Psychology in Search of Psyches: Friedrich Schelling, Gotthilf Schubert and the Obscurities of the Romantic Soul

Romantic Psyche and Psychoanalysis

Psychology in Search of Psyches: Friedrich Schelling, Gotthilf Schubert and the Obscurities of the Romantic Soul

Matt ffytche, University of Essex

In the Romantic period in Germany psychology emerges both as an empirical science for the study of the mind, and a forum for a new metaphysics of the individual. ffytche examines this dual condition through the intellectual dialogue between Friedrich Schelling and G.H. Schubert and their search for an appropriate description of the psyche. This essay appears in _Romantic Psyche and Psychoanalysis_, a volume of _Romantic Circles Praxis Series_, prepared exclusively for Romantic Circles (, University of Maryland.

  1. Happy are those ages when the starry sky is the map of all possible paths—ages whose paths are illuminated by the light of the stars. Everything in such ages is new and yet familiar, full of adventure and yet their own. The world is wide and yet it is like home, for the fire that burns in the soul is of the same essential nature as the stars . . .
    Georg Lukács, The Theory of the Novel[1]
  2. Anyone reading histories of nineteenth-century psychology and psychiatry will come across a paradox in relation to German Romantic material. On the one hand, it is often represented as an intellectual aberration—both superstitious and metaphysical. Furthermore, its conceptual vocabulary stems mainly from German idealist philosophy and this causes problems when translating into materialist and associationist traditions, even regarding some of the most elementary features, such as the I, or the subject. Correspondingly, histories of psychiatry have often dealt with this material quite cursorily, in a way that is designed to make it appear even more mystifyingly Gothic. Klaus Doerner's classic study of nineteenth-century psychiatry skates over a whole generation of Romantic-influenced theorists as if they themselves represented a panorama of mental aberration; he mentions with relish figures such as Heinrich Steffens, for whom insanity could only be treated "within the framework of a planetary cosmology" (235). But on the other hand, there is no shortage of histories willing to acknowledge that some of the innovations of German Romantic psychology were crucial for the evolution of modern approaches. These include, for instance, the elaboration of an unconscious and repression, the concern with development and integration, and also the inclusion of the 'I,' or the sense of identity, as something that can itself be subject to illness. According to Alexander and Selesnick, "In their new and enthusiastic concern over the nature of the psyche, the Romantics brought psychiatry to the threshold of modern concepts and techniques" (135).

  3. I want to propose that the manifest obscurities within German Romantic psychical theory, its resistance to straightforward conceptualisation and its signal difficulties in formulating a coherent theory of the individual soul, are both a significant issue for the history of modern psychology and more than an accidental by-product of Romantic confusion. Most importantly, I want to distinguish between different kinds of obstacles and obscurities in the path of psychological theorisation. There are of course tendencies in such material that we might ascribe to the revival of interest in German religious mysticism and neo-Platonism. We can also note points at which philosophical notions of cause and system, of a particularly speculative kind, are being mapped over the findings of contemporary psychiatrists, who are in turn prepared to endorse the existence of supernatural forces in the soul. However, what I plan to concentrate on is a different kind of disturbance, which is the importation of ontology into psychology. One of the distinctions I most want to develop here is that between a psychology—one which sets out to observe mental life and motivation, whether for therapeutic or sociological purposes—and an ontology of the person, which aims at establishing the substance, integrity or autonomy of individual life, often by recourse to an abstract theory of the 'real' essence or ground of existence. The ambiguity, of course, is that both are adduced within the medium of the soul, or psyche.

  4. Such ontologies of the psyche often attempt to re-formulate a sense of harmonious and objective connection between the experience of the individual and the nature of the universe. These theories of the soul become culturally important precisely at the point when the nascent German middle class—partly in reaction to the French revolution, partly via its own attempts at autonomy—is attempting to counter the hold of traditional religious, political and moral orthodoxies concerning the nature of human agency, and to this end is developing new conceptions of the relation between freedom and law, individuality and community, history and nature. At the same time, such attempts at a new moral discourse of man are exposed to the experience of political instability, growing alienation from an organic sense of community, and powerlessness in the face of persisting feudal and religious structures. A key question, then, is whether Schelling and Schubert's theorisation of the psyche is in some sense compensatory—an attempt to formulate a new theory of man, or of individual essence or the 'ground' of the self, within the emerging framework of speculative psychology, as opposed to on more empirical or political terrain. Psychology opens up a new dimension for the philosopher within which to pursue accounts of human integration, motivation and freedom which are sited not in and according to the rules of consciousness, but which take place obscurely in the inner and unconscious depths of the soul and the self. To draw an analogy with the introductory quote from Lukács, the unconscious depths of nature and unconscious depths within the psyche are credited with forms of co-ordination—'inner' connections, obscure but historically unfolding concords—in the same way in which the laws of individual and cosmos, the light of souls and the light of stars, were once wishfully integrated.

