Strange Prisoners: New Mythology and the Crisis of Endarkenment in the Literature of England and Germany During the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries

Dissertation, University of California, Davis (2000)
The title of my dissertation, Strange Prisoners, refers to a phrase in Book VII of Plato's Republic. Here, Plato relates his famous parable of the cave, which is an allegory of Truth and truth-seeking generally, as well as an attempt to portray human nature "in its education and want of education." This "strange image" of the cave and its "strange prisoners" presents itself at the beginning of the western philosophical tradition as a signatory myth. As such, the cave-parable's dominant structural polarities---surface/subsurface, light/dark, truth/falsehood---make it an ideal representation of the Enlightenment project generally. In such a context, the project or "myth of Enlightenment" is not limited narrowly to the Age of Rationalism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but instead characterizes a developmental trend in western philosophy from Plato until present times. ;Grottoes, mines, and caves, in any of their varied representations, are significant in the late eighteenth century because they are the first imaginative evocations of endarkenment domains. They are "liminal zones"---sites of self-transformation and crucibles of alchemical change---in which the I-being of human nature comes to awareness of its essential identity as hidden light. ;Just as the Enlightenment seeks to order human perspective toward an outwardly visible light, the complementary project of Endarkenment, so called, seeks to orient human thinking toward an inwardly visible light, which indwells darkened domains. ;The dissertation examines the origin and development of this mythological motif of Endarkenment in philosophy and in imaginative works of the eighteenth century, in particular the works of writers such as Alexander Pope, Novalis, Ludwig Tieck, and E. T. A. Hoffmann
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