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In what Sense "Communis"? Kantian Aesthetics and Romantic Ideology

  • Simon Malpas

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  • Simon Malpas
    Manchester Metropolitan University

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In his introduction to From Romanticism to Critical Theory, Andrew Bowie offers the following proposition:

Without an orientation towards understanding the truth-potential in art that is more than ideology, many of the most essential issues concerning the significance of art cannot be discussed. [1]

I want to ask two related questions in this essay. First, can one speak of a "truth-potential" in Romantic art that "exceeds", or is at least irreducible to, the ideological? And, if this is possible, how might one begin to rethink Romanticism's relation to ideology?

Bowie's statement presents a challenge to much of the recent literary criticism that has been produced in Britain under the auspices of new historicism in that he insists on the necessity of questioning the relations between aesthetics, subjectivity and epistemology as a precondition of any assessment of art's social or ideological function. This seems to run directly counter to what Paul Hamilton describes as the "current scene" of Romantic studies:

To read English literature written in the Romantic period through emergent and then dominant idealist philosophies has for some time appeared simplistic and reactionary. It's all been done before, hasn't it, from Coleridge onwards? .... The Philosophers empower poetry to save philosophy from its inability to grasp conceptually its own ideals .... Nowdays, literary critics of Romanticism have mostly given up excoriating its philosophical sublimation of real issues and just get on with interpreting the neglected archives. [2]

If this is an accurate summation of the general state of Romantic studies, and there is no reason to suppose that it is not, then one of the key factors that has led to critics giving up reading Romantic poetry "through ... idealist philosophies" is the accusation of an acquiescence with "Romantic ideology", the ideology that "empower[s] poetry to save philosophy from its inability to grasp conceptually its own ideals". According to this line of argument, poetry stands in for the philosophical or political aporia projecting an ideal realm in which resolution has been realised; it sublimates the "real issues" when the insoluble problems facing the "real world" are displaced in the imaginative projections of Romantic idealism. More generally, the argument runs that Romantic aesthetics indulges in political quietism by escaping from material reality to questions of self-reflection and self-consciousness, and the modern critic must beware of identifying with the writers to the extent that his or her own account perpetuates this Romantic ideology.

Crucial to this definition of Romantic ideology is the construction of a particular Romantic aesthetic based on Hegelian idealism. Jerome McGann locates this in the work of M. H. Abrams:

Like Hegel, Abrams offers a program of Romanticism rather than a critical representation of its character; as such, both reify certain key Romantic self-conceptualizations like "spirituality", "creativity", "process", "uniqueness", "diversity". Indeed, the concepts of "synthesis" and "reconciliation" as these appear in the received Romantic texts and their commentaries are themselves Romantic concepts whose meaning cannot be taken at face value. They lie at the very heart of Romanticism's self-representation and as such they must be subjected to critical analysis. [3]

At the time McGann opened this debate, Abrams's Hegelian "program" and its various derivatives formed a dominant model in Romanticist scholarship. McGann's materialist challenge exposed the ideological nature of this program's self-representations but, in so doing, frequently accepted those representations as an adequate account of the relation between Romantic literature and idealist philosophy. One of the more recent effects of McGann's critique has been a movement away from the philosophical analysis of Romantic aesthetics towards a reading of Romanticism that focuses almost exclusively on its socio-historical (and hence ideological) character but leaves Abrams's account of that aesthetic in place. At the extreme, the argument tends to be that if Romantic ideology is reactionary, so is Romanticism. To cite just one example, Aidan Day sums up Romantic-period writing in terms of the following distinction:

the earlier, politically radical work of the first generation British 'Romantic' writers is better termed late Enlightenment. Their mature, conservative writings may be called Romantic .... The most important item in such a way of defining the literary productions of late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Britain is that ... Romanticism is identified above all as being a politically conservative, sometimes reactionary tendency of thought and attitude. [4]

In effect, Day's construction of an opposition between late Enlightenment and Romantic aesthetics turns its back on any possibility of a radical potential in Romanticism. However, as McGann's critique notes, Romantic aesthetics is a far more diverse discourse than Abrams's program allows, and the relations obtaining between it and idealism (which is equally irreducible to a monolithic voice) are more varied than writers such as Day acknowledge.

