Academic journal article German Quarterly

E.T.A. Hoffmann and the Serapiontic Principle. Critique and Creativity

Academic journal article German Quarterly

E.T.A. Hoffmann and the Serapiontic Principle. Critique and Creativity

Article excerpt

18th and 19th Century Literature and Culture Brown, Hilda Meldrum. E.T.A. Hoffmann and the Serapiontic Principle. Critique and Creativity. Rochester: Camden House, 2006. 211 pp. $85.00 hardcover.

Against the many recent postmodern readings of E.T.A. Hoffmann, Brown states her conviction that Hoffmann's "'polyphonic' perspectivism" (4) and irony do not spell a poststructuralist rejection of meaning and identity, but rather an "awareness and acceptance of [...] contradictions" (4) and of "polarities of thought and 'principles" (5). Based on the observation of Hoffmann's tendency to self-reflection as well as to exuberant inventiveness, Brown divides her reconstruction of Hoffmann's poetics into two parts, one theoretical, the other practical.

In Part One, she reconstructs the author's poetics from the analysis of his self-reflective discourse, culminating in the formulation of the "Serapiontic Principle" in the frame narrative of Die Serapions-Briider. While Brown demonstrates intimate familiarity with all of Hoffmann's writing, individual chapters in Part One focus on six texts, ranging from his earliest to his last writing. Quietly stepping aside from theories of the death of the author, Brown relates Hoffmann's poetics to the dualism of Schelling's and Schubert's "Naturphilosophie," and convincingly identifies three distinct stages in successful artistic production. First, the artist must penetrate the sensuous material which stimulates him (the external world acting as a lever). Second, the artist's imagination will work on the sense impressions, internalize them and extract the "nobler elements from among a heterogeneous array of possible components" (85), in the stage of "inneres Schauen." Thirdly, the artist will shape, transform and externalize the material, fusing external stimulus and imagination, "Natur" and "Geist," the familiar or everyday and the supernatural or otherwordly (63). The product should demonstrate an enrichment or "Potenzierung" of sense material which mixes "Ernst" and "Scherz" (85). "Intensity and communicability of the inner vision" (47) are the result of such successful fusion. …

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