In the media, in popular music, on the television, there seems to be an ongoing resurgence of the Romantic movement in English speaking culture, a resurgence that has manifested itself in many ways across the culture. Take, for instance, the new television show Grimm. Beside revamping the tales of the famous lexicographing brothers, it borrows, in a terribly obvious manner, from many artifacts of the 19th century German Romantic movement, especially its emphasis on the deep dark forest and the subjectivity of man in relation to that forest. Compare the show’s title frame to Caspar David Friederich’s Two Men Contemplating the Moon (c. 1830):
The crooked tree in front of the moon. I’ll grant that they missed the self-reflective aspect of Friederich’s painting–the landscape is actually a reflection of the dark inner life of the ‘Ruckenfigur’ (the person in the painting whose back is turned to the viewer). However, the point is there. Now, as for music, check out the new song from 2:54, “Scarlet.”
The silvan background is absolutely beautiful (I honestly love this stuff). It takes a clear minute and a half to see a face and at that point it’s only the bottom half–did you notice the “Scarlet” lipstick? At 2:13 you get a glimpse of the lead singer. At 4:10 each band member is left standing alone, appearing very small against the backdrop of the forest. Finally, the trans, or at least ambiguously gendered performance by the guitarist is a remarkably modern take on the romantic era’s emphasis on the individual. The Romantic era was, after all, the era of George Sands and Albert Nobbs.
Of course there are the werewolves from Twilight with their own crooked trees infront of the moon:
And let’s not forget The Game of Thrones with its mix of medieval romance, fantasy all set within a dark natural, and wooded setting:
Especially interesting are the “White Walkers” who are essentially zombies. Of all the possible characters in the universe, I suppose the least rational have got to be the zombies. Heck we’ve got them too…
The interesting aspect of this narrative (for me) is the fact that the zombies are depicted as more in tune with the natural world than those who are not yet “un-dead.”
Also, it should be noted that academia is certainly not removed from this Resurgence of Romanticism. As Crit. Lit. superstar Terry Eagleton notes in his new book The Event of Literature (I’ve got to quote him at length to be fair):
[Since the 80's] Various forms of theoreticism (though not of obscurantism) have been cast aside. What has taken place by and large is a shift from discourse to culture – from ideas in a somewhat abstract or verginal state, to an investigation of what in the 1970s and 80s one would have been rash to call the real world. As usual, however, there are losses as well as gains. Analysing vampires or Family Guy is probably not as intellectually rewarding as the study of Freud and Foucault. Besides, ‘high’ theory’s steady loss of popularity, as I have argued in After Theory, is clearly bound up with the declining fortunes of the political left. (from the preface)
Now, the shift from “discourse” or “Theoreticism” to culture and vampires (which Eagleton aligns with the “real world?”) is obviously marked by a simultaneous shift from an enlightened rationality to a more spiritual Romanticism. Thus it is no surprise when two pages later he pulls out his Roman Catholicism as some kind of badge of authenticity. I’m only two chapters into it, but the book is quite good.
All this leads me to wonder, why the return to the Romantic? I’m in the middle of preparing a paper for the annual meeting of the German Studies Association next year (how’s that for a self-interested plug?) that describes a small part of the effect that Napoleon and his invasion had on German culture, particularly opera (it is much more than this, but you’ll have to go to find out…). Needless to say, it was a catastrophe. I wonder if perhaps all of this isn’t just a societal reaction to the terrorism that occurred on 9/11 and 7/7. The shift to a conservative mindset, as well as an emphasis on the natural (and often violent nature) within man seems to have emerged since these catastrophes. I don’t know, it’s plausible, but I would need to provide a lot more evidence to prove a thesis that argues that Romantic movements are initiated by societal catastrophes…and it’s already quite late.