What I want to do here, by way of providing an example of Romanticism's diversity, is examine Romantic writing in the light of a Kantian rather than Hegelian conception of the aesthetic in order to discuss the implications of this for a rethinking of the relations between art, ideology and modernity in which Romanticism has the potential to disrupt the sort of straightforward notion of aesthetic ideology presented by critics like Terry Eagleton.

Eagleton is a key exponent of the idea that art plays the ideological role of disguising philosophy's "inability to grasp conceptually its own ideals" and thereby effaces social and political contradictions that should be made available for rigorous scientific critique. He outlines the ideological function of art in his comprehensive study, The Ideology of the Aesthetic, in which he charts the relations that have obtained between aesthetics and philosophy since the eighteenth century. What I want to do is examine Eagleton's reading of Kant in this book, and argue that his construction of Kantian aesthetics is problematically motivated by a Marxian desire to transcend philosophy through political praxis which forces him to refuse any differences or divisions that might disrupt the equation of the aesthetic with the ideological. The effect of this is that the potential of Romantic aesthetics to act as a subversive element in philosophical modernity is effaced in the rush to unmask its imbrication with ideological mystification.

Although Eagleton acknowledges that the aesthetic is "an eminently contradictory phenomenon", the thrust of his argument is to reduce its potential for disruption by positing it as an ideological tool of the bourgeoisie. [5] To this end, he begins by placing the rise of aesthetics as an object of enquiry in a relation with absolutist power:

What germinates in the eighteenth century as the strange new discourse of aesthetics is not a challenge to that political authority; but it can be read as symptomatic of an ideological dilemma inherent in absolutist power. Such power needs for its own purposes to take account of "sensible" life, for without an understanding of this no dominion can be secure. The world of feelings and sensations can surely not just be surrendered to the "subjective", to what Kant scornfully termed the "egoism of taste"; instead it must be brought within the majestic scope of reason itself.

Eagleton 15

This passage sets the tone for the whole study: different accounts of aesthetics are reduced to particular socio-historical determinations in order to be explained in terms of the universal categories of class struggle and the state. [6] However, the introduction of Kant into this genealogy is more problematic than Eagleton's seamless prose might indicate. In Kantian philosophy, aesthetics takes on an entirely different status from that which it held earlier in the eighteenth century, and Kant's analysis effects not only the place of art but the whole process of conceptual thought and ethical action.

Kant's critical philosophy is fundamental to the development of both Romanticism and modernity. In the three Critiques, he distinguishes between the object spheres of knowledge, justice and taste, splitting philosophical enquiry into the three branches of epistemology, ethics and aesthetics. Between the first two spheres (epistemology and ethics), Kant draws a division that cannot be crossed: he argues that knowledge is bound by the "limits of experience" which cannot be transcended without falling into error, and so makes room for an ethical realm in which human freedom rests upon a "categorical imperative" whose basis lies in an idea of reason that allows no sensible presentation. This separation of knowledge and justice provides, according to Jürgen Habermas and others, the basis of modernity. [7]

