“Nature Reading without Nature Writing: The Poetics of Friedrich Schelling’s Naturphilosophie”
Friedrich Schelling and Friedrich Schlegel appear to occupy opposing poles on a spectrum of Romantic worldviews. Schlegel rejected a philosophy based on first principles and relied on the empirical sciences rather as inspiration than taking them to provide objective truth: He saw human experience as context-dependent, situated in the particularities of history and language. He is remembered primarily as a literary critic and aesthetic theorist. Schelling, by contrast, understood himself to be a systematic philosopher in the Kantian tradition—a philosopher who leaned heavily on the findings of the empirical sciences of his time. Yet this familiar dichotomous account of German Romanticism—which places Schlegel, particularity, and poetry on one side, and Schelling, systematic philosophy, and science on the other—overlooks the common intellectual commitments of these strange philosophical bedfellows. Schelling and Schlegel shared the view that the natural world can only be understood relationally: nature is critically received through our sensory faculties and also actively constructed through our intellects. This shared notion of nature as a relational concept engenders and necessitates a particular poetic sensibility in Schelling’s Naturphilosophie. Instead of erecting an opposition between human beings and an external natural world, Schelling, in soaring lyric moments, forges a place for human experience within nature. Schelling's poetic readings of nature resist crude anthropomorphism as much as they resist reductive naturalism and guide us towards poesis, a creative poetic engagement with the natural world that allows us to apprehend nature as simultaneously external and internal, intelligible and unfathomable.