The Poetics of Aristotle was the organon for all poetic technique through the second half of the eighteenth century, and the feared standard of critics until Boileau, Gottsched,1 and Lessing. It was the most effective instrument of philology for the interpretation, criticism, and evaluation of Greek literature. Together with grammar, rhetoric, and logic, the Poetics was a constituent of the curriculum of higher education. But then a new aesthetics, born of the spirit of the great period of German literature, came to guide Goethe and Schiller in their work; it was also able to raise the level of understanding in Humboldt,' Körner,4 and the Schlegels, and to secure their aesthetic judgments. This aesthetics dominated the entire realm of German poetry: Goethe and Schiller were its princely rulers while Humboldt, Moritz,5 Körner, Schelling, the Schlegels,
1 This is a translation of "Die Einbildungskraft des Dichters: Bausteine für eine Poetik," originally published in a Festschrift for Eduard Zeller and reprinted in GS, VI, 103-241. Pagination in the margins refers to this volume.
' Johann Christoph Gottsched (1700-66). A follower of Christian Wolff, he upheld form and rules in literature over against the excesses of the later Baroque period.
'Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835). Philologist and statesman; brother of Alexander von Humboldt; one of the founders of the University of Berlin and the modern Gymnasium-, a friend of Schiller and Goethe.
'Christian Gottfried Körner (1756-1831). Official in the Prussian Ministry of Culture and a friend, admirer, and benefactor of Schiller. An exchange of letters between them discussing aesthetic matters exercised considerable influence.
' Karl Philipp Moritz (1756-93). Author and aesthetic theorist. He became closely acquainted with Goethe during the latter's stay in Italy (1786) and later in Weimar (1788). A defender of the autonomy of art, his best-known aesthetic writings are Versuch einer deutschen Poesie (1786) and Über die bildende Nachahmung des Schönen (1788).
and finally Hegel, served as their ministers of the fine arts, so to speak. This new aesthetics transformed philology, for it supplemented rational hermeneutics, which had been created in the controversy between Trentine Catholicism and Protestantism and developed by Ernesti,6 with a hermeneutics along aesthetic lines. Schleiermacher, using Friedrich Schlegel's method, derived the rules of this aesthetic hermeneutics from the principle of the form of a literary work. It replaced a mode of evaluation and criticism which had prescribed rules to the understanding and had established corresponding grammatical, metrical, and rhetorical techniques, with a mode of aesthetic criticism proceeding from an analysis of form. The major achievements of this criticism are found in Wolf,7 Lach-mann,8 and their successors. This German aesthetics hastened the decline of the old forms in France and England, and influenced the first creations, still tentative and unsure, of a new poetic age.
Today anarchy rules the wide field of literature in every country. :o4 The poetics created by Aristotle is dead. Its forms and rules were models drawn from past artistic genres, which had already become powerless shadows of unreality when juxtaposed with the beautiful literary wonders of a Fielding or Sterne, a Rousseau or Diderot. Our German aesthetics does indeed still survive in some universities, but no longer in the consciousness of the leading artists and critics where it should live above all. In France, David9 lost his influence in the visual arts; instead Delaroche10 and Gallait" came to the
* Johann August Ernesti ( 1707-81 ). German theologian and philologist; he rejected both mystical interpretation and extreme rationalism, upholding instead the grammatical—and thus the logical and historical—interpretation of Scripture. His most influential work was the Institutio Interpretis N. T. (1761).
7 Friedrich August Wolf (1759-1824). A classical philologist especially influential through his Prolegomena ad Homerum (1796), which concerns the origins of Homeric poetry. See also his Vorlesungen iiber die Altertumswissenschaft (5 vols., 1831-35), where he develops a broad, comprehensive view of the nature of classical studies.
" Karl Lachmann (1793-1851). A classical philologist who applied the methods of classical philology to early German texts. See especially his work on the Nibe-lungenlied (1826).
