Symbiophrenic Incursion: Freedom, Fancy, and Life’s Mystery from Spinoza to Romanticism    
  Freedom, Fancy, and Life’s Mystery from Spinoza to Romanticism0 comments
pictureWednesday, July 1st 2009, by Brenden Macdonald

Brenden MacDonald
Ian Whitehouse
Engl 382—Romanticism
Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Freedom, Fancy, and Life’s Mystery from Spinoza to Romanticism

We see therefore that all the notions whereby the common people are wont to explain Nature are merely modes of imagining, and denote not the nature of any thing but only the constitution of the imagination…For many are wont to argue on the following lines: if everything has followed from the necessity of God’s most perfect nature, why does Nature display so many imperfections, such as rottenness to the point of putridity, nauseating ugliness, confusion, evil, sin, and so on?…For the perfection of things should be measured solely from their own nature and power; nor are things more or less perfect to the extent that they please or offend human senses, serve or oppose human interests.
From the “Appendix” to Part I of Spinoza’s Ethics (62).

The Giants who formed this world into its sensual existence and now seem to live in it in chains are, in truth, the causes of its life and the sources of all activity, but the chains are the cunning of weak minds, which have the power to resist energy.—William Blake,
In A Memorable Fancy [A Printing-House in Hell] (Wu 212).

There are laws of sustainability which are natural laws, just as the law of gravity is a natural law. In our science in past centuries, we have learned a lot about the law of gravity and similar laws of physics, but we have not learned very much about the laws of sustainability. If you go up to a high cliff and step off it, disregarding the laws of gravity, you will surely die. If we live in a community, disregarding the laws of sustainability, as a community we will just as surely die in the long run. These laws are just as stringent as the laws of physics, but until recently they have not been studied.—Fritjof Capra, director of the Center for Ecoliteracy,
in a short paper titled “Ecology and Community”.

Robert J. Richards, in The Romantic Conception of Life—Science and Philosophy in the Age of Goethe, reminds students of literature that while “[w]e usually think of this group as forming a coherent movement” of poets, philosophers, and theologians, the Romantics “often appreciably diverged from one another in their conceptions of the operations of sensation, imagination, and reason” and even frequently reassessed their own views during ongoing intellectual development (18). Nevertheless, “[i]n conformity to our usual understanding of Romanticism, [some individuals] turned decisively toward the night of cloudless climes and starry skies, under which beauty revealed a more intuitive, emotionally marked, and even mystical path to reality’s inner core” (Richards 19). In a usual understanding, being unromantic might be akin to turning decisively toward reason-driven, method-bound knowledge to be expressed in clear thought and orderly art, not to be inspired by the vastness of a starry night. Some thinkers contrast the Romantic activity with that of the radical, rational Enlightenment, scientific and political achievement born from classrooms and courthouses, not from dreaming of and poeticizing rivers and faeries. Figures espousing rationalist approaches to philosophy over romantic approaches have also differed amongst themselves.

Personally, I like drawing parallels and relation rather than division and exclusion between the directions and pursuits of the great critical eras of human thought as have transpired. Michael Scrivener in his essay “Inside and Outside Romanticism” asks “have we so far removed ourselves from the assumptions of Romantic texts that we are finally outside of Romanticism?...Is it possible to get outside of Romanticism?” and he answers no to both (152). He mentions that romanticism sourced ecocriticism (which I will focus on later in the present essay), and suggests an argument he attributes to Hans-Georg Gadamer, a German philosopher of the twentieth century: Romanticism “has shaped our pre-understanding, […] has inscribed us with meanings we cannot disentangle from our lifeworld” (Scrivener 152). Romanticism is not over; there may always be Romantics at heart.

The primary Romantic figures had new ideas and modes of expression that arose in the intense revolutionary and intellectual fervour of Europe in the late 18th and 19th century. There was political upheaval, the instantiation of modern democracy and of various rights and ethical movements, an up-and-coming scientific-industrial-capitalist culture, new philosophies of mind and of ethics, and the precursor to still emerging ecological paradigms in the growing awe and curiosity about natural settings. Michael Scrivener calls “periodization” of Romanticism “always a risky enterprise”, giving modestly the era a fifty year span and reservedly a hundred year span, and all the things I just mention in setting the historical ground for Romanticism must really be seen as diverse cultural phenomena on time scales definitely reaching centuries backward and forward, if not millennia as some potential perspective might give to human history the individual yet encompassing Romantic impulses (151).

