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with the conventional “ which is to say, Cartesian or foundational “
discourse of philosophy. In particular, I wish to show how in England
this ambivalence grew in a post-Humean, post-empirical climate as
well as in an imported ˜Germano-Coleridgean™ one. Furthermore, given
that much of modern Anglophone philosophy continues to see itself as
inhabiting such a climate, this investigation will involve an examina-
tion of the nature of what Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy characterize as
a ˜repetitive compulsion™ in Romanticism to question knowing which
continues today.
Nor do I exempt my own enquiry from this compulsion. I would
merely add that even as it resists knowledge, it simultaneously involves
the compulsion to af¬rm it. Rorty, closing Philosophy and the Mirror of
Nature, proclaims the death of the Cartesian tradition of philosophiz-
ing which based itself on the search for foundational ˜¬rst principles™ of
knowledge, adding that ˜we should not try to have a successor subject
±·
Romanticism™s knowing ways
to epistemology [. . .]™. Instead, ˜cultural anthropology (in a large sense
which includes intellectual history) is all we need™.· On this issue, as on
so many others, he is at one with his pragmatist forebear Dewey, who
sixty years previously had suggested that reconstructing thought would
far more successfully be carried out by telling stories and developing new
narratives about philosophy than by analytical argument. ˜It seems to
me™, he wrote, ˜that this genetic method of approach is a more effective
way of undermining this type of philosophical theorizing than any at-
tempt at logical refutation could be™. Moves over the past two decades
to decentre intellectual history are likely to have satis¬ed Rorty, on the
whole. However, that his decried ˜tradition™ of philosophical theorizing
has proved more durable than he and Dewey hoped, especially within
English-language philosophy, is something that any narrative of intellec-
tual history ignores to the detriment not just of its content, but also its
methodology.
Indeed, of all the lessons one learns from Romantic prose, one of the
most salient is that the line of knowledge will always tease the circle of
being out of itself, even as that circle prevents the line from touching its
desired ground. To put this more baldly: there is no way back to the pre-
lapsarian innocence of irrationality (or the ˜naive™ or the ˜mirror-stage™)
or what I have here chosen to call indifference. Cavell makes a similar
point when he maintains that, once out of the bag (if indeed it was
ever in the bag), philosophy becomes ˜inescapable™ simply because the
very ˜ambivalence about the relevance or importance of philosophy [. . .]
is also one of philosophy™s characteristic features™. Knowledge and
indifference have a relationship of mutual dependence and antagonism.
Consequently, though Cavell opts for a method of coping with scepticism
rather than attempting to resolve it “ insisting that, rather than being
demonstrated, ˜[t]he world is to be accepted; as the presentness of other
minds is not to be known, but acknowledged™ “ he does not believe
that this obviates philosophical engagement: ˜For the point of forgoing
knowledge is, of course, to know™.·°
The Romantics were wearily familiar with this irresistible but impossi-
ble dichotomy. Perhaps most tellingly, Jacobi repeatedly came up against
it in his career-long attempt to circumvent what he saw as the incipient
nihilism of Kantian rationalism by turning philosophy against itself. In
the ±±µ Preface to David Hume on Faith (which became the Introduction
to his Collected Philosophical Works) he summed up his entire philosophy as
founded ˜upon the ¬rm faith that immediately emerges from a knowing
not-knowing and is in truth identical with it™.·± The dif¬culty Jacobi faced,
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
however, was with articulating and justifying the notion of ˜a knowing
not-knowing™; or rather, with his inability to resist articulating and jus-
tifying it. Jacobi exhibits with quintessential Romantic doubleness the
desire for a justi¬cation of his salto mortale; for the philosophical ground-
ing of a faith which itself precedes justi¬cation. As his translator, George
di Giovanni, observes: ˜Jacobi™s faith is that of a philosopher “ the kind
of faith that Jacobi requires because he has unwittingly been in collusion
all along with the philosophy that he set out to criticize.™· Just as impor-
tantly, Jacobi also pre¬gures the Cavellian ¬gure of an agonistically bound
knowledge and indifference which I am claiming describes both his
condition and mine.
