Mathematics, Computation, Language and Poetry: The Novalis Paradox

In Dalia Nassar (ed.), The Relevance of Romanticism: Essays on German Romantic Philosophy. pp. 221-238 (2014)

Paul Redding
University of Sydney
Recent scholarship has helped to demythologise the life and work of Georg Philipp Friedrich von Hardenberg who, as the poet “Novalis”, had come to instantiate the nineteenth-century’s stereotype of the romantic poet. Among Hardenberg’s interests that seem to sit uneasily with this literary persona were his interests in science and mathematics, and especially in the idea, traceable back to Leibniz, of a mathematically based computational approach to language. Hardenberg’s approach to language, and his attempts to bring mathematics to bear on poetry, is examined in relation to debates that developed late in the eighteenth century over the relation of language to thought—debates which share many features with contemporary ones in this area.
Keywords Novalis  Mathematics  Romantic science  computationalism  language
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