Divided Ontologies: The Deep Romantic Chasm in Coleridge’s Organicism
Using philosophical romanticism as a contextual backdrop, I examine seminal aspects of Coleridge’s literary criticism, with special reference to his Biographia Literaria (1817). Of particular interest is his preoccupation with ‘The Infinite I AM’ and the privileging of the organic imagination over the mechanical fancy. I contend that Coleridgean ‘organicism’ inhabits a complex ontology. It instantiates a dichotomy between a more Spinozean idea of the human mind standing in medias res with the natural world, and his putative absolute idealistic conception of the imagination, positing a deeper, holistic and unconscious (Schellingean) connection to the external world as a way out of the post-Kantian impasse of our de-worlded subjectivity. I postulate that these ontological strains are a seminal element in the DNA of his literary oeuvre, as exhibited, for example, in the tension between the literary fragment and his urge for a more complete and unified romantic vision. These tensions are ubiquitous in Coleridge’s writing; for example, while much of his fragmentary work, which includes literary criticism, philosophy and letters, represents his in medias res form of organicism, there is also a more omniscient, teleological bent in other writings, representing the absolute idealism inherent in his ontic-philosophical aspirations. These tensions are exhibited in his seminal Biographia Literaria itself. They are also manifest in his correspondent desire for Wordsworth to write the much-touted philosophical epic, The Recluseas a form of ‘literary therapy’ and panacea for his philosophical aporias. I conclude the paper with some thoughts about Coleridge’s philosophically romantic notion of organicism in the context of the current eco-crisis.
Key Words: Coleridge, Organicism, Philosophical Romanticism, Romantic Literary Criticism, Idealism/materialism.