»Jacques Louis David (1748-1825). French classicist painter who often painted political themes ("Marat Assassinated," 1793) classical subjects, such as the "Rape of the Sabines."
10 Paul |Hippolyte) Delaroche (1797-1856). A French painter whose work falls midway between classicism and romanticism. Some of his paintings are "The Death of Queen Elizabeth" (1827) and the monumental mural of the "Ecole des Beaux-Arts" (finished in 1841).
" Louis Gallait (1810-81). Belgian painter known for his classical tableaus and his historical paintings. Some of his paintings are "La mort du Maréchal de Biron" (1835) and "La conquête d'Antioche par Godefroy de Bouillon" (1840).
fore. In Germany, the fresco designs of Cornelius11 vanished into the obscurity of the museum and made way for the realistic depictions of people found in works by Schadow" and Menzel.'4 Both changes meant that the code of ideal beauty adopted by Goethe, Meyer,and their Weimar circle had been rescinded. Since the French Revolution a new poetry current in London and Paris has attracted the interest of poets and public alike. As soon as Dickens and Balzac began to write the epic of modern life as found in these cities, the basic poetic principles once debated by Schiller, Goethe, and Humboldt in idyllic Weimar became irrevelant. Today a colorful mixture of forms from all periods and peoples is breaking in upon us and seems to undo every delimitation of literary genres and every rule. Especially from the East," we are inundated by elemental, formless literature, music, and painting—half barbaric but filled with vital emotional energy of peoples who still fight the battles of spirit in novels and twenty-foot-wide paintings. In this anarchy, the artist is forsaken by rules; the critic is thrown back upon his personal feeling as the only remaining standard of evaluation. The public rules. The masses throng into colossal exhibition halls, theaters of all shapes and sizes, and lending libraries. They make or break the artist's reputation.
This anarchy of taste always characterizes periods when a new way of feeling reality has shattered the existing forms and rules, and when new forms of art are striving to unfold. It can, however, not be permitted to last. And it is thus one of the vital tasks of contemporary philosophy, art history, and literary history to reestablish a healthy relationship between aesthetic thought and art.
The artist's need for honesty and gripping effects of all kinds today drives him onto a path whose goal is still unknown to him. It leads him to sacrifice the clear delimitation of forms and the pure elevation of ideal beauty above common reality. In this way he feels in tune with a transformed society. The struggle for existence and
11 Peter von Cornelius (1783-1867). German painter commissioned by Ludwig I of Bavaria to paint the fresco decorations in the Glyptothek of Munich; also designed decorations for the mausoleum of Frederick William II of Prussia.
" Gottfried Schadow (1764-1850). Perhaps the most important sculptor of German classicism, also known for his graphic work and lithography. Some of his best-known works are his statue of Frederick the Great (Stettin, 1793) and the Bliicher Monument (Rostock, 1819).
Adolph von Menzel (1815-1905). Painter and graphic artist who was famous for his historical paintings of the court life of Frederick the Great.
"Johann Heinrich Meyer (1760-1832). An art historian and painter who met Goethe in Italy and then lived in Weimar as Goethe's friend.
'* Dilthey means Eastern Europe, especially Russia.
influence in this society has become more ruthless and demands the exploitation of the strongest effects. The masses have obtained recognition and now have a voice. They assemble with great facility at central places where they demand the satisfaction of their desire for gripping, heart-rending effects. The spirit of scientific investigation is applied to all objects. It penetrates every kind of spiritual process and produces the need to see through every kind of disguise or mask to apprehend reality truthfully. In the eighteenth century our ideal was a literature in which a poet invested his true nature. The necessary expression of this was a representative art which perfected inner beauty. Today our ideal does not lie in form, but rather in the power which addresses us through forms and movements. Thus today art is becoming democratic, like everything else around us, and is filled with the thirst for reality and scientifically secure truth. Today's artists and poets feel that true and great art of the present ought to express the core or secret of our age, which must be as powerful as that which confronts the eye in the Madonnas or tapestries of Raphael, or speaks to us in Iphigenia. The artist feels a passionate resistance—all the more passionate, the more unclear his notion of the goal of his own art—against a reactionary aesthetics which derives a concept of ideal beauty from works of that past or from abstract ideas, and he measures the productive work of the struggling artist by it.
