Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Saturday, June 4, 2011

In Praise of Asymmetry: A Further Thought on Romanticism and Integral Ecology

...further to my previous: it seems important to me to preserve the asymmetry within the Romantic view. This is nicely captured in Hegel's description of Romantic art: inner space far exceeds the materials, on this view, so that art can only fail better through irony and thus capture a sense of reality by lamenting how it can't capture it. Or Shelley, who inverts this notion: “We [lack] the creative faculty to imagine that which we know.” In other words, we're all dressed up with nowhere to go. Isn't that the modern feeling par excellence? Have we moved one inch from this problematic? (Well, yes, I've been arguing that we have—but into a less integrated, not a more integrated, space, one with even more asymmetry.)

Or consider the Marxist interpretation of the asymmetry: we have inner freedom, but this is cashed out as the freedom to choose between Pepsi and Coke. (See my previous.)

In other words, Romanticism just isn't a retreat into pure subjectivity. It's an ironic awareness of an asymmetry between inner and outer.

Now it seems as if integral theory has a certain penchant for symmetry which is going to make it hard to integrate Romanticism as such. Romanticism after all was the moment at which the modern art form—fragmentary, disintegrated, asymmetrical—was born. Romantic subjectivity just is the knowledge that it's inadequate. It's not some pristine retreat from the real. It's the birth of a pretty adequate conception of the real (the ungraspable in-itself and so on), if you ask me.

If you want a genuine retreat from modernity, by all means act like this asymmetry is inconsequential, that it's really just a move away from exteriority on a board that somehow contains interiority and exteriority as different sectors on its smooth, integrated surface.

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