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'Wanderer above the Sea of Fog' (Caspar David Friedrich, 1818)
'Wanderer above the Sea of Fog' (Caspar David Friedrich, 1818)

German Romanticism, or: The Dialectical Imagination. What it is and why it is important

Tuesday 16 September 2014, 2:30 - 3:30pm
Social Sciences and Humanities Library Conference Room, 
Level 1, Duhig Building (No. 2)

St Lucia Campus [see map]

Click here for the audio recording



For years a neglected sibling of the more philosophically distinguished – but more deeply mistrusted – movement of German Idealism, German Romanticism is now a hot topic in the Anglophone world. How has this revival of interest come about, and why should the non-specialist take note of this development?

In framing an answer to these questions, Professor Mehigan will argue that German Romanticism attempted to respond to Kant’s question about the nature of human consciousness, a question that he had posed in his first Critique, the Critique of Pure Reason (1781/1787). In Kant’s philosophy two connected, but at the same time incongruent, parts or aspects – sensibility and the understanding – make up the enabling conditions of human consciousness. Consciousness, in Kant’s account, begins and ends with the subject’s orientation in the world. Among the many open questions that arose in the wake of this philosophy is how these two aspects of consciousness can bring about awareness of an outside world, and how reliable or “objective” this awareness must be taken to be.

In the complex debate that emerged in German letters in the period after Kant, early German Romanticism effectively endorsed a theory of the dialectical imagination. In doing so, it moved away from the dominant current in German idealistic philosophy, which sought to resolve the tension between sensibility and the understanding by cleaving, under the weight of a drive towards monism, to the conceptual presentiments of the latter. Romanticism, by contrast, advocated the priority of intuition and sensibility over conceptual understanding without ever cancelling out the dualism that Kant had introduced. The result is an arguably more compelling and – by today’s standards – neurologically more apposite account of how bicameral consciousness must be considered to operate.


Tim Mehigan has published widely in the field of German literature and thought. Among recent publications are Heinrich von Kleist: Writing After Kant (Camden House, 2011), “The Scepticisms of Heinrich von Kleist” in the Handbook of European Romanticism (OUP, forthcoming 2014), and, as translator and editor with Barry Empson, K. L. Reinhold: A New Theory on the Human Capacity for Representation (de Gruyter, 2011). Tim is Professor of German and Head of the School of Languages and Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Queensland. He was elected to the Australian Academy of Humanities in 2003 and received the Humboldt Foundation’s Research Prize in 2013.

This seminar will be chaired by Professor Gay Hawkins.
Members of the public are invited to attend this free seminar, after which light refreshments will be served.
Enquiries: Fergus Grealy, Events Co-ordinator
P: (07) 3346 9764 | F: (07) 3365 7184 | E:
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