When hearing the word romanticism, our imagination would probably collide with loving images, sickly sweet phrases and clichés; as if “love” was just a pile of wet kisses, teddy bears, gifts and greasy chocolates, meaning absolute devotion and death’s defeat. Such is the way this concept has currently acquired, and, for sure, the way in which it is tattooed in our psyche. Now, there is a lot more to disentangle, not just about the term but the context in which a philosophy of life, pleasure and existence was elaborated and widely spread, beyond the simple matter of love. Along with that, the exact discovery of Neptune in 1846 meant an end for the romantic phase of art and literature of the time, imbuing the atmosphere with a different new approach towards reality.
The period called Romanticism, embedded in European land in its dawn, was not just specifically a literary and artistic style. It was also a philosophy of human and objectual existence, while knowledge was no longer based on only logical and rational issues (proposed by a formerly installed empiricism), but on other bridges or links that connect the “outside” with the “inside”. For Romanticism, once isolated aspects like dreams, fantasy, emotion, imagination, among others, are the new methodology to understand and grab the reality. We are, then, in front of a new conception of existence, a paradigm that fixes what cannot be measured on its foundation as an essential pattern. And, I highlight, what is not measurable: a synonym for infinite, abstract, amorphous, unconscious. Is it possible to calibrate freedom?
Every literary-artistic movement has the germ of rupture and vanguard on its foundation. Romanticism reacts against its immediate past –neoclassicism, a period that was highlighted by an art of learned individuals, an exhausted, fair and symmetric literature; an art that, in addition, spilled morality, norm, accuracy and good life. On the other hand, Romanticism was not looking for the source of supreme inspiration in reason anymore, and not because its mechanisms are worthless, but because there are other aspects of reality which deserve to be acknowledged. It is in this moment when human beings recognize themselves as active subjects, and not just passive subjects, of history; they are protagonists of progress, facts and their development depend on them. And this is not an isolated phenomenon; on the contrary, it also includes the deprivation of any powerful institution that prevails over the aesthetic and artistic experience of creation. This means art no longer had an external model to bow to; now it was completely placed on the artist’s subjectivity and their own processes as individuals.
The above begins a second modernity. The first one, linked to the 16th century and Renaissance, allowed knowledge to expand, leaving the medieval cloisters and invoking reason as the supreme good, to the detriment of faith. Thought is secularized and knowledge is spread. Whereas this second modernity, linked to the 19th century and Romanticism, exalts the conception of the subject’s will and that everything that is obtained must be a result of social or individual effort, thus allowing the strengthening of the subject as a worlds’ creator and maker. It is the human being, then, who seeks to conceive various realities, praise the freedom flag, which was already promulgated by the French Revolution, in order to crystallize subjectivities in all different tasks of earthly existence.
Such is Romanticism’s atmosphere, which coincides with the confirmation of Neptune as the seventh planet of the solar system. The winks between the interpretation of the planetary positions and the romantic context are evident. On the one hand, Romanticism is recognized as a watery period, something weepy and completely subjective. Whereas, on the other hand, Neptune is understood as an artist, victim and martyr planet, one of unconditional love and impossible to enclose, constantly escaping, and avoiding concrete reality Neptune’s position in our astral charts would vivify that place where our existence becomes edgeless and limitless, where it turns infinite: from the fog of the money in a second house –as if money would slip through our fingers– to the therapeutic powers and energy transfer on a level of social and political recognition, as is the cusp of the Midheaven. However, after this explanation, is it not obvious that Neptune deserves such characteristics because it emerged at that epoch… just like the immediate relationship between Uranus and the ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity the French Revolution fought for, or the miseries of the encounter with Pluto when everyone practically lived the horrible sufferings of war? In short, Neptune stands as the planet that is capable of dethroning any rule in art, pouring it into its most primitive being: artistic creation. Here I state that Neptune is art, as Romanticism is the poetic-artistic period par excellence in the history of humanity.
The Neptunian matrix arises in the same conception of the romantic subject, as they recognize their split, their birth wound that they must try to heal. Such wound is no other than reality itself, the Virginian reality that, it might be said, exerts pressure and brutally falls on the subject because of the simple fact of living. Then, what is it that the romantic subject does to try to escape from this routine and crushing power? This subject finds the answer in artistic creation, an opposite look –if you will– to the analytical-Virginian dose, rescuing the nature of its opposite: the Piscean infinite.
