“Vo Glubine Tainstvennyx Stixij”: the Role of Science in German Romanticism and in Vladimir Odoevskij’s Russian Nights

In speaking about the sources which might have influenced Russian Nights by Vladimir Odoevskij, critics tend to agree on the serious impact of the philosophy of German Romantic writers on Odoevskij’s own philosophical views. Just as Romantic writers did in their works, in his book Odoevskij tries to unite mysticism and magic, philosophy and Science. As V. Gippius notes, “Russian Nights is a romantic universal novel, the search to make sense of the world through studying the links between various phenomena.” However, it seems to me that while the structure and the ideology of Russian Nights derive strongly from the writings of German Romantics, Odoevskij’s own interpretation of this ideology, as well as the context of the book, differ strongly from his predecessors. In particular, in my paper I intend to concentrate on the similarities and differences between the attitudes of German Romantics and V. Odoevskij towards Science. Just as German Romantics did, Odoevskij assumes that the absolute knowledge leads the world to destruction. He, like Hoffmann or Wackenroder, always stresses that absolute knowledge kills the mystery in the world, and therefore, kills creativity. However, Odoevskij is much less hostile to the development of Science, especially applied Science, than German Romantics. While E. T. A. Hoffmann, for example, has always regarded applied Science as a destructive force, Odoevskij believes that it may be used for both Good and Evil, and can be either destructive or positive. I would argue that the reason for this difference lies in the fact that Odoevskij’s book appeared half a century after German Romantic writings, that it to say, in the mid-nineteenth century, when applied Science was developing rapidly, so Odoevskij could see both its benefits and its dangers. He is fascinated by the inventions of applied Science, yet he is also afraid of their possible impact and he believes that these inventions bear a strong mystical meaning. One can argue that in his views on Science Odoevskij may be seen as a predecessor of the Symbolists.

In my paper I will analyze the German Romantic views of Science and will indicate the major differences and the similarities between German Romantics’ and Odoevskij’s attitudes towards applied Science through both the close textual analysis and historical evidence.