What I wish to avoid, however, is the impression that by acknowl-
edging that continuity or reciprocity I am myself reaching for either the
categorical ground of traditional philosophy or the numinous realm of
indifference sought by much modern hermeneutics. What I mean by
the latter is the kind of condition to which Marjorie Levinson aspires
by refusing what she calls the false dilemma of a subject-or-object cen-
tred critique whereby empathy is pitted against contemplation. In her
method, she claims, ˜[b]y construing our critical acts as the effect of a
Romantic cause which is immanent in that effect and only there “ or
rather, here “ we develop something which is as much difference as it is
identity™. This form of criticism, she continues, ˜restores the doubleness
that Lacan has named the Imaginary. Through such a discourse, we
settle for a moment on the surface of the mirroring past.™ But it is sig-
ni¬cant that pressing the dialectic of a self-re¬‚exive hermeneutic to the
point where it renders its own ˜transformative, subject-site undecidable™,
leads Levinson to a moment of genuine contact with truth, an epiphanic
moment on the surface of the mirror. In other words, by setting out to
reach a state of imaginary ˜doubleness™, of indifference, she arrives at
uncanny knowledge, a knowing not-knowing.·
This is the tendency, as Alan Lui has indicated, of ˜methodologies
[which are] as much against as of knowledge™, namely that they har-
bour the danger of ˜an incipient method or meta-way [. . .] of alternative
knowledge™. The problem, he suggests, is one of how to trace a thought
in culture ˜without being too knowing even in the way of antiknowing™.
Liu™s own preferred method involves reading and writing ˜under the sign
of [. . .] rhetoric™.· Rhetoric, however, is no less guilty of provoking the
¬gure of knowledge which it attempts to repress. Instead, the ¬rst step
towards coping with this problem (rather than resolving it), is simply for
literary criticism to give up its quest for indifference, just as philosophy
±
Romanticism™s knowing ways
is gradually giving up its quest for certainty. This in turn means, among
other things, relinquishing the obsession with perfect critical hygiene
which presents itself as a self-aware and cheerful celebration of contami-
nation. It also, for that matter, involves abandoning the drive to de-
mysti¬cation which exhausts itself in postmodernism™s sublime ˜horizon™
of particularity.·µ The acceptance of our double-mindedness between
knowledge and indifference requires that the commitment to knowing
itself is acknowledged, not repressed. Interpretation is not, as some have
suggested, a machine of perpetual motion, forever undoing its own end.
It repeatedly comes to rest on some ˜truth™ or other without which it
cannot be sustained. In this way, it is possible to accept Rorty™s claim
that the collapse of foundationalism need not leave only a discourse of
suspicion in its wake (indeed that it must not, if suspicion is itself not
to become a new foundation), and that ˜ “pragmatized thought” might
cease to be blind and become clear-sighted™.· At the same time, any such
acceptance must be tagged with the important proviso that the clarity
at stake is not that of Rorty™s ironist, dividing private belief and public
function, but that of the Romantic, committed to the inevitability of
knowing in the face of its impossibility, because, with Cavell, she realises
that ˜knowing not-knowing™ will always in the end amount to knowing.
This brings us back to Jacobi. By both observing that Jacobi encoun-
tered this very same predicament, and adding that he did so in a slightly
different form, then, I do not see myself as engaged in a dialectic whereby
the indeterminability of cause and effect between historian and historical
˜object™ produces an undecidable subject-site. Nor am I merely indulging
in the activity of which David Simpson has complained that ˜[t]here is
no more depressing tactic of academic rei¬cation™, namely, making ˜the
claim that everything happening now has already happened™.·· Instead,
I am acknowledging (with the emphasis on know) the close relation of past
paradigms of thought to those of the present, and their claims upon it,
in a similar way to how I acknowledge the claims of other persons upon
me: that is, as something which exceeds any possible meta-justi¬cation.
