The Topography of Modernity

The Topography of Modernity: Karl Philipp Moritz and the Space of Autonomy

Elliott Schreiber
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 160
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.cttq4372
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  • Book Info
    The Topography of Modernity
    Book Description:

    Karl Philipp Moritz (d. 1793) was one of the most innovative writers of the late Enlightenment in Germany. A novelist, travel writer, editor, and teacher he is probably best known today for his autobiographical novel Anton Reiser (1785-90) and for his treatises on aesthetics, foremost among them Über die bildende Nachahmung des Schönen (On the Formative Imitation of the Beautiful), published in 1788. In this treatise, Moritz develops the concept of aesthetic autonomy, which became widely known after Goethe included a lengthy excerpt of it in his own Italian Journey (1816-17). It was one of the foundational texts of Weimar classicism, and it became pivotal for the development of early Romanticism.

    In The Topography of Modernity, Elliott Schreiber gives Moritz the credit he deserves as an important thinker beyond his contributions to aesthetic theory. Indeed, he sees Moritz as an incisive early observer and theorist of modernity. Considering a wide range of Moritz's work including his novels, his writings on mythology, prosody, and pedagogy, and his political philosophy and psychology, Schreiber shows how Moritz's thinking developed in response to the intellectual climate of the Enlightenment and paved the way for later social theorists to conceive of modern society as differentiated into multiple, competing value spheres.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6601-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Shifting Perspectives
    (pp. 1-12)

    In 1785, the journal Berlinische Monatschrift published a short essay that revolutionized aesthetic theory. The work of art, it contends, comprises a whole that is absolutely complete in itself. That is to say, in contrast to the mechanical arts, works of fine art serve no external purpose; rather, each is guided solely by an inner purposiveness. Five years before Immanuel Kant’s Third Critique, then, this succinct essay posits the first radical concept of aesthetic autonomy.

    The author of this essay, Karl Philipp Moritz, was at the time a twenty-eight-year-old writer, editor, and teacher living in Berlin. By the time of...

  6. Part I The Spaces of Art and Myth

    • 1 Toward an Aesthetics of the Sublime Augenblick: Moritz Reading Die Leiden des jungen Werthers
      (pp. 15-35)

      One of the hallmarks of modernity is its restless and relentless pace of change, whose origins social historians have traced to the second half of the eighteenth century.¹ Already before the seismic shifts of the French Revolution, there emerged in Germany a conception of Neuzeit, a time that was felt to be always radically new.² The pace of change was first set in this period not by a political revolution, but rather by a revolution in text production and reading.³ “Never before has more been written and more been read,” marveled Christoph Martin Wieland in 1779 (quoted in Ward, Book...

    • 2 Beyond an Aesthetics of Containment: Trajectories of the Imagination in Moritz and Goethe
      (pp. 36-60)

      Together with the sense of a new, accelerated time, the reading revolution in the eighteenth century also provoked a widespread fear among producers and consumers of texts: the fear that reading, and in particular the consumption of sentimental novels, overstimulate the imagination. Such inner turmoil, it was felt, rocked the foundations of individual well-being, and furthermore threatened society as a whole, by undermining the individual’s duty to family and to work.

      The tone for this criticism was set by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose own sentimental novel, Julie, or The New Heloise (1761), was one of the biggest best sellers of the...

  7. Part II The Spaces of Cognition and Education

    • 3 Laying the Foundation for Independent Thought: Enlightenment Epistemology and Pedagogy
      (pp. 63-80)

      In 1778, when Moritz completed his studies at the University of Wittenberg, a pedagogical reform movement was sweeping through Germany. Founded by Johann Bernhard Basedow and drawing on a long line of Enlightenment thought, the Philanthropist movement promoted a method of education that fostered the natural order of children’s cognitive development. The Philanthropists attacked the traditional primary-school education for violating this order by emphasizing verbal cognition, without first stimulating children’s sense perception and activating their powers of analytic reasoning. Without this foundation, they argued, verbal cognition remains empty, consisting solely of the rote memorization of words. They deemed such a...

    • 4 Thinking inside the Box: Moritz contra Philanthropism
      (pp. 81-102)

      In 1785, toward the end of his career as a schoolteacher and the year before his departure for Italy, Moritz published a two-tiered critique of Philanthropism.¹ To begin with, his novel Andreas Hartknopf: Eine Allegorie extends the line of antiauthoritarian critique examined in chapter 3, applying it to the Philanthropist movement as a whole. In so doing, his novel targets not the Philanthropist principle of noncoercive education as such, but rather the hypocritical manner in which Philanthropists propagate this principle and translate it into practice.

      While acute, this critique is limited, leaving open the possibility that teachers of good faith...

  8. Part III The Spaces of the Political and the Individual

    • 5 Raising (and Razing) the Common House: Moritz and the Ideology of Commonality
      (pp. 105-130)

      In addition to an epistemological and pedagogical critique, the Kinderlogik also mounts a keen political critique. In his discussion of the fifth and sixth copperplates, Moritz returns to the figure of the house but employs it in a new manner, as a metaphor for the state. He uses it to distinguish between two opposing forms of government: “Let us think of the house as the institution [Einrichtung] of a state, insofar as it depends on either a single one of its members or all of them—here we have the difference between Monarchy and Republic” (Werke, 2:165). The difference between...

    • 6 Pressing Matters: Moritz’s Models of the Self in the Magazin zur Erfahrungsseelenkunde
      (pp. 131-153)

      Although it seems counterintuitive, social historians have argued that the bourgeois public sphere in the eighteenth century arises out of the private domain. According to Jürgen Habermas’s genealogy in The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, the public sphere in its first, apolitical form is born in the world of letters in a “process of self-enlightenment of private people focusing on the genuine experiences of their novel privateness” (29).¹ Through this public process of self-enlightenment, selfhood (or subjectivity) assumes institutional form,² while the bourgeois public sphere establishes itself alongside the two hitherto dominant public arenas: that of representative publicness, manifested...

  9. Conclusion: Moritz’s Inner-Worldly Critique of Modernity
    (pp. 154-160)

    The topographical projects of the Enlightenment tend to totalize. This tendency characterizes, for instance, the work of one the most renowned German geographers of the second half of the eighteenth century, Anton Friedrich Büsching, the director of the Gymnasium zum Grauen Kloster in Berlin where Moritz was a teacher until 1786. By the time of his death in 1793 (the same year as Moritz’s), he had completed eleven volumes of his Neue Erdbeschreibung (New Description of the Earth, 1754–92). Though it barely advances beyond a description of the European continent, its ambitions are global in reach: Büsching aspires to...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 161-170)
  11. Index
    (pp. 171-180)