The third Critique, the Critique of Judgement, in which Kant discusses aesthetics and natural teleology, sets out explicitly to form a bridge between the two spheres of epistemology and ethics. In the "Introduction", Kant promises that aesthetic judgement will make "possible the transition from pure theoretical to pure practical lawfulness, from lawfulness in terms of nature [knowledge] to the final purpose set out by the concept of freedom [justice]". [8] In other words, the third Critique aims to bring together the realms of epistemology and ethics, reconciling them in a system that will make possible a coherent account of the subject's place in the world. One of the key questions at stake in a great deal of the debates surrounding modern aesthetics is the success or failure of Kant's bridging enterprise and the status of aesthetic judgement in philosophical thought. According to J. M. Bernstein, the "central concepts of Kant's aesthetics - aesthetic reflective judgement, genius, sensus communis, the sublime - are themselves critical interrogations of our standard epistemological and moral vocabulary". [9] In fact, for Bernstein, arguments about the success or failure of the Critique of Judgement in this respect form the basis of many of the debates about ethics and epistemology that have occurred within, and also provide useful distinctions between, the analytic model of "enlightened modernity" and those critiques launched against it by continental philosophers and critical theorists. [10]

It is these problems, the place of the aesthetic and Kant's legacy for modernity, with which The Ideology of the Aesthetic is deeply concerned. For Eagleton (and this is where I want to take issue with him), Kant succeeds only in disguising the gap between ethics and epistemology, transforming aesthetic judgement into an ideological trap through which the unsuspecting critic will fall. In this sense, Kantian aesthetics in its urge to reconcile truth and justice becomes "the very paradigm of the ideological" (Eagleton 93-94). In other words, what Eagleton sets out to do is provide a philosophical underpinning for the materialist uncovering of the ideology of Romantic idealism.

The crux of Eagleton's critique is that the Kantian aesthetic is not derived from knowledge (as Kant says, "There is no science of the beautiful" [CJ, §44, p. 172]) but from feeling, and that this is an insecure basis for any form of community:

If the aesthetic yields us no knowledge, then, it proffers us something arguably deeper: the consciousness, beyond all theoretical demonstration, that we are at home in the world because the world is somehow mysteriously designed to suit our capacities .... That things are conveniently fashioned for our purposes must remain a hypothesis; but it is the kind of heuristic fiction which permits us a sense of purposiveness, centredness and significance, and thus one which is the very essence of the ideological .... In the "imaginary" of ideology, or of aesthetic taste, reality comes to seem totalised and purposive, reassuringly pliable to the centred subject.

Eagleton 85-87

On the whole, this is a useful précis of Kant's argument. And yet, there is a significant problem: the notion of the "centred subject". Eagleton reads the subject involved in making aesthetic judgements as a version of the subject of Lacan's "mirror stage". According to Lacan, the ego is formed by means of a Gestalt when the infant recognises in its reflection the "wholeness" of its body and its separation from the world around it. Occurring at a stage before it has full motor control of its limbs, this identification is essentially a misrecognition which offers the idea of a "centred" individuality that is in reality unavailable. According to Eagleton,

In both cases, an imaginary misrecognition takes place .... The Kantian subject of aesthetic judgement, who misperceives as a quality of the object what is in fact a pleasurable coordination of its own powers, and who constitutes in a mechanistic world a figure of idealised unity, resembles the infantile narcissist of the Lacanian mirror stage, whose misperceptions Louis Althusser has taught us to regard as an indispensable structure of all ideology.

Eagleton 87

This argument forms the basis of Eagleton's whole case: by equating the Kantian and the psychoanalytic subject and transforming aesthetic judgement into the Lacanian imaginary, Eagleton forges the link between art and ideology. However, the ease with which this is done immediately raises doubts. Eagleton does have a point—Kant's discussion of the subject anticipates much of what Lacan says—and yet the relation between aesthetics and cognition in the construction of subjectivity is very different for the two thinkers.

