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Quest of the Absolute

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A 2014 Choice Outstanding Academic Book

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The Quest of the Absolute

Birth and Decline of European Romanticism

Louis Dupré

This eagerly awaited study brings to completion Louis Dupré’s planned trilogy on European culture during the modern epoch. Demonstrating remarkable erudition and sweeping breadth, The Quest of the Absolute analyzes Romanticism as a unique cultural phenomenon and a spiritual revolution. Dupré philosophically reflects on its attempts to recapture the past and transform the present in a movement that is partly a return to premodern culture and partly a violent protest against it.

Following an introduction on the historical origins of the Romantic Movement, Dupré examines the principal Romantic poets of England (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats), Germany (Goethe, Schiller, Novalis, Hölderlin), and France (Lamartine, de Vigny, Hugo), all of whom, from different perspectives, pursued an absolute ideal. In the chapters of the second part, he concentrates on the critical principles of Romantic aesthetics, the Romantic image of the person as reflected in the novel, and Romantic ethical and political theories. In the chapters of the third, more speculative, part, he investigates the comprehensive syntheses of romantic thought in history, philosophy, and theology. The Quest of the Absolute is an important work both as the culmination of Dupré’s ongoing project and as a classic in its own right. The book will meet the expectations of the specialist as well as appeal to more general readers with philosophical, cultural, and religious interests.

“The Quest of the Absolute is the third volume in Louis Dupré’s trilogy dealing with the origins and development of modernity and the major cultural currents defining its history. It follows Passage to Modernity (1993) and The Enlightenment and the Intellectual Foundations of Modern Culture (2004). This third volume deals with the Romantic movement. Dupré’s account is concerned to restore something of the full dimensionalities to Romanticism as a whole, to acknowledge something of the immense intellectual, political, and spiritual ambitions at work in it, without reneging on a reflective critical relation to it." — William Desmond, Catholic University Louvain and Villanova University

“Louis Dupré’s fascinating portrayal of the Romantic soul urges us to look afresh at this crucial ‘third wave’ of modernity. His thorough insight, astonishing erudition, mild judgment, and unparalleled perspicacity bring to life the works and ideas of many whimsical personalities. He convincingly demonstrates that their restless search for existential depth and authenticity reveals layers of truth and meaning that can function as a mirror for our times.” — Joris Geldhof, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium

“In this extraordinarily comprehensive and penetrating study, the capstone to a great scholarly career, Louis Dupré undertakes nothing less than a grand synthesis of Romantic thought; yet the book is beautifully written and a joy to read. Discussions of English, French, and German poetry and fiction are seamlessly linked to systematic analyses of Romantic aesthetics, psychology, and ethics, as well as such other aspects of Romantic thought as the new religious and historical conceptions that emerge in the period. The Quest of the Absolute is a brilliant, indeed indispensable, book, one that demonstrates, more clearly than any previous study, why Romanticism is still relevant to the struggles that confront us in the twenty-first century.” — Henry Weinfield, University of Notre Dame

ISBN: 978-0-268-02616-5
400 pages
Publication Year: 2013

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Louis Dupré is T. Lawrason Riggs Professor Emeritus in the Philosophy of Religion at Yale University. He has published numerous books and articles, including Religion and the Rise of Modern Culture (University of Notre Dame Press, 2008).

“With this volume, Dupré completes a trilogy that began with Passage to Modernity (1993) and proceeded with The Enlightenment and Intellectual Foundations of Modern Culture . . . . In spite of its subtitle, this volume is more than an intellectual history; it is a new synthesis of a diverse complement of beliefs and works. Dupré’s vision affirms the coherence of romanticism by emphasizing its persistent quest for an unrealizable ideal. . . . The book is breathtaking in its erudition and thoughtful in its assertions.” — Choice

“Dupré delivers a lifetime of mature erudition attentive at once to a dizzying array of specific thinkers and a general theme that coalesces them. Reminiscent of Hegel, Heidegger, and Cassirer, Dupré refreshingly affirms against contemporary reductive models of reason that historically developing culture bears permanent intelligence. . . . More specialized studies of many sources exist, notably the literary ones, but the commentary on aesthetics, ethics, and philosophy emerges as nonpareil.” — Theological Studies

“The first and greatest merit of this particular study is its organization. It differs from the numerous other studies of Romanticism by its stratification. The first section is devoted to poetry. There follows a somewhat more hybrid section which includes psychology, ethics, fictional typologies, aesthetic and political theories, and finally, at the top of the pyramid an examination of Romantic theories of history, philosophical systems, and incursions in the romantic understanding or religion. . . . Perhaps the most important contribution of Dupré is the way in which he suggests delicately the continuing impact of Romanticism.” — The Review of Metaphysics

“The Quest of the Absolute describes the Romantic spirit as an attempt to break through the limits of finitude toward an all-inclusive absolute, a search expressed in poetry, art, and philosophy, and also in political theory, and in new modes of religious symbolization. . . . Dupré brings to life the personalities of the players, both the well-known and the obscure, and situates them in the larger events of the historical period between the revolutions of 1789 and 1848." — Catholic Library World

“. . . This valuable book is an introduction of great scholarly rigour, and it is therefore much more than a textbook or introduction. It should be used in any upper level course on modernity and Romantic literature and is able to shed light on the various cultural streams within the movement (German, English, and French). As the concluding volume of a trilogy, The Quest of the Absolute should be read in tandem with the first two installments, and all three together constitute an illuminating picture of the evolution of modernity before the twentieth century.” — Reviews in Religion and Theology

“Dupré’s sympathetic sketches of figures and themes reflect a deep knowledge of classical and early modern literature and a practitioner’s grasp of Christian theology. . . . Dupré knows the game well, and his analyses of many of his subjects give a subtle advantage to explanations that keep something like monotheistic longings consciously of unconsciously in play within their reflections.” — Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

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The Quest of the Absolute

Birth and Decline of European Romanticism

Louis Dupré

The Quest of the Absolute: Birth and Decline of European Romanticism
Paper Edition

This eagerly awaited study brings to completion Louis Dupré’s planned trilogy on European culture during the modern epoch. Demonstrating remarkable erudition and sweeping breadth, The Quest of the Absolute analyzes Romanticism as a unique cultural phenomenon and a spiritual revolution. Dupré philosophically reflects on its attempts to recapture the past and transform the present in a movement that is partly a return to premodern culture and partly a violent protest against it.

