Research profile

The continued presence of Romanticism

Romanticism is a distinctive European and transatlantic phenomenon. The concept has been repeatedly reinterpreted and revised up to the present day in various contexts. Even after the end of Romanticism as a historical period, aesthetic products and ways of living are often described as ‘Romantic’. The reference to Romanticism sustained over the last 200 years across a broad spectrum of areas – from philosophical and political thought about morality to emotional and aesthetic experiences – demonstrates the existence of the ‘Romantic’ as a category beyond historical Romanticism. In the present-day Western world, this category is ubiquitous, and is visible in exhibitions on art and design, academic congresses and events, scientific studies and literature, pop culture, dating agencies and the advertising sector.


New approach: The Romantic Model
Researchers have attempted to account for the persistence of Romanticism with the terms Nachleben [‘afterlife’] (Ziolkowski 1968), Denkform [‘thought form’] (Immerwahr 1972) and ‘Romantic ideology’ (McGann 1983). They have also posited the existence of ‘Romantic communication’ in the culture of modernism (Reinfandt 2003) and a ‘Romantic world relationship’ (Taylor 1994, Rosa 1998). We will reassess the issue and determine more precisely in which manner ‘Romanticism’ has become a cultural tool for description and interpretation. In doing so, we assume that the naming of quite diverse ideas, phenomena and attitudes as ‘Romantic’ reveals a ‘model-like’ concept of Romanticism. In this way, the research training group is founded on the notion that historical Romanticism continues to exert an effect up to the present via ‘models’ that can be invoked. Accordingly, a key undertaking in our research will be to examine of new versions to Romanticism while identifying persistent structures that underlie diverse phenomena. The subjective elements of model formation and application reflected in the classical and most recent model theory (Stachowiak 1980, Mahr 2003) enable a far-reaching innovation: previous ‘categorizing’ approaches to the phenomena of ‘the Romantic’ are placed in their proper historical context and rendered dynamic not by seeking to undercover common features over time but instead by seeking possible common reference points that unite the different versions of Romanticism.


Scope of research
The research training group is investigating the reception and effect of Romanticism in various cultural and national contexts but also in and at the interfaces between various social and epistemic areas. To this end, philology (German studies, Romance studies, British and American studies) are being merged with musicology, theology, history, computational linguistics and sociology. In this way, themes in the history of ideas and political discourse can be dealt with, as can forms of religiosity, aspects of the environmental movement, Romantically inspired art, and phenomena in popular culture. The theses produced by the research training group are examining the extent to which Romanticism acts as a model while also seeking to identify the discontinuity and overlap between various notions of ‘Romanticism’.


Interdisciplinary nature of the research training group
In its activities, the research training group strives to not only consider intellectual concepts, but social practices as well. The merging of these two domains enable the analysis of Romantic modes of thought and art in addition to patterns of behaviour and lifestyles. In our activities, we want to promote consilience between sociological study and text-bound research. The research training group is therefore based on three pillars: Romanticism as a (A) model of interpretation, (B) model of representation and perception, and (C) model of action. We also draw a distinction between whether the Romantic is (A) textual/semantic, (B) representative/aesthetic or (C) practical/guidance-based in nature. In the individual PhD theses, the three aspects can each be analysed separately or in combination. Their differentiation helps to structure the joint work on subjects of cultural and social studies and thus determine the relationship between different phenomena, such as discourses, aesthetic artefacts and modes of action. The research interests are aimed at the question of why ‘the Romantic’ in particular was able to become a fixed cultural construct that still provides opportunities for understanding the self and the world. In this way, the PhD students are compelled to write methodologically sophisticated theses that link an historical awareness with an interest in the analysis of the present, including the circumstances by which modern individuals exist and perceive the world. This is necessary because there is no ontologically invariant ‘model’; rather, this model emerges at a particular point in time and is shaped by prevailing conditions, for it is inextricably linked to historical and sociological forces.


What is a model?
The term model is used in a number of ways in everyday language and in the sciences – in logic, mathematics, physics, biology, economy, sociology and theory of art. Because the term includes different types of models (scale models, analogue models, theoretical models), it is necessary to undertake a pragmatic analysis of the term. In the ‘Encyclopaedia of Philosophy and Philosophy of Science’, a model is discussed as a ‘concrete, because of its “idealising” reduction to relevant characteristics, more comprehensible and more easily realised representation of unclear or “abstract” subjects or topics’ (our translation, Mittelstraß 1984). Daniela Bailer-Jones and Stephan Hartmann define models by the fact that they capture ‘the properties of an object or system that are considered essential with the smallest possible bundle of assumptions’ (our translation, Sandkühler 2010). Accordingly, ‘Romanticism as a Model’ is an idealising abstraction that refers to the essential features of historical Romanticism.