These influences have completely transformed poetry, but they have also debased it. Great geniuses of narrative literature such as Dickens and Balzac have accommodated themselves all too easily to a public voracious for reading matter. Tragedy is languishing for lack of an audience in which aesthetic reflection could preserve the consciousness of the highest task of poetry. Under the same circumstances, the comedy of manners has lost its subtlety in the structure of its plot and refinement of resolution. That tragic element with which Molière seasoned his great comedies (and which lent them their depth) has been replaced by superficial sentimentality to suit the taste of the masses. In the German visual arts a misology has arisen from the conflict with an aesthetics which has become unproductive—for an aesthetics which no longer works coopera-106 tively toward the ideal of an age is unproductive. Artists have developed an aversion to thinking about art, sometimes even to every kind of higher culture. Today the results of this aversion are as evident to the artists themselves as to the public.
But there exist strong impulses in our art that lead to truthfulness, to the apprehension of power behind all form, and to efficacy; if these impulses are not to atrophy, then the natural relationship between art, aesthetic raisonnement, and an engaged public must be reestablished. Aesthetic discussion enhances the position of art in society, and it invigorates the working artist. The artists of Greece and of the Renaissance as well as Corneille, Racine, Molière, Schiller, and Goethe worked in just such a lively milieu. During the period of their greatest artistic exertions we find Goethe and Schiller completely surrounded and thus supported by such national aesthetic vigor in criticism, aesthetic judgment, and lively debate. The entire history of art and literature shows how the thoughtful apprehension of the functions and laws of art maintains the consciousness of its significance and ideal goals, whereas the lower instincts of human nature constantly strive to lead art astray. German aesthetics, especially, has given serious reasons to support the belief that art is an immortal human occupation. Only if what is lasting in this aesthetics, particularly its insight into the function of art for the life of society, is grounded more deeply, can the artist also maintain the high position in the esteem of society which the poet attained in the hundred years between the misery of poor Giinther17 and the state funeral of Goethe. In every golden age of the visual arts or literature, aesthetic reflection about the goals and techniques of the particular arts has provided essential support for the unfolding of a lasting style and a coherent artistic tradition. From the remains of the poetics and rhetoric of the Greeks we see how the unfolding of a lasting style for the poet and orator went hand in hand with the framing of rules. It is worth noting how the long golden age of the French theater was promoted by the aesthetic raisonnement made possible by Cartesian philosophy. Lessing, Schiller, and Goethe prepared for their literary work by intense aesthetic and technical reflection; this reflection played an active role in the development of Wallenstein, Hermann and Dorothea, Wilhelm Meister, and Faust-, and it also assured a sympathetic reception of these works by the public. In short, art requires the thorough schooling and education of the artist and the public through aesthetic reflection if its higher aspirations are to be un- 107 folded, appreciated, and defended in the face of the vulgar instincts of the masses. Is it not the case that the grand style of German literature was preserved only because of the majestic power of those two authors who lived in Weimar? By means of their comprehensive aesthetic influence, emanating from Weimar, supported by several
' Johann Christian Giinther (1695-1723). Poet from Silesia.
journals, even resorting to terror-inspiring satire in the Xenien1*— these two authors kept Kotzebue, Iffland, and Nicolai" in their place and encouraged a benign German public to place their faith in Hermann and Dorothea and The Bride of Messina. Such faith did not come naturally to the public.
