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Ars biographica poetica: Coleridgean Imagination and the Practical Value of Contemplation

CHEYNE, PETER,ROBERT (2014) Ars biographica poetica: Coleridgean Imagination and the Practical Value of Contemplation. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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This thesis begins by examining how Coleridge Romanticizes Platonism. I argue that Coleridge creatively recasts Plato’s Divided Line analogy, and thereby finds a higher role for a radically re-thought imagination. Through this recast imagination, Coleridge develops a Romantic Platonism by elevating imagination and modifying Plato’s linear scheme into a polarity that harmonizes sense and reason.
I argue that Coleridge’s philosophy develops in response to the Empiricist philosophy that dominated the British practice, and transcendental idealism that flourished in Germany. I argue that Coleridge’s philosophy is neither Empiricist, nor a mere translation of German idealism, as critics have sometimes suggested, but that it is quintessentially Platonic. Unlike Plato, however, Coleridge elevates the status of imagination, separating it from fantasy (or fancy, as he calls it), which retains the subordinate position it has for Plato. Attacking Empiricist philosophy, Coleridge argues that reason and its Ideas (and not the understanding) constitute and indeed exceed the apex of human thought, a distinction corresponding to Plato’s between noesis and dianoia.
I present a view, developing from Coleridge and answering Plato, of how the practical and the contemplative lives can bring each other nearer to fulfilment, such that, to use Plato’s terms, contemplation can be perfected in the return to the cave, rather than be prevented there, as is often feared. I examine how Coleridgean imagination and reason operate as the higher, ‘spiritual mind’, balancing the lower ‘mind of the body’. While the lower mind desires and consumes, with fancy restlessly moving through ever-shifting mental images, the higher mind yearns, and contemplates, finding stillness in beholding value.
I propose what I call the contemplative ars biographica poetica, suggesting not only that we should live our lives as the poetic art of life-writing, but also that we already do so. Usually we shape our lives unawares of any poetic task, yet we manage nevertheless to retrieve moments of strikingly beautiful meaning despite decades-long disasters prolonged by deliberate blindness and a pathological obstinacy that values mere repetition above reason. This art at its best, however, relates to philosophy as the former seeks in the latter a satiating vision, a wisdom to answer profoundest yearning.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Coleridge, contemplation, meditation, Plato, Platonic Ideas, Kant, Plotinus
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Philosophy, Department of
Thesis Date:2014
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:02 Sep 2014 14:12

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