Kant's separation of ethics and epistemology causes a crisis in the modern subject. He follows Descartes by arguing for the primacy of the "I think", and yet the cogito is transformed from the ontological ground of our being to a methodological principle which cannot be known as it is in-itself: Kant's "I think" is posited as a "synthetic unity of self-consciousness" in contradistinction to what he calls Descartes's "analytic unity". [11] The analytic unity of self-consciousness in Descartes's deduction of the cogito allows him to move from the "I think", via the "I am", to raise and answer the question "who am I?" by making the first two terms immediately identical with each other. It is this movement, based on the "immediately identical" nature of the analytic unity, that Kant's synthetic unity undermines. Kantian epistemology thereby disrupts the identity at the heart of the Cartesian cogito by separating the "I think" from the "I am" and denying the possibility of generating an answer to the question "who am I?" from the relationship obtaining between the two. The "I think" is necessary for knowledge and yet, crucially, is completely unknowable. This is acknowledged by Kant when he states categorically that the "I think ... cannot itself be accompanied by any further representation" (CPR, 153, B132). As the ground of all representations the "I think" cannot itself be represented and the Cartesian cogito, as the "analytic unity of apperception [that] is possible only under the presupposition of a certain synthetic unity" (CPR, 154, B133), is relieved of its foundational power. The implications of this position for the subject are teased out by Bowie who explains that according to Kant,

Self-consciousness is not ultimately a cognition of oneself .... A full cognition of oneself would have to be an intuition of something which is wholly in the realm of the intelligible .... Kant rejects such an idea because it contradicts his conviction that intuitions without concepts are blind and concepts without intuitions are empty, the argument that the identity of the I depends upon its having intuitions to synthesise. [12]

Thus, the "I am" that was the result of the Cartesian deduction, because it is generated empirically and exists only as an a posteriori phenomenon of consciousness, appears to have lost almost all of its ontological force in Kant's discussion. It is a representation of the self generated by the "I think" but is split off from, and tells one nothing about, the "I" that is thinking. [13]

For Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy, Romanticism emerges from this crisis: "in the absence of a subject whose self-presence is guaranteed by originary intuition ... the system as such, although it is deeply desired by Kant is continually lacking precisely where it is in greatest demand .... the crisis inaugurated by the question of the subject will preoccupy Kant's successors, if indeed one can be 'successor' to a crisis". [14] They conclude that, "crudely translated, this means that Kant opens up the possibility of romanticism" (Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy 29).

Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy make this final claim because aesthetics shares a similarly anomalous position in both Kantian philosophy and Romanticism. It is neither knowledge nor justice, but is somehow on the way to them; a site of struggle in which the possibility of resolution and systematic knowledge is presented and pursued but never fully realised. In relation to knowledge, this problem is most explicitly laid out in Section 39 of the third Critique. What permits Kant to posit the subjective universality of taste that lies at the heart of his account of aesthetic experience is the relationship between it and the objective universality of cognition:

Without being guided by any purpose or principle whatever, this pleasure [of taste] accompanies our ordinary apprehension of an object by means of the imagination, our power of intuition, in relation to the understanding, our power of concepts. This apprehension occurs by means of a procedure that judgement has to carry out to give rise to even the most ordinary experience .... pleasure must of necessity rest on the same conditions in everyone, because they are subjective conditions for the possibility of cognition as such, and because the proportion between these cognitive powers that is required for taste is also required for the sound and common understanding that we may presuppose in everyone.

CJ, §39, p. 158-59

There is perhaps no passage more crucial than this if one is addressing the questions of the relationship that the Critique of Judgement constructs between taste and cognition, aesthetics and subjectivity. From Kant's formulation, judgements of taste can claim universality because they rest on the same conditions as cognitive judgements: "because the proportion between these cognitive powers that is required for taste is also required for ... understanding". Taste is thus based on the same conditions as knowledge, but occurs only if the procedure is interrupted before knowledge can arise (or else there would be a "science of the beautiful" and aesthetics would cease to be a separate sphere). This means that the deduction of aesthetic judgement's universality is achieved only at the cost of a negative definition that posits taste as incomplete knowledge, as a lack in and of knowledge. The conclusion of Kant's deduction in a negative definition of the conditions of aesthetic judgement with respect to cognitive knowledge constructs taste in such a way that it will be irreducible to the systematic knowledge-based thought of modernity, irreducible to questions of truth, falsity and, as I shall attempt to show, ideology.

