Thursday, April 14, 2011

Romanticism Continued

When I last wrote on Romanticism, it was largely based on the lectures of Isaiah Berlin, and with that in mind, I can now move to the ideas of Frederick Tonnies, the german sociologist. He wrote an important book called "Gemeinschaft und Gessellschaft," or "Community and Society." These two ideas suggest different forms of life, the communal life and the post-Industrial society. The former being related to pre-industrial Europe, where there was an established order of lords and serfs, and where people were largely confined to their own families and villages. The latter became prevalent and the more modern mode when it became no longer feasible to live in small villages, when folks were largely forced to relocate to cities in order to find work. Life in Gemeinschaft was predictable, there was an established order of religion and family. In the Gessellschaft there was the chaos of the individual, where one functioned as an individual unit of society, apart from the family and the community. Emphasis in the latter was on self-worth, and not on the production value of the community.
In this light, we understand that the shift from Gemeinschaft to Gessellschaft propogated much of the Romantic movement. People like Thomas Carlyle and Thomas Hardy, or Sir Walter Scott, these men understood the trauma of the sudden shift, and thus was birthed Romantic literature, wherein one looked to the past or the fantastical as a crutch for the new and frightening world. Indeed, the Romantics were reacting to trauma, and created their own little worlds to alleviate the pain that society was experiencing, what with coal smog in the cities, to the degree one could no longer breathe. What better way to alleviate that wretchedness of existence than to read the chivalrous "Ivanhoe?" Thomas Carlyle wrote extensively of his travels to London with clear pictures of the chaos, where neighbor was pitted against neighbor, competing for wages. The new society was highly impersonal, many factory owners did not know the workers that they employed, they were commodities. Thus the Romantic period in art, where beautiful natural scenes were depicted, a stark contrast from the reality of machinery and smog. Also, there was a trend to paint popular cities and landmarks in ruins, perhaps an apocalyptic vision of what they wished would happen.
I believe that I have said enough on this issue, and perhaps from understanding this, we can also get a sense of the direction our society is moving today. We still carry the trauma and pathology from the Industrial Revolution, and there are many today who simply cannot adapt to this Gessellschaft world. This is identified as Neurosis, in the sense that Sigmund Freud understood. We are addicted to mood enhancers, to "happy pills," merely because we are so stressed, and are not adapting well to the demands we put on ourselves. And so we live our lives still in the Romantic, wishing for something else, and often not adapting.