As Cavell puts it, acknowledgement ˜is what a historian has to face in
knowing the past: the epistemology of other minds is the same as the
metaphysics of other times and places™.·

 ©   - ¤  ¦  µ §  
With this in mind, it is possible (rather, it is imperative) to explore con-
sonance and difference between Romantic and modern paradigms of
° Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
knowledge without that project necessarily being overtaken by an over-
riding concern with the full character of the dialectical determination
of past, present and future. Indeed, one of the themes common to the
Romantics and a more recent thinker like Wittgenstein, for example, is
that of philosophy™s need, in the wake of Hume, to separate itself from
˜life™, and yet its irrelevance without ˜life™. Both translate this into terms of
the extent to which philosophy and knowledge are grounded or groundless,
and both express this condition through the ¬gure of the river or stream.
For Wittgenstein, empirical knowledge, determined by language-games
learnt practically rather than logically or according to rules, is foun-
dationless, and in varying degrees of constant change. In On Certainty,
he likens these degrees to the rocks, sand and water on a river-bed.
Though the most certain propositions, now hardened into rocks, seem
more secure than the sandy bed, and that again more stable than the
¬‚owing water, ˜there is not a sharp division of the one from the other™.
Fluid propositions harden, and hardened ones may break off and be-
come more ¬‚uid, such as the ¬‚at-earth theory or the axioms of Euclidian
geometry. With time then, ˜the river-bed of thoughts may shift™.· What
is crucial to this account is that, for Wittgenstein, certainty is not some-
thing permanent at which one arrives, or even something stable from
which one departs, any more than the river-bed of thoughts can be said
to ˜arrive™ at or ˜depart™ from itself. It is not something which can be
considered separately from human social activity, or treated abstractly
and apart from life, but is itself to be viewed as ˜a form of life™.°
Wittgenstein™s mythology of knowledge provides a ¬tting illustration
of the manner by which Romanticism itself stirs up the river-bed of
thought. Using similar language, Coleridge claimed that Christianity was
˜not a Theory, or a Speculation; but a Life. Not a Philosophy of Life, but
a Life and a living Process™.± By suggesting, against Hume, that philos-
ophy was to be lived and not just thought, so that, as Keats insisted to
Reynolds in ±±, ˜axioms in philosophy are not axioms until they are
proved upon our pulses™, Romanticism dislodged the bedrock of founda-
tionalism. Rather than contesting a speci¬c philosophical theory, the
very need for ˜knowledge™, and by extension philosophy itself, was placed
in doubt. Such questioning reshaped the major channels of thought
for the following two centuries. As Romanticism fashioned itself as an
extra-philosophical solution to philosophy™s ills, so modern thought has
internalized the ambivalent Romantic strategy of philosophical indiffer-
ence. And by calling for new discourses to replace foundational epistem-
ology, whether they be linguistic therapy, natural science, or cultural
±
Romanticism™s knowing ways
anthropology, it re-enacts not only that strategy, but also its inherent
dilemmas.
In this light, Wittgenstein™s metaphor compares revealingly with
Coleridge™s own and equally famous ˜emblem of the mind™s self-
experience in the act of thinking™, namely, the ˜small water-insect on
the surface of rivulets, which [. . .] wins its way up against the stream, by
alternate pulses of active and passive motion [. . .]™. Both Wittgenstein
and Coleridge use the stream as a trope for their idea of the pragmatic,
creative element in knowledge, connecting relative stability with playful
indeterminacy. For Wittgenstein, certainty of a limited kind is provided
by the rocks in the banks and bed of the water (whether they remain
in place or not depends on the language-game chosen); for Coleridge,
his foundationalist instincts for the moment in abeyance, by the alter-
nately active and passive motion of imagination. Yet both images agree
inasmuch as they connote the end of a way of seeing knowledge, and
indeed truth, as stable and secured by ˜grounds™ accessible by the kind
of pure thought for which the philosophical attitude alone is adequate.
