As you might infer from the title (you clever reader, you), lately I’ve been preoccupied with the concept of dueling themes. It seems like duality has been a feature of human thought forever. Light vs. dark, good vs. evil, etc. are common enough and certainly universal, but what about the more abstract oppositions? Thought vs. feeling, red vs. blue, law vs. chaos, and other less clear-cut themes are interesting to me because there is not obvious “right” answer. Good vs. evil is banal in the sense that no sane person truly believes that he or she is evil. A person who commits evil is usually certain of their own moral reasons for having done so, no matter how misguided. That, or they’re crazy.
Romanticism vs. Enlightenment is something that’s been on my mind ever since reading through that linked TV tropes page. I also read a post by David Brin that thoroughly denounces the fantasy genre, long a bastion of Romanticism, as “pining for Feudalism.” It all got me thinking and since I do my best thinking at a keyboard, here we are now.
Romanticism is one of those things that writers seem drawn to almost instinctively (unless you’re a science fiction writer). It just seems natural to want to be in the company of Poe, Shelley, Lord Byron, and countless others. All the talk about creativity just seems to fall right in line with the writer’s mindset. On the surface, I’d say I considered myself a Romanticist.
And I really, really like the aesthetic. I like the fantasy genre. I like swords and spells and dragons. I feel much more affinity for those tropes than any other. If such an opposition could be boiled down to two icons, it would be this: Star Wars (Romanticism) or Star Trek (Enlightenment)? I’m in the Star Wars camp.
Here’s the thing: I feel weird for choosing that side. When I think about my ideas and my world views, everything seems to push towards the Enlightenment side of the equation. A co-worker of mine, when posed this question today, said that she preferred the Enlightenment because she “views everything through the lens of feminism” and I found myself agreeing with her; it’s hard to embody feminism (or even the broader definition of humanism) without appealing to Enlightenment ideals.
So, which is it? Romanticism or Enlightenment? Perhaps it’s a foolish question, since a person is too complex to be boiled down to labels and broad definitions, but it seems that with enough consideration of the details, a general trend should emerge. It should be possible to identify one’s self as “leaning towards one” through an overall preference of one set of ideals, even if one does not enjoin all of them. And if these opposing themes are truly in opposition, it doesn’t seem feasible to say that one is “both.” At some point, a definition has to be made.
I do have a reason for why I ponder these things, unrelated as they might be to my larger existence. You know what they say about an examined life, yes? This is me examining my life and myself which should be an unsurprising endeavor for an introvert. I like to think that it’s possible to remove various mental contradictions and incongruousness from myself through the process of self-reflection. Perhaps this is to prevent hypocrisy of thought (a vegetarian who supports the death penalty? Wtf?) or perhaps it’s an attempt to live up to the skeptical ideal.
Maybe I’m over thinking it. All I know is that this is what’s going through my head at the moment.