Essays in Romanticism

Coleridge’s Epoché: Phenomenology and the Suspension of Disbelief

Essays in Romanticism (2020), 27, (1), 23–40.

Abstract

The notion of the “willing suspension of disbelief” constitutes one of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s most enduring contributions to aesthetic discourse. Setting aside the usual understanding of this phrase as a shorthand for the mental experience of readers engaged with fictional narratives, this paper presents a more philosophical and systematic interpretation drawing a sustained parallel with twentieth-century phenomenology. By tracing the intellectual genealogy of suspension through a diverse spread of Coleridge’s writings in the early nineteenth century, it becomes clear that its various iterations play an important role in the formation of his literary-philosophical theory. In addition, this genealogy is supplemented with an extended comparison to the process of phenomenological suspension developed by Edmund Husserl. This comparison illustrates the systematic potential contained within Coleridgean suspension and highlights its salient philosophical claims and assumptions.

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Author details

Marshall, Tom