    Languages of the Psyche

  5. I want first to pursue this question of the relation between ontology and psychology, as well as the function of obscurity in Romantic theories of the soul, by examining the dialogue between the philosopher Friedrich Schelling and one of his ex-pupils at Jena, the anthropologist and psychologist Gotthilf Heinrich von Schubert. Their output and exchanges in the period 1805-1815 are incredibly informative about German Romantic psychological preoccupations. Schelling's intellectual range was broad and eclectic; having been one of the leading philosophical lights of the early Romantic movement in Jena, his ideas were now becoming a focal point for certain trends in Romantic medicine. In 1806 Schelling teamed up with the psychiatrist Adalbart Marcus to edit the Annuals of Medicine as Science which placed itself at the intersection between medicine, psychology and philosophy. In his opening editorial Schelling hailed medicine as the "crown and flower of natural science, as man is of the world" (1.1.v). The journal was annotated by Coleridge in England. Schubert was trained as a medical physician and practised as such until about 1805 when he was drawn more to the fields of anthropology and psychology (while studying at Jena from 1801-1803 he had attended Schelling's lectures on Naturphilosophie). In 1807 he gave an influential course of lectures in Dresden, published as Views of the Nightside of Nature, which included material on animal magnetism and dreams drawn from contemporary psychiatric literature and became something of a Romantic bestseller (it provoked E.T.A. Hoffmann, amongst others, towards an interest in psychopathology). The Symbolism of Dreams (1814) and The History of the Soul (1830) were also major products of Romantic anthropology and were singled out by Henri Ellenberger for their striking anticipations of modern psychodynamic and psychoanalytic ideas (205).

  6. The development of Schelling's thought prior to this point is complex and cannot be rehearsed here.[2] But, as a way of supplying some minimal context for the new direction both thinkers were taking, both he and Schubert were developing their interest in psychiatry, and both were also moving from a philosophy of nature to an interest in time. Schubert wrote to Schelling in 1808 saying that he was engaged in a new work that would investigate the ages of the world—the Zeitalter—in terms of epochs of organic life, which he hoped to bring into line with the sagas of ancient peoples.[3] Schelling's own attempt at a foundational theory of time, The Ages of the World, or Weltalter, was first drafted around 1811 and subsequently rewritten and redrafted over a period of five years, before it was finally abandoned in incomplete form. Its first book, the only one fully developed, was devoted to the past and opened with a magnificent paean to the obscurity of the world's genesis: "The oldest formations of the earth bear such a foreign aspect that we are hardly in a position to form a concept of their time of origin or of the forces that were then at work" (Ages 121). Both Schelling and Schubert, then, were concerning themselves with the hidden genealogies of the mind and nature, and this was in conscious reaction to the way in which German idealist philosophers—including J.G. Fichte and the younger Schelling himself—had devoted themselves to theories of consciousness and the I.

  7. It is the wide-ranging and speculative character of Schelling and Schubert's thought in this period which makes it so revealing of intellectual tendencies. No discourse or reference point is excluded here: one finds interactions between morality and magnetism, psychopathology and philology, self-observation and metaphysics. What remains striking is the heterodox nature of their approach and the elusive quality of their topic. As they corresponded about the nature of the soul, or as Schelling filled page after page of his notebooks for the Ages of the World, the psyche split prismatically between a number of competing vocabularies of substance or process. One kind of language they use to identify a soul-like quality to the self concerns a gleam or effluence—using the terms Glanz (shining), Funke (spark) or even Brennendes (something flammable). Thus Schelling supposes that "Even in the most corporeal of things there lies a point of transfiguration that is often almost sensibly perceptible." This is an "inner spiritual matter which lies concealed in all the things of the world" or "is recognizable in the way that flesh and the eyes shine forth" (Ages 151-52). Soul is presented here as an occult quality trapped beneath the objective surface of things, like "the flash of light" which nature conceals in the hard stone (On the Relation 12). Such descriptions draw partly on the vocabulary of the German mystical tradition (Funke is the term that Meister Eckhart used to indicate the spark of divinity in the soul) and partly on readings in Stoic cosmology, for which the law of the universe was sometimes conceived as a fire running through all things. However, such antique conceptions were updated with reference to contemporary natural science. Schubert writes frequently about a combustible element in nature which appears "at the highest points of existence and interaction"—thus not only in the phenomena of electricity, but also in plants and animals at the time of blooming and mating, and equally in "the phosphor and the shining" released in the decomposition of organic bodies (358-59). Importantly, this "shining" is in each case the sign that an entity has stepped into an "inner relation" with a higher whole. Likewise Schelling, in a description of combustion, alludes to the ancient worship of fire and suggests "in this they left us a hint that fire is nothing other than the pure substance breaking through in corporeality, or a third dimension" (Ideas 65).

