Literature & Religion: Pascal, Gryphius, Lessing, Holderlin, Novalis, Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Kafka

By Walter Jens; Hans Küng et al. | Go to book overview

WALTER JENS
Nathan's Attitude
Has Been Mine All Along

Writing to his brother Karl from Wolfenbiittel on 11 August 1778, Lessing noted:

I still don't know what the upshot of my business (with Johann Melchior Goeze) will be. But I would very much like to be prepared for every possible one. You well know that one can't be better off than when one has money, as much as needed. And so this past night I had a foolish notion. One time many years ago I sketched out a play, whose content has a sort of analogy with my current controversies, one that I never dreamed of at the time. If you and Moses ( Mendelssohn) think it's good, I'll have the thing printed by subscription.

The "thing" was Nathan the Wise. Lessing preferred casual talk, offhandedness, a practically deprecating approach, when he spoke about his own work. "More the product of polemics than of genius," he would later say; a writer really can't talk about nascent material more offhandedly. Lessing chose to make the leap from the pulpit to the theater not out of enthusiasm, seized by rabies poetica, but for more down-to-earth reasons. First of all, he wanted to get around the censorship that, had he continued the battle against Goeze in theological pamphlets, would have finished him off (and not only in Brunswick). Second, he wanted at the same time not to drop his polemic, but to give it the character

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Literature & Religion: Pascal, Gryphius, Lessing, Holderlin, Novalis, Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Kafka
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