So to stretch that century back in time, I would like to identify and explore pre-Romantic impulses and ideas in Baruch Spinoza, a widely influential rationalist philosopher who wrote in the 17th century. Many have figured Spinoza as a member of Europe’s “Radical Enlightenment”, but interpretations of his work have always varied with some broad agreements but also huge gaps in the understanding of what he was getting at. Is he a pantheist or a materialist? Does he believe will is “free” in any sense? Spinoza has also been read by feminist and ecological philosophers heavily in the 20th century, who have found very new readings for his works. Romantic works such as Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman set the foundation for “feminist theory, as a modern intellectual enterprise”, and the nature writing of many Romantics set the Western foundation for ecological paradigms, so if Spinoza is interesting to these discourses now, how can we re-read him in terms of Romanticism and the Romantics in terms of him (Scrivener, 152).

We may as well start with a comparison of terms concerning “the conceptions of the operations of sensation, imagination, and reason” as Richards identified as part of Romantic thought. A profound poet the Romantic age, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote in the nineteenth century about “imagination” in a very different manner than did Spinoza. In The Ethics (1677), Spinoza regards the imagination as the progenitor of “inadequate ideas”, or spurious universals of an ungrounded ideational structure that comprise the thoughts of un-liberated, passive emotion-bound human mind. In chapter XIII of Biographia Literaria, Coleridge very beautifully articulated (“primary”) imagination “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” (Wu 691). The difference in opinion may at first glance be attributed to the regular habits (or what someone might suppose to be) the deep and distinct habits and dispositions of rationalist philosophers versus romantic poets. Worse yet, someone may just decide that Spinoza and Coleridge, or rationalists and romantics, are probably just using their words differently and independently and should not be compared.

A closer look at Coleridge warrants the opposite conclusion; he was aware of Spinoza’s work and in certain passages stages arguments against him. In chapter VIII of Biographia Literaria, Coleridge writes concerning philosophy of mind: “system of DUALISMintroduced by Des Cartes--Refined first by Spinoza and afterwards by Leibnitz into the doctrine of Harmonia præstabilta—Hylozoism—materialism—None of these systems on any possible theory of association, supplies or supersedes a theory of perception, or explains the formation of the associable” (Representative Poetry Online, U of Toronto 128). The “formation of the associable” or the cause of that which one can associate with, i.e. the cause of consciousness of reality, is not explained by Spinoza’s dualistic but ultimately materialist philosophy, to the reading of Coleridge. But later, Coleridge, in talking of the materialist system, writes “Spinoza…had himself taken the hint from Des Cartes's animal machines” (RPO 129).

Hold on, Samuel! Maybe you did not read Spinoza very well. In The Ethics, Spinoza either directly or indirectly critiques much of Rene Descartes’ philosophical positions. If they do agree on anything, it may only be about some very general characteristics of the project of rationalist philosophy; Spinoza hardly “refined” Descartes as much as he continually exploded the other’s ideas. I could still understand that a poet who enjoyed intoxicated trances and the beauty of human imagination would take issue with Spinoza’s frankly wordy and logical exposition on the inadequacies of human imagination and on the virtues of living by reason. The Ethics progresses by the ancient geometrical method of argumentation, whereby one begins with a set of basic definitions and hard-to-refute axioms. Now, Coleridge aligns Spinoza with confused, dualistic materialists, which is plausible from a surface reading of the complex philosopher, but we should look more carefully at his views. Coleridge may be considering passages such as the definition of emotions as “the affections of the body by which the body’s power of activity is increased or diminished, assisted or checked, together with the ideas of these affections” or such as propositions like “[t]he body cannot determine the mind to think, nor can the mind determine the body to motion or rest, or to anything else (if there is anything else)” (Spinoza 104, 105). Spinoza does seem to try to explain emotions through the body and seems to claim also that mind and body are logically independent from each other, which Coleridge may find “absurd… [and] too repugnant to our common sense” to consider as a viable explanation of the associable (RPO 129).

