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Organising PoetryThe Coleridge Circle, 1790-1798$
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David Fairer

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780199296163

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199296163.001.0001

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Organicism: The Idealist Tradition

Organicism: The Idealist Tradition

(p.15) 1 Organicism: The Idealist Tradition
Organising Poetry

David Fairer (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This book argues that it is inappropriate and misleading to discuss the 1790s poetry of Coleridge and his circle in terms of the organicist theories that the poet expounded years later under the influence of German idealist philosophy. This chapter traces the development of this ‘organicism’ through a critical tradition that culminated in the work of M. H. Abrams, who set a ’living’ organic form against an 18th-century empirical mechanic form (derived from Newton and Locke). The chapter argues that this influential binary has distorted literary history and (by privileging a supposed ‘organic form’ and ‘organic unity’) has led to persistent misreadings of the 1790s poetry of Coleridge, Wordsworth, and their friends. The book argues that their work at this time is more usefully seen in response to an 18th-century native ‘organic’ tradition, empirical in character, which is entirely incompatible with the values and principles of idealism.

Keywords:   Coleridge, M. H. Abrams, organicism, idealism, empiricism, Schlegel, mechanic form, organic unity

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