  8. This is one way in which they try to objectify the psyche: as a kind of radiant, pseudo-materiality, imprisoned within objects and organisms, expressive of inner freedom or potency. Another wholly different vocabulary stems from the Platonic and neo-platonic doctrine of archetypes. In the Ages of the World Schelling maintains that at some originary point in the evolution of life the potential of all future things to be themselves—their essence—has flashed up in the form of a dream-like vision in which eternity has glimpsed itself. This is described as the Eternal seeing "everything that will one day be in nature," which corresponds to "the deepest thoughts of what lies innermost within its own self" (Ages 155). The metaphor is an ancient one in cosmogonic terms, but Schelling was again drawing on contemporary phenomena, this time the reports of clairvoyance by contemporary psychiatrists which Schubert had gathered in his lectures of 1808. These visionary forms, glimpsed in the moment of world-formation, persist as archetypes concealed at the heart of material things, and life is conceived as a process of emergence into actuality which draws that buried potential into existence. "These archetypes still stream out from the innermost part of creative nature, just as fresh and alive as they were before time" (Ages 161). Correspondingly, both Schelling and Schubert subscribe to an anamnestic model of the human soul. Buried within is an inner oracle, "the memory of all things, their original conditions, their becoming, their meaning." It is also an "archetypal image of things" slumbering inside, though this innermost essence is secret and bound, it cannot be made accessible to consciousness except by inference (114).

  9. There are further vocabularies, whose points of reference are more unstable, slipping ambiguously between metaphysics and self-observation, cosmogony and existential philosophy. Many of these are based around the notion of a primordial will, or powers of "potentiation" represented in a number of different guises. Sometimes these wills are described as a physics, in terms of gravitation, resistance and striving forces. Sometimes they are approached in terms of affect: there is a painful negative hunger, or a more tender affirmatory yearning, and these modes of will oppose and supplant each other, articulating a dynamic basis to material reality (Ages 170). Sometimes these altercating wills are viewed as modes of the possibility of existence: "It begins itself—but in so doing, it only makes a start towards possible realisation, which must in turn be followed by a start of real realisation" (Philosophische 99). Often Schelling's research returns to Aristotelian and scholastic interpretations of modes of being; but again there are also contemporary trends at work. Both Schelling and Schopenhauer, for instance, were concerning themselves with the will at this time, as descriptive of the dynamic essence of life.

  10. In yet other instances Schelling organises an approach to the soul around the tension between inner and outer worlds. When the soul is asleep it regains a relation to its own inner centre, and when it is awake it acts under the exponent of an outer reality which distorts its true alignment (Ages 158). Outerness is associated with egotism and objectification (egotistical because directed towards objects and gratifications), and the inner pole with the self's essence and freedom. This tension was partly an amplification of John Brown's theory of stimulus and excitability, though the model is now given a much broader moral scope. It was also mapped over the co-ordinates of Mesmerist theory, which was undergoing something of a resurgence in Germany at the time. In The Ages drafts Schelling uses the Mesmerist term Rapport to describe the soul's relation to its true identity, as well as utilising the therapeutic notion of a crisis through which the futurity of the person begins to emerge. In addition to all of these competing discourses, both Schelling and Schubert still also make use of Christian and pietist vocabularies of soul, thinking of the psyche as simply something encapsulating the dynamic essence of the person which will transcend its current earthly existence and take on a future, entirely spiritual life. Schubert writes that "Death emerges in the moment that higher organs, higher powers are woken in us through the flash of a great moment. Then this shell becomes too narrow for the psyche, this form passes away, so that another, higher one returns from it" (Nightside 79).

  11. These paradigms aren't wholly disjunct; all are concerned with possibility and transformation, with conditions which are concealed, or anticipated, or exist on a dynamic borderline between presence and futurity, objectification and freedom. All are defined in opposition to notions of conscious subjectivity: they are endowments of the psyche, and are cross-referenced with reports from contemporary psychiatry. They also constantly imply each other descriptively. Schubert wrote to Schelling in 1808 suggesting that "the inner light spoken of by those in magnetic trances" was a token of the barely corporeal phosphorescence concealed in organic life. "It is the flammable which, in the whole of nature, becomes free at the highest moments of existence, shot through with eternal light." This light "breaks out of the depth of the inner essence" granting a view into the very nature of the person.[4] He thus links the practice of Mesmerism to a theory of an inner fire, while the ecstatic visionary state which the trance elicits gives evidence of the soul's possession of archetypes of the future. But what still stands out is the extreme heterogeneity of the theoretical apparatus through which both writers were attempting to apprehend something crucial about the nature of the psyche. There may be a consistent goal to their theorising—we can see that each vocabulary is trying to do the same sort of thing—but there is a failure to make the psyche scientifically or even descriptively 'present' in any consistent way. This seems all the more of a failure given that in this period psychiatrists such as Johann Christian Reil, who in 1802 produced one of the first systematic outlines of psychotherapy, were in touch with Schelling and looking to him to clarify the nature of the psyche for them: "What is lacking is a presentation of the soul in itself, or in its archetypal form."[5]

