novalis: When the world is given back to life


The new Novalis more than confirms Thomas Carlyle’s view of him as “the German Pascal”. Both men had practical talents, yet they both evinced a radical purity that drove them to treat the infinite as the only measure, and hence to redefine the thinking of the age; moreover, they both pursued a trajectory from mathematics to theology and did so with such intensity that their precocious beginnings could perhaps only be fulfilled in an equally premature death; while the search for a higher, absolute truth ended in fragmentary utterance. Yet if Pascal’s Pensées were the anguished conscience of the neoclassical age, Novalis’s Fragmente were rather the electrifying consciousness of modernity.

With Friedrich Schlegel, Novalis regarded Germany’s task in modern Europe as a dialectical reversal of the French Revolution: the reflective German Geist should respond to and transcend the materialistic excesses of the Terror. Novalis’s speech “Christendom or Europe” (1799), though on Goethe’s advice excluded from the founding journal of German Romanticism, the Athenaeum, constitutes the most potent political manifesto of the first Romantic school.

more from the TLS here.