The process of poetic creation, called romanticization, implies the gaze of the subject towards the object, that is, an artistic production that comes from the subjective to what is external or real. The romantic subject is the one in charge of transforming reality, making it poetic. They are not interested in reality flowing through how it is seen, but how they see it themselves, making it subjective. It is in this contact where the subject returns the object in a different shape: transfigured, romanticized. Therefore, the value of reality begins to change according to the artist’s point of view. Clearly, in this regard, the world as such is not sufficient anymore. It is necessary to transform it, metamorphose it from the deepest in order to exalt it and put it in the seat of honor of romantic art. Is there something more Neptunian than the weariness of the surrounding reality? Art will be now the only way to avoid the cruelty and virulence of the world. The German theorist and writer Novalis, a faithful forerunner of this movement, affirms that the romantic subject seeks the absolute everywhere, and always finds only things, a phrase that sweats pure Neptune.
Then, the appropriate way to find and live in the absolute is the romanticization, a process –I insist– of artistic and poetic elaboration in which the subject is the agent of nature’s transformation, making reality a work of art that lets the subject evade the laws of the logic and empiricism to merge with the whole. So, the subject acts as a demiurge or little god, a maker of this new world that, for the romantic subject, is much more appealing than the ordinary and finite. There is a desire of durability that will only grow in the artistic creation: it is in this place where this little god can evade the finitude to rest in eternity. Now, will they be able to do it effectively?
Before trying to answer such question, it is necessary to clarify that this was an elitist-bourgeois movement that did not pursue at any time the social reform of poetry, but the search of spiritual transcendence to try and heal the wound of reality, impregnated since birth. To do this, the romantic subject sought inspiration for their art in distant and exotic nature: hence the taste for the exotic and gothic aspect of this “elite of the soul”. In The Abbey in the Oakwood by Friedrich (the most important painter of Romanticism), it is possible to observe an abandoned landscape in ruins: a landscape that is historically aware of what once meant something, and continues to mean today, but based on the remnant of what it was. The cemetery, as a recurrent image in the plastic arts and romantic literature, allows entering that other world that is maybe closer to the idea of Neptunian immeasurability. The theme of death as synchrony between the spiritual and physical atmosphere: it is only possible in that tension for the romantic subject to find rest, running away from the worldly noises of reality. Is there anything noisier than reality?
In William Wordsworth’s poem, The World Is Too Much With Us, the desire for boredom and nature, and the fatigue that life itself causes is confirmed. In fact, the persona poetica recognizes their orphanhood, wishing to see Proteus, one of the gods of the sea mentioned in the Odyssey, rising from the water. The desire for a “less world” world is present in the poem, shaping the lack of appetite for reality and nature, stubbornly seeking in another sphere, one that is even more mystic than existence itself.
Most literary works from the period were autobiographic because life could not be dissociated from the artistic production. This was also the reason why poetry was the favorite genre (as it is thought in the classic term of the concept). Poetry is the genre of the “I” par excellence. It is the scriptural mechanism that is closest to the sanitation of the barbaric reality, since it allowed the subjects to establish direct contact with their own self. All of this was not based on simple conjectures of a group of bored wealthy artists who decided to stop being a fragment one day; it was based on sharp philosophical theories, which laid a foundation for the raising of the romantic flag.
Inside this spectrum, I highlight the notable intervention of Immanuel Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason (1781), establishing that objects and subjects are a different something. The subject is divided into a “pure self” (essence) and an “empirical self” (determined by time, space and circumstances). Objects are not real unless the subject perceives them, only then the external world would be real and valid. This is vital to the romantic subject, as nothing would exist without the subjective intervention of the human being. The stance of the German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte is even more extreme. In his text, Some Lectures concerning the Scholar’s Vocation (1794), he states that the only thing that exists is the “self”, the “absolute self” –everything that is not the “self” is “no-self”. The “absolute self” is in charge of creating objects, therefore, everything would be a construction of the human being; the only reality is the one the spirit creates. This performative attitude in the contact with reality also generates the expression of thought’s and feeling’s immensity in reality, intoxicating and contaminating it with various subjectivities.
The painting Ophelia, by John Everett Millais, is the eternal giving towards nature. Bringing a character from the famous work written by William Shakespeare, it portrays how the madness for melting with the environment goes beyond physical death. The happiness of dying and the decay of logic, in pursuit of a fertile madness, allow us to consider the protagonist of the painting a fragment that is joining totality; a totality that is nature, that is death. The open arms and the face in an absolute fullness are the way in which boundaries break and Ophelia becomes “one with all”. The seduction of experiencing death makes room for other aspects regarding the Neptunian configuration of the period: the idea of suicide.
The romantic features of exile and the disconformity with the ruling reality allow the suicide to be a way to finally access the firmament’s totality. In a stage where diseases like tuberculosis are common, there was nothing more erotic than the process of death. The pale image of a romantic bourgeois bleeding from their mouth and, of course, dressed in a long black coat, caricatures the romantic artist a bit, as they felt attracted by death. Romantic sadness and melancholy are absolutely valid as reasons for learning.