Again, however, this is only half of the story. Coleridge™s suggestive
simile of the water-insect itself appears uneasy when considered against
the background of Biographia Literaria™s foundationalist search for the
˜absolute principium cognoscendi™. Coleridge returned to the image of
the stream as a metaphor for knowledge in the ˜Essays on the Principles
of Method™ in the ±± Friend. In the ¬gure of ˜that life-ebullient stream
which breaks though every momentary embankment, again, indeed, and
evermore to embank itself, but within no banks to stagnate or be impris-
oned™, before ¬nally returning, renewed, into itself, he sought to express
the symbiotic relationship between the restraining limits of philosophy or
rational knowledge on one hand, and the creative surge of faith or will on
the other.µ The lesson of this passage, however, is crucially different from
that of Wittgenstein™s ˜river-bed™ trope. The moral of the latter™s narrative
was that of the need to dispense once and for all with talk of foundations
and ˜grounds™ of knowledge, despite the fact that, as Elridge observes,
Wittgenstein™s Philosophical Investigations frequently seems Romantic in its
fragmentariness, and its self-dramatizing ˜self-revising, self-questioning
swerves in and out of doctrine and commitment™. For Coleridge, however,
the fact that will created its own certainty, that the stream of life was fated
˜evermore to embank itself ™ represented not the non-existence, but the
incomprehensibility of grounds which were set by the mind, for the mind.
It counselled that ˜every faculty [. . .] owes its whole reality and compre-
hensibility to an existence incomprehensible and groundless, because the
 Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
ground of all comprehension [. . .]™.· Once again, Coleridge enacts the
characteristic English Romantic strategy of attempting to evade scepti-
cism by making a ground of creation, and by founding knowledge itself
in a rei¬ed foundationlessness.
On a more general level then, while Coleridge was convinced that the
contemplative life needed to be reconciled with the active, he remained
undecided as to whether this demanded the intercession of the creative
powers of poetry or religion, or whether philosophy could redeem itself.
Similarly, English Romanticism™s lasting importance to modern philos-
ophy does not consist in any commitment to ending philosophy, nor even
to limiting its jurisdiction. The feeling that Hume™s fact/value distinc-
tion might be overwritten did not remove the consoling hope for a kind
of knowing which still had an ˜end™; which remained free of the rela-
tivistic cognates of psychological creation. This is why, as will be seen,
Wordsworth™s ˜poetic truth™, alike with Hazlitt™s ˜common sense™ and
Coleridge™s ˜total and undivided philosophy™ pose such problems for the
theoretically trained reader today, as each are simultaneously connoted
with foundational and anti-foundational ¬gures of knowledge. Indeed,
it is in this ambivalence between indifference and a ¬delity to knowl-
edge that Romanticism reveals itself as a process of change; speci¬cally,
the emergence of the very shifts in the ˜river-bed of thought™ which have
made such alternative perspectives possible.
The narrative offered here of English Romanticism as already con-
taining English-language philosophy™s double-mindedness in its painful
nascency is attested to by the ambivalence of post-analytic philosophy
to Romanticism itself. Rorty, for instance, adumbrating a vocabulary
which ˜revolves around notions of metaphor and self-creation rather than
around notions of truth, rationality, and moral obligation™, sees himself as
siding with Romanticism in the ˜quarrel between poetry and philosophy,
the tension between an effort to achieve self-creation by the recognition
of contingency and an effort to achieve universality by the transcen-
dence of contingency™. Elsewhere however, he unfavourably contrasts
the Romantic view of metaphors as end-driven, or as rei¬ed ˜mysterious
tokens or symbols of some higher reality™ with Donald Davidson™s theory
of language as evolving ˜blindly™. Rorty adds that the tension between
˜poetic™ contingency and philosophic foundationalism has pervaded phil-
osophy since Hegel, yet he might have more accurately argued that the
modern form of this ancient contest is itself a Romantic creation. For the
Hegelian attempt to place poetry in a re¬‚exive relationship with philos-
ophy in absolute knowing is just one side of a contest between the two
which elsewhere remains unresolved, as in Jacobi and Coleridge. In this

Romanticism™s knowing ways
light, Romanticism is not a particular response to a problem. Rather, this
problem is itself a form of Romanticism; the simultaneous cleaving and
healing of founded knowledge and ¬gurative creation.