Actually fairly close to Coleridge’s conviction that “body and spirit are therefore no longer absolutely heterogeneous, but may without any absurdity be supposed to be different modes, or degrees in perfection, of a common substratum”, Spinoza holds that “mind and body are one and the same thing, conceived now under the attribute of Thought, now under the attribute of Extension. Hence it comes about that the order or linking of things is one, whether Nature be conceived under this or that attribute” (RPO 129-8, Spinoza 105-6). Spinoza’s position might be confused in Coleridge’s philosophy of mind as materialism or hylozoism, the view that mind is nothing more than what matter is or that matter is life’s fundamental basis, and Spinoza surely does base his philosophy of mind around the nature of the body.

However, Spinoza refers mind AND body both back to the underlying “Nature”, which he describes in the first part of The Ethics “Concerning God” as “substance consisting of infinite attributes, each of which expresses eternal and infinite essence, [and which] necessarily exists” (37). When Spinoza says that “the order of the active and passive states of our body is simultaneous in Nature with the order of active and passive states of the mind”, he is not saying that the order of states of the body happens before or causes the order of states of the mind (106). When he says that we conceive substance now under one attribute, now under another, he means that what fundamentally exists is the unified totality of the expressive power of nature or, as Coleridge might call it, the “infinite I AM” (Wu 691). To Spinoza, mind and matter are complementary attributes or aspects of our deep and fundamental being, which is neither fundamentally mind or fundamentally matter, but simply fundamental existence. The fundamental essence of Nature is largely a mystery due to our place in it, understanding mentally and travelling materially.
For Spinoza above the spurious “inadequate ideas” of the imagination are the adequate universals, which emerge from comprehending the common characteristics to phenomena of experience. For example, if you think about a physics of the concerted relations between simple bodies impelling each other to rest and motion and between complex bodies holding constant proportions, or if you think about a psychology of the concerted relations between simple ideas and complex mental behaviour such as emotion or belief provide, then you think in terms of attribute-contingent universals. Our experience of the mind or of bodies can be formulated in terms specific to the way we perceive aspects of our ongoing existence, in terms that are constrained to the topic and which seem to exclude the other.
That’s why Spinoza says that the body can neither make the mind think nor the mind make the body move, when it is obvious to those like Coleridge that this view is absurdity. Of course the order and connections within existence correlate mind and body, but Spinoza is claiming that how we understand and describe our reality tends to be conflated or obscured by the imagination. Properly to Spinoza, bodies can only be understood physically, and thoughts can only be understood psychologically, but the key escape from the plight of the imagination comes in realizing it is mere fancy to actually regard mind and body as thus separable, distinct species of substance instead of complementary aspects to a single, essential being of infinitely expressible form and power. Spinoza puts the intuitive grasp of Nature’s immediate power to express itself in many ways even above the adequate universals. Intuitively grasping that the essence of our existence is pure, unmediated expression into reality is the ultimate blessedness. To Spinoza, there is no other way than, so it is blessedness knowing, that Nature is infinite in power and expression, including complex physical and ideational structures.

Hence, by believing that body and mind are simply a dual expression of the united and unlimited power of nature, Spinoza aligns with Romantic panpsychism more than Coleridge sees. When I say “I AM”, I mean that in a bodily manner as much as psychologically. I would not be me without having grown up and felt everything, lived everything within a visceral, volitional, and emotional existence that expresses itself through the power to breathe and jump bodily beside other similarly breathing beings. I know these words quite accurately depict the immanent meaning and structure of my life, but still, I cannot but differentiate heavily between the notions of, say, a physical structure or a meaningful intention, like Spinoza recommends and Coleridge seems to resist. Coleridge wants to appeal to “common sense” but also refers to the uncompleted Productive Logos, in which he would aim to argue: “1. That all association demands and presupposes the existence of the thoughts and images to be associated. [and] 2. The hypothesis of an external world exactly correspondent to those images or modifications of our own being, which alone (according to this system) we actually behold” (RPO 133-4). Like what I said, I have inner awareness of my external bodily being.
To put it in more ordinary language, I am real, and my body is real! It seems the conflict Coleridge has with Spinoza has to do with what language for the concepts they’ve both invented being too obtuse for Coleridge to see the proper parallels in their thinking. Dr. Timothy Brownlow, writing in an essay about Romanticism called “Only Connect” that was published online the University of Maryland Romantic Circles web journal, distinguishes between jargon that is either just specialized vocabulary of a certain group of communicators or jargon that is used in a way to “obfuscate the issues and intimidate the reader” intentionally, and he suggests that “whether the writers were up to mischief or not, they are often obscure” (Brownlow paragraph 5). Both Spinoza and Coleridge could be employing jargon, whether mischievously, and both aim to elucidate the way to sound understandings and blessed experiences. Coleridge, being a poet in the foray of philosophy, may be more inclined to play linguistically to his desired meanings than Spinoza the geometrical rationalist. If they had taken William Wordsworth’s advice to heart and spoke not jargon but language “which is uttered by men in real life under the actual pressure of those passions”, they may have realized that “no words which his fancy or imagination can suggest will be compared with those which are the emanations of [the] reality and truth” whose understanding they sought (Wu 526).

