The strategic situation before the War of the Third Coalition (1805). Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Catastrophic Revolution and the Rise of Romantic Bildung


I discuss the rise of Romantic 'Bildung' at the turn of the nineteenth century with a special emphasis on Friedrich Schlegel, but referring also to other famous Romantics such as William Wordsworth and Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg, 1772–1801). First, I will outline the rise of Romantic 'Bildung' in relation to the French Revolution, which was compared with a sublime natural disaster. Second, I will show how the Revolution was conceived in a spatial framework of the geographic ‘border’, which distanced one’s own country from the French turmoil. The third part of this chapter will argue that the early nineteenth-century Romantic juxtaposition of 'Bildung' and 'civilisation' was based on a rehabilitation of periphery (countryside) and semiperiphery (small medieval towns) as the sites of original national 'Bildung', against Paris as the universal centre of civilisation. This chapter will thus thematise a hidden tension in the Romantic concept of culture: its dual reference to (1) the ontological separation between nature’s mechanical necessity and human freedom, and (2) to the geographic borderlines and topographical differences between national cultures.

Travelling Notions of Culture in Early Nineteenth-Century Europe (Routledge)