, ascending to the apoca-
lyptic triumph over nature by faith and will, the path suggested by Jacobi™s
declaration that ˜[t]here are instincts in man, and there is a law in him,
that unceasingly commands him to prove himself mightier than the nature that
surrounds him and pervades him from all sides™. But as Schelling observed, by
quitting the ¬eld supernatural unknowing merely submits to the ration-
alist conception of knowledge it is meant to transcend. Consequently,
thought given over to will and faith, ˜instead of really attacking the knowl-
edge which displeases it, completely gives way to it, by withdrawing into
not-knowing [ . . . ]™.µ Could there be a middle way between knowledge
and indifference?
This is the question which English Romanticism struggles to resolve.
But since it is one which concerns the very pre-eminence of knowing,
as well as philosophy™s superintendence of knowledge, their response
does not always take the form of an answer. Instead, argument competes
with ways of coping with division as a condition of human life; through
memory, contemplation, action, or religious devotion. For the same rea-
son it is in Romantic prose, where the voice of discursive understand-
ing was more dif¬cult to repress, that this struggle between knowledge
and creation is at its ¬ercest. Latent in the notions of inspiration and
the sublime, the concept of creation had gradually emerged throughout
the eighteenth century as a leading idea in aesthetics, culminating with
Kant™s treatment of the self-legislating genius in the Critique of Judgement.
In Britain this development was actually encouraged by empiricism™s
preoccupation, since Locke, with psychology and the question of origins.
However, having let the genie out of its bottle, empiricism immediately
found itself in peril, as a paradigm hitherto con¬ned to the arts appeared
ever more applicable to knowledge itself. In particular, in Hume™s hands,
the association of ideas could provide a worryingly compelling picture of
how the mind™s tendency to project order onto the world operated alike
in its aesthetic, moral and epistemic judgements. The ¬gure of the circle
threatened to enclose knowledge, art to subsume philosophy. From this
perspective, then, the Romantics were not solely concerned to mount a
general defence of poetry: they were every bit as exercised by the fate
±±
Life without knowledge
of philosophy, a fate that would ultimately be decided not in the always
already ¬gurative domain of poetry, but philosophy™s stubbornly literal
home ground of prose. In this, one can see the obverse of Derrida™s
observation as to how philosophy of art is undone by its subject matter,
whereby ˜the philosophical encloses art in its circle but its discourse on
art is at once, by the same token, caught in a circle™. Indeed, just as
philosophy is enclosed in art™s circle, so art is already straining to know
this enclosure discursively “ in this case, in prose. In Romantic prose the
¬gure never quite bites its own tail, but is tempted out of its circularity
towards argument, conclusion and ultimately knowledge.
A telling example of this slippage between ¬gure and argumentation
occurs in Coleridge™s discussion of synthetic a priori reasoning in Logic.
Dismissing the claim (later to be defended by John Stuart Mill in his System
of Logic) that mathematical and geometrical reasoning were synthetic but
a posteriori “ in Coleridge™s words, like a mere ˜rope of sand™ “ he suddenly
ventures to ˜elevate the subject™ by recurring to a metaphor he had used
earlier, likening knowledge to a palace. In the eyes of the empiricist, he
continues, such a palace was merely ˜a phantom in the desert, when on
the contingences of some I know not what whirl blast™,

the desert sands rise up
And shape themselves: from Earth to Heaven they stand,
As though they were the pillars of a temple,
Built by Omnipotence in its own honour!
But the blast pauses, and their shaping spirit
Is ¬‚ed; the mighty columns were but sand,
And sophist snakes trail o™er the level ruins!

