Philosophy and German Literature, 1700-1990

Philosophy and German Literature, 1700-1990

Philosophy and German Literature, 1700-1990

Philosophy and German Literature, 1700-1990

Synopsis

Although the importance of the interplay of literature and philosophy in Germany has often been examined within individual works or groups of works by particular authors, little research has been undertaken into the broader dialogue of German literature and philosophy as a whole. This study offers six chapters by leading specialists on the dialogue between German literary writers and philosophers through their works.

Excerpt

'The intermingling of philosophical and literary ideas', Peter Stern once wrote, is a 'commonplace of German literary history'. Apart from his own studies of the 'traffic between literature and philosophy', a long list might be compiled of studies which aim somehow to explain German literature since 1700 in philosophical terms, from (to name but a few) Hermann August Korff's Geist der Goethezeit (1923–53; Spirit of the Goethean age), via Nicholas Boyle's philosophical reading of Goethe's 'Vermächtniß' (1979; 'Testament') to Géza von Molnár's Goethes Kantstudien (1993; Goethe's Kant studies). The list of studies which look at German philosophy from a literary angle of some kind might not be quite as long, but would still be impressive. Now such lists would scarcely prove that German literature, by comparison with literature in other languages, exhibits some special relationship with philosophy (however defined), still less an intrinsic one. And yet how often do modern German writers signal that their literary works were prompted by reading philosophy. Johann Christoph Gottsched (not a great writer, but an important one) builds the early eighteenth-century reform of German literature on the intellectual reforms of Leibniz-Wolffian philosophy. Schiller is the very paradigm of the poeta philosophus. The Romantic Friedrich von Hardenberg (Novalis) founds his entire literary œuvre on an intensive study of Fichte. Kleist becomes a poet only after having endured a crisis of knowledge in the name of Kant. Thomas Mann is habitually read through Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. And this is not to mention other well-known or popularly accredited cases such as Goethe and Spinoza (or Leibniz), Heine and Hegel, Hofmannsthal and Mach, Brecht and Marx, Bernhard and Wittgenstein, Jelinek and Freud (or Marx), Botho Strauß and Adorno.

But even if we allow for heuristic purposes the claim of a special relationship between German literature and philosophy, of what kind might their relation be? Co-operation between equals on the basis of an agreed division of intellectual labour? Subordination of one discourse . . .

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