Making me think of Spinoza’s rejection of teleological design in nature and insistence on the necessary chains of organization and expression of natural power, Coleridge writes: “We might as rationally chant the Brahmin creed of the tortoise that supported the bear, that supported the elephant, that supported the world, to the tune of ‘This is the house that Jack built’ ” (RPO 134). I find that Coleridge quite satirically relates a determined chain of foundations to something as arbitrary and contingent as a house being built. He seems in these words to say that Spinoza’s story about necessity in nature is trite compared to the common sensible world of human needs we live in regardless of intricate Nature’s non-teleological determinacy. A house seems an imaginative product from human-borne purpose, or decided telos, not some result of infinite chains of causation.

He is keen to the critique of Coleridge: in the preface to part IV, Spinoza writes about human conception about the perfection of some objects, thinking back to the passage I quote at the beginning of this essay: “if anyone sees a work (…not yet finished) and knows that the aim of the author is to build a house, he will say that the house is imperfect…but if anyone sees a work whose like he had never seen before, and he does not know the artificer’s intention, he cannot possibly know whether the work is perfect or imperfect” (153). However, “when men began to form general ideas and to devise ideal types…and to prefer some models to others, it came about that each called ‘perfect’ what he saw to be in agreement with the general idea he had formed of the said thing” and when they foolishly apply this kind of standard to natural phenomena, “they believe that Nature has then failed or blundered and has left that thing imperfect” (Spinoza 153). Spinoza believes the world is perfect the way it is, regardless of what people do, whether they build a house, go to war, or spoil and waste valuable nature.

That would just not be the good way for us, for Spinoza means “by ‘good’ that which we certainly know to be the means for our approaching nearer to the model of human nature that we set before ourselves” (155). Per Spinoza, while we are firmly grounded in Nature’s endless chains of order, the good is yet relative to the stipulated models we set forth. Spinoza may insist that knowledge of determinations is relevant to knowing the way of nature, but “by virtue and power” such as would build a perfect house, Spinoza means “the same thing; that is…virtue, in so far as it is related to [a human], is [a human’s] very essence, or nature, in so far as [he or she] has power to bring about that which can be understood solely through the laws of [his or her] own nature” (Spinoza 156). I think Spinoza’s “virtue” matches Coleridge’s elevated sense of “imagination”, the prime power of human perception. Thus, in a way Coleridge’s view on nature does not differ too fundamentally from Spinoza’s, albeit they have very different articulations and emphases.

Reminiscent of the previous discussion and Coleridge reference, Mary Shelly wrote in her introduction to Frankenstein: “Every thing must have a beginning…and that beginning must be linked to something that went before. The Hindoos give the world an elephant to support it, but they make the elephant stand upon a tortoise. Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of a void, but out of chaos” (Shelly viii). No teleological reason for the animals’ support of the Earth, the Eastern reference elucidates simply that an immutable (while animistic) order provides the set foundations of human reality, i.e. of culture. Frankenstein explores a perversion of the given ‘natural’ order of life: what happens when one exploits the chaos of imagination and proceeds to invention, birthing a creature all too human but the living dead? I think Frankenstein provides a good source for comparing the evils Spinoza associates with the imagination to the power, the inventive imagination of Coleridge.