To such an assertion, ˜in short™, Coleridge maintains, ˜no answer can
be given™. One might, indeed, suppose that the power of this passage,
excerpted from a variant of his poem ˜The Night-Scene™ (··“) itself
obviates the need for any answer. For Coleridge, however, the closing
image of ˜sophist snakes™ trailing over the ruins of empirical knowledge
was a troubling and ambivalent one. The ¬gure of the serpent, itself
the trope of ¬guration and the ˜shaping spirit™ of creative activity
(as Coleridge had approvingly noted of its ancient Egyptian signi¬cation
in Biographia· ) was also, as he later came to see it in Aids to Re¬‚ection, ˜the
Symbol of the Understanding,™ or ˜sophistic Principle™, tempting the mind
into a barren knowing alienated from will. The Ouroborous or self-
devouring serpent in particular held a hypnotic fascination for Coleridge
and Shelley, connoted at once with in¬nity, groundless creativity and
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
(in the case of the former) a decadent, satanic desire for knowledge. It is
signi¬cant, then, that in Logic Coleridge™s trope of empirical knowledge
as a phantom palace betrays some anxiety at the suggestion that its own
status as ¬gure is merely the serpent among the ruins, marking the spot
where ˜no answer can be given™, and rendering his demonstration (as he
labels the empiricist view of mathematics) ˜monstratio de nihilo™ (˜a showing
from nothing™). This anxiety that his own philosophical edi¬ce is itself
merely built on foundations of sand, on poetry and metaphor, precipi-
tates a reassertion of the language of philosophical logic, of ˜geometrical
demonstration™, ˜consequents™ and ˜antecedent™. As swiftly as he passed
into metaphor, then, Coleridge shifts back into the ˜short™ argument and
solid language of prose, by ˜requesting the assertor to make or renew
his acquaintance with the elements of geometry™. For he is, Coleridge
concludes, either delusional or self-contradictory, speaking ˜that which
he himself knows to be false™.±°
Caught between the irreconcilable imperatives of indifference and
knowledge, life and philosophy, the English Romantics explored the
possibility of a para-philosophy through which the contradiction between
non-knowing and knowing might be obviated. The new philosophy,
however, was always already slipping into ¬guration on one hand or,
on the other, back to cold foundations. In Wordsworth, it took the form
of a poetic dialectic of consciousness or phenomenological via naturaliter
negativa, in which the foundationalist science of the French ideologues
was corrected by the power of feeling, sensation and pleasure. Nature™s
law was moderated by a spontaneous second nature through which the
poet asserted his epistemic autonomy. Yet the ¬gurative nature of that
authority failed to eliminate Wordsworth™s fear of scepticism. His plea-
sure is always self-conscious, and poetic creation is at every turn checked
by empirical veri¬cation, the human value of the ˜people™ by the inhuman
fact of the ˜public™.
Hazlitt too was attracted to a decentred view of knowledge as a ¬eld
of force. But the epistemological paradigm of creation in his theories of
practical reasoning and abstraction modelled a dynamic conception of
truth that empiricism could not verify. As creation and truth failed to
meld, knowledge itself began to dissolve. In Hazlitt™s immanent idealism,
the notion of power is only ever quasi-epistemological, inhabiting an
ambivalent middle-ground between the numinous ideal truth of poetry
and the factual real truth of prose. Hazlitt™s new condition of philosophy,
then, involves a reaction against epistemology, as an uncompromis-
ingly non-cognitive, ˜exaggerating and exclusive faculty™ of imagination
±
Life without knowledge
threatens to replace knowing as the primary mode of human engage-
ment with the world.±± Like Wordsworth™s consciousness, Hazlitt™s power
is Janus-faced, on one side forming the foundation for an ˜ideal™ truth, and
on the other contesting knowledge itself as something grounded in truth.
Coleridge, meanwhile, came to see such manoeuvres as merely tinker-
ing with an empirical machine that was already damaged beyond repair.
His attempt to replace Locke™s and Hume™s ¬‚awed foundation of fact
with Kant™s ground of synthetic a priori proposition was encouraged by
the latter™s tendency to frame this question psychologically, implying a
creative element to knowing. However, Kant™s further attempt in the
¬rst Critique to run the deduction of suf¬cient conditions of knowledge
of necessary truths together with that of the necessary conditions of
empirical knowledge meant that transcendental method™s pristine foun-
dationalism of formal conditions was already implicated in a thesis of
transcendental idealism which Coleridge rejected in Biographia Literaria.
At the same time, rationalism™s holy grail of perfect knowing continued
to exert its in¬‚uence over Coleridge, so that when he came to think
about the problem of knowledge in dialectical terms, this pressurized
not only his foundationalism but also its compensatory aesthetic theory.
