The Practices of the Enlightenment

The Practices of the Enlightenment: Aesthetics, Authorship, and the Public

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    The Practices of the Enlightenment
    Book Description:

    Rethinking the relationship between eighteenth-century Pietist traditions and Enlightenment thought and practice,The Practices of Enlightenmentunravels the complex and often neglected religious origins of modern secular discourse. Mapping surprising routes of exchange between the religious and aesthetic writings of the period and recentering concerns of authorship and audience, this book revitalizes scholarship on the Enlightenment.

    By engaging with three critical categories--aesthetics, authorship, and the public sphere--The Practices of Enlightenmentilluminates the relationship between religious and aesthetic modes of reflective contemplation, autobiography and the hermeneutics of the self, and the discursive creation of the public sphere. Focusing largely on German intellectual life, this critical engagement also extends to France through Rousseau and to England through Shaftesbury. Rereading canonical works and lesser-known texts by Goethe, Lessing, and Herder, the book challenges common narratives recounting the rise of empiricist philosophy, the idea of the "sensible" individual, and the notion of the modern author as celebrity, bringing new perspective to the Enlightenment concepts of instinct, drive, genius, and the public sphere.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53933-3
    Subjects: Philosophy, Art & Art History, History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-X)
    (pp. XI-XII)
    (pp. XIII-XXVI)

    Aesthetics, authorship and the public, the three foci of this book, were sites of serious concern and change during the Enlightenment: taste, rather than an acquired ability and a marker of social distinction, became a universal faculty evincing a distinctly human mode of experiencing pleasure. A rule-oriented poetics gave way to an emphasis on unprecedented innovation and creativity, and art became the exclusive domain of original genius. As the print market, especially of literature written in the vernacular, exponentially increased during the second half of the eighteenth century, not only the economic and legal situation of writers but also the...


    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 1-4)

      In her studyThe Author, Art, and the MarketMartha Woodmansee isolates two key concepts of eighteenth-century aesthetics: disinterested interest and original genius. The concern of Woodmansee’s study consists not in elucidating Kant’s aesthetics, nor in writing the history of these concepts as a dialogue between theoreticians and philosophers, but rather in providing an altogether different, until then entirely neglected, rather mundane context to illuminate their sudden emergence: changes in the German-language book market in the second half of the eighteenth century, the sudden rise of general literacy together with a surge of entertainment literature in the vernacular, primarily comical...

      (pp. 5-26)

      Traditionally, when discussing the beginnings of Enlightenment aesthetics, intellectual historians and historians of philosophy point to the philosopher Alexander Baumgarten, who set out to investigate the particularities of sensuous cognition.¹ With the creation of a philosophical subdiscipline, which he called aesthetics, Baumgarten designated a domain that valued the lower faculties, that attributed to the work of art a specific insight-generating power, and that reflected on the pleasures of the imagination.² For the purposes of this chapter, however, I shall bracket this approach. Instead of tracing a certain trend in philosophical discourse about the value of art and the specific kind...

    • 2 DISINTERESTED INTEREST: The Human Animal’s Lack of Instinct
      (pp. 27-38)

      The conceptualization of our ability to take a disinterested interest, which shows itself in calmly contemplating an object of beauty or admiring even an adversary’s noble action, first emerges in the moral philosophy directed against a Hobbesian concept of human nature. Thus it plays an important role in the writings of Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, and Hume. It holds an equally prominent position in J.G. Herder’s philosophy of language and it provides the defining feature of an aesthetic judgment in Kant’s aesthetics. To trace some of the key steps in the fate of this concept by paying particular attention to its various...

      (pp. 39-50)

      In the previous chapter, tracing the conceptualization of the faculty of contemplation, we could see how the appreciation of beauty, to the extent that it was considered an expression of the human capacity to take a disinterested interest, came to be conceived as a universal human feature rather than an acquired taste or marker of social distinction. In this context, especially in the discussion of how the human capacity for taking a disinterested interest was described as the feature that distinguished the human animal from instinct-directed animals, we could also observe the important role played by teleology. And yet, especially...

