Jena Romanticism and Its Appropriation of Jakob Bohme: Theosophy, Hagiography, Literature

By Dye, Ellis | German Quarterly, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

Jena Romanticism and Its Appropriation of Jakob Bohme: Theosophy, Hagiography, Literature


Dye, Ellis, German Quarterly


Mayer, Paola. Jena Romanticism and Its Appropriation of Jakob Bohme: Theosophy, Hagiography, Literature. Montreal: McGill-Queen's UP 1999.242 pp. $65.00.

Jena Romanticism and Its Appropriation of Jakob Bohme is based on a Princeton dissertation, written under the supervision of Theodore Ziolkowski and with the advice and encouragement of Hans Eichner. The author has read and understood both the Gorlitz mystic Jakob Bohme and his Jena admirers, and provides information, along with a too detailed critique of earlier work (e.g., Carl Paschek's 1967 dissertation on Bohme and Novalis), on when and how well each of the Jena Romantics came to know and use Bohme.

Mayer rejects the concept of "influence" as the mode in which Bohme's biography and thought were received by the Romantics and argues for "appropriation" instead, for which she is indebted to Stephen Prickett, Origins of Narrative: The Romantic Appropriation of the Bible (1996). Appropriation is found to have taken two forms in Jena: (1) the hagiographic appropriation of Bohme's name and "canonical status" (101) by Tieck, Novalis, Johann Wilhelm Ritter, Schleiermacher, and three of the four Schlegels, and (2) the more substantial and predatory borrowing and redefinition of selected vocabulary, concepts and images from Bohme's work by Friedrich Schlegel and F W J. Schelling. Of these two kinds of reception, the second-and, indeed, the discussion of Schlegel and Schelling overall-is the more interesting and instructive.

Mayer's book is divided into three parts. Part one contains "The Seduction of Influence: A Forschungsbericht" (which surveys studies and assertions of Jakob Bohme's influence on the Romantics, noting the paucity of literary studies and the lack of cross-fertilization between literary and philosophical studies); "Bohme's Thought: A Precis"; and "Bohme's Reception in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries; A Typology." Part two contains separate chapters on Tieck, Novalis, and Ritter and a fourth on Schleiermacher and A.W, Caroline, and Dorothea Schlegel. Part three: "From Universalpoesie to Christian Idealism: Bohme's Thought and Philosophical Romanticism" contains chapters on F Schlegel and Schelling (plus a conclusion), but none on Fichte, "parallels" to whose thought are discerned in Bohme (25), which might suggest "influence," at least in his case, after all.

The appropriation thesis does not much expand our understanding of intellectual reception or of Schlegel's and Schelling's use of Bohme. The claim that "the influence thesis" "attributes to Bohme's theosophic writings an active, formative role, to the Romantics the passive one of disciples" (16) or that "influence" must entail "a causal relationship" (14, 82) between the thought of a predecessor and that of his or her ephebes and effecting a radical change in the latters' development, neither allows for indirect influence nor provides a useful distinction between what the author might regard as genuine cases of influence and "appropriation." Related associations, such as expropriation, misappropriation and exploitation, and even theft (n15,17) are neither indubitably useful nor accurate. What is "causal," after all, about Fichte's reception of Kant or of any young writer's reception of a philosophical or literary discourse in which an earlier thinker is an important but not the only element? …

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