    The Foundations of Individuality

  12. There are numerous ways in which this impasse over the psyche and the philosophical model that could accommodate it, has been interpreted. One, suggested by Karl Jaspers, is that Schelling's deeper researches into the soul were a deviation, made during a period of depression in response to the death of his wife Caroline in 1809 (35). Another possibility is that Schelling's move to Munich and the Catholic south, which also coincides with this period, brought him under the influence of thinkers such as Franz von Baader, whose bent was more mystical and theosophical.[6] We might also consider this eclecticism as the mark of a period of intellectual transition, from spiritual towards secular models of nature, and from theories of the transcendental subject to the emergence of modern psychology. But these explanations are not wholly adequate, most significantly, because this range of psychic motifs—inner fire or energy, archetypes, and obscure forms of will—remain there as interpretive possibilities, forming part of a Romantic psychological tradition. Versions of exactly these sets of enigmatic description were taken up by Carl Gustav Carus' Psyche in 1846. Carus sometimes talks about the psyche in terms of a spark or unconscious radiation (rather like Schelling and Schubert's "gleam") which is now a force governing the maturation of the individual from embryo to adulthood (Psyche 15). Equally, he sees the psyche as the repository for a divine archetype which "contains the primary basis of individual life," and which he calls "the idea or the primordial image" (8). As with Schelling and Schubert, too, the psyche is secretly involved in the generation of historical structures: all entities "contain something hidden which refers back to something past, something that has been before, and which yet suggests further development, something in the future" (22). Even more significantly, a similar range of terms—archetype, libido (if we insert that for the burning potency which breaks out at the point of generation) and the unconscious processes of self-development re-emerge in the work of Jung, who saw Carus' achievement as anticipating that of psychoanalysis (Memories 193). In fact, Jung’s Transformations and Symbols of the Libido not only replays the movement between psychopathology, philosophy and philology which emerges in Schelling and Schubert’s correspondence; it also retrieves similar insights about the soul, archetypes and a primal unconscious, making reference to the same emerging corpus of Romantic mythography and anthropology with which they were also engaging, including Schelling’s own later lectures on mythology. So, rather than indicating purely a failure in theorisation—a kind of bricolage of remnants (mode, fire, archetype, vision) from antiquated thought-systems—Schelling and Schubert's set of partial, obscure and inconsistent solutions appears to reveal something more significant and long-term concerning the nature of psychological theorisation in modernity. What are they looking for in the psyche? Why does the nature of the soul prove so methodologically elusive? And why, in the end, is this elusiveness so important?

  13. The first point to make is that, despite those images of the borderline of materiality—the almost corporeal gleam—the issue is not one of the search for a new substance, a kind of Mesmeric fluid or vital force which is proving empirically elusive. The elusiveness here springs from a different principle, which is that what Schelling in particular is trying to substantiate is not the grounds of psychology (let alone the grounds of an empirical psychology) but the theoretical grounds of individuality. What I want to return to here is the differentiation between a psychology (whose primary function may be to determine the ways in which an individual mind habitually operates) and a theory of selfhood, which may be inclined to theorise the grounds of identity or of individual freedom, and may, like psychology, be staged in what is imagined to be an inner and non-corporeal aspect of the self. In fact, psychology, for many of these Romantic thinkers, becomes a realm in which some of the more general moral problems concerning the nature of individual agency are played out. The emerging question, "What is the nature of the psyche?" draws into its orbit reflections on the nature of memory and desire, as well as on mental illness and therapeutics, but it also asks about the moral and political nature of individuality, about autonomy, freedom, motivation and progress. What we find in Schelling, as in much of Romantic psychology and some of its inheritors in modern psychotherapy, is that questions of psychology and questions of selfhood become intriguingly intertwined. The psyche is a forum within which writers are constructing both a new language for the mind, and new justifications of individuality.

  14. This raises some problematic issues for the history of psychology. The first is a very general question about finding a language for the soul, and is certainly not a problem that Schelling was aware of, but we can see it as a paradox at the heart of what he was trying to do. The problem is that such moral and existential discourses about identity and the medical descriptions of psychic states belong within different paradigms; there is no simple way to suture them together, or house them in the empirical discourses of the body. These are the kind of problems that Paul Ricoeur identified in some of Freud's metapsychological writings, in terms of a paradigm conflict between hermeneutics on the one hand, and a science of forces on the other (92). This is not the question I want to pursue here, but it is worth bearing in mind that these different languages of self-presence cannot simply be joined together by hypothesising some innermost link or yet-to-be discovered substance. This is one reason why the language of the psyche remains bound to a kind of obscurity and liminality—it remains inconsistent, in its very essence, and this inconsistency can't easily be dispensed with.

