Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Rococo (pt. 2)

The Restoration Period in England is synonymous with flourishing literary and artistic expression that had been all but fully abandoned during the prior Revolutionary Period.  Theaters had been closed during the Interregnum, and during the period of Civil War the literary environment saw only the proliferation of political and religious tracts to spread Revolutionary ideals.  But after the return of Charles II, the nation settled comfortably back into its former state of stability and unity.  Literature, science, and the arts were allowed to continue under the king who gave official royal approval to the Scientific Revolution.  The Restoration brought about the reopening of theaters, and for the first time women were permitted to perform as actresses on the stage.
The Restoration Period of British literature and art could be argued to span through the latter half of the Scientific Revolution, but the time in which it particularly dominated was a time in Western history known as the Age of Enlightenment.  The Greco-Roman quest for knowledge that was the Enlightenment went a step further than the Scientific Revolution, which sought out answers to practical questions about the nature and order of the universe.  Having established the pragmatic institution of science as a key sector of European society, the great thinkers turned increasingly toward those questions which exact science cannot fully answer: and those questions dealt primarily in philosophy, especially political philosophy.  Religion became less and less a part of the equation.  This had been developing since the Renaissance—but even the Renaissance was qualitatively religious in practice, as Renaissance Humanism did not completely throw away the remembrance that God (or gods) was the ultimate Creator of humankind.  The Protestant Reformation had again turned the eyes of Europe and the Western world toward religious concerns, and even during the Baroque Era science was most often practiced as a counterpart to religious faith (as I explained in an earlier article).  What changed in the Age of Enlightenment was an increase (I would say, dramatic increase) in secularized thinking.  Whether this arose from the faith-numbing effects of scientific knowledge, from the necessity for practical philosophers amidst the continent's continual political struggles, or merely from the transference of the public eye, after more than a century of religious conflict, to matters more earthly, it is not for me to argue; what is to be said is that the Enlightenment was perhaps the first fully irreligious historical movement in Western civilization.  (This is not to say you will never come across the word "God" in your readings of Locke, Rousseau, and Voltaire; it is, rather, to assert that the lifestyle implications of true faith-based religious devotion were done away with in all matters philosophical.  Put simply, it was maybe the first time in Western history that the fate of nations was allowed to be put in the hands of human reasoning and wisdom.)

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