The Poetics of Historical Perspectivism: Breitinger's Critische Dichtkunst and the Neoclassic Tradition

The Poetics of Historical Perspectivism: Breitinger's Critische Dichtkunst and the Neoclassic Tradition

The Poetics of Historical Perspectivism: Breitinger's Critische Dichtkunst and the Neoclassic Tradition

The Poetics of Historical Perspectivism: Breitinger's Critische Dichtkunst and the Neoclassic Tradition

Excerpt

The development of aesthetics in late eighteenth-century Germany coincided with a strong scholarly interest in language and with a new reflection on history. The apparently sudden progress in these three fields is usually attributed to the seminal work of a brilliant philologist, cultural historian, literary theorist, linguist, and art critic-- namely, Herder. But the connections between aesthetics, the historical sciences, and the study of language, the reasons for the simultaneous attention given these disciplines in the eighteenth century, have yet to be explored adequately, primarily because scholars have often failed to examine in detail the origins of aesthetics in the early part of the century. This period was shaped by the Quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns, which was intensely concerned with the interrelation of literary criticism, language, and history. My study is intended as a contribution to our understanding of this interrelation.

By using Breitinger's text as a focal point, I hope to delineate a specific aspect of aesthetic thinking in the eighteenth century: how it was that poesis and historiography could increasingly come to resemble each other in their assumptions, purposes, and methods of presentation. The concept that associates these two disciplines with each other in this period is "historical perspectivism." When applied to historiography, this notion holds that history is not accessible to us as an unrelated collection of "facts" or information, but only insofar as information can be placed in a context, a Zusammenhang. The construction of a context, however, was viewed as an essentially poetic task. The historian no longer simply writes out chronicles but "represents" the past. History, now understood as narrative, is a Gemälde, an organized aesthetic whole that is not unlike the "Gemälde" that Breitinger says poets produce. The historical representation was, furthermore, said to follow or be made possible by the adoption of a Gesichts-Punkt, a term that stood ready-to-hand in the poetic theory of the early Enlightenment. There the notion of perspectivism is manifest in the argument that the poet creates a literary work out of the perspective that he occupies vis-à-vis nature. When the term "historical perspectivism" is extended to poetic interpretation, it means that the critic must account for the historical and cultural "distance" between himself and the work. A central contention of my study is that historians learned to utilize the notion of perspective after its . . .

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