The creature gives to the Dr. Victor a request for having him make a companion female creature: “My vices are the children of a forced solitude that I abhor; and my virtues will necessarily arise when I live in communion with an equal. I shall feel the affections of a sensitive being, and become linked to the chain of existence and events, from which I am now excluded” (Shelley 106). This language reminds me of the Spinozistic picture of modes of being linked in infinite chains of temporal existence, the “order and connection” of things and ideas, and of the emotional nature of love as “the affections of a sensitive being”, prone to states of activity supportive or debilitating toward the achievement of “virtue.” According to Spinoza, we love more who we can relate with and share commonality and community with, and we hate more those parts and entities of our world that we regard as posing a risk to our joys, the destruction of our natural power. The creature and Dr. Frankenstein (not to mention most of Shelley’s fictional world of humans) abhor each other to great extent for the regarded differences and divisions between their natures. The fears and judgments of the creature’s social surrounding are more fanciful than warranted, especially noting of the creature-man his high intelligence and potential for compassionate blessedness.

On the thread of “equality”, Mare Shelley’s creature in Frankenstein eerily reminds me of what might be the converse of what her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, wrote about women in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: Wollstonecraft notes that physiologically speaking women are the carriers of beauty but “in point of strength[,] in general, inferior to the male” (Wu 279). Frankenstein’s creature on the other hand is much uglier and stronger than an ordinary man. Another flash of relation comes in Wollstonecraft’s statement that “[women] are only considered as females, and not as a part of the human species, when improvable reason is allowed to be the dignified distinction which raises men above the brute creation, and puts a natural sceptre in a feeble hand” (Wu 279). The creature possesses that “dignified distinction” but for bodily inequalities, is outcast. If Frankenstein offers a feminist reading, it may be in the binary relation of Frankenstein’s creature to the female creature of patriarchal perspectives, electrified to sinister proportion with layers of “conduct and manners” (Wu 279). Spinoza brings something relevant to such a discussion because of the bodily emphasis in both Frankenstein and in feminist theory and of Spinoza’s emphasis that emotions and liberation from false ideas (such as the inferiority of women) are significantly tied to the bodily nature of the emotions and imagination. One could well chart the mental development of prejudicial attitudes in some individual with a reading along the lines of Spinoza’s ethical views.

The creature’s relationship with the family in the cottage in the woods, his reading of significant literature, his innocent if misguided desire for Victor to replicate the original work with the parts of a woman’s body, and of course his rejection from society, amongst other aspects to the fiction, all represent the creature as curious, desirous, and as bearing a burden of alienation due to a faulty and sinister notoriety. It is the “inadequate idea” of the people of the creature’s world that he is deemed evil when blameless for his creation and unrequested nature, and the negativity which results is probably unavoidable barring a greater possible love, i.e. adequate idea, that could arise to replace the hatred toward what most feel is perversion of nature. I would suspect Coleridge would hope it in “the living power…of all human perception” that he calls imagination for the society in Frankenstein to recognize the creature for his commonality and merits instead of judging with Spinozist imagination, which I better relate to Coleridge’s account of fancy, “a mode of memory emancipated from the order of time and space” (Wu 691-2). The creature himself with his strangest of origins is emancipated from that order, was the fancy of Victor Frankenstein. A person born alive can relate to the mind of the creature, but not to his body, so they cannot accept him as a true human equal.

Spinoza may well, having had a serious political philosophy, have forewarned had he thought about it against possible advances in cloning and genetic engineering experiments. He might have described the desire to breed by scientific manufacture smarter or less destructible bodies to be a perversion wrought by the spurious imagination upon our natural potential and drive. To want to ward off death or perfect our bodies by force seems to represent a great fear toward the more established methods of growth, learning, evolution, and dying ingrained in the chains of biological and social existence. Victor would have succeeded as a man had he gone back to his wife-to-be, Elizabeth, instead of forsaking an immanently active role in life, i.e. a life spent enriching the self and others born in the same fate (perhaps by studying science for the betterment of the living), for a passively engaged role in life, i.e. a life spent passively obsessing or unable not to express otherwise than obsession for the mysteries of death. There is a loss of freedom and a surplus of hate in a living based in lust imagining after the acquisition of success, product, and reward.

Think of the potential cultural problems with people changing genes to change skin colour to retrofit social images, or with people striving to eradicate mental illness traits by brain, genetic, and chemical modification with the possibility of making the species boring. These sorts of things are already beginning to happen in various regards (from skin whiteners to psychiatric meds and from selective abortions to lobotomies). When we disregard as undesirable or harmful the diversity of nature’s expressing which has built us into how we are, we run the risk of losing valuable differences and important limits. Of course people may claim to pursue these arguably destructive activities only to better their life. The essence of any living being is the endeavour to persevere in its own being, as Spinoza formulates his concept of conatus in the beginning propositions of part III, but the catch is if we twist our body and mind grossly out of our naturally evolved shapes and proportions, then we might destroy ourselves, as we learn from Spinoza’s basic physics in part II.

