Wordsworth's Philosophy of Wonder: Epistemology, Psychoanalysis, Phenomenology
Lorenz, Matthew Robert
The Graduate School, Stony Brook University: Stony Brook, NY.
Though scholars in the field of British Romanticism have made much of the opposition between the Enlightenment system genre and the Romantic fragment genre, they have granted comparatively little attention to the epistemological counterpoint to system: the detotalizing attitude of a philosophical wonder. By highlighting the integral yet much neglected role that wonder has played in Romantic epistemology and in Wordsworth's prose and Prelude in particular, this study rectifies the misguided assumptions that have informed modern accounts of Wordsworth's epic aspirations and philosophical practices. While Arnold famously alleged that the British Romantics "did not know enough," this dissertation demonstrates that Romantic contemporaries such as Wordsworth, Schiller, Blake, Byron and Keats each consciously resisted the impulse to claim they had acquired knowledge. Suspending judgment in the manner of Plato's aporetical dialogues and of the ancient skeptical epoch?Â, these poets anticipated later philosophies of wonder such as Freudian psychoanalysis and Husserlian phenomenology. Though the prevailing narrative of Wordsworth's career suggests that the poet lacked the ingenuity to produce the systematic poem that Coleridge expected and that the two planned under the title of The Recluse, this study examines the ways that Wordsworth's prose and Prelude placate Coleridge's systematic aspirations in word while undercutting them in practice. Instead of aiming to explain determinate truths, Wordsworth's speaker describes the indeterminate phenomena that appear when the thinking subject attends to mental activities such as remembering, imagining, and the gray area of confabulation that blends the two. Though he at one time aspired to produce a poetic "work / Of ampler or more varied argument," the 1805 Prelude represents a different kind of "philosophic song" altogether. In this sense, Wordsworth is something like the Benedictine monk who, according to legend, tried to produce white wine from black grapes and accidentally produced the first bottle of Dom P??rignon champagne. In striving to produce a philosophical poem of one kind, Wordsworth inadvertently produced one of a different kind entirely, demonstrating that poetry can be "philosophic" in a way that Coleridge had only vaguely envisioned.