Germanic Languages | Historical Study of German Literature III
G575 | 2705 | Breithaupt

Topic: Aesthetic Ideology: From Goethe to the Revolution of 1848

Three credit hour course; meets 4:00-5:15 p.m., MW in BH 242.

This course examines how a certain concept of politics enters literature in
the "Age of Goethe" and thereafter is established as a critique of aesthetic
classicism. The key question when we examine and evaluate this new concept of
politics is to what degree this notion of politics is indeed dependent on
aesthetics in such a way that these "politics" are always and only a politics
of aesthetics. While the focus of the class will be early nineteenth-century
texts by Goethe, Kleist, Büchner, and Heine we will also discuss more
contemporary texts which define politics in a related way and in fact refer
back to early nineteenth-century German literature; texts by Adorno, Paul de
Man, and Judith Butler. As we will see in the texts of these later authors,
what occupied the place of literary aesthetics for the nineteenth-century
writers, is now understood to be a politics of presentation.

The background of our examination will be the German eighteenth-century
classicist literature which had provided models of a society guided by
aesthetics; the "beautiful soul" became the Leitbild for (mostly female)
behavior, Schiller's aesthetics projected an ideal of society, and Germany as
a whole was to follow Winckelmann's Classical Greece, all ideas that are taken
up again by German National Socialists. In criticizing this idealist
literature, some authors such as the late Goethe, Kleist, Büchner and
Heine stress the blindness of these idealistic aesthetical models that exclude
anything that does not succumb to it, and they do so by focusing on figures of
the marginal, the cruel, and the insane and by employing diverse strategies
such as irony, alienation, and interruption. However, the works of these
authors reveal that there is no simple alternative to aestheticism.
Apparently, that which differs can only be seen from the perspective of those
aesthetic concepts that these authors are trying to escape. Literature and
fiction do not picture social reality, but only a reality that is already
aesthetisized. As we will see, this is also the dilemma of the German
political writers of the Vormärz and of 1848 who attempt to write
"politically." They experienced that there is no realist fiction, but only a
realism-effect of fiction.

The question then is not simply how but whether literature can be a means for
a politics that is open to the demands of the people. We will examine how
Goethe, Kleist, Büchner, and Heine deal with this question in their
literary works by reflecting on the relationship of aesthetics and politics.

We will spend considerable time with close readings of the texts, discussion
will be in German or English. Participants are expected to write a total of 20
pages split in as many papers as desired and to give one short opening of a
discussion (10 min.).

(+) Goethe, FAUST II
(+) Büchner, LEONCE UND LENA
(+) Büchner, DANTONS TOD