While British Romantic literature provides ample evidence of the pleasures of knowledge, it also reveals strong counter-evidence of its power to inflict a sense of intellectual impairment and diminution. This Romantic ambivalence sprang from a complex of ideas and anxieties about the potentially corrosive effects of certain kinds of education and learning on the brain, damage that could diminish cognitive vigor and distort the inner experience of identity. The collision between the image of the individual disempowered by knowledge and Enlightenment faith in its role as the engine of collective progress was intensified by the growing quantity of information, opinions, theories, and ideas that daily inundated the British reading public and critics alike. Discussions about education and learning became entangled with fundamental and sometimes contradictory assumptions about the nature of the self and attitudes toward social and intellectual improvement, all in the context of the need to bring order into a universe of knowledge that seemed to be expanding at a breakneck pace. The result was a variety of efforts by Romantic writers to define the norms and values that should govern the organization, diffusion, and control of knowledge. Long before C. P. Snow’s The Two Cultures, the authors discussed in this paper were engaged in a broader discussion of education and learning that illuminates the tensions among different forms of knowledge and the distance between Romantic and modern perspectives.
April 1, 2015
Research and Occasional Papers Series (ROPS)
ROMANTIC KNOWLEDGE by Patricia Pelfrey CSHE.5.15 (April 2015)