Viewed thus, Kathleen Wheeler™s claim (to take one example) that
the thrust of Coleridge™s work is ˜compatible in the main with pragmatic
and deconstructionist theories and practices™ misleads in that it reads the
discourse of Romanticism as primarily one of commitment rather than
one of stress. Similarly, Michael Fischer™s otherwise accurate Cavellian
observation that the Romantics move away from knowledge as they
come to believe that ˜the epistemological problem of knowing the world
sidetracks us from the real problem of accepting it [. . .]™ is made at
the expense of overlooking the considerable resistance in Romanticism to
such a move.° Romanticism™s importance to modern theory and post-
analytic philosophy takes the form not of a point of view or a belief, but
a dilemma which, put crudely, becomes the question: must knowledge
come ¬rst? Moreover, it is a dilemma speci¬cally located in the context
of Hume™s challenge to philosophy to justify its aspirations to objectivity
and thus to situate itself appropriately within the complex network of
concerns which make up human existence.
In this way, Lamb™s punning attack on Hume and ˜inhuman™ philos-
ophy has lingered to haunt modern thought, caught as it is between
knowledge and what Elridge calls ˜living a human life™. W. V. Quine, for
instance, inverts the quibble when he urges that, as a matter of ˜doctrine™
or theory of truth, ˜[t]he Humean predicament is the human predica-
ment™. For Quine, the only task left to epistemology is to study the forma-
tion of meaning.± Consequently, the tradition of philosophy as a quest
for epistemological certainty must be set aside in order to make room for
something else (in Quine™s case, as, arguably, in Hume™s, a ˜naturalized™
epistemology of empirical psychology). Many have found even this too
radical, however, and some have questioned whether it is one which
Quine himself has satis¬ed. The temptation to ¬nd a neutral ground for
knowing, an objective base, has persisted, even if it is to be constructed on
non-objective or non-scienti¬c lines. ˜It is so dif¬cult to ¬nd the beginning™,
as Wittgenstein complained: ˜Or, better: it is dif¬cult to begin at the be-
ginning. And not try to go further back™. Avoiding the temptation to
go ˜further back™, whether to empirical or synthetic a priori foundations,
is the very challenge which English Romanticism ¬rst raises, and having
raised attempts, unsuccessfully, to erase.
Dewey, indeed, was sensitive to this thought when he wrote that
˜Nature is characterized by a constant mixture of the precarious and
the stable. This mixture gives poignancy to existence. If existence were
 Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
either completely necessary or completely contingent, there would be
neither comedy nor tragedy in life, nor need of the will to live™. Just as
Wittgenstein™s story of the shifting river-bed makes no sense without the
(implied) stability of the land through which the river runs, so indiffer-
ence is impossible without knowledge. Replacing power for knowing, as
Hazlitt found, merely results in knowledge rising again as a competitive
function of power, and so in power biting its own tail. Since the Romantics
then, knowledge, construed as epistemic security and certainty, has per-
petually and compulsively recurred, despite attempts to bring it to an
end. Rorty himself notes that a completely ironic culture is ˜probably™
impossible, since ˜no project of self-creation through imposition of one™s
own idiosyncratic metaphoric, can avoid being marginal and parasitic™.
Necessity and contingency, positivism and ironism, knowledge and indif-
ference, foundation and creation may play against each other inde¬nitely,
but in that play there is a relationship of both dependence and incom-
patibility. Coping with this relationship is a challenge, and one which,
struggling between the human and the Humean, the Romantics were
the ¬rst to give a recognizably modern cast. This challenge, moreover, is
confronted on two levels, representing in turn two major forms of foun-
dationalism. As Coleridge negotiated a Kantian foundationalism which
was a priori and propositional in mould, Wordsworth and Hazlitt, among
others, grappled with the causal theory of perception which had formed
the basis of British empirical thought throughout the eighteenth century.
