Academic journal article German Quarterly

Goethes Gedichttitel

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Goethes Gedichttitel

Article excerpt

Moennighoff, Burkhard.. Goethes Gedichttitel. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2000. 207 pp. DM 138.00 hardcover.

In his Gottingen Habilitationsschrift, Burkhard Moennighoff provides an exhaustive and often labored analysis of how Goethe's poems are titled. After introductory remarks on the history of the literary title, an opening chapter evaluates the rather limited literature on the subject and culls from it analytical language and typologies adequate to the diversity of Goethe's poetry. The emphasis is on identification of title types and specification of the various functions that titles might have within poetic texts. The heart of the monograph follows. Using a methodology that is generally positivistic and descriptive, the author proceeds chronologically to offer a systematic overview of Goethe's changing poetic practice in terms of single poem titles and larger collections. There is no rush to judgment here. Conclusions are cautiously formulated in a vocabulary aiming for analytical precision.

While few readers of Goethe's poetry will be startled or particularly stimulated by the general summary finding ("die eingangs formulierte Hypothese, Goethe gebrauche den Gedichttitel als Kunstform, [findet] Bestatigung" [169]), a number of Moennighoff's points deserve further consideration. Among the more compelling observations, repeated several times in the text, is the assertion that titles are a product of written literature. Oral poetic culture has little or no need for them. Consequently, Goethe sometimes uses the omission of a title, particularly in his novels and dramas, but also in collections such as the Sonette and the West-ostlicher Divan, to reinforce the fiction that a text has oral provenance. Also well taken is the assertion that the repetition of parallel syntactical structures in titles can be used to link poems in an ensemble, a practice Goethe employs throughout his life. Early examples include the titles Goethe assigned to the folksongs he gathered in Alsace in the summer of 1771; portions of the West-ostlicher Divan are also clearly linked by this device. Titles shape reader expectation in diverse ways, including creating a sense of historical or generic distance or awakening a sense of puzzlement. …

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