While The Ethics primarily aims to teach about the deep nature and about ethics for the human mind, imagination, and emotion, as the Romantic writers I’ve sampled seem also to take as an aspect of their projects, I want to emphasize a connection to Romanticism that I have only gave hints toward. I want to specify more precisely Spinoza’s link to contemporary ecological philosophy that shines an interesting light on the naturalist, environmentalist-like perspectives of the Romantics. I just mentioned one of the links, Spinoza’s physics in part II, “On the Nature and Origin of Mind”. The most interesting axioms are about composite bodies, which are united formations made from simple bodies, whose description very closely relates to Newton’s three great laws of motion of point masses. I think it is valuable to have Spinoza’s careful and precise words to ponder (pages 74-75):

Definition: When a number of bodies of the same or different magnitude form close contact with one another through the pressure of other bodies upon them, or if they are moving at the same or different rates of speed so as to preserve an unvarying relation of movement among themselves, these bodies are said to be united with one another and all together to form one body or individual thing, which is distinguished from other things through this union of bodies.

Lemma 4: If from a body, or an individual thing composed of a number of bodies, certain bodies are separated, and at the same time a like number of other bodies of the same nature take their place, the individual thing will retain its nature as before, without any change in its form.

Lemma 5: If the parts of an individual thing become greater or smaller, but so proportionately that they all preserve the same mutual relation of motion-and-rest as before, the individual things will likewise retain its own nature as before without any change in its form.

Lemma 6: If certain bodies composing an individual thing are made to change the existing direction of their motion…and keep the same mutual relation as before, the individual thing will likewise preserve its own nature without any change of form.

Lemma 7: Furthermore, the individual thing so composed retains its own nature, whether as a whole it is moving or at rest, and in whatever direction it moves, provided that each constituent part retains its own motion and continues to communicate this motion to the other parts.


This could be a list of ideas pulled right from a general description of biological structures and of homeostasis, the balancing act or “same mutual relation” of an organism or ecosystem’s structure relative to the chemical components of the biological form of that “individual thing” that exchange between the thing and other things or between the thing and the environment, such as eating ‘food’ or breathing ‘air’. These propositions present Spinoza as possessing a very profound and intricate talent for reasoning about the nature of organisms. If his “intention had been to write a full treatise on body [or biology, he] should have had to expand [his] explications and demonstrations”. Philosophers of deep and social ecology have done just that, following Spinoza’s interesting and now to be understood as psycho-biological understanding of the emotions and human freedom: emotions are biological organizations of our body that portray our interactions with other mindful bodies, and freedom is the power to actualize our pre-evolved and still evolving biological and psychological power, which distinguishes us as human.

Some of the Romantics were keen to note in their industrializing societies that basic, stable, and necessary patterns in the living networks of Earth’s diversity were threatened by human activity, i.e. by the activity of our imagined and invented goals. They were also to various extents aware of the amazing, wondrous interdependence of living things. Dorothy Wordsworth, in her journals, spoke eloquently of nature: “…so divinely beautiful as I never saw it. It seemed more sacred than I had ever seen it, and yet more allied to human life” (Wu 585). She felt intimately connected to nature’s beauty, which is just the expression of itself, ultimately. It was perfect, in itself, and not because of any desire or ambition of her fancy to exploit it for her own ends. She also demonstrates that people in this era must have been starting ever more to notice, virtuously, the networks of life’s bounty and to notice, sadly, the sick advancement of human industrial economy: “an old man almost double…said leeches were very scarce partly owing to this dry season, but many years they have been scarce. He supposed it owing to their being much sought-after, that they did not breed fast, and were of slow growth” (Wu 586, my emphasis). This reveals an understanding and compassionate attention to the mutual relations of living things with humanity interacting, a desire to preserve the beings of nature and “hear the peaceful sounds of the earth” (Wu 587, her emphasis).

