Mind's World

Imagination and Subjectivity from Descartes to Romanticism

Alexander M. Schlutz

  • Published: 2009
  • Subject Listing: Literary Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 344 pp., n/a bw photos, n/a color photos, n/a line drawings, n/a maps, n/a tables, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Literary Conjugations
  • Contents

Winner of the 2009 International Conference on Romanticism's Jean-Pierre Barricelli Award for the best book in Romanticism studies

As the mental faculty that mediates between self and world, mind and body, the senses and the intellect, imagination is indispensable for modern models of subjectivity. From René Descartes's Meditations to the aesthetic and philosophical systems of the Romantic period, to think about the subject necessarily means to address the problem of imagination. In close readings of Descartes, Kant, Fichte, Hardenberg (Novalis) and Coleridge, and with a sustained return to the origins of the discourse about imagination in Greek antiquity, Alexander Schlutz demonstrates that neither the unity of the subject itself, nor the unity of the philosophical systems that are based on it, can be conceptualized without recourse to imagination. Yet, philosophers like Descartes and Kant must deny imagination any such foundational role because of its dangerous connection to the body, the senses and the unruly passions, which threatens the desired autonomy of the rational subject. The modern subject is simultaneously dependent upon and constructed in opposition to imagination, and the resulting ambivalence about the faculty is one of the fundamental conditions of modern models of subjectivity.

Schlutz's readings of the Romantic poet-philosophers Coleridge and Hardenberg highlight that also their texts are not free of fears about the faculty's disruptive potential and its connection to the body. While imagination is now openly enlisted to produce the aesthetic unity of subjectivity, it still threatens to unravel and destroy a subject that needs to keep the body and its desires at bay in order to secure its rational and moral autonomy. The dark abyss of a self not in control of its thoughts, feelings, and desires is not overcome by the philosophical glorification of the subject's powers of imagination.
Alexander M. Schlutz is associate professor of English at John Jay College, City University of New York.

"Mind's World offers a distinguished, thoughtful, and highly accomplished account of one of the thornier and seemingly intractable concepts in modernity. The range of texts chosen, the entirely responsible method of treatment, and the clarity of the presentation all make Schlutz's study a most impressive and desirable contribution to the study of Romantic theory and poetics."
-Thomas Pfau, Duke University

"This book is an original and valuable contribution to the intellectual history of the Enlightenment and early Romanticism and to the history of literary theory: intelligently ambitious in scope, genuinely comparative in approach. Schlutz is adept at juxtaposing texts that are usually examined in isolation from one another."
-Nicholas Halmi, University of Oxford


1. Epistemology, Metaphysics, and Rhetoric: Contexts of Imagination
Aristotle, Phantasia, and the Problem of Epistemology
Plato, the Neoplatonists, and the Vagaries of the Sublunar World
Phantasia and Ecstatic Knowledge
"A More Skillful Artist than Imitation"

2. Dreams, Doubts, and Evil Demons: Descartes and Imagination
Meditatio Prima: Certainty, the Cogito, and Imagination
Imagination in the Rules
Meditatio Secunda: The World of the Cogito
Descartes, Montaigne, and Pascal
Analogies and Enthusiasm
Excogitations: Fabulating the Cogito

3. The Reasonable Imagination: Immanuel Kant's Critical Philosophy
Imagination in the Limits of Pure Reason
Dreamers and Madmen: Imagination in Anthropology
Natural Art and Sublime Madness: Imagination in the Critique of Judgment

4. The Highest Point of Philosophy: Fichte's Reimagining of the Kantian System
The Logics of Positing: Intellectual Intuition and the Absolute Subject
Ecstasy, Inspired Communication, and Philosophical Genius

Light, Dusk, and Darkness: The Reconciliation of Opposites
The Metaphysics of Oscillation and the Truth of Imagination
Reason's Fixations: Arresting Imagination

5. A System without Foundations: Poetic Subjectivity in Friedrich von Hardenberg's Ordo Inversus
A System without Foundations
Fantasy and the Body

6. Divine Law and Abject Subjectivity: Coleridge and the Double Knowledge of Imagination
Divine Imagination
The Abyss of the Empirical Self
Coda: Imagining Ideology


"This is a powerful and exciting book, one that will be of interest not just to scholars of Romanticism, but to all readers interested in the history of the concept of the imagination and the relationship of that history to philosophy, religion, and the process of secularization."
-Robert Mitchell, Studies in Romanticism, Spring 2012

"The clarity and precision with which Mind's World addresses philosophical constructions of the imagination and their implications for theories of the subject make it an invaluable resource."
-David M. Baulch, Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net, Vol. 57-58, 2010

"Schlutz's book is a tour de force through some very difficult patches of intellectual history. Throughout he is as clear and surefooted as the subject matter permits. Recommended."

"One of the seminal studies of Western intellectual history to appear in the last decade, Schlutz's book moves through literature and philosophical texts in French, German, and English in a cross-linguistic and multi-disciplinary look at the roots of Romantic imagination and its paradoxes."