Re-enchanting the World: Dwelling Poetically & Novalis

We examine the possibility of dwelling poetically in a ‘flattened’ technological world. How do we go about re-enchanting the world?

Our discussion of this Heideggerian theme of dwelling continues from Dwelling and Poetry: Rilke, Hölderlin, Heidegger (Episode 024).

We look at several important poetic thinkers. We begin with a partial recitation of Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Lord Chandos Letter. A discussion of Novalis’ call to make the world romantic follows. We then end with questions and musings about the possibilities for poetic dwelling by virtue of re-enchantment.

I. We are in need of re-enchanting the world.

Is there not a sense in the Lord Chandos letter of this loss of enchantment with respect to the world? Of our ‘reality’ missing its sense of dynamic wholeness? Of there being a dull, undifferentiated outer world from which the inner self is cut off and unable to connect?

One should not confuse the idea of re-enchanting the world as a form of make-believe or as escapism. It is rather the recognition of the possibility of poetically reawakening our senses to the world around us. This is ultimately what we have been trying to get at with notions of letting-be, dwelling, etc.

So when we speak of re-enchanting the world, it is not that we flee the prosaic world and its problems. Rather, we see that the mechanistic form of thinking and its prosaic worldview is itself the result of a flight into abstraction and theory. Heidegger’s description of the forgetting of Being comes to mind, as does this sense of flattening that we described previously.

II. Novalis: The world must be made romantic.

Novalis and his romanticism came about at the same time and place as Fichte and his subjective idealism. While it would be a grave error to conflate the two, the influence upon Novalis by Fichte was considerable. However, there is a very important shift in perspective here that one must take into consideration. Fichte is operating in the branch of philosophical metaphysics, and Novalis more in aesthetics.

Novalis’ Romanticism, which is also sometimes referred to in comparison with Kantian transcendental idealism and Fichtean subjective idealism as being a sort of ‘magical’ idealism, seeks an aesthetic form through which that which is unrepresentable (which you and I might call the territory) can be brought to some form of expression. In this sense, then, his call to romanticize the world carries with it a prescriptive relationship to the imagination that is quite far afoot from the aims of Fichte.

III. Dwelling Poetically in connection with these ideas

Finally, I don’t mean here to argue programmatically for Novalis and Romanticism. In fact, I don’t consider myself a Romantic. Yet I do think that there are some useful ideas in Novalis’ work for an understanding of poetry that involves re-enchanting the world. For we must approach the infinite by finite means, and with making that which is familiar unfamiliar, as Novalis would say.  Here I might say ‘flattened,’ as a means of emphasizing how our world has become familiar to us.  In our openness to Being, we may find a way of revealing the world to us in a way other than that which is flattened.


Quantum Poetics: Why physics can’t get rid of metaphor. By Samuel Matlack in The New Atlantis, Summer/Fall 2017.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: The Letter of Lord Chandos

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