±

From artistic to epistemic creation: the eighteenth century




If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics,
for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning
quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning
matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the ¬‚ames: for it can
contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.
David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding ±

The roots of Romantic discourse in eighteenth-century philosophy and
psychology have been charted extensively elsewhere, to the extent that
this provenance is now generally accepted in English literary history.
My present claim that there is a divergence between certain tendencies
in Wordsworth and Hazlitt “ some impelling these writers towards a new,
radical theory of creation; others drawing them back to an empirical,
foundationalist conception of ˜knowledge™ “ is quite compatible with
this. Again, I wish neither to essentialize ˜Romanticism™, nor oppose it
in some binary way to a preceding tradition. Yet an appreciation of
inheritance and continuity in literary theory at the turn of the century
should remain alert to ripples in the current, or sudden shifts in the river-
bed; in other words, of simultaneous, more dramatic change. It should
not elide the possibility that incompatible premises and assumptions,
knitted together for a time by consensus and habit, should ¬nally, through
changing literary and social conditions, prove impossible to reconcile,
and that as a result, certain theoretical problems which had hitherto
merely been a source of dif¬culty may suddenly become unbearable.
Such is the English Romantics™ relation to empiricism. Examples of
their outward hostility to empiricism abound. In the ±±°“± fragment
˜The Sublime and the Beautiful™ (later the third Appendix of A Guide
Through the District of the Lakes in the North of England [±µ]), Wordsworth
asserts that ˜[t]he true province of the philosopher is not to grope about in
the external world [ . . .] but to look into his own mind & determine the law
by which he is affected™. Hazlitt™s opposition to traditional empiricism,
µ
 Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
meanwhile, is more or less constant throughout his career: in his ±°
Prospectus of a History of English Philosophy, one of the touchstones for his
criticism of Locke is his conviction that ˜reason is a distinct source of
knowledge or inlet of truth, over and above experience™. Yet Hazlitt™s
description of reason as another inlet of truth, suggests an equivocation
which is matched by Wordsworth™s view of the mind as passive and
affective. Despite their anti-empiricist leanings, Wordsworth and Hazlitt
are noteworthy among the major Romantic writers for their reluctance to
jettison the language of empiricism outright, preferring instead to amend
or reform it according to new paradigms. One of those paradigms was
the concept of creation. The problem that faced both writers, however,
was that in their own hands this idea had itself undergone a seismic shift
in meaning and signi¬cance, signalling a move away from the notion
of creation-as-discovery to something closer to that of creation ex nihilo,
the assertion of the mind™s ¬nal autonomy and freedom from matter.
Unlike the former, however, this more radical sense was incompatible
with the still-powerful Lockean view, internalized by Wordsworth and
Hazlitt, that knowledge was fundamentally causal and representational
in nature. The articulation of the new concept of creation as an epistemic
feature of human nature, then, particularly as constructed in the ¬gure of
original genius, becomes for Wordsworth and Hazlitt the test case for the
possibility of a reformed empiricism which, in the absence of Coleridgean
transcendental schemes (for the most part), might manage to satisfy their
demand for an adequate account of the mind™s freedom and activity, and
particularly its autonomy in the processes of moral judgement and artistic
production.
With such views, Hazlitt and Wordsworth had every reason to reject
many of the assumptions of eighteenth-century poetics, as well as resist
those which were being sponsored by empiricism in their own time.
Utilitarian theories in particular accorded no special status to poetry
or the poet, quite the reverse. In the same year that Coleridge com-
pleted Biographia Literaria, Bentham was writing of poetry that ˜it can
apply itself to no subject but at the expense of utility and truth. Misrep-
resentation [is] its work, misconception its truth™.µ By ±± the debate
between a largely British utility-based reduction of art and a novel theory
of aesthetic autonomy which had just received its mandate from German
thought had already polarized. By ±° Hume™s severance of fact from
value had cut so deeply that Peacock felt able to proclaim, with some
glee, that the inevitable issue of the advance of knowledge throughout

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