Academic journal article Goethe Yearbook

Verkleidungen der Aufklärung: Narrenspiele Und Weltanschauung in der Goethezeit

Academic journal article Goethe Yearbook

Verkleidungen der Aufklärung: Narrenspiele Und Weltanschauung in der Goethezeit

Article excerpt

Galil Shahar, Verkleidungen der Aufklärung: Narrenspiele und Weltanschauung in der Goethezeit. Trans, from the Hebrew by Stefan Siebers. Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2006. 229pp.

Galil Shahar 's well-researched study Verkleidungen der Aufklärung: Narrenspiele und Weltanschauung in der Goethezeit investigates the interrelation between the trope of foolishness, the figure of the "Narr," and Enlightenment thought. Delineating her own version of the dialectic of enlightenment, Shahar seeks to demonstrate that reason and the carnivalesque do not contradict but rather complement and complete each other. Tracing a tine from Goethe's Hanswursts Hochzeit oder der Lauf der Welt via Gottsched 's banishment of the fool from the theater to his reappearance as "lustige Person" in the prologue to Faust, Shahar claims that the fool never really disappeared from the German stage. Rather, the bourgeois theater integrated elements of the carnivalesque, which, as Shahar argues, did not detract from but rather facilitated its emerging function as a matrix of enlightenment thought.

Shahar's study draws on a wide variety of primary sources. Her analysis of cultural and social history is interlaced with interpretations of literary texts, ranging from Goethe's Faust, Wilhelm Meister, Schiller's "Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen," Kant's concept of the sublime, and Kleist 's "Über das Marionettentheater" to various actors' memoirs, including those of Karoline Schulze-Kummerfeld and Carotine Neuber.

The first section of Shahar's study summarizes the historical developments that account for the transition from traveling theater companies to the professionalized and institutionalized bourgeois theater, from the actor as outcast to the upwardly mobile thespian. In this process, the theater, although it retained elements of the carnivalesque, was "civilized" and re-defined as the arena of "homo ludens," in which the bourgeois subject is free to confront the internal contradictions of Enlightenment thought in a safe environment. In the theater, the dangers and problem zones of enlightened thought assume innocuous shapes. Theatrical illusion does not countermand truth, but gives rise to a higher truth. Similarly, the actor's ability to let go of his own identity does not signal alienation from the self but rather allows for processes of self-discovery and identificationThus, the theater emerges as an institution that mediates between the anarchy of the carnivalesque, its investment in pleasure, spontaneity, and the body, and the rigidity and homogeneity of enlightenment thinking. …

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