You are on page 1of 6

NEOCLASSICISM

characteristic world-view or value-system of this 'Age of Reason', denoting a preference for rationality,
clarity, restraint, order, and decorum
In literature: a significant influence on English writing, especially from c. 1660 to c. 1780 --- principle
according to which the writing & criticism of poetry and drama were to be guided by rules and precedents
derived from the best ancient Greek and Roman authors
Showing habitual deference to Greek and Roman models in literary theory and practice, neoclassicism
emerged from the rediscovery of Aristotle's Poetics by Italian scholars in the 16th century, notably by J. C.
Scaliger, whose dogmatic interpretation of the dramatic unities in his Poetica (1561) would profoundly
affect the course of drama
Along with Aristotle's theory of poetry as imitation and his classification of genres, the principles of the
Roman poet Horace as expounded in his Ars Poetica (c.20 BCE) dominated the neoclassical or neoclassic
view of literature
these included the principle of decorum by which the style must suit the subject-matter, and the belief that
art must both delight and instruct.
central assumption - the ancient authors had already attained perfection, so that the modern author's chief
task was to imitate themthe imitation of Nature and the imitation of the ancients amounting to the same
thing
Accordingly, the approved genres of classical literature ---- epic, tragedy, comedy, elegy, ode, epistle,
epigram, fable & satirewere adopted as the favoured forms in this period. The period 1660-1780 in
England = the 'NEOCLASSICAL PERIOD', (one very important development in this periodthe
emergence of the novelfalls outside the realm of neoclassicism)
In England, neoclassicism reached its height in the Augustan Age - In English literary history, the term is
usually applied to the period from the accession of Queen Anne (1702) to the deaths of Pope and Swift
(1744-5) - The Augustans, led by Pope and Swift, wrote in conscious emulation of the Romans, adopted their
literary forms (notably the epistle and the satire), and aimed to create a similarly sophisticated urban
literary milieu: Conscious parallel with the grandeur of Imperial Rome - characteristic preference in
Augustan literature, encouraged by the periodicals of Addison and Steele, was for writing devoted to the
public affairs and coffee-house gossip of the imperial capital, London

The ENLIGHTENMENT AGE


general term applied to the movement of intellectual liberation that developed in Western
Europe from the late 17th century to the late 18th (the period often called the 'Age of Reason').
intellectual movement which began in England in the seventeenth century (Locke and the
deists), and developed in France in the eighteenth century (Bayle, Voltaire, Diderot, and other
Encyclopaedists) and also (especially under the impetus of the rationalist philosophy of
Christian Wolff ) in Germany (Mendelssohn, Lessing). But virtually every European country,
and every sphere of life and thought, was affected by it. The age in which the movement
predominated is known as the Age of Enlightenment or the Age of Reason. The Enlightenment
culminated with the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Encyclopedists, the philosophy
of Immanuel Kant, and the political ideals of the American and French Revolutions, while its
forerunners in science and philosophy included Bacon, Descartes, Newton, and Locke.
contrasts with the darkness of irrationality and superstition that supposedly characterized the
Middle Ages, but it is not easy to define in a general way
IMMANUEL KANT - essay entitled WAS IST AUFKLARUNG? (What is the
Enlightenment?) For Kant: E = mankinds final coming of age, the emancipation of the
human consciousness from an immature state of ignorance and error. Kant believed that this
process of mental liberation was actively at work in his own time and would entail the
advancement of knowledge (understanding of nature + self-understanding no less) would
propel this great leap forward
Kant - enlightenment is the emergence of man from his self-imposed infancy. Infancy is the
inability to use ones reason without the guidance of another. It is self-imposed, when it
depends on a deficiency, not of reason, but of the resolve and courage to use it without external
guidance. Thus the watchword of enlightenment is: Sapere aude! Have the courage to use ones
own reason!
enlightenment (die Aufklarung) as man's emancipation from his self-incurred immaturity
Sapere aude (dare to know) Kants watchword taken from Horace

Enlightenment thinking encouraged rational scientific


inquiry (supreme faith in rationality, sought to discover
& to act upon universally valid principles governing
humanity, nature, & society), humanitarian tolerance,
and the idea of universal human rights
In religion, it usually involved the sceptical rejection of
superstition, dogma, and revelation in favour of
'Deism'a belief confined to those universal doctrines
supposed to be common to all religions, such as the
existence of a venerable Supreme Being as creator
The advocates of enlightenment tended to place their
faith in human progress and perfectibility --- brought
about by the gradual propagation of rational principles.
Enlightenment proponents variously attacked
dogmatism, intolerance, censorship, & economic & social
restraints

20th c critique of the Enlightenment:


Dialectics of Enlightenment: MAX HORKHEIMER & THEODOR
ADORNO: argued: no accident that reason often went hand in hand
with absolutism: reason & science (far from promoting liberty)
encourage an absolutist cast of mind assume absolute distinction
between True & False, Right & Wrong (rather than pluralist
diversity of values)
MICHEL FOUCAULT (Madness and Civilisation, The Birth of the
Clinic): Enlightenment principles & absolutist policy = fused (in
name of rational administration) to promote cruel social policies
e.g. various kinds of social misfits (beggars, the sick, petty criminals,
madmen) = taken off the streets social residue, confined locked up
in institutions ------- what purported to be enlightened action was
repressive
------!~ postmodernist thinkers (Leszek Kolakowski, Modernity on
Endless Trial) have accused the Enlightenment of promoting the
absolutism of imperialist reason, while masquerading as tolerant and
pluralist

ENGLAND
Already undergoing before 18th c those transformations in politics/religion/personal
freedom for which French & other radicals had to clamour, unsuccessfully, all the century
Glorious Revolution 1688 England had achieved the guarantee of parliamentary
representation & constitutional government, individual liberty (habeas corpus), substantial
religious toleration, freedom of expression & publishing
Locke (The Second Treatise of Civil Government) + his followers produced blueprints for the
enlightened society: a liberal regime based upon individual rights & natural law priority
of society over government rational Christianity sanctity of property (liberal economic
policy) faith in education bold empiricist attitude twds advancement of knowledge
(championed human capacity for progress through experience)
Grand problem facing English intellectuals 18th century: criticise an old regime =defend
their polity (form of government of a nation, state, church, or organization) & make it work
Could a large measure of individual liberty prove compatible with socio-political stability? Or
would limited constitutional government collapse into either anarchy or despotism?
English state = constitutional polity: the Crown operated in a complex permanent partnership
with the 2 Houses of Parliament limitation of central power encourage civil society
(merchants, craftsmen, artisans) self-sustaining economic & cultural growth
Tensions did not reach breaking point because the state had already conceded liberty of
expression + plenty of scope for the development of civil society & the economy independent
writers/propagandists/critics no real threat to the state English intellectuals & artists often
vocally anti-king & anti-ministry profoundly identified themselves with the cause of the nation
at large

Selected Sources:
Adorno, T. W. and M. Horkheimer,
Dialectic of the Enlightenment, tr. J.
Cumming (New York, 1972).
Cassirer, E., The Philosophy of the
Enlightenment (Princeton, NJ, 1951).
Gay, P. J., The Enlightenment: An
Interpretation, 2 vols. (London, 1973).