      (pp. 51-52)

      In the previous three chapters I have dealt with various aspects of Enlightenment aesthetics by focusing on the recipient or beholder. I have argued that we can point to specific religious practices of contemplation that would lay the ground for the Enlightenment claim that aesthetic contemplation is an essential aspect of human nature. Then I have traced those discourses that would situate the human ability for taking a disinterested interest and perceive beauty with regard to teleological approaches to natural phenomena. In this last chapter I shall shift my focus from considerations of reception to considerations of production, from the...

      (pp. 53-62)

      Young’s “Conjectures on Original Composition,” a text that was to become particularly important for the German Storm and Stress poets of the early 1770s,¹ introduces its approach to originality with the following image: “An Original may be said to be of a vegetable nature; it rises spontaneously from the vital root of Genius: it grows, it is not made: Imitations are often a sort of Manufacture wrought up by those Mechanics, Art, and Labour, out of preexistent materials not their own.”² The talent of producing original works is not acquired but constitutive of the artistic genius’s nature. The notion of...

    • 6 THE STRASBOURG CATHEDRAL: Edification and Theophany
      (pp. 63-72)

      Celebrating the Strasbourg Cathedral and its architect Erwin von Steinbach, Goethe’s brief pamphlet “On German Architecture” from 1772 is generally considered within the context of the rediscovery of the Gothic, the Storm and Stress cult of original genius, and a generation of young poets asserting the independence of their “German” art from the ruling French paradigms of taste. Although these contextualizations are not wrong, they miss the point of what is specific, new, and important about Goethe’s text. Instead of reading “On German Architecture” as an essay about a stylistic preference or a patriotic agenda, I shall be reading it...

      (pp. 73-76)

      Goethe’s programmatic Storm and Stress pamphlet, “On German Architecture,” both in view of its systematic argument about the nature of original genius and in view of how the argument is actually staged as the first-person narrator’s pilgrimage to the grave of the architect of the Strasbourg Cathedral, brings us back to my initial proposition from the beginning of part 1, namely the claim that the two key concepts of an eighteenth-century discourse on aesthetics, disinterested interest and original genius, emerged against the background of specific religious practices and a changing concept of nature. In Goethe’s pamphlet the beholder of the...


    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 77-84)

      These are the famous opening paragraphs of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’sConfessions. In them he announces his autobiography as a radically new and unique enterprise, which consists in the complete revelation of his interiority as only the eternal being has seen it. This claim justifies borrowing the title of Augustine’s work. In both cases an individual’s interiority is openly displayed with utter attention to detail and a total commitment to sincerity in a way that would match only the knowledge of an eternal being’s insight into that individual’s inner life. But in many other aspects it does not resemble Augustine’s work: certainly...

    • 7 PIETISM
      (pp. 85-108)

      Generally, Philipp Jakob Spener (1635–1705) is considered the founder of German Pietism.¹ Trained as a Lutheran theologian, Spener was a senior minister in the predominantly Protestant city of Frankfurt am Main when in 1667 he published a translation ofLa Pratique de l’ oraison et méditation chrétienne(The practice of Christian prayer and meditation) by Jean de Labadie (1610–1674). In 1675 he publishedPia Desideria oder Herzliches Verlangen nach gottgefälliger Besserung der wahren evangelischen Kirchen samt einigen dahin einfältig abzweckenden christlichen Vorschlägen (Pia Desideria or the Heartfelt Desire for a God-pleasing Betterment of the True Evangelical Church Together...

    • 8 ROUSSEAU
      (pp. 109-140)

      When we call a pronouncement a profession of faith we can mean two radically different things: we might mean that we are dealing with an individual’s proclamation of her or his innermost beliefs regardless of their conformity with any particular official dogma or we might simply be indicating the speech genre of an individual speaker’s proclamation of his or her adherence to an official religious creed. In either case a profession of faith demands to be respected in its integrity, to be taken as utterly sincere. Moreover, the content or object of belief is not to be disputed. Its truth...