Like many proponents of the sciences that currently utilise ‘models’, the encyclopaedia definitions draw on the ‘general model theory’ of the mathematician Herbert Stachowiak (1973). He lists the following characteristics of models as being fundamental: ‘Models are always mappings of something, images, representations of natural or artificial originals (which can in turn be models themselves). But they generally do not capture all the original attributes but instead only those that the creator and/or user of the model consider to be relevant. Models are hence not uniquely assigned to their originals per se; they always satisfy their replacement function for particular subjects of perception and/or action, within particular time intervals and restricted to particular purposes and goals that underlie the creation and operations of the model’ (our translation, Stachowiak 1980, 29). Even if he specifically refers to the subjectivism and perspectivism of all types of model creation and application, Stachowiak proceeds from a representation that preserves attributes, a representation that in recent times has become increasingly problematic.
A new research direction, one that is central for the research training group, deals with the question of the ontological status of models in that they do not primarily query the ‘from relationship’ (the relationship between ‘original’ and ‘model’) but instead the ‘for relationship’, the effect and application of models (Mahr 2003). (The use in everyday language of the term ‘model’ also recognises the two modes of application: the model as a ‘copy’ and the model as a ‘pattern’). The computer scientist and philosopher of science Bernd Mahr and art historians such as Horst Bredekamp and Reinhard Wendler do not consider models solely as abstractions of something given. Rather, models have their own active life with a function that gives meaning and guidance for action. Models only become models when they are considered as such by subjects. For our research group, it is a critical idea to consider a model as a ‘tool for thinking and acting’ (Wendler 2013, Mahr 2008), providing options and proposals that always enable new and different forms of reference. The diversity of the phenomena being investigated, as is expected in a research training group, is revealed in a new context if one questions the issue of whether they are new variants to a model that present specific patterns of thinking and behaviour.


Our conceptual model
Every research thesis on the subject of Romanticism and the history of its reception must distil the ‘original’ in the meaning described above. Furthermore, the thesis itself is part of the model creation processes. Against this backdrop, we formulate the following hypotheses: historical Romanticism is geared toward problems that begin at the start of the modern era and culminate in the period around 1800. Romantic authors seek to deal with the debasement of traditional notions of God, are privy to new insights about nature and the human order, and they recognise how subjectivity and language construct the world. These authors lend impetus to the decentralising movements of the modern period. At the same time, they defend the need to understand the world not only as the sum of scientifically describable facts or competing social and cultural practices but instead as a meaningful whole. They advance universal proposals. Literature studies that links to Luhmann’s sociology considers Romanticism as a communication and discourse strategy that adheres to a unifying semantics against the differentiation of function. Christoph Reinfandt speaks of a ‘compensatory update or revision of passed down unifying semantics […] under new conditions’ and Christoph Bode speaks of an ‘integration of the now functionally disintegrated subdomains of human existence’ (Reinfandt 2003, 56f., Bode 2010, 91). This diagnosis coincides partly with that of the position taken by Charles Taylor, according to which, as loss of connectivity of the church and confessions progresses, Romanticism acts as a ‘complementary great achievement’ that compensates for a ‘lost unity’ of the pre-Enlightenment community of faith via linguistic and artistic meaning creation (Taylor 2009, 630).
For us, the key issue is the internal contrary motion of Romanticism, on the simultaneous ‘recognition and synthetisation of diversity’ (Reinfandt 2003, 43). The participating academics assume that the tension between holistic concepts of meaning and a modern awareness of contingency is a fundamental feature of Romanticism and contributes to its ability to connect, its continued productivity and effect as a model. This dual orientation enables aesthetic structures and figures of thought that try to correspond to ideological holism as well as to the fragmentation and relativism of the modern era. Statements of totality are formulated and simultaneously retracted. A meaning to life is conceived and designated as being ‘made’ subjective. Human universality is communicated with individuality. What remains ambivalent is the status of Romanticism’s semantics of unification and meaning. Because it includes self-reflection in its regulatory character, it becomes a tipping point between assertion and retraction. This is precisely where – we assume – the potential of Romanticism to be used as a model lies.


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