"Kubla Khan," The Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit, and the decomposing subject of Coleridge's corpus.
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Epps, Peter G.
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In "Kubla Khan" and its prose introduction, Coleridge offers repeated examples of conscious efforts to gather up the loose ends of history, both globally and personally, in political and spiritual contexts. "The Pains of Sleep" depicts personal suffering as inextricably linked with the act of constituting self and others in relationships determined by the act of representation itself after the manner exemplified in Coleridge's philosophical and poetic works. This depiction is especially important in light of the convergence since Coleridge's time of views as different as Japanese Buddhism and Continental philosophy. West or East, philosophy seeks to represent the human subject as accounting for itself and all things with no residue of prior representation. Coleridge's work anticipates this convergence, particularly in the spiritual concerns which dominate his late works. Coleridge's attempt to represent himself in terms of Christian confession while upholding his account of the human subject leads him to discuss the doctrine of original sin at length in Aids to Reflection. This engagement broadens the conversation beyond the parochially Christian or Western and exposes the complex problem of Coleridge's philosophical anthropology which persists in Coleridge's posthumously published Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit. Despite the formative role he attributes to Scripture in Christian confession, Coleridge is scandalized by the traditional doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture. Coleridge uses Scripture to explain original sin in Aids, but reads Scripture in Confessions under a scheme of representation that implicates not only readers and writers, but the divine Author, in complicity with original sin. This limits the possibilities of those very resources upon which he draws in "A Nightly Prayer," which responds to "The Pains of Sleep" by elaborating in perhaps its simplest, most personal form Coleridge's Christian confession. Ultimately, Coleridge's attempt to found a Christian self-understanding on a Biblical doctrine of original sin is incompatible with the philosophical anthropology in which Coleridge grounds his Biblical hermeneutics. Coleridge's corpus thus provides an extended example of the difficulties involved in attempts to found a unified understanding of self, others, world, and God upon the conscious experience of the human subject.