Spiral stairways : towards defining a romantic map of identity

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


The purpose of this paper is to define, interpret, and account for elements of a “Romantic map of identity” as set forth by Plotinus and adapted by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and others in the Neoplatonic Romantic tradition. The methodology explores interrelationships between the map’s components by defining the terms: (1) “Romantic,” (2) “map,” and (3) “identity,” drawing on the Christian Neoplatonic tradition of the early British Romantics, the Romantic transcendentalists of New England, and the related terms and concepts developed by C. G. Jung. Romantic characteristics are organized into four cardinal points: (1) a focus on concepts and representation of the whole self, (2) a transcendent vision of the emanation and fall of the soul from its source, (3) a sense of the mission to facilitate the soul’s return through unity, and (4) an emphasis on the creative, self-expressive individual in his or her personal environment and historical context. To explore the meaning of “identity,” Plotinus’s and Coleridge’s versions of the stages of identity development are outlined and compared in detail. This method demonstrates how synthesizing the four essentials with the Romantic mapping process generates a worldview, articulated by Coleridge, that echoes the Plotinian schema of the origin and creation of consciousness. This includes the theory that self-consciousness develops in stages through the circular process of the descent from the Source (through emanation) and the return (through soul evolution) within a larger macrocosmic context. These stages of development are schematized as a hierarchy, or the Great Chain of Being, and a holarchy, or inherent analogies between inner and outer experience. This approach generates an identity-mapping model that combines hierarchical and holarchical patterns, accounting for various mapping processes in the Neoplatonic Romantic tradition. This model is egg-like with layers, the ovoid “sliced” into “horizontal” sections, which synthesizes the “flat” hierarchical ladder design with the concentric spheres of a holarchy. This paper concludes that mapping the Romantic scheme of identity is important and relevant today; for an individual can rise no higher than his or her self-conception, and a culture can evolve no further than its most enlightened and self-realized individuals.




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