Plotinus, the 3rd Century Platonic philosopher, was the inspiration for the 17th Century Platonists, including Anthony Ashley Cooper, the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury.   Plotinus is associated with “neoplatonism” a term invented by 19th Century historians, which describes a movement that influenced Coleridge and the German idealists.  M.H. Abrams makes less, perhaps, of the impact of Spinoza on romantic poets than current scholars do (for example, Abrams writes that Coleridge borrowed the terms “natura naturans” and “natura naturata” from Plotinus, rather than Spinoza), laying more emphasis on Plotinus.  Indeed, Abrams’ account of romantic aesthetics in The Mirror and the Lamp as well as Natural Supernaturalism seems to hinge on Plotinus’s monist theory of “emanation.”  Considering the current interest among scholars on Spinoza, especially in the light of post-Deleuzian affect theory, it seems necessary to understand the links between Plotinus and Spinoza.  Deleuze himself supplied those links in Expressionism and Philosophy (170-178):

One of Plato’s disciples, Plotinus, speaks to us at a certain level of the One as the radical origin of Being. Here, Being comes out of [sort de] the One. The One makes Being, therefore it is not, it is superior to Being. This will be the language of pure emanation: the One emanates Being. That is to say the One does not come out of itself in order to produce Being, because if it came out of itself it would become Two, but Being comes out of the One. This is the very formula of the emanative cause. But when we establish ourselves at the level of Being, this same Plotinus will speak to us in splendid and lyrical terms of the Being that contains all beings, the Being that comprehends all beings. And he issues a whole series of formulae which will have very great importance for the whole philosophy of the Renaissance. He will say Being complicates all beings. It’s an admirable formula. Why does Being complicate all beings? Because each being explicates Being. There will be a linguistic doublet here: complicate, explicate…

…Why? Because this was undoubtedly the most dangerous theme. Treating God as an emanative cause can fit because there is still the distinction between cause and effect. But as immanent cause, such that we no longer know very well how to distinguish cause and effect, that is to say treating God and the creature the same, that becomes much more difficult. Immanence was above all danger. So much so that the idea of an immanent cause appears constantly in the history of philosophy, but as [something] held in check, kept at such-and-such a level of the sequence, not having value, and faced with being corrected by other moments of the sequence and the accusation of immanentism was, for every story of heresies, the fundamental accusation: you confuse God and the creature. That’s the fatal accusation. Therefore the immanent cause was constantly there, but it didn’t manage to gain a status [statut]. It had only a small place in the sequence of concepts. Spinoza arrives…

In other words, readers of Deleuze, upon encountering Plotinus, may wonder how this monist philosophy differs from Spinoza, and the difference is in the notion of immanence, rather than emanation.  Ironically, Spinozism seems to be ‘imminent’ in Plotinus. (Interestingly, Spinoza, who lived from 1632-1677, was contemporary with the Cambridge Neoplatonists).   It’s Spinoza, according to Deleuze, who commits the “fatal” and “dangerous” heresy of replacing the “emanative cause” (God, the transcendent) with an “immanent cause,” that “splendid and lyrical” being that complicates everything because “each being explicates Being.”  This notion of an aesthetics that creates itself as an open-ended (and hence political) process is salient in, for instance, Brian Massumi’s recentSemblance and Event.  Interestingly, the thought of both Plotinus and Spinoza has been compared to Vedanta philosophy (which emphasizes the “end of knowledge” – or silencing discursive thought, which divides, recognizes, and analyzes, into phenomenological experience of living interrelationship).

The debate between Coleridge and Wordsworth, as John Beer has suggested, hinges on their mature understanding of active nature.  As Beer puts it, Coleridge developed deep doubts about the benevolence, and sympathy, of nature, doubts Wordsworth may have resisted longer, even if both poets finally tended toward conservatism.  Coleridge, who felt himself roused from the sleep of death by The Prelude, had (according to Abrams) fallen from the evangelical path of redemptive imagination the two poets once envisioned.

[Jerome McGann argues that the post-revolutionary period was a time of conservative backlash that stifled the first generation visionaries and provoked the erotically charged styles of the second generation – Shelley’s “futurism” (meliorism, idealism), Byron’s “sensationalism” (disaffection), and Keats’ “aestheticism”: “These special circumstances affected the earlier Romantics as well.  Blake fell silent, Wordsworth fell asleep, and Coleridge fell into his late Christian contemptus.  The second generation Romantics, however, fashioned from these evil times a new set of poetic opportunities” (116)].

I’m confused, at the moment, about the difference between what M.H. Abrams calls the “post-Kantians” and what he calls the “Neoplatonists.”  It seems quite safe to assume the Neoplatonists came first (17th Century versus late 18th Century).   Indeed, he clearly seems to argue that the post-Kantians (idealists involved a secularization of society, who placed at the center of philosophical questions not so much metaphysics as the  human mind, or epistemological and cognitive questions) revised Neoplatonism.

In Natural Supernaturalism he writes that “the basic categories of characteristic post-Kantian philosophy, and of the thinking of many philosophical-minded poets, can be viewed as highly elaborated and sophisticated variations upon the Neoplatonic paradigm of a primal unity and goodness, an emanation into multiplicity which is ipso facto a lapse into evil and suffering, and a return to unity and goodness” (169).  The opening of Chapter 4 (Forms of Romantic Imagination) has more to say on this.  On page 151 (The Great Circle), he discusses the difference between Neoplatonism and Christian thought , and elsewhere he discusses the deep difference between pantheism (as a cycle) and the Christian linear eschaton.

In Wordsworth, one can definitely find evidence o f the “circuitus spiritualis, a powerful current of ‘love’, or cohesive and sustaining supernatural energy” (152).  On page 187, he discusses “Redemption as progressive self-education” – or the shift from “Heilsgeschichte to Bildungsgeschichte” (188), and on page 186 crucially explains that the “extended process is to transform Plotinus’ emantaion into evolution…” Is this not the same point Deleuze made about Spinoza?  How is self-education (as in Keat’s “soul-making”) a working out of immanence?  How does it differ?  Does the notion of Alpha and Omega even work in Spinozism? 

Abrams seems to argue that the Neoplatonists saw human experience as a lapse, or fall, from the One, into an experience that seems ‘evil’, or full of suffering, yet one that remains meaningful because our access to beauty (through a kind of universal, shared sympathy inherent to our mental and physical consitution) links us to the moral truth of the One.  Abrams sees the romantics (and post-Kantians) as revising this idea, such that the descent into material experience leads to deeper complexity (a development of the primal one), and a “higher integration” or maturation.  Hence, he seems to read romanticism as a story of the individual in the process of lost childhood/innocence, arbitrary moral freedom/despair, and eventual mature vision.