Germanic Languages | Historical Study of German Literature II
G573 | 24996 | Michel Chaouli

2:30P-3:45P / MW
BH 331

The Five the Senses in the Eighteenth Century

This course proceeds from the premise that many of the tensions
lodged in the word Sinn and its compounds (as well as the
English "sense" and the French sense) become especially palpable in
the course of the European eighteenth century. The tension between
organic senses (always in the plural) and the one intellectual sense
has often been understood in terms of a conflict between the body
and institutions meant to subdue it. We will see that something more
specific is at stake. In crucial ways, the central intellectual
project of the eighteenth century—enlightenment—can be said to
involve a redistribution of power and prestige not between the body
and various institutions, but among the senses: the allegedly
beclouded senses of touch, taste, smell, and hearing lose out to
sight, the only sense capable of allowing illumination into the

As we shall see, things are quite a bit more complicated, even
within the Enlightenment itself. For the eighteenth century is not
merely the century of light, but also of taste, of sensibility, and
of sympathy. Thus we find many writers worrying about the line
between bodily and mental events more than one might expect, as if
aesthetic taste may after all be bound up with our tastebuds, or as
if feeling for somebody does finally depend on feeling another body.
We will consider how the senses are thought to compete with one
another, how they are arranged in hierarchies, how their
substitutability for another is debated. As one might guess, forms
of sensory deprivation (blindness, deafness) become a topic of
heated debate, as does synesthesia. If, as Marshall McLuhan has
suggested, modernity gives man an eye for an ear, a lot writers in
the eighteenth century can be seen tallying up the costs of this
trade. One crucial question for the seminar would be to assess to
what extent literature poses, and perhaps answers, the question of
the senses differently than other genres.

Readings from Berkeley, Bonaventura, Brentano, Burke, Buffon,
Condillac, Diderot, Goethe, Herder, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Hume, Kant, La
Mettrie, Lessing, Lichtenberg, Locke, Moritz, Novalis, Rousseau,
Schiller, and Wackenroder, as well as texts by contemporary critics
and theorists.