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Commentary: American Conference on Romanticism, Why it matters

By Michael Bachem
German, Russian and East Asian languages

"Inventing the Individual" will be the theme of the American Conference on Romanticism held between November 8th and 12th at the Marcum Center of Miami University. About eighty scholars from the United States, Canada, and several from abroad, will be here to present papers and engage in discussions on Romanticism. Why does it matter?

It matters, to quote Isaiah Berlin, because Romanticism "is the largest recent movement to transform the lives and the thought of the Western world." It matters because the individualism that is at the center of our political thinking is to a great extent a product of European Romanticism. It matters because it may help us to understand our troubled world a little better. It may, for example, elucidate why people who feel marginalized may idolize heroes who are maniacally doing their thing. Many of the splendid cultural products of the age of Romanticism as well as some of the horrors of the twentieth century and beyond can be understood more deeply if we search for their roots. Searching for ultimate roots is as impossible as locating the inventor of the meatball. But the nimbler our understanding becomes, the more fitting our response will be.

As with most learning, the study of Romanticism is one of incremental insights, and much work, with results that tend to complicate things. But that is what these scholars do. They are here for debate, for disagreement, for sharpening their wits, for the pursuit of knowledge, not the attaining of it. In fact, Romanticism, which helped us break out of the "hideous prison of the multiplication table" (I. Berlin) is, if anything, dedicated to longing, to "Sehnsucht," in my private etymology interpreted as the addiction to seeing.

The eighth meeting of the American Conference on Romanticism is the last visible act in a project dedicated to the study of Romanticism, supported by the John W. Altman Distinguished Visiting Humanist project. It is one example of how the generosity of a donor can have a direct impact on teaching, scholarship and learning at Miami University.

Date Published: 11/01/2001
Volume: 21   Number: 14


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