February 14, 2004

Romanticism as spectator

Whilst returning to Adelaide I read somewhere in Adorno's Aesthetic Theory that romanticism has decayed.

Has romanticism decayed? Well, it depends on what we meant by romanticism.

If we go back to Nietzsche and his conflicts with Wagner, we find that romanticism is identified with the celebration of life's poverty. In the nineteenth century the content of romantic art was unrequited love, longing for death; martyrdom; a focus on live's miseries and provide redemptive rewards for those who experience them. Romanticism is all about describing the scorned lover's misery and pain to express the pain and his tortured feelings. The scorned lover then becomes a martyr to love and an apologist to suffering.

That romanticism has surely decayed.

Here is an example of some contemporary romanticism in Australian visual culture:
Mandy Martin, After Salvator Rosa, Landscape with a Mill Salvator Rosa series IV, 2002

This is both a looking back and a reworking visual conventions:
Salvator Rosa, Landscape with Tobias and the Angel, circa 1660-73
It is another kind of romanticism. Is it a form of a nostalgia for a lost past--a lost wilderness? That is what romanticism is now seen as.

The Martin image is about the Australian present---a certain kind of wilderness. And there is an unease and tension in the image.

Does that unease mean the work of Mandy Martin is unable to resist pandering to the `system of illusions' of capitalist consumerism, and so her images lapse into premature reconciliation with the status quo?

Does that unease mean that Romanticism is an ineffectual spectator in modernity, uttering literary and painterly laments without socioeconomic force—the Cassandra of modernity?

If it is an unease, then what is the nature of this romanticism's relation to modernity?

Is it a dialectical one?

So many questions, so few answers.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at February 14, 2004 11:53 PM | TrackBack
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