    • 9 GOETHE: From the “Confessions of a Beautiful Soul” to Poetry and Truth
      (pp. 141-176)

      The primary focus of this chapter will be on Goethe’sDichtung und Wahrheit. I will show how this autobiographical work provides a sustained reflection on what it takes to become a creative artist both from a historical perspective and in terms of an individual’s talents. For authorship in this work is considered not primarily as the making public of one’s own text or composition, as in the case of Rousseau, but rather as involving an intervention in an entire cultural domain.Dichtung und Wahrheitshows the childhood, youth, education, and early adulthood of the author as the phase that prepared...

      (pp. 177-180)

      In part 2, focusing on the relationship between confessional discourse, the genre of autobiography, and the mise-en-scène of authorship, I have examined the intricate relationship between the transformation of religious practices and concepts of religion, on the one hand, and their impact on the emergence of an autonomous sphere of secular literary practices, on the other hand. We could see how the practices of narrating and publishing first-person narratives of the events culminating in an individual’s conversion or spiritual awakening—though very popular and widely spread—did not pave the way for a secular practice of soul searching and autobiographical...


    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 181-186)

      According to Jürgen Habermas, during the eighteenth century the “bourgeois public sphere” emerges in contrast to what he calls a “representational public sphere” (repräsentative Öffentlichkeit). Whereas in the latter those in power would communicate to a passive audience of subjects, in the new bourgeois public sphere communication takes place outside the reach of state and governmental institutions, for instance, in coffee houses, taverns, and theaters. The new public sphere was propagated by the effects of a flourishing print market and the exponential growth in the availability of moral weeklies and sentimental fiction. In its forms of communication it takes its...

      (pp. 187-204)

      Whereas the standard historical discussions on the emergence of the concepts of patriotism and fatherland in Germany tend to argue that an aggressive nationalism did not arise before the Napoleonic occupation of Prussia in 1806,¹ a careful study by Hans-Martin Blitz shows that the opposition between enlightened cosmopolitanism and a rabid, especially Prussian patriotism and nationalism, underlying the dominant thesis about the emergence of a patriotic nationalism, which more or less explicitly makes the emergence of a patriotic nationalism into an issue of a “progressive” liberation from an occupational force, is historically too simplistic.² Already during the Seven Years’ War...

      (pp. 205-218)

      Herder has often and quite wrongly been associated with the emergence of an intensely irrational, religiously tinged form of patriotism, although critics of this portrait of Herder’s relationship to the rise of German nationalism have again and again asserted that Herder’s “nationalism” must be understood exclusively with regard to the importance of the vernacular and the attempt to call for a renewed attention to German language—based cultural productions. In this chapter I shall not be primarily focused on Herder’s concept of the nation, but rather his concept of the public, which has received far less attention. I shall do...

      (pp. 219-242)

      The critical public sphere analyzed in this part of my study has little in common with the category of “public opinion.” Understood in the mideighteenth century as a relatively conservative category, as a consensus about common values and morality, by the end of the century public opinion became an increasingly important factor in political decisions, a critical instance to be reckoned with, that might require a certain degree of governmental transparency and disclosure.¹ These aspects of a public sphere and public opinion that involve a collective and basically tacit attitude, be it consensual or be it factitious, partisan, or political,...

    (pp. 243-246)

    In these three chapters about the various concepts of an Enlightenment public sphere, we have seen models for the construction of an imagined community and of a critical public. The models for an imagined community were based on different concepts of an audience that would be summoned by a particular speech situation, be it a live or virtual one, that would transcend hierarchical boundaries in its focus on a common good, ranging from Abbt’s advocacy of dying for the sake of the fatherland to Herder’s notion of a distinctly modern public that would be constituted by its entitlement to the...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 247-280)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 281-292)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 293-294)