This morning I had the opportunity to talk at some length with a friend of mine about the existence of tribes. This person had, very seriously, stated an intention to find out who was members of the same tribe that she was, and this tribe appears to have been defined by a particular approach to life that combines cultural and intellectual interests with a high degree of romanticism and certain qualities like insomnia that are often the result of having intellectual interests and a high degree of romanticism, both of which tend to be rather fatal to one’s sleeping habits. The tribe of romanticists, many of whom (like myself), tend to be hostile to easy solutions as well as the power-hungry nature of corrupt and tyrannical elites, is not always an easy tribe to discover in person. There is a complexity about such a nature that combines the intellectual and the emotional in ways that are not always immediately obvious and therefore are difficult to categorize. Be that as it may, such people, like all people, long to cohere with other members of their tribe.
How are such people to be found? What I have tended to find personally is that it is easier to find such people through writing than it is through personal meeting. The reasons for this ought to become clear. Romanticism is to be differentiated from being a romantic. A romantic person enjoys and participates in romance. This unconscious enjoyment of romance produces many things, like relationships, marriages, and families, all of which spreads the tribe of romantics far and wide, making it somewhat easy for such people to meet and mingle with other members of their tribe. On the contrary, a romanticist is someone who feels a deep longing, a sehnsucht, for love and intimacy and connection, and this longing is often a far more difficult one to fulfill. For a romanticist is not someone who unconsciously enjoys romance, but instead is deeply conscious and self-conscious in wanting and yearning. This intense consciousness both frustrates the enjoyment of romance by complicating it with overthinking and intense (even obsessive) rumination but also provides the main means for identifying members of such tribes, and that is the writing and other cultural artifacts that result from such rumination and such reflection.
Indeed, it is in the creation of and the enjoyment of culture that allows one to find other members of the romanticist tribe. For such people are not hard to find when one understands that their yearning leaves a traceable mark in the world that can then be discovered and used to recognize a similar nature. For example, the German poet and novelist Goethe was a romanticist whose writing about longing prompted a somewhat fanatical cult of similarly romanticist poets across Europe in the early 19th centuries. At this same time the witty and urbane spinster Jane Austen wrote half a dozen romanticist novels that remain treasured examples of how someone with very little physical experience in love and relationships but a combination of a very intelligent mind and a deeply yearning heart could distill this frustrated longing into immortal literature. The same thing could be said, for example, about the English writer C.S. Lewis, a similar romanticist who was both knowledgeable about literature and also contributed greatly to literature and essays that demonstrated yearning but also consciously examined it and wrestled with it. Many more examples abound, but the key to be remembered here is that the romanticist leaves a mark on the world in the process of seeking to understand their nature and fulfill their deep but difficult longings, and that mark allows others of the same tribe to recognize their kith and kin.
A comparison of the lives of Jane Austen and C.S. Lewis provides us with the gulf that exists in how members of this tribe can recognize and enjoy the company of each other. Jane Austen was a poor, unmarried woman living in a small cottage with other widowed and unmarried women, dependent on wealthier relatives and deprived of the connections with the wider cultural world that such skill as she possessed deserved. Even so, during her lifetime and beyond, those who shared her romanticist leanings recognized in her a talented member of their tribe, like Sir Walter Scott, who was famous both as a poet as well as the author of historical novels relating to Scottish history and romance. On the contrary, C.S. Lewis was a part of the Inklings, a group of talented romanticist writers who encouraged each other and ate and drank and taught together, and formed a community of like-minded people whose combined creative efforts proved both prolific during their lifetimes and also long afterwards. While not all members of this group were equally famous, C.S. Lewis and his friend J.R.R. Tolkien remain pivotal influencers of contemporary literary and religious culture.
And that is, or at least ought to be, the goal of the romanticist. One of the key aspects of the romanticist life that is the most painful is the isolation that comes from the combination of intense longing and the frustration of that longing that comes from painful and intense self-consciousness. Romanticism is far more enjoyable and also far more beneficial to the world at large when this isolation can be overcome. It is overcome when like recognizes and encourages and appreciates like. This feeling of community allows for the romanticist to feel less oppressed by the strength of one’s yearning as well as by the isolation that comes from self-consciousness and allows the creative tendencies that come from the complex alchemy of romanticism to blossom into beautiful and diverse forms, be they artistic or literary or intellectual and academic in nature. And such beauty, when one finds it, is well with the trouble that it take to find others of one’s kind, to find a supportive community that allows one to feel connected and to overcome the isolation that often results from being a romanticist.