William Blake wrote poems with intimations of ecological and philosophical relation to Spinoza. First I will express the philosophical relation: the “giants” in Blake’s quote in the epigram of this paper remind me well of Spinoza’s two (really, infinite) overarching attributes by which we fundamentally understand the chains of being. Any particular body or mind in the world’s “sensual existence” is a particularization and instantiation following the giants’ all-originating nature or, precisely, the archetypes of extended and thinking substance. Blake’s title for this poem is “A Printing House in Hell”, hinting to me an image of the attributes as the plate and impressions used in the printing press of existence (Wu 212). Like Spinoza, Blake may hold that “God only acts and is in existing beings or men” (Wu 213).
Second, some of Blake’s poetry also has an ecological dimension I can compare to Spinoza’s system. He asks in “The Tyger” “Did he who made the Lamb make thee? … What immortal hand or eye/ Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?” (Wu 198). This poem calls to my mind Spinoza’s relation between “reality” and “perfection” and the relation between “good” and “evil”. To Spinoza, perfection and reality are names for the same thing, ultimately, just that perfection is often a word fancifully used to describe a perspective-oriented judgment whereas reality means actuality. Similarly, good and evil are mainly fancifully perspective-oriented but also refer, in reality, to the structure of relation between one thing in reality and the next. Blake notices that one idea of God, creation, perfection, and good implies that there is a paradox in the creation of a Tiger, which is an evil to the Lamb. As an even simpler question, we could ask why bodily pain at all exists if the origin of the whole world is perfect good. Blake, however, isn’t really asking this question; he always means much more than he says, often the opposite of what his words seem to point out. I think Blake’s interpretation is like Spinoza’s: the “Tyger Tyger burning bright” is simply a resilient expression of nature’s ultimate power to forge from the godly “hammer…chain…furnace…anvil” of pure, infinite existence (Wu 198). I think the appropriate answer to Blake’s question is resolutely that no one would dare to create such a dangerous beast, save for Nature exerting primal, diverse freedom.

I wanted here to talk especially about Spinoza’s connection to the age of the Romantics. I think I have succeeded in demonstrating some significant parallels between Romanticism and Spinoza’s system. I have connected him to Romantic philosophies of mind, intellect, and imagination (in Samuel Coleridge), to Romantic notions of emotion, blessedness, and community (in Mary Shelley), to Romantic ecological understanding (in Dorothy Wordsworth), and to Romantic ecological philosophy (in Blake). From here, I could move further into the future, relating Spinoza to the cultural and intellectual developments (and degradations) that have taken place in the history after the era of Romanticism. I touched on that in my discussion of Frankenstein, but could go on, space permitting, to discussions of twentieth century metaphysical, social, and ecological philosophies and movements, such as Fritjof Capra’s work, who is quoted in my epigram, that have interesting relations to both the Romantic impulse and Spinoza’s philosophy, and that demonstrate Spinoza’s and the Romantics’ influence to human thought is still very relevant in today’s social and ecological conditions.

Works Cited

Blake, William. A Memorable Fancy [A Printing House in Hell]. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Wu. 212-213.
--“The Tyger.” Wu. 197-198.

Brownlow, Timothy. “Only Connect”. Essay. Romantic Circles—Romanticism, Ecology, and Pedagogy. Online publication. 30 Mar 2008 .

Capra, Fritjof. “Ecology and Community”. Brochure. Center for Ecoliteracy. 5 Dec. 2005 .

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. “Chapter 7”. Biographia Literaria; or Biographical Sketches of my Literary Life and Opinions. Representative Poetry Online. 2005. University of Toronto. 25 Mar. 2008..
--“Chapter 13”. Biographia Literaria. Wu. 691-692.

Richards, Robert J. The Romantic Conception of Life: Science and Philosophy in the Age of Goethe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Scrivener, Michael. “Inside and Outside Romanticism”. Criticism 46.1, Winter 2004: Review. Project Muse. 26 Jan. 2008. 151-165.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Ed. Candace Ward. Mineola, NY: Dover Thrift Editions, 1994.

Spinoza, Baruch. The Ethics and Selected Letters. Trans. Samuel Shirley. Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company, 1982.

Wollstonecraft, Mary. “Introduction”. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Wu. 279.

Wordsworth, Dorothy. The Grasmere Journals. Wu. 585-588.

Wordsworth, William. Preface to Lyrical Ballads [extracts]. Wu. 525-527.

Wu, Duncan ed. Romanticism—An Anthology. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing, 2006.



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