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Herder's Aesthetics and the European Enlightenment.

Norton, Robert E. Herder's Aesthetics and the European Enlightenment. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991. xi + 257 pp. $39.95--This study of Herder's aesthetics is a welcome addition to the continued scholarly rehabilitation of Herder. Norton limits his study to the first fifteen years of Herder's intellectual activity, which he finds preoccupied with questions of aesthetics. Norton takes issue with much of what has been said and written about Herder's aesthetics.

Throughout his work Norton makes clear his central objective: to bring out Herder's rational and analytical approach to the subject, which "gathered its conceptual support and critical authority from the psychological theories of the |philosophes', and perhaps most directly from his famous teacher, Kant" (p. 165). Norton feels obliged to stress this side of Herder's approach "because of the tendency in the research to see Herder as a so-called philosopher of feeling (Gefuhlsphilosoph) who both advocated and practiced a subjectivistic or irrational approach to art based alone on intuition and |empathy'" (P. 165 n. 11).

Norton's volume thus constitutes a forceful effort to correct long-held misperceptions and to place Herder family into the aesthetic paradigm of the European Enlightenment. Norton considers the six chapters of the book as "actually constituting successive layers of one continuous argument" (p.9). The argument sees Herder "consistently applying the methodological procedure of analysis, which we have seen was one of the distinctive possessions of the European Enlightenment," and seeking "to establish an aesthetic theory that was in every respect a truly philosophical science" (p. 48).

With impressive rigor and reference to many works in the relevant Enlightenment literature, Norton sketches the philosophical background to which he finds Herder beholden. The first three chapters present a careful exposition of the problems that underlie Herder's philosophy of aesthetics by reference to his early Versuch uber das Sein (1764), the two editions of the Fragments (1767) (though Norton does not make sufficiently clear that the second edition of the Fragments so amply cited by him was not published until after his death), the prize-winning Abhandlung uber den Ursprung der Sprache (1772), and the "Shakespeare Essay" (in Von deutscher Art und Kunst [1773]).

The core of Norton's study, chapters 4-6, is devoted to Herder's philosophy of aesthetics proper, which is found in the first and fourth "groves" (Waldchen) of Herder's Kritische Walder (1769), and in the Plastik (1778). It should be noted that the "Fourth Grove" of Herder's Kritische Walder, like the second edition of Herder's Fragmente, was not published until after his death; in this case, unlike the case of the second edition of the Fragmente, Norton takes due notice of this equally lamentable fact by pointing to Robert J. Clark's remark that publication at an earlier date "could have changed the entire course of German aesthetics." In the end, "what could have been," but, by not appearing in time or by not being written at all, was not, looms large in Norton's final evaluation of Herder's "arrested" philosophy of aesthetics (p. 237). Norton is eminently successful in showing the effectiveness of Herder's analytical methodology and his painstaking examination within its particular cultural setting of every work of art accessible to him. Herder's approach resulted in a stunning evocation of the pageant of the past by means of a synthesis unparalleled up to that point in time.

Norton focuses on the rational and analytical in Herder's works and he accepts a periodization that chops up Herder's life into epochs and places; for example, he locates the essential development of his philosophy of history in the years after 1774. Justified as this shift in interpretation may be, it presents to the reader a thinker whose thought may be viewed as having been "arrested" in stages. Norton is eager to establish Herder's "secular and unmystical historical standpoint," so clearly distinct from and superior to Hamann's standpoint (p. 70). In so doing, he neglects the Herder who wrote the sermons of the Riga and Buckeburg years, and who conceived the essential characteristics of his encompassing philosophy of history (Auch eine Philosophie der Geschichte zur Bildung der Menshheit ([1774]), his interpretation of Genesis (Archaologie des Morgenlandes [1769]; Alteste Urkunde des Menschengeschlechts [1774, 1776]), and who wrote a number of other, powerful religious treatises at the very time that he was grappling with the problems of aesthetics. Of course, given his self-imposed focus, Norton cannot be expected to deal effectively with the personal universe of thought within which Herder's philosophy of aesthetics was generated. The work of Hans Adler, which advocates access to Herder's mind by understanding it to be rooted in a "gnoseological anthropocentrism . . .that is embedded in a conceptual theodicy," suggests a much needed counterpoint to Norton's forceful brief.
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Author:Menze, Ernest A.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Words:779
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