by Andrea Elizabeth
Kubla Khan had Xanadu, Coleridge had German idealism. Did they both have the truth? The truth of another country? Apparently Hegel was a German idealist, which brings us to the dialectic method. Wikipedia says
“The purpose of the dialectic method of reasoning is resolution of disagreement through rational discussion, and, ultimately, the search for truth. One way to proceed—theSocratic method—is to show that a given hypothesis (with other admissions) leads to a contradiction; thus, forcing the withdrawal of the hypothesis as a candidate for truth (see reductio ad absurdum).
It is also possible that the rejection of the participants’ presuppositions is resisted, which then might generate a second-order controversy.
Fichtean Dialectics (Hegelian Dialectics) is based upon four concepts:
- Everything is transient and finite, existing in the medium of time.
- Everything is composed of contradictions (opposing forces).
- Gradual changes lead to crises, turning points when one force overcomes its opponent force (quantitative change leads to qualitative change).
- Change is helical (spiral), not circular (negation of the negation).
The concept of dialectic existed in the philosophy of Heraclitus of Ephesus, who proposed that everything is in constant change, as a result of inner strife and opposition. Hence, the history of the dialectical method is the history of philosophy.”
Back to Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” and Coleridge’s violently dialectical relationship to paradise (also from Wikipedia),
“Although the Tartars are barbarians from China, they are connected to ideas within the Judaeo Christian tradition, including the idea of Original Sin and Eden. The account of Cublai Can in Purchas’s work, discussed in Coleridge’s Preface, connects the idea of paradise with luxury and sensual pleasure. The place was described in negative terms and seen as an inferior representation of paradise, and Coleridge’s ethical system did not connect pleasure with joy or the divine.
“… The narrator introduces a character he once dreamed about, an Abyssinian maid who sings of another land. She is a figure of imaginary power within the poem who can inspire within the narrator his own ability to craft poetry. When she sings, she is able to inspire and mesmerise the poet by describing a false paradise. The woman herself is similar to the way Coleridge describes Lewti in another poem he wrote around the same time Lewti. The connection between Lewti and the Abyssinian maid makes it possible that the maid was intended as a disguised version of Mary Evans, who appears as a love interest since Coleridge’s 1794 poem The Sigh. Evans, in the poems, appears as an object of sexual desire and a source of inspiration. She is also similar to the later subject of many of Coleridge’s poems, Asra, based on Sara Hutchinson, whom Coleridge wanted but was not his wife and experienced opium induced dreams of being with her.
The figure is related to Heliodurus‘s work, Aethiopian History with its description of “a young Lady, sitting upon a Rock, of so rare and perfect a Beauty, as one would have taken her for a Goddess, and though her present misery opprest her with extreamest grief, yet in the greatness of her afflection, they might easily perceive the greatness of her Courage: A Laurel crown’d her Head, an a Quiver in a Scarf hanged at her back”. Her description in the poem is also related to Isis of Apuleius’s Metamorphoses, but Isis was a figure of redemption and the Abyssinian maid cries out for her demon-lover. She is similar to John Keats’s Indian woman in Endymion who is revealed to be the moon goddess, but in Kubla Khan she is also related to the sun and the sun as an image of divine truth.
In addition to real life counterparts of the Abyssinian maid, Milton’s Paradise Lost describes Abyssinian kings keeping their children guarded at Mount Amara and a false paradise, which is echoed in Kubla Khan.”
It seems to me that Coleridge and Milton hate loving earthly, temporal, muse-inspired paradise. They can’t seem to get over it. I am wondering if there is a way that they are “fearing fear where there is no fear”. C.S. Lewis seemed to make peace with the Abyssinian maids in his Space Trilogy and The Great Divorce. Let them sing, I say.