ABSTRACT. Irving Babbitt’s was a critical quest for something that, in cultural terms, for ever remains “intangible,” like Coleridge’s Xanadu in Lowes’ interpretation: the elimination of all extremes in life and culture with a view to attain a permanent harmonic balanced center. In his quest, Babbitt made a comparative critical radiograph of neo-classicism and romanticism, pointing out their shortcomings and their fortes, their health and their pathology. Babbitt’s project of comparative in-depth analysis remains to date maybe one of the most pertinent ever to have been carried out on the (neo-)classic-versus-romantic perennial controversy with focus on Rousseau’s influence on the entire romantic movement. The controversy is perennial, because the camps engaged in “battle” have always been partial, always shifting positions, always hesitating, always finding new angles of attack one against the other, always demeaning each other, while at the end of the quest what becomes clear is that the extremes are alive and kicking, but tend to be quite as elusive as the (critical) center which attempts to modulate them into a submission to moderation. The battle is today as vivid as ever (see for instance the idea that we encounter as many romanticisms as there are romantics), and it will probably ever remain so, the two modes of expression – the classic and the romantic – being universals that co-create in and through man’s mind infinitely varied forms of cultural manifestation. Even if Babbitt seems to have understood this state of affairs, that did not prevent him from being harshly critical with both camps, he himself opting for the middle golden path of moderation, which defines the new humanism he helped found in the 20th century. We will start with an exploration of Irving Babbitt’s road to his ever “intangible Xanadu” – i.e. the world of centers or of one ideal master center. Babbitt started with a critique of Rousseau’s excesses and ended up by building a critical edifice that is remarkable especially for its method of analysis based on what we call “centromorphisms,” i.e. cognitive structures whose nuclei are centers covering, as fields, the spaces from the center to the extreme. Consequently, Babbitt’s project is a modern attempt to cope with complexity and creativity in literature and culture, having as a foundation Pascal’s view (derived, it would seem, from Nicholas of Cusa’s thought system) according to which human excellence lies in the force to harmonize “opposite virtues” and “to occupy all the space between them.” This paradoxical state is without a doubt equivalent with Fr. Schlegel’s notion of “antithetical synthesis” which constituted the ideal of art. The debate remains relevant for the studies of creativity by the fact that Babbitt’s keen method of analysis is akin to modern evolutions in science, whereby the nature of order and disorder (chaos) is probed with a view to better understanding how equilibrium between the two states can be created and maintained in order to avoid catastrophe by a collapse into the paroxysmal extreme, therefore in order to avoid being frozen into too rigid an order or being vapourized into too volatile a chaos. The present study will be extended in the next issue [In quest for the romantic imagination (II): all roads lead to Xanadu], where we will dwell, among others, on Coleridge’s Xanadu as a paradisian city of the romantic imagination and on the price the poet paid for reaching such forbidden otherworldly fruit. pp. 20–143

Keywords: centromorphism; order; disorder; health; pathology; neo-classicism; romanticism; Rousseau; new humanism; golden section; Xanadu

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University of Bucharest

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