Academic journal article German Quarterly

Die Verwaltung des Abenteuers: Massenkultur um 1800 am Beispiel Christian August Vulpius

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Die Verwaltung des Abenteuers: Massenkultur um 1800 am Beispiel Christian August Vulpius

Article excerpt

Simanowski, Roberto. Die Verwaltung des Abenteuers:Massenkulturum 1800am Beispiel Christian August Vulpius. Palaestra 302. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1998.404 pp. DM 98.00 paperback

Roberto Simanowski's book offers both a detailed discussion about the status of trivial literature in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and an exemplary analysis of a number of novels by a succesful author of this genre, Christian Vulpius (1762-1827), who also happened to be Goethe's brother-in-law. Although his books usually received devastating reviews, Vulpius did achieve some fame, most notably with his novel Rinaldo Rinaldini, a book about the adventures of a notorious Italian robber, which was a best seller at the time. Vulpius has attracted, until now, only modest interest from scholars. This is unquestionably related to the fact that many studies of trivial literature and debates about its functions operate implicitly or explicitly with a negative view of the genre. Simanowski's study aims to correct this.

The negative view of mass culture is not new. Trivial literature was already viewed with suspicion by many representatives of the Enlightenment and was often seen as an organ of "Counter-Enlightenment." As Simanowski points out, there was quite a debate about the dangers of reading, especially when done alone in a room-here there are certain similarities to eighteenth-century debates about onanism-and under the influence of, for instance, coffee. But to understand fully the role of trivial literature in the Enlightenment, it is useful to look at what Simanowski calls the "Konzept einer varhaltnismassign Aufklarung": the idea, in other words, that every individual should not be exposed to the same level of "Enlightenment." Too much "Enlightenment" might be bad for some individuals, but some of it would probably not hurt anybody. Trivial literature could at least potentially perform an important function in this respect. Not only did it literally keep people off the street, it also taught certain values, and it knew how to make these values attractive.

In order to arrive at a more complex view of trivial literature, the author of this study uses sociological, discourse-analytical and psychological insights (and relates the latter to the reception of literature in particular). In spite of the diversity of these approaches, they are all functional parts of Simanowski's interpretations. …

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