The romantic subject is absolutely aware of being an orphan –they know themselves to be alone and helpless. They are like a wandering fragment, wrapped in reality that desires to access the supplement only what the primal –and aquatic– experience could solve. The romantic subject recognizes there is a totality and that this is the place – or the no place – where they want to live eternally: a place without borders or body. There is a will in all-romantic artists to find that spiritual transcendence – the absolute that is sought and yearned for is that transcendence; but in the search, there are only mundane things. To solve this profound pain, romanticization appears as a method. Now, is the romantic subject capable of joining and becoming one with the absolute? Open spaces prevail in the romantic configuration of the landscape: art leaves the monastery –it is no longer subject to any external institution–, which is why paintings reflect that unfinished space, in contrast with the finitude and smallness of the human being. In Friedrich’s painting, Moonrise by the Sea, the landscape prevails: a vast sky that invades the outline of more than half of the painting, whereas human beings, without faces but with clear contours, are in the center, perhaps with the will to join that unfinished sky, without a frame.
Solving the question of reaching the absolute is even paradoxical. The German linguist and literary critic Friedrich Schlegel, resuming Kantian ideas that objects do not have a reality without the intervention of the “self”, affirms that there is a separation between the subject and the object. To unite such distance, there is art; the only moment in which the individual is saved from the original wound. If art is the only instance of mediation between reality and eternity, will romanticization reach that subjects access the absolute, or will they keep stumbling on things?
Novalis, a poet, a philosopher and one of the main exponents of Romanticism in Germany, sums up the ideas of the great critics of the period by stating that the object only acquires reality in the subject. He expresses the need of infinite desire in Hymns to the Night: the desire of breaking with the birth, which is finally the fragmentary cause of our existence, and joining a whole that goes beyond what is seen and experienced with senses. And it is not only the detachment from earthly birth, it is also going back to what is primal, to the disengagement with sin and the return to the soul’s goodness.
I think the Neptunian instance reappears here, connected to the origin and the goodness of beginnings – the soul emerges transfigured as a way of return after contact with reality. Purity, empathy and unity can only be reintegrated before the birth, before the body and the finitude. Neptune sounds like a pantheistic philosophy – universe, nature and deity are equal, and they all gather in the origin of life, that life overflowing with water.
Neptune, as I have already warned in depth in this sort of essay, highlights the subjective stance of the human experience. The context of its discovery converges in the intimate need of melting with a whole, a whole that is sometimes unattainable, other times closer thanks to the romanticized poetic creation. The need of returning to the primal unity –and be one with all– is part of its basic and elemental principles.
One of the main paintings of the period and the most recognized by the critics is the Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by Friedrich. Such painting represents the epitome of the romantic culture, and therefore Neptunian, of direct contact with the absolute. The typical image of the bourgeois –in the center, of course– on the top of a mountain, after, supposedly, a long and lonely introspective journey, observing the sea, the rocks and the mountains: the infinite sky that represents the whole the Romantic Subject wants to access. The question is if he will do it and how. Clearly, suicide is an alternative. Death would romanticize human existence because it is exquisite and it will allow the union with the absolute. Death is poetry as well. The Wanderer’s journey is not only physical, but also internal. It implies the culmination of the need to want to be part of a whole, always alone, always sad, and always bourgeois.
To finish, I repeat the question at issue: have they made it? Have they accessed the absolute through romanticization? Answers to these questions would not exist, unless we have a bourgeois in front of us to bombard him with questions. But, for sure, seeing him as a human here would indicate that maybe not, that finally he did not reach that whole. While romanticization transforms the world through the artistic process, giving a superior dignity to what is ordinary, an infinite appearance to what is finite, and the reality is more overwhelming and upsetting. Moreover, Neptune has no barriers, so, stating a conclusion in this essay, linked with the Romanticism, would be too Saturnian, or even Virginian. Let us set it free, infinite and filled with questions, the same ones that Neptune’s position generates in our astral chart.
Ricardo Andrade was born in 1987 in Santiago, Chile. He has a Master of Arts in Literature at Universidad de Chile.
He is a Language and Literature Teacher. Certified Astrologer of Centro Astrológico de Chile and an International
Professional Astrologer ISAR-CAP.
Currently, he is dedicated to teaching, writing poetry and interpreting astral charts, as well as giving astrology classes.
His field of study links astrology with pictorial and poetic art, understanding that the astral study is an interdisciplinary discourse. He is regular reader and a scholar of Romanticism in art history.