Jacques Derrida teases out the implications of this lack-in-knowledge, what he calls the "without", for Kant's aesthetics:

it is the without that counts for beauty; neither the finality nor the end, neither the lacking goal nor the lack of a goal but the edging in the sans of the pure cut (la bordure en "sans" de la coupure pure), the sans of the finality-sans-end .... in the predication of beauty, a nonknowledge intervenes in a decisive, concise, incisive way, in a determinate place and at a determinate moment, precisely at the end, more precisely with regard to the end. For the nonknowledge with regard to the end does not intervene at the end, precisely, but somewhere in the middle, dividing the field whose finality lends itself to knowledge but whose end is hidden from it. [15]

On the way to knowledge there is a nonknowledge which opens the possibility for knowledge without being reducible to it. The aesthetic provides the subjective conditions of possibility for cognitive knowledge; it shows the way to knowledge, without being knowledge itself. The cut takes place once the conditions for knowledge have been established (the purposiveness of an object in relation to the imagination and understanding) but before knowledge itself emerges (before the purpose has been presented for the purposiveness no concept can subsume the experience of the object). For this reason, aesthetic judgement, occurring somehow "before" knowledge, "before" the experience can be brought under a concept, is profoundly problematic for the subject. The Kantian subject emerges from this process of bringing intuitions under concepts (accompanying the sensation with the "I think"), and yet in aesthetic judgement what happens happens without an "I think". The aesthetic places the subject in a constant state of in statu nascendi, constantly on the brink of knowledge or justice, but never acquiring them.

This "without" is what Eagleton's account of Kantian aesthetics misses, and in this sense he follows the line laid out by Romantic ideology: the stable, centred subject can efface problems for instrumental rationality with projections of artistic reconciliation. Because of this, his construction of the "sensus communis" - what Kant posits as the common sense which grounds the universality of an aesthetic judgement - becomes a clearly ideological form of non-cognitive agreement between existing empirical subjects:

Once any determinate concept is removed from our grasp, we are left delighting in nothing but a universal solidarity beyond all vulgar utility .... sensus communis is ideology purified, universalised and rendered reflective, ideology raised to the second power, idealized beyond all mere sectarian prejudice or customary reflex to resemble the very ghostly shape of rationality itself .... Aesthetic intersubjectivity adumbrates a utopian community of subjects, united in the very deep structure of their being.

Eagleton 96-97

This argument seems internally coherent but, when compared with Kant's own rhetoric, cannot but appear a little too sure of itself. For aesthetics to be reducible to ideology, the former must forge a non-cognitive form of consent between empirical individuals to construct "the ghostly outline of a non-dominative social order ... by mystifying and legitimating actual dominative social relations" (Eagleton 97). In contrast to Eagleton's empirical community, however, Kant describes the sensus communis in the following way:

... we must [here] take sensus communis to mean the idea of a sense shared [by all of us], i.e., a power to judge that in reflecting takes account (a priori), in our thought, of everyone else's way of presenting [something], in order as it were to compare our own judgement with human reason in general and thus escape the illusion that arises from the ease of mistaking subjective and private conditions for objective ones .... we compare our judgement not so much with actual as rather with the merely possible judgements of others ...

CJ, §40, p. 160

When taken together with his disruption of identity in the aesthetic, the phrase "as it were" that Kant emphasises at the centre of this passage throws into question the whole process of "taking account" and "comparing" our judgements of taste with those judgements that others might make, and the replacement of "actual" with "merely possible" in the final sentence highlights the problematic nature of Eagleton's certainty even further. The basis of this lies in Kant's identification of sensus communis as "the idea of a sense shared by all". In Kantian philosophy, ideas are distinct from empirical concepts: they provide the conditions of possibility and the categories for conceptual understanding and yet remain beyond the limits of any empirical experience. In other words, one thing that Kant's account insists upon is the a priori nature of sensus communis. This means, as Jean-François Lyotard argues, that,

its ratio essendi consists not in the assent that empirical individuals give one another in regard to the beauty of an object but - insofar as it makes the a priori feeling of aesthetic pleasure possible - in the unison in which the two 'voices' of the faculties are to be found: the 'proportionate accord' ... in which their 'ratio' is 'best adapted'. [16]