  15. The second problem is less generally addressed in the histories of psychology, but is absolutely central to the difficulties that Schelling himself was aware of wrestling with. This is that the psyche is to be the soul of the independent person, the inner seat of selfhood. This much greater emphasis on individuality, and individual autonomy, is one that will weave its way in and out of the political, psychological and artistic theorisation of the self in the nineteenth century and into modernity. "True beginning in the eternal comes only with self-genesis" is a line from one of Schelling's notebooks of the period (Tagebücher 109). His oration on art of 1806 had likewise asked: "What is the perfection of a thing? Nought else but the creative life in it—its power of asserting its own individuality" (Plastic 4). For Schelling, the soul acts partly as a place-holder for the belief in self-authorisation at the centre of moral life, and self-origination at the centre of human ontology; however, this raises a completely new set of methodological problems. Most importantly, belief in the possibility of self-authorisation, or indeed self-creation, seems commonly to have required some corresponding resistance to or interruption within prevailing eighteenth-century accounts of the rationality of the world system, the regulation of beings according to chains of causal determinism, or the universal laws of human moral and cognitive consciousness. German idealist theories of mind, such as Kant's and Fichte's and Schelling's own earlier work, had tended to stress the transcendental identity of the I, or the conscious subject. But at the same time the idealist tradition clearly bridled—and increasingly so under the Napoleonic occupation—at the idea of the subsumption of particular individuality under universal processes, particularly where this threatened to negate the independent moral or political agency of the person. The fit between universal reason and individual autonomy—central to the emerging political demands of the middle class—was at any rate a difficult one to make good.

  16. One sees this quandary, which has both epistemological and political ramifications, being played out in the work of Fichte. His productions in the late 1790s and early 1800s continually confront the fear that "I myself, along with everything that I call mine, am a link in this chain of strict necessity" (11). Fichte supposed that anyone following this train of deterministic thinking to its limits must be repelled by consequences which conflict "so decisively with the innermost root of my existence" (20). Schelling's own Fichtean System of Transcendental Idealism, published in the same year as Fichte's Vocation of Man, wrestled with a similar impasse over the reconciliation of the forms of science and subjectivity: "The ultimate ground of the harmony between freedom and the objective (or lawful) can therefore never become wholly objectified, if the appearance of freedom is to remain" (210). That is to say, the freedom of the self cannot be represented systematically, or according to logical or causal laws, without negating that sense of freedom. In a similar fashion, Schelling at the opening of the Ages of the World resists the notion of time as "a chain of causes and effects that run backwards and forwards to infinity" and solicits instead the individual who is able to "separate himself from himself", who is able to break loose from everything that happens to him and actively oppose it, who is able thus "to create a true past" and "look forward to a genuine future" (120). Further on in the text he asserts that, "Anything that has a freedom with respect to God must come from a ground independent of him" (156).

  17. What one finds at work, then, in the emergence of this wider ideological interest in the psychological at the beginning of the nineteenth century, is a corresponding turn towards models in which the basis of the self and its imagined processes of production are conveyed via metaphors of obscurity, oblivion, or abrupt and inexplicable transition. Obscurity and unaccountability start to integrate with a new interest in shielding the grounds of individuality—its supposed inner, ontological roots—from representation, particularly representation according to the universalised laws of physics and logic. Already in the sentences by Fichte and Schelling quoted above one sees an emerging association between personal independence and a rupturing of theoretical models of presence and process. To give some small indication of the future importance such metaphors will have within Romantic and post-Romantic theorisations of the self, and particularly of the associations made between individuality and obscurity, one might turn also to Carus's assertion that "The unconscious is precisely our ownmost (eigenste), most genuine nature" ("Über" 154), or Bosanquet's observation in 1913 of the vogue in liberal culture for assuming that "The dim recesses of incommunicable feeling are the true shrine of our selfhood" (36), or even Jung's later pronouncement that, "Each of us carries his own life-form within him—an irrational form which no other can outbid" ("Aims" 41). D.H. Lawrence, drawing on the rogue and speculative inferences of a century in his response to psychoanalysis, was emphatic on this point:

    Every individual creature has a soul, a specific individual nature the origin of which cannot be found in any cause-and-effect process whatever . . . There is no assignable cause, and no logical reason, for individuality. On the contrary, individuality appears in defiance of all scientific law, in defiance even of reason (214).
  18. My argument here is that the turn to the psyche involves not simply the attempt to produce an adequate language for the phenomena of inner life, but is at the same time concerned to establish the metaphorical representation of autonomous individuality. The metaphors of obscurity serve, then, not only as placeholders for kinds of process—moral, psychological, biological, experiential—which are thought to be too complex to be represented by simple 'chains' of determination; they serve also to introduce the notion that the self is radically self-caused by a logic which belongs wholly to itself and thus is in some way inscrutable. In this resistance to rational conceptions of causal process, the self has acquired a certain inalienable freedom. It is here that psychology tips over into ontology with moral and political implications for a theory of man. The philosophers and anthropologists looked to psychiatry both because they were interested in describing the basis of the individual mind and because in doing so they were able to draw on a whole range of metaphors—trance, seizure, unconsciousness, inner vision—with which to supplant the language of determinism in their depictions of the human world. Hence the emphasis on elements in experience—the crisis, the inner fire, the archetype (to be distinguished from the chain of association or reasoning)—which resisted conscription into the universal laws determining objects and consciousness. At the same time these enigmatic phenomena stood not for lawlessness, but for the possible agency of deeper, unrepresentable laws operating within nature and the self.

