Behind Herder's Tympanum: Sound and Physiological Aesthetics 1800/1900

By Whitney, Tyler | Goethe Yearbook, January 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

Behind Herder's Tympanum: Sound and Physiological Aesthetics 1800/1900


Whitney, Tyler, Goethe Yearbook


In early 1769, at the age of twenty-five, Johann Gottfried Herder composed the last of his so-called 'kritische Wälder' (critical forests), a series of essays responding to the aesthetic theories of contemporaries such as Christian Adolf Klotz, Friedrich Just Riedel and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. Drawing most extensively on Lessing's foundational media-theoretical work, Laokoon oder über die Grenzen der Mahlerey und Poesie (Laokoon, or the Limits of Painting and Poetry, 1766), the series examined the coevolution of the human sensorium and the historical differentiation of the arts. In contrast to his contemporaries, Herder ascribed particular importance to the sense of hearing and dedicated large sections of his critical forests to explaining the uniqueness of aesthetic experiences mediated by the ear. In order to make his case for hearing, Herder looked beyond the fields of philosophy and art history to the recent work in physiology he had encountered during his brief tenure as a medical student at the University of Königsberg.1

Nowhere was this attempt to fuse art history with medical science clearer than in his Viertes Kritisches Wäldchen (Fourth Critical Forest) from 1769, which, according to Herder, aimed at making sense of "[die] innere Physik des Geistes" ([the] inner physics of the mind) or "die Physiologie der Menschlichen Seele" (the physiology of the human soul).2 Specifically, the essay discussed the nature of sound and aesthetic pleasure with numerous references to the anatomical structure of the ear. In support of the essay's central distinction between 'sound' (Schall) and 'tone' (Ton), Herder drew readers' attention to the ear's "Tympanum" (102; tympanum), "Trommelfell" (138; tympanic membrane), "Nervenäste" (105; nerve branches), and "Fasern" (108; fibers).

This foregrounding of the ear's corporeality and its incorporation into a theory of musical aesthetics and poetics was consistent with Herder's broader intellectual project, which aimed to rehabilitate auditory experience against the backdrop of Enlightenment ocularcentrism. While his Viertes Kritisches Wäldchen offered a theory of aesthetic pleasure and the sonic sublime grounded in the physiology of auditory perception, his Abhandlung über den Ursprung der Sprache (Essay on the Origin of Language, 1772) elevated the ear to the status of "erste Lehrmeister der Sprache" (the first language teacher), and characterized the process of language acquisition as an acoustic exchange. Using terms such as "Ton der Empfindung" (tone of feeling) and "gleichfühlende[s] Echo" (sympathetic echo), Herder's theory of the origin of language is predicated on the acoustical exchange between the sounds of nature and their reception by attentive human listeners.3 Other works from the same period described the reader's engagement with written texts in terms of a "schöpferische[s] Ohr" (creative ear) which rendered sensible the otherwise lost acoustical dimension of the authorial voice, or, as Herder put it, allowed readers to hear the expression of authorial feeling via text "in vollem Ton" (in all shades of sound).4 Finally, his Volkslieder (Folk Songs) project (1778/79), though essentially drawn from textual sources, urged readers to recover poetry's oral/aural origins in order to stimulate literary production in the present.5 It is no surprise, then, that Herder both convened with, and exerted considerable influence on, the leading acoustical scientists and theorists of his age, including Ernst Florens Friedrich Chladni, Johann Wilhelm Ritter and Wolfgang von Kempelen.6

Herder's preoccupation with sound and hearing at this specific historical moment, one dominated by visual metaphors and assumptions about vision's superiority to the other senses, has not gone unnoticed. Jürgen Trabant credits him with the "rediscovery of the ear" and with setting in motion "a real philosophical revolution," a "turn from a traditionally ocular, visual (and solipsistic) theory of knowledge towards an auricular and auditory (acromatic) one. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Behind Herder's Tympanum: Sound and Physiological Aesthetics 1800/1900
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.