And yet, while Coleridgean dialectic curtailed the province of knowl-
edge by erasing its border with being, it remained all the more securely
within its boundaries by being based upon a priori principle. Thus, in
his later work in particular, the therapeutic power of dialectic occupies
an unstable middle ground between the synthetic a priori foundations of
Kant™s transcendental method and the ineffable prothetic divine Will. In
this, the new foundationalism proved to be as slippery and beguiling as
the old.
Simultaneously centrifugal and centripetal in their attitude to knowl-
edge, the English Romantics re¬‚ect and resist the preoccupations of
postmodern reading. In their ambivalence between confronting scepti-
cism and evading it, the Romantics at once look back nostalgically to the
certainty which Hume dissolved, and forward to ways of thinking about
experience and reality that overcome ˜knowing™. Rather than commit to
one or the other, the typical movement of English Romantic prose is to
waver between the vertical and the horizontal axes of experience, one
moment ascending the steps to truth, the next biting the tail of argument.
But indifference is not naivete, and the knowingness of this manoeuvre
perpetually draws its line through the circle of being.
For the same reason, English Romantic prose represents a way of
reading which, rather than secretly harbouring knowledge by outwardly
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
abjuring it, confronts the inevitability of knowing in the face of its impos-
sibility: not because it merely loathes self-division, but, indeed, because
it sees such a condition as unavoidable. This is not so much a question
of abandoning knowing the world in order to ˜accept™ it, but, as Cavell
suggests, recognizing that this acceptance will always be locked in a war-
like embrace with the desire to know. Schelling™s later philosophy of posi-
tivity in a sense represents the culmination of this facet of Romanticism,
one which is not prepared to be played out either teleologically or end-
lessly through the relations of dialectic. For Schelling, such therapeutic
attempts to overcome the divisions within epistemology merely repress
the desire for certainty, for grounds, as much as Jacobi™s precipitant ¬‚ight
from knowledge. It is too easy, he argues, for Jacobi to suddenly declare,
in the face of philosophy, ˜ “I do not want this result, I ¬nd it revolting,
it goes against my feeling” ™:
We cannot declare such an expression to be forbidden, for we ourselves allow a
great importance, at least for the initial determination of concepts in philosophy,
to wanting. The ¬rst declaration in philosophy (which even precedes philosophy)
can in fact only be the expression of a wanting. To this extent it must be permitted,
to say: ˜I do not like it, I cannot bring it into accord with myself.™ It is all very
well to say, like Jacobi: ˜I demand a personal God [ . . . ]™ “ it is praiseworthy to
say this, but these expressions for themselves alone are ¬ne words, to which no
deeds correspond. If there is, in contradiction with our feeling and with what we
would rather wish, a knowledge which can give itself the appearance of being
necessary and inevitable, then we have no other reasonable alternative than to
choose either to surrender ourselves to necessity, to command our feeling to be
silent, or to overcome that knowledge by a real (wirklich) deed.±

Whether Schelling is justi¬ed in his own ˜third way™ belief that knowl-
edge can be overcome by deed is a question for a different kind of study.
But by drawing out the con¬‚ict between a feeling which is always already
knowing, and a ˜necessity™ which is both alienating and paradoxical, he
underlines the Romantic dilemma between indifference and knowledge.
In this light, the knowingly unknowing ways of English Romantic prose
resemble not so much the playful fragmentation of postmodernism, but
the ambivalent remains of the foundationalism which postmodernism
scorns, and which persists in the work of Wittgenstein, Kuhn, Cavell and
Quine, to name but a few. This attitude has been reluctant to abandon
foundationalism entirely, and remains wary of attempts to bypass scep-
ticism as merely the product of philosophy™s outworn metaphors. It is as
impressed by the naturalness as by the ˜inhumanity™ of philosophy, and
the way in which ˜life™ and value retain a symbiotic relationship with
±µ
Life without knowledge
the ˜knowledge™ from which they remain divided. It is certainly dif¬cult,
and perhaps impossible to determine the re¬‚exivity behind the relation-
ship of Romantic and modern knowing. But being in that relationship,
I have maintained, must mean not only maintaining a vigilant suspicion
of ˜knowledge™, but also owning up to it, assuming responsibility for it. If
this at least is clear, then it might not seem dialectically naive to af¬rm
that if the ˜Humean predicament is the human predicament™, then our
divided way of coping with that predicament continues to be a Romantic
one.±
Notes




©®  ¤µ ©® :  ® © © ™ « ®· © ®§ ·
± Stanley Cavell, foreword, Must We Mean What We Say? A Book of Essays
(Cambridge University Press, ±·), p. xxii.
 Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood
(Cambridge University Press, ±·), p. ±°°.
 Charles Lamb and Mary Lamb, The Letters of Charles and Mary Anne Lamb,
ed. Edwin W. Marrs, Jr,  vols. to date (Cornell University Press, ±·µ“),
vol. ©© ©, p. .
 M. H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition
(Oxford University Press, ±µ).
µ Paul de Man, Blindness and Insight (Oxford University Press, ±·±), p. ±. See
also Kathleen Wheeler™s Romanticism, Pragmatism and Deconstruction (Blackwell,
±).
 Tilottama Rajan, Dark Interpreter (Cornell University Press, ±°), p. µµ.
· David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge, nd edn, rev.
P. H. Nidditch (Oxford University Press, ±·), p. µ.
 David Hume, Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding and Concerning the
Principles of Morals, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge, rd edn, rev. P. H. Nidditch (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, ±·µ), p. ±µ.
 Hume, Treatise, p. ±.
±° Michael G. Cooke, Acts of Inclusion: Studies Bearing on an Elementary Theory of
Romanticism (Yale University Press, ±·), pp. xix“xx.
±± As raised in: E. L. Gettier, ˜Is Justi¬ed True Belief Knowledge?™ Analysis 
(±), ±±“.
± See for instance Donald Davidson, ˜A Coherence Theory of Truth and
¨
Representation™, Kant oder Hegel? Uber Formen der Begr¨ ndung in der Philosophie,
u
ed. Dieter Henrich (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, ±), in which Davidson seeks
to unite a coherence theory of justi¬cation with the foundationalist principle
that ˜truth is correspondence with the way things are™ (p. µ).
± Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scienti¬c Revolutions ±, rd edn (University
of Chicago Press, ±), p. ±.
± Bernard Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Fontana/Collins, ±µ),
p. ±±.

±
Notes to pages µ“ ±·
±µ Ibid., p. ±.
± Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton University Press,
±°), p. ±.
±· George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller
(Oxford University Press, ±··), p. ·.
± Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Concerning the Doctrine of Spinoza in Letters to Herr
Moses Mendelssohn, ±·µ, The Main Philosophical Writings and the Novel Allwill,
trans. George di Giovanni (McGill-Queen™s University Press, ±), p. .
± See Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, ed. Walter Kaufmann, trans.
Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson,
±), p. : ˜ “Truth” is therefore not something there, that might be found
or discovered “ but something that must be created and that gives a name
to a process, or rather to a will to overcome that has in itself no end [ . . . ].™
° James Burnett, Lord Monboddo, Antient Metaphysics,  vols. (Edinburgh,
±··“), vol. ©, p. ±µ.
± Jacobi, preface, David Hume on Faith or Idealism and Realism: A Dialogue, ±±µ,
Main Philosophical Writings, p. µ·°.
 Burnett, Antient Metaphysics, vol. © , p. vii.
 Ibid., p. vi.
 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, eds. James Engell and Walter
Jackson Bate,  vols. (Princeton University Press, ±), vol. © , pp. ±±“.
µ Charles and Mary Lamb, Letters, vol. ©, p. ±.
 William Wordsworth, The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, eds. W. J. B.
Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser,  vols. (Oxford University Press, ±·),
vol. ©© ©, p. ·±.
· Ibid., p. ·±.
 Isaiah Berlin, preface, The Mind of the European Romantics, by H. G. Schenk
(Oxford University Press, ±·), p. xv.
 Anthony Ashley Cooper, Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times
(London, ±·±±), vol. ©, p. °·.
° Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge University Press,
±), p. ·.

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