The task of a poetics which derives from this living relationship to the artistic pursuit itself is to determine whether it can attain universally valid laws that are useful as rules of creativity and as norms for criticism. And how is the technique of a particular period and nation related to these universal rules? How do we overcome the difficulty, which all the human sciences10 must face, of deriving universally valid principles from inner experiences, which are personally limited, composite, and yet incapable of analysis? The old task of poetics reappears here, and the question is now whether it can be carried out by means of those tools which the expansion of our scientific horizons puts at our disposal. For contemporary empirical and technical horizons do indeed allow us to ascend from poetics and the other particular aesthetic disciplines to a universal aesthetics.
From another perspective as well, a poetics has become an undeniable need of the present. The immense stock of literary works of all nations must be classified in light of its contribution to our education, spontaneous enjoyment, or knowledge of historical causes; accordingly it must be assessed in value, and applied to the study of man and history. This task can be carried out only if a
'» Goethe and Schiller published a collection of Xenien (1797) in which they used satire about other authors while asserting their own literary position.
"August v. Kotzebue (1761-1819), August Wilhelm Iffland (1759-1814), and Friedrich Nicolai (1733-1811). Kotzebue was the author of over two hundred dramatic pieces of secondary import. Together with Iffland, he dominated the popular stage of his day. A foe of Goethe and Schiller, he was also anti-Romantic. Because of his later opposition to German unity and to the political student organizations, he was assassinated by a student radical.
Iffland was an actor, theater director, and playwright, with over sixty pieces to his credit. After 1811 he was the General Director of the Berlin Nationaltheater.
Nicolai was an author and a publisher who worked with Lessing and Moses Mendelssohn. He wrote several works critical of romanticism, Sturm und Drang, and classicism, and a number of satirical parodies aimed at Goethe, Schiller, Kant, Herder, and Fichte; the best known was the Freuden des jungen Werthers (1775).
10 The human sciences (Geisteswissenschaften) encompass both the humanities and the social sciences. All previous translations of Dilthey and most of the writings on Dilthey in English have used the term "human studies." But current conceptions about the role of interpretation in all science have made it possible to refer to the Geisteswissenschaften as either human sciences or human studies.
general science of the elements and laws on the basis of which literature is formed accompanies the history of literature. "The material is the same in both cases. No mistake of method is more disastrous than the renunciation of the scope of historical and biographical facts in the formation of a general science of human nature. The achievements of human nature exist for us and can be studied only in the midst of society. This same relationship obtains between universal science and the analysis of historical phenomena for all other major expressions of social life."1' The starting point 108 of such a theory must lie in the analysis of the creative capacity, whose processes condition literature. "The poet's imagination and his attitude toward the world of experience provide the point of departure for every theory seriously directed to explaining the manifold world of poetry and literature in the succession of its manifestations. Poetics in this sense is the true introduction to the history of literature, just as the theory of science is the introduction to the history of spiritual or intellectual movements."11 The artist and his public need such an evaluation of literature on the basis of a standard that is as secure as possible. We have entered an age of historical consciousness. We feel surrounded by our entire past—this is also true in the field of literature. The poet must come to terms with it, and only a historical perspective applied to poetics can emancipate him. Furthermore, philology, which first produced an understanding of the inner coherence among the literary products of a nation and their relation to the vitality of the national spirit, constantly finds historically limited poetic techniques. The problem of the relation of technique to the general laws of literature necessarily leads philology to the principles of poetics.
We thus arrive at the same basic question, but in its historical form: Can we come to know how processes grounded in human nature and, consequently, of universal scope yield these various kinds of poetry, which are separated according to nations and periods? Here we touch on the most fundamental fact of the human sciences: the historicity of psychic life as it is manifested in every system of culture produced by man. How is the sameness of our human nature, as expressed in uniformities, related to its variability, its historical character?
Poetics may have a great advantage over the theories of religion
11 This is how, in an 1877 essay in the Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie on the poet's faculty of imagination, I justified the need to take up again the old task of a poetics. (D)
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