Atmosphere, Mood, Stimmung: On a Hidden Potential of Literature

Atmosphere, Mood, Stimmung: On a Hidden Potential of Literature

Atmosphere, Mood, Stimmung: On a Hidden Potential of Literature

Atmosphere, Mood, Stimmung: On a Hidden Potential of Literature

Synopsis

What are the various atmospheres or moods that the reading of literary works can trigger? Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht has long argued that the function of literature is not so much to describe, or to re-present, as to make present. Here, he goes one step further, exploring the substance and reality of language as a material component of the world-impalpable hints, tones, and airs that, as much as they may be elusive, are no less matters of actual fact.

Reading, we discover, is an experiencing of specific moods and atmospheres, or Stimmung. These moods are on a continuum akin to a musical scale. They present themselves as nuances that challenge our powers of discernment and description, as well as language's potential to capture them. Perhaps the best we can do is to point in their direction. Conveying personal encounters with poetry, song, painting, and the novel, this book thus gestures toward the intangible and in the process, constitutes a bold defense of the subjective experience of the arts.

Excerpt

Reading for
stimmung
How to Think About the
Reality of Literature Today

Over the last ten years, a mood of uncertainty has befallen academic engagements with literature—or “literary science,” as it is called in German. in quick succession and with varying levels of intellectual productivity, a series of theoretical paradigms dominated literary studies in the second half of the twentieth century. New Criticism yielded to Structuralism, and Structuralism to Marxism. Marxism and Structuralism gave way to Deconstruction and New Historicism. Deconstruction and New Historicism were then replaced by Cultural Studies and Identity Studies. An almost rhythmic change of the basic assumptions about literary interpretation became the norm. Since the beginning of the early nineties, however, no new theory of literature has posed a real intellectual or institutional challenge. This does not mean that there has been a lack of interesting publications, too few thinkers who command respect, or a dearth of debates. On the contrary: now that the constant pressure to revise one’s epistemology has relaxed, many scholars have found more time than ever—and also more inspiration—to concentrate on the literatures of different epochs and examine the . . .

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