Academic journal article German Quarterly

Der Aphorismus: Begriff und Gattung von der Mittes des 18Jahrunderts bis 1912

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Der Aphorismus: Begriff und Gattung von der Mittes des 18Jahrunderts bis 1912

Article excerpt

Spicker, Friedemann. Der Aphorismus: Begriff and Gattung von der Mitte des 18. Jahrhunderts bis 1912. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1997. 484 pp. DM 248.00

What Andre Jolles called "kleine Formen" in 1930 included this strangely elusive gem, the aphorism. Scholars have been at considerable pains for much of the past century to define adequately a genre whose boundaries have been maddeningly vague. The past three decades have witnessed significant explorations of the aphorism with Gerhard Neumann's Der Aphorismus: Zur Geschichte, zu den Formen and Moglichkeiten einer literarischen Gattung in 1976 and Harald Fricke's Aphorismus in 1984. Now comes Spicker's study, with the most exhaustive effort yet, born of the author's "terminologische Unzufriedenheit" with the genre.

The dates in Spicker's subtitle provoke curiosity. While one can extend the early history of the aphorism back through the 17th century French moralists to the Biblical Proverbs of Solomon all the way back to Hippocrates's "vita brevis, ars longa," the literary aphorism in Germany has had a clear birthday for some time: "namlich auf jenen Tag im Jahre 1756, an dem Lichtenberg seine erste, die Gattung gleich selber deutlich genug ankundigende Eintragung in das Sudelbuch A schrieb" (Fricke 1976, 53). The precise terminal year was apparently dictated by the 1912 publication date of Berendsohn's Kiel dissertation, Stil and Form des Aphorismus.

Spicker's book is not merely a rehashing of familiar territory but also an attempt to resolve, or at least summarize, the many definitions and examples of aphorisms that have hitherto defied a satisfactorily comprehensive treatment. He distinguishes usefully, as most previous scholars have, between the concept (Begriff) of the aphorism, the genre itself (Gattung), and what he calls "aphoristische Praxis," with the result that there is virtually no facet of the aphorism that is not exhaustively explored here. The familiar neighboring genres are again cited: Epigramm, Tagebuch, These, Apercu, Regel, Maxime, Sentenz, Spruch, Fragment, Anmerkung, Zitat, Exzerpt. Still, Spicker takes as his point of departure an admission of defeat:

Das Grundproblem der Aphorismenforschung ist bis heute nicht gelost. Es stellt sich ebenso schlicht wie fundamental so dar: Einerseits werden Texte, die nicht so heiDen, selbstredend zur Gattung Aphorismus gerechnet, andererseits ebenso fraglos Texte, die so heissen, von ihr ausgeschlossen. …

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