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Dichtungstheorien der deutschen Fruhaufklarung.

Dichtungstheorien der deutschen Fruhaufklarung. Ed. by THEODOR VERWEYEN. (Hallesche Beitrage zur Europaischen Aufklarung, 1) Tubingen: Niemeyer. 1995. 207 pp. DM 98.

This is a collection of papers delivered at a symposium in Halle in 1993. At its core, fittingly, is the work of thinkers and writers based in Halle, in particular Baumgarten, Meier, and Pyra. Relationships with writers who moved and lived elsewhere, especially Gleim, Uz, and Anna Louisa Karsch, are also investigated. In spite of the somewhat pessimistic remark at the beginning of Theodor Verweyen's stimulating introduction, the footnotes (there is, understandably but regrettably, no bibliography) show that research into the literary progeny of Christian Wolff has taken a significant leap forward.

The concentration on Halle gives the book a degree of unity and consistency not vouchsafed to all such 'Sammelbande', at least as far as the core papers on theory are concerned. These treat a variety of specific topics: Baumgarten's 'theory of the poem' (Werner Strube), Batteaux and Meier on 'imitatio' (Friedrich Vollhardt), the 'logic of imagination' (in fact, Pyra on 'Longinus': Carsten Zelle), Pyra's concept of the poet in his Tempel der wahren Dichtkunst (Jutta Heinz), Meier on laughter (Wolfgang Mauser), each with scholarly care for the specifics of the subject. In all these papers, though, one senses a common preoccupation: how to do justice to the unpredictable, subjective aspects of the psyche, to break the vice-like grip of Gottschedian Regelpoetik and imitation-theory, but not the mould of an essentially WolYan philosophy and 'anthropology'. For while there is truth in subjective feeling and imagination, there is also the danger of 'Schwarmerei'; while Lessing takes the insights of Mendelssohn on board, he still sees all poetic productions as 'Werke des Witzes' and Klopstock himself writes that the 'sacred' poet 'ahmet der Religion nach'. Pace Mauser (especially pages 123-27), who articulates the theme most clearly (and boldly), one still feels the disciplining influence, in all these probings, of the rhetorical framework (for example, emotional freedom legitimized by the subject-matter in the Sublime) and of a kind of pre-established harmony between 'sinnliche Erkenntnis' and the truth of reason, as when Meier asserts that the soul is a truthworthy mirror 'wenn sie anders in ihren Vorstellungen nicht irret' (my emphasis: see Vollhardt, p. 34).

This is not in any way to deny the importance of Wirkungasthetik, or of the need for a careful investigation of it, to which this collection represents a valuable contribution. It is an acknowledgement of the fact that the Aufklarung recognizes the existence of the irrational and subjective, and seeks to find ways of giving it not freedom but room to breathe. This insight provides the basis for a more thoughtful and sensitive interpretation of the poetry of the period than it has been accorded in the past. Theodor Verweyen and Gunther Witting use a copy of a text by Baumgarten with notes and glosses by Uz and the little-known Paul Jacob Rudnick (to whom Hans-Joachim Kertscher devotes a separate paper) to underpin the assumption of intercourse between Halle theory and Anacreontic practice (in particular as regards 'Aufwertung der Sinnlichkeit') but cannot here pursue the theme beyond the fact of reception. There are hints of critical application in Dorothee Kimmich's study of the Rococo and in particular Uz's 'Der Weise auf dem Lande', though the main emphasis is ideological rather than critical. The author's approach is bold and potentially illuminating, but just as the theory was hardly a breakthrough to the modern 'Geniebegriff', so here one remains to be convinced by textual analysis that Uz and Meier represent a giant step on the way to acceptance of the aesthetic as an 'autonomous discourse', or a proto-Foucauldian 'Selbstkonstitution' (see p. 163). The practical critical implications are also followed up by Sabine Modersheim in a study of attitudes to the work of Anna Louisa Karsch, in which the author very reasonably and convincingly rejects the stereotyping of her subject as a Naturkind.

Halle being Halle, the particular ambience created by Pietism and its ambivalent attitude to aesthetic activity is a constant background presence and it comes very much to the fore in Burkhard Dohm's study of the Freundschaftliche Lieder of Pyra and Lange and in Wolfgang Martens's authoritative account of the journals Der Gesellige and Der Mensch. More loosely connected with the central theme, but thoroughly worthwhile, are contributions by Wilhelm Vosskamp on the utopian novels of Schnabel and von Loen and by Frank Baudach on the young Wieland's concept of the poet. A useful index rounds off a scholarly, stimulating, and well-edited volume.

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Author:Menhennet, Alan
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1998
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