Carlyle and Jean Paul: Their Spiritual Optics

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It has always been thought difficult, if not impossible, to define what the philosophy of Carlyle was. Ever since the publication of <i>Sartor Resartus</i> in 1833-1834, the view that Carlyle had a theistic conception of the universe has been defended as well as opposed. At a time, therefore, when Carlyle’s work as a whole is being reappraised, his philosophy should first and foremost be dealt with. Carlyle’s life-philosophy is based on the inner experience of a process of ‘conversion’, which set in with an incident that occurred to him at Leith Walk, Edinburgh. This study – which settles the old question of the date of the incident – demonstrates that the inner struggle, the dynamics of which are described most fully in <i>Sartor</i>, is analogous to the Jungian process of individuation. For the first time in critical literature, the basic ideas of Carlyle’s philosophy are thus linked to depth psychology and shown to be analogous to the fundamental concepts of Analytical Psychology. <br />In recent criticism, it has been asserted that the crisis recorded in <i>Sartor</i> is akin to the crisis of doubt said to underlie Jean Paul’s “Rede des todten Christus” (1796), which is probably the first poetic expression of nihilism in European literature and has become a classic. Apart from demonstrating that, in the last fifty years at least, the “Rede” has erroneously been interpreted as a dream of annihilation, this book invalidates the view of Jean Paul as victim of the skepticism of his age, and argues that, contrary to what is usually maintained, the “Rede” is not the document of a crisis, but of a belief which had become antiquated and obsolete for Carlyle.

Subjects: German literature & literary studies; English literature & literary studies

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