On this account, the sensus communis is the accord between the imagination and either reason or the understanding which occurs during an aesthetic response: it is a harmony between the subject's faculties of perception which generates a feeling of pleasure or displeasure. And yet, although this intrasubjective harmony of the faculties, as a transcendental harmony, appears to imply the possibility of an intersubjective community that is held together by something which precedes conceptual legislation, it does so only as a projection that is not necessarily empirically realisable. [17] In contrast to Eagleton, what Kant's rhetoric suggests is an intrasubjective community of the faculties that prepares the ground for knowledge; a potential universality, a potential community, that is never fully or empirically realised in the aesthetic response. It projects an alternative order, a possibility of justice, but not the illusion of achievement. And this projective structure means, as Jacob Ragozinski makes clear, that the relation between the aesthetic and the ethical is never more than one of analogy: "Beauty in art and nature - the 'ciphered language' of beautiful forms - has by virtue of its symbolic significance the value precisely of an analogy of morality. The formal structure of analogy is such that it always maintains an irreducible gap between the terms between which it establishes a relation .... By erecting the beautiful into a symbol of the Good, one re-opens the abyss in the very gesture through which one claims to surmount it". [18]

On the other hand, occurring as it does for Eagleton between empirical, existing subjects, what can the sensus communis be but ideology: a sort of unthinking certainty, a non-cognitive set of beliefs that we all share? However, if the centred subject is dispersed in the aesthetic experience, and if that experience is never wholly reducible to cognition, then what sort of certainty is possible? How can aesthetic experience relate to knowledge, poetry to philosophy?

This legacy of Kantian thought is one of the key problems that exercised the Romantics. Their responses to it are extremely varied, and to set one up a "key" to Romantic aesthetics is, of course, to fall straight back into the construction of a Romantic ideology along the lines of Abrams' neo-Hegelian program. However, as an illustration, I want to take one specific example of subjective dispersal in aesthetic experience: John Keats's well-known discussion of the poetical character.

As to the poetical Character itself, (I mean that sort of which, if I am any thing, I am a Member; that sort distinguished from the wordsworthian or egotistical sublime; which is a thing per se and stands alone) it is not itself - it has no self - it is everything and nothing - It has no character - it enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto, be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated - It has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen. What shocks the virtuous philosop[h]er, delights the camelion Poet .... A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity - he is continually in for - and filling some other Body... [19]

The radical nature of this statement should not be underestimated: in contrast to the Romantic ideology's notions of transcendence and the wholeness of the "centred subject", Keats proposes a model of subjective dispersal and disappearance. The appearance of the "Poet" as "everything and nothing" marks the effacement of the subject, the loss of "character" and "Identity". In this way, Keats's Poet is far closer to the non-subject of Kantian aesthetics. No longer subject or individual, the Poet is an instant of consciousness (although even the term "consciousness" should perhaps be placed under erasure). The aesthetic instant of the Poet, in a way that is again reminiscent of Kant, takes place before any determinate judgement can fix the experience with reference to either ethics or epistemology: "It has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen. What shocks the virtuous philosop[h]er, delights the camelion Poet". As such, it occurs as a moment of freedom before the imposition of an ethical or epistemological code and allows the space for a different form of vision to emerge.

