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The Genealogy of the Romantic Symbol$
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Nicholas Halmi

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199212415

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199212415.001.0001

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Uses of Mythology

Uses of Mythology

(p.133) 5 Uses of Mythology
The Genealogy of the Romantic Symbol

Nicholas Halmi (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

The ‘discovery’ of the symbol in antiquity may be understood as a response to the obstacles confronting the creation of a ‘new mythology’, a project conceived by the early German Romantics in explicit opposition to classical mythology. Although the purpose of an oppositional definition is to privilege one term at the expense of another, the logic of opposition renders the term to be privileged entirely dependent on the one to be suppressed: having determined to distinguish their prospective mythology from an existing one, the Romantics could hardly avoid referring to the latter. But it was not only for definitional reasons that the one mythology proved impossible to disentangle fully from the other. Just as the Querelle des anciens et des modernes, inaugurated in the late 17th century as an assertion of advancements in knowledge and manners since antiquity, paradoxically stimulated a half-century of intense interest in and identification with antiquity — the age of Winckelmann and Thomas Percy — so the Romantics wound up answering their call for a new mythology by seeking assistance from the old. This chapter argues that there were limits to the amount of assistance they could accept, and that one of those limits was reached in the project of a new mythology, with which the early German Romantics sought to continue the emancipatory work of enlightenment by the very means from which the Enlightenment had imagined itself to have been emancipated.

Keywords:   Romantics, symbol, new mythology, classical mythology, Enlightenment

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