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E. T. A. Hoffmann and the Serapiontic Principle

E. T. A. Hoffmann and the Serapiontic Principle: Critique and Creativity

Hilda Meldrum Brown
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    E. T. A. Hoffmann and the Serapiontic Principle
    Book Description:

    Critics have long sought to elucidate the multilayered texts of E. T. A. Hoffmann by applying to them a particular set of theories and ideas that Hoffmann himself subsumed under the heading of the "Serapiontic Principle." This principle, which Hoffmann expounded in his collection of tales 'Die Serapionsbrüder', involves a complex intersection of the artist's faculties of imagination and perception. However, Hoffmann's mode of presenting his theory presents an unusual problem: rather than the usual form of an essay or treatise, he adopts a fictional framework, complete with a set of "characters"; this in turn sets up a number of perspectives on the theory itself. This combination of literary and theoretical elements presents a severe challenge to critics, and not surprisingly there has been little agreement about what the "principle" actually entails or its wider relevance. With the principle as prime focus, this book provides detailed analysis of a broadly based selection of Hoffmann's texts, both theoretical and literary. It offers new perspectives on his narrative invention and the range of his theoretical interests, thus redefining his place at the forefront of German Romanticism. Hilda Meldrum Brown is professor of German at St Hilda's College, University of Oxford.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-683-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Hilda Meldrum Brown
  6. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  7. Introduction: Approaches to the Serapiontic Principle
    (pp. 1-18)

    The Serapiontic Principle is a term much bandied about in Hoffmann criticism. However, as a concept or critical tool it has not found wide-spread acclaim nor been deemed to have much application to Hoffmann’s literary works, let alone much relevance outside these. Even when it is invoked, there is little agreement about its precise meaning, nor have there been serious attempts to unravel its multifaceted exposition. Some are disposed to deny its importance altogether and complain of muddled presentation on Hoffmann’s part;¹ others² are skeptical about the meaningfulness of terms such as “inneres” or “wirkliches Schauen.” Few, if any, seem...

  8. Part 1

    • 1: Overture: Jacques Callot
      (pp. 21-32)

      Hoffmann’s first collection