    The Emergence of the Unconscious

  19. The discourse which most clearly disrupts the language of causal determinism—and the one which will take an ever deeper hold on the nineteenth-century imagination—is that around the unconscious, which appeared in Schelling's work particularly from 1811-1815, and which emerged specifically out of the need to introduce a foundational obscurity and interruption within the science of the origins of self, and within the paradigm of the psyche. Unconsciousness in the mind, for Schelling, has links to particular empirical psychological phenomena such as dreams and the experience of the past, as well as to states of trance, ecstasy or crisis associated with contemporary reports of psychopathology. It also fits in well with what will turn out to be one of the overriding tendencies of the human sciences in the nineteenth-century—an emphasis on historicity. But Schelling's interest in the unconscious, and even in the past itself, actually arises according to a different principle. First and foremost, it is a theoretical tool which disconnects the ontology of the individual, and the means whereby this could be represented, from eighteenth-century approaches centred on the universal identity of the subject. The unconscious, conceived generally as an event at the origins of the person (rather than a specific psychological mode) establishes an obscurity over the genesis of identity and its relation to general laws of determination, as well as over the original operation of those laws themselves. Schelling finds this necessary if one is going to accord some radical interiority and substance, as well as the possibility of self-authorisation, to the self. This is the thought that dominates the final pages of the Ages of the World—that to roll back the carpet of the unconscious, to dissolve the barrier separating the individual from the origins equally of its own self and the absolute, to determine these relationships fully and bring them to light, would dissolve identity. It would either plunge the idea of individuality back into the network of absolute logic, or assimilate it to an absolute or general soul. To quote from the end of The Ages: "That primordial deed which makes a man genuinely himself precedes all individual actions; but immediately after it is put into exuberant freedom, this deed sinks into the night of unconsciousness" (Ages 181). Furthermore, "The decision that in some manner is truly to begin must not be brought back to consciousness... because this would amount to being taken back" (182). This goes both for the beginning of any single entity, and for the history of the absolute itself: "The will produces itself in eternity without eternity knowing and remains, with respect to its ground, concealed from eternity" (138).

  20. What is crucial here is that the trail doesn't lead from psychiatry to philosophy, but in the other direction. It is not that Schelling discovers an empirical psychological phenomenon and sets out to investigate its theoretical basis. Rather, he has a metaphysical need—to provide a theoretical foundation for the freedom of identity—which then integrates with aspects of contemporary psychological description and forms the basis for a new structural delineation of the self's inner nature. The technical requirement for this metaphysical need is that the description of the psyche cannot be completed, and cannot be coherently located in relation to discourses of either cause or presence. For Schelling, this leads to an emphasis on impossibility, a taboo on revealing 'all' about the subject, and hence on to the notion that there are repressed pasts or contents at the basis of the self—indeed of all life—whose full expression would lead to the dissolution of subjective, and objective, identity. In some instances this taboo on revelation is conceived in terms of a concealed and potentially annihilating fire. If this fire were to re-emerge from its latent state it would "consume and destroy us in its effectiveness" (Die Weltater 13). In his notebooks the same idea appears as a kind of ultimate blockage on self-perception: "The very innermost, the last foothold of a being, over which no thought can go" (Tagebücher 114). While in his late work of the 1840s it will provide the description of the 'uncanny' which Freud famously draws upon in his article of 1919: "Uncanny is what one calls everything that should have stayed secret, hidden, latent, but has come to the fore" (Philosophie 2:2:661). However, this notion of the medium of the psyche being somehow unassimilable to rational laws or to mechanistic description is also implicit in those other theoretical vocabularies. Identity or innerness conceived as 'fire' exceeds and disturbs the notion of a chain of rational determination; an archetype, glimpsed in eternity but concealed at the origin of time, notionally founds identity, but not in accordance with any accessible or generalised idea. These are already attempts to evoke an unconscious principle in which to root the individual soul.


