Coyne (Technoromanticism) – Racionalismo e romanticismo

The rationalists had said that we should eschew feeling, emotion, and other distortions to knowledge in favor of pure reason. In contrast, the romantics rehabilitated and promoted feeling and emotion. Whereas the rationalists and empiricists debated the nature of reality and how we can know it, the romantics elevated the intangible world of the imagination. Rationalism and romanticism converged on the theme of liberation from tradition and authority and elevated the concept of the individual, who for the romantics was the source of creativity. Subjectivity was the key to art. For Schlegel, creative writing “must indeed be entirely personal, subjective in design and intention, conveying indirectly, and almost symbolically, the deepest individual feelings and peculiarities of the author.”1 Whereas rationalism sought the division of the world into parts, the second step of Descartes’ method,2 the romantics brought the “union of senses and imagination”3 to bear, through the ”special qualities of the soul,”4 on that about which the emerging world of science was becoming increasingly mute: the issues of love, beauty, and the unity of all things. Romanticism constructed its narratives around the theme of unity and multiplicity, the whole and the parts, the one and the many, in ways that implicated the emerging Enlightenment notions of the self, individuality, and subjectivity, the latest demonstrations of which are found in the narratives of information technology.

The romanticism of digital narratives represents one of two antagonistic strands of the Enlightenment: rationalism and romanticism. We can readily identify digital narratives with both. Virtual communities, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and artificial life demonstrate the influence, and even the triumph, of reductive rationalism, of the kind that the romantics sought to redress. Much of the discourse on virtual communities seems to suggest that access to community resides in communication, which in turn relies on the passage of information from one person to another. According to this view, as paradigmatic conduits of bits and bytes, networked computers grant privileged access to the formation of communities but by the isolation and transmission of individual communicable units.5 Much virtual reality discourse assumes that we can construct correspondences between the world we inhabit and geometrical worlds defined using spatial coordinates, and that we can immerse ourselves in such spaces so that we are there in ways that mean as much as, and possibly more than, being in a physical place.

Artificial intelligence can be construed as a recognition that at a fundamental level all understanding is grounded in number, symbol, and rule. Similarly, artificial life seems to presume the basis of all life in information and simple rules, a further reduction. Although antagonistic, the rationalist and romantic legacies are not so far from each other. They both start with Descartes’ notion of the autonomous subject. Their continual antagonism seems to impel much of the intrigue with information technology, and further support its participation in the myth of unity and multiplicity. Many people eschew rationalism, but in doing so simply move to a romantic orientation, reworking old ground.

  1. F. von Schlegel, “On the limits of the beautiful,” 221. 

  2. “The second, to divide each of the difficulties that I was examining into as many parts as might be possible and necessary in order best to solve it” (R. Descartes, Discourse on Method and the Meditations, 41). 

  3. Von Schlegel, “On the limits of the beautiful,” xviii. 

  4. Ibid., xvii. 

  5. In some cases, this means implicating rationalist notions of the individual, objectivity, the abolition of prejudice, and perception as the communication of sense data.