Following an introduction on the historical origins of the Romantic Movement, Dupré examines the principal Romantic poets of England (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats), Germany (Goethe, Schiller, Novalis, Hölderlin), and France (Lamartine, de Vigny, Hugo), all of whom, from different perspectives, pursued an absolute ideal. In the chapters of the second part, he concentrates on the critical principles of Romantic aesthetics, the Romantic image of the person as reflected in the novel, and Romantic ethical and political theories. In the chapters of the third, more speculative, part, he investigates the comprehensive syntheses of romantic thought in history, philosophy, and theology. The Quest of the Absolute is an important work both as the culmination of Dupré’s ongoing project and as a classic in its own right. The book will meet the expectations of the specialist as well as appeal to more general readers with philosophical, cultural, and religious interests.

“The Quest of the Absolute is the third volume in Louis Dupré’s trilogy dealing with the origins and development of modernity and the major cultural currents defining its history. It follows Passage to Modernity (1993) and The Enlightenment and the Intellectual Foundations of Modern Culture (2004). This third volume deals with the Romantic movement. Dupré’s account is concerned to restore something of the full dimensionalities to Romanticism as a whole, to acknowledge something of the immense intellectual, political, and spiritual ambitions at work in it, without reneging on a reflective critical relation to it." — William Desmond, Catholic University Louvain and Villanova University

“Louis Dupré’s fascinating portrayal of the Romantic soul urges us to look afresh at this crucial ‘third wave’ of modernity. His thorough insight, astonishing erudition, mild judgment, and unparalleled perspicacity bring to life the works and ideas of many whimsical personalities. He convincingly demonstrates that their restless search for existential depth and authenticity reveals layers of truth and meaning that can function as a mirror for our times.” — Joris Geldhof, Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium

“In this extraordinarily comprehensive and penetrating study, the capstone to a great scholarly career, Louis Dupré undertakes nothing less than a grand synthesis of Romantic thought; yet the book is beautifully written and a joy to read. Discussions of English, French, and German poetry and fiction are seamlessly linked to systematic analyses of Romantic aesthetics, psychology, and ethics, as well as such other aspects of Romantic thought as the new religious and historical conceptions that emerge in the period. The Quest of the Absolute is a brilliant, indeed indispensable, book, one that demonstrates, more clearly than any previous study, why Romanticism is still relevant to the struggles that confront us in the twenty-first century.” — Henry Weinfield, University of Notre Dame

ISBN: 978-0-268-02616-5

400 pages

“With this volume, Dupré completes a trilogy that began with Passage to Modernity (1993) and proceeded with The Enlightenment and Intellectual Foundations of Modern Culture . . . . In spite of its subtitle, this volume is more than an intellectual history; it is a new synthesis of a diverse complement of beliefs and works. Dupré’s vision affirms the coherence of romanticism by emphasizing its persistent quest for an unrealizable ideal. . . . The book is breathtaking in its erudition and thoughtful in its assertions.” — Choice

“Dupré delivers a lifetime of mature erudition attentive at once to a dizzying array of specific thinkers and a general theme that coalesces them. Reminiscent of Hegel, Heidegger, and Cassirer, Dupré refreshingly affirms against contemporary reductive models of reason that historically developing culture bears permanent intelligence. . . . More specialized studies of many sources exist, notably the literary ones, but the commentary on aesthetics, ethics, and philosophy emerges as nonpareil.” — Theological Studies

“The first and greatest merit of this particular study is its organization. It differs from the numerous other studies of Romanticism by its stratification. The first section is devoted to poetry. There follows a somewhat more hybrid section which includes psychology, ethics, fictional typologies, aesthetic and political theories, and finally, at the top of the pyramid an examination of Romantic theories of history, philosophical systems, and incursions in the romantic understanding or religion. . . . Perhaps the most important contribution of Dupré is the way in which he suggests delicately the continuing impact of Romanticism.” — The Review of Metaphysics

“The Quest of the Absolute describes the Romantic spirit as an attempt to break through the limits of finitude toward an all-inclusive absolute, a search expressed in poetry, art, and philosophy, and also in political theory, and in new modes of religious symbolization. . . . Dupré brings to life the personalities of the players, both the well-known and the obscure, and situates them in the larger events of the historical period between the revolutions of 1789 and 1848." — Catholic Library World

“. . . This valuable book is an introduction of great scholarly rigour, and it is therefore much more than a textbook or introduction. It should be used in any upper level course on modernity and Romantic literature and is able to shed light on the various cultural streams within the movement (German, English, and French). As the concluding volume of a trilogy, The Quest of the Absolute should be read in tandem with the first two installments, and all three together constitute an illuminating picture of the evolution of modernity before the twentieth century.” — Reviews in Religion and Theology

“Dupré’s sympathetic sketches of figures and themes reflect a deep knowledge of classical and early modern literature and a practitioner’s grasp of Christian theology. . . . Dupré knows the game well, and his analyses of many of his subjects give a subtle advantage to explanations that keep something like monotheistic longings consciously of unconsciously in play within their reflections.” — Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

A 2014 Choice Outstanding Academic Book