  21. What this article has tried to illuminate is a dual condition in which psychology—in a piecemeal way in the course of the early part of the nineteenth century—is emerging as an empirical science for the study of the individual mind, but is also at this point becoming a new forum for a humanist metaphysics of the individual. On the one hand, the obscurity and eclecticism of Schelling and Schubert's accounts represent a general problem for the nascent disciplines of the psyche, which is the difficulty of forming a new descriptive language for the soul. On the other hand, it manifests something far more significant, which is a positive resistance to description that is morally and politically informed, and which, while entertaining various ways of displacing or interrupting the notional agency of consciousness will ultimately root itself in the structural possibilities offered by a theory of the unconscious. With respect to a shift from metaphysics to psychology the function of the unconscious at this stage (and, in some ways, still) is fundamentally ambiguous. On the one hand, the elaboration of the soul in terms of a relation between consciousness and its concealed historical and natural basis seemingly detaches the theory of mind from the grip of religious, spiritual and philosophical ideologies of transcendence. The soul is inscribed, potentially, within a historical and material world. But the retention of a set of beliefs and demands regarding the inner freedom of the self—indeed, the attempt to organise a theory of the psyche around such assumptions of an inner ground or essence of the person—means that there is at the same time a reverse process acting on the theory of the unconscious, towards the re-enchantment, or mythic substantiation of the self. The nineteenth-century unconscious, by its very nature (and before at least some trends in psychoanalysis sought more rigorously to reduce it to a set of empirical processes and problems) remains permeable to the development of mystical and metaphysical tendencies. This is clear in its development by Carus and von Hartmann later in the century, as well as Schelling's own association of the unconscious with the 'magic' of nature in the 1820s (System der Weltalter 109).

  22. One might say, then, that certain aspects of the unconscious have an important functional role within an empirical psychology—the unconscious demonstrates the limits of self-identity and reason, as well as of conscious knowledge; it conceives of these against a background of forgotten, repressed and instinctual processes. Such a function complicates the transcendental and integrative tendency found within German philosophy—the tendency to universalise and idealise the I and consciousness. With Schelling's work around the period of the Weltalter these tendencies appear to be reversed: the psyche becomes the unassimilable and obscure vortex around which the attempt at self-identity forever founders.

  23. However, this interpretation is itself liable to reversal. The transcendental claims for the conscious subject in this period are already under siege from different quarters. The abstract notion of consciousness and the autonomous 'I' are, over the first half of the nineteenth century, being made gradually subordinate to a more sophisticated sociological differentiation of the subject according to its legal, political and economic cultures. The Hegelian and post-Hegelian trend, for instance, will be to replace the abstracted notion of transcendental consciousness with a complex set of recognitions and ethical demands worked out within a particular historical community. In such communities the individual soul is a fundamental component, but is ultimately stripped of its metaphysical priority. From this perspective, the turn to an ontology of the psyche is the philosophical move that retains the space for metaphysical enchantment in an age of disenchantment. Or at least, Schelling's secret and unassimilable psyche at the core of the person is no more free of metaphysical implication than is Hegel's 'Spirit' at the level of the community. It resists not only the transcendental integrations of consciousness, but also the sceptical analysis of sociological life. In its place it preserves the ideological space for new vocabularies of transcendence. The fact that this may now be conceived as a chthonic descent into the soul's inner mystery does not alter its potential to function transcendentally. The model of self-identification through consciousness and logic is replaced by the notion of a psychic relation to a concealed and absolute origin to which each individual radically belongs, and which sustains the possibility of its free individuality. The unconscious is able both to resist assimilation to conscious laws of identification and to imply secret laws or emerging harmonies of a quasi-metaphysical kind, underwriting the agency of the individual soul, though obligingly concealed from it. In Schelling's case, these are displaced to an absolute point of origin, concealed within nature, behind time, and in the depths of the psyche.

  24. My final point is to note how successfully this notion of an unconscious root of the person, which structures a new account of autonomous individuality, was able to merge itself into Romantic accounts of psychology and psychiatry. How ambiguously, that is, the two trends, empirical and metaphysical, were able to co-exist. This positing of the hidden grounds of selfhood gives rise to features (the unconscious, repression, the significant but inaccessible past) which at the same time provide the structure of a modern 'depth' psychology. Already we have reached a range of recognizable psychoanalytic co-ordinates: there is an unconscious; at the basis of the unconscious there is level of primary repression which is necessary to the structure of subjectivity; and these structures are constitutive of human identity. If we notice simply the theosophical, or alchemical or quasi-spiritual components of Schelling and Schubert's speculation, we may be led to think of Romantic theories of the psyche simply as stalled acts of secularisation, which still look for a spiritualised or idealised metaphysics of the person under the rubric of the psyche. These are idealised philosophies of the psyche, and not yet psychologies. However to treat these models as merely antiquated, or superstitious, or secretly theogonic, misses an essential point, which is not only their recurrence but also the modernity of their demand. The need to sustain an account of autonomous individuality or to project an ontology of the self, within the bounds of psychology, will itself also be a persistent need. One might usefully view the emergence of psychology itself as torn between a science of mental control and objectification, and a utopian attempt to preserve an idealised model of selfhood which is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve or extend through the broadening political population, but which can be installed within the individual at an abstract or theoretical level. I would not argue that this is an impetus for the development of psychology as a whole, but that it is a motivation for many of the Romantic theorists of the psyche whose formulations get incorporated within various psychological and psychiatric traditions. Jung's assumption that psychology deals with the problem of 'individuation'—"Individuation, becoming a self, is not only a spiritual problem, it is the problem of all life"—would be an example of this ("Individual" 22). Freud, too, at times recognises that psychology is still implicated in attempts to secure an ontology of the self. In Totem and Taboo, after noting that animism in primitive societies populates the world with spirits and also regards these as the causes of natural phenomena, Freud went on to point out a third, and perhaps most important article of this primitive 'nature philosophy.' This article struck him as less strange, since, "we ourselves are not very far removed from this third belief. For primitive peoples believe that human individuals are inhabited by similar spirits" (Totem 76). That is to say, the very notion of a soul—the very object of psychology—is itself still entangled in an idealised demand concerning the 'being' of the individual person. Strachey in the Standard Edition adds the marginal note here that, with "nature philosophy" or Naturphilosophie Freud is indicating the philosophy of Schelling.

