Herder's Aesthetics and the European Enlightenment

Herder's Aesthetics and the European Enlightenment

Herder's Aesthetics and the European Enlightenment

Herder's Aesthetics and the European Enlightenment

Excerpt

Herder's status within German intellectual history has largely rested on the premise that he, along with his friend Johann Georg Hamann, brought about a profound reorientation in German culture, one that was to a great extent responsible for creating the conditions that enabled the rise of German idealism and romanticism. The "Sturm und Drang," that important, though short-lived, epoch during the third quarter of the eighteenth century for which Herder was seen as both the progenitor and prime exemplar, was said to be chiefly characterized by a dissatisfaction with the ability of the rational mind alone to fathom the full nature of reality and human experience. Thus Herder was long portrayed as the advocate of those aspects of experience which were excluded by the rationalist optimism and facile secularism that supposedly characterized the Enlightenment. Herder came to be seen as the founding priest of the cult of individual emotion and of the ineffable in artistic creation and response.

This traditional view of Herder as an irrational iconoclast, as the irresistible opponent of a moribund Enlightenment has by now lost much of its argumentative force and integrity. There once was undoubtedly something of a historical necessity in this interpretation, an expression of the nineteenth-century desire to define the distinct outlines of a specifically Germanic culture by setting it off against Romanic civiliza-

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