The poetic utterance is a testimony that can somehow avoid being brought under a concept, avoid final explanation or exhaustive definition. It is in a sense the speaking of what Jean-François Lyotard call the "event" or the "it happens":

What we do not manage to formulate is that something happens, dass etwas geschieht. Or rather, and more simply, that it happens .... That it happens "precedes", so to speak, the question pertaining to what happens. Or, rather, the question precedes itself, because "that it happens" is the question relevant as event, and it "then" pertains to the event that has just happened. The event happens as a question mark "before" happening as a question .... An event, an occurrence - what Martin Heidegger called ein Ereignis - is infinitely simple, but this simplicity can only be approached through a state of privation. That which we call thought must be disarmed. [20]

It is this "before" of the "it happens" that the poetical Character comes to occupy, and to which it must testify, albeit "through a state of privation": the aesthetic state in which "thought" is "disarmed" before it is determined by conceptuality. The propensity of the poetical Character to generate this form of utterance, this testimony to the "it happens" that disrupts the progression to a delimitation of "what happens", is described by Keats in a letter to his brothers, George and Tom, as "Negative Capability":

that is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason - Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of being content with half knowledge. This pursued through Volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration. [21]

From this description it appears that for Keats the aesthetic is, and must always remain, a "Mystery" in the strongest possible sense of this term. Negative capability is not a means of generating a systematic knowledge, but rather the process of testifying to the impossibility of grasping conceptually a "sense of Beauty [which] ... obliterates all consideration". Beauty might well be truth, but it seems to be a truth that cannot be told if that telling is to lead to definition or determination. Thus, the role of the Poet requires the ability to be "in uncertainties" when confronted by an "isolated verisimilitude" without attempting to conceptualise it through an "irritable reaching after fact and reason". To put this in Lyotard's terms, the Poetical character testifies that the "isolated verisimilitude" "happens", without circumscribing this event with the "what happens" of systematic determination. The "fact and reason" that Keats's poetical Character must seek to avoid is not thought itself but, rather, the limitation of thought through the construction of a systematic "grand narrative".

Like Kant, Keats's account of artistic production is inextricably tied to the "without" of aesthetic judgement. According to Bernstein, the anomalous position of aesthetics with regard to cognition means that, "In so far as art is cut off from discursive rationality ... it can say what it wants to only by not (discursively) saying it. To be able to speak and claim without discursively speaking and claiming is art's strength and misery" (Bernstein 262). This lack at the heart of aesthetics is not however irredeemably negative: the work of art remains for posterity testifying to the "it happens" without formalising it within the structure of a "what happens". It becomes what Lyotard describes as a sign:

Signs ... are not referents to which are attached significations validatable under the cognitive regimen, they indicate that something which should be put into phrases cannot be phrased in the accepted idioms .... the sense is situated like an unresolved problem, an enigma perhaps, a mystery, or a paradox .... The silence that surrounds the phrase ... is not a state of mind [état d'âme], it is the sign that something remains to be phrased, something which is not determined. [22]

The work of art, as sign, bears witness to a conflict as something refuses to be phrased within an ideological idiom but remains as a break in the chain of phrases which form that historical or political narrative: a break that appears in the present as "an enigma ... a mystery, or a paradox" to, in Keats's terms, "tease us out of thought". In opposition to an ideology that presents a complete picture of how the world is, the aesthetic disrupts and fractures that coherence presenting the possibility of an alternative order that remains to be grasped.

It is this Kantian version of aesthetic judgement that I want to posit as one way of reading Romantic aesthetics which avoids its immediate precipitation into ideology. From this perspective, Romanticism does not complete idealist philosophy but, unrestrained by the formal rules of argumentative rigour (Bernstein's "discursive rationality"), disrupts systematic thought, highlighting its discontinuities. Ideology posits a truth, completes a system of knowledge; poetry disrupts the system with incompletion. The diremption between epistemology and ethics that founds philosophical modernity is not ideologically reconciled in Romantic aesthetics but rather emphasised, iterated throughout modern art and society. And, if this is the case, then perhaps the relation of aesthetics and cognition in Romanticism might provide what Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy describe as a "romantic unconscious [that] is discernible today, in most of the central motifs of our 'modernity'", an unconscious whose repressed representations constantly threaten to return to fracture coherent or dominant ideologies (Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy 15).

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