Works Cited

Alexander, F.G. and S.T. Selesnick. The History of Psychiatry. New York: Harper and Row, 1966.

Beiser, F.C. German Idealism: The Struggle Against Subjectivism, 1781-1801. Cambridge, MA; London: Harvard UP, 2002.

Bosanquet, B. The Value and Destiny of the Individual. London: MacMillan, 1913.

Carus, C.G.. Psyche: On the Development of the Human Soul. Part One: The Unconscious. Dallas: Spring Publications, 1970.

---. "Über Lebensmagnetismus und über die magischen Wirkungen überhaupt." Denkwürdigkeiten aus Europa. Marion von Schröder, 1963.

Doerner, Klaus. Madmen and the Bourgeoisie: A Social History of Insanity and Psychiatry. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1981.

Ellenberger, Henri F. The Discovery of the Unconscious. London: Harper Collins, 1994.

Fichte, J.G.. The Vocation of Man. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987.

Freud, Sigmund. Totem and Taboo. Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 13. London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1953. 1-162.

Jaspers, Karl. Schelling: Größe und Verhängnis. Munich: R. Piper, 1955.

Jung, Carl Gustav. "The Aims of Psychotherapy." The Practice of Psychotherapy: Essays on the Psychology of the Transference and Other Subjects. The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Ed. Sir Herbert Read, Michael Fordham, Gerhard Adler and William McGuire. Vol 16. London and Henley: Routledge Kegan Paul, 1966. 36-52.

---. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Ed. Aniela Jaffé. Trans. Richard and Clara Winston. London: Collins and Routledge, 1963.

---. "Individual Dream Symbolism in Relation to Alchemy." Psychology and Alchemy, The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Ed. Sir Herbert Read, Michael Fordham, Gerhard Adler and William McGuire. Vol 12 . London: Routledge Kegan Paul, 1968. 39-213.

Lawrence, D. H. "Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious." Fantasia of the Unconscious and Psychoanalysis of the Unconscious. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975. 197-250.

Lukács, Georg. The Theory of the Novel. Trans. Anna Bostock. London: Merlin Press, 1971.

---. The Destruction of Reason. Trans. Peter R. Palmer. London: The Merlin Press, 1980.

Ricouer, Paul. Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation. Trans. Denis Savage. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1970.

Schelling, F. W. J. The System of Transcendental Idealism. 1800. Trans. Peter Heath. Introd. Michael Vater. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1978.

---. Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature. 1797/1803. Trans. Errol E. Harris and Peter Heath. Introd. Robert Stern. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988.

---. On the Relation Between the Plastic Arts and Nature. 1807. London: John Chapman, 1845.

---. Philosophische Entwürfe und Tagebücher 1809-1813. Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1994.

---. Ages of the World. 1813. Ed. Slavoj Žižek. The Abyss of Freedom/ Ages of the World. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1997.

---. System der Weltalter. 1827/1828. Ed. Siegbert Peetz. Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1998.

---. Philosophie der Mythologie. 1842. Ed. K. F. A. Schelling. Sämmtliche Werke. Stuttgart: Cotta, 1856-61.

---. Die Weltalter: Urfassungen. Ed. Manfred Schröter. Munich: Biederstein-Leibniz, 1946.

---. Schelling: Briefe und Dokumente. 3 vols. Bonn: H. Bouvier u. Co., 1962.

Schelling, F. W. J. and A. Marcus eds. Jahrbücher der Medicin als Wissenschaft. Tübingen: Cotta, 1806-8.

Schubert, G. H. Aspects of the Nightside of the Natural Science. Dresden, 1808.


1. Lukács, Theory 29.

2. For an overview of Schelling's earlier development, see Beiser 465-564.

3. Letter to Schelling, November 1808, Schelling: Briefe und Dokumente 3:554.

4. Letter to Schelling, 29 April 1808, Briefe 3:495.

5. Letter to Schelling, Briefe 3:510.

6. See introduction to this period by Fuhrmans in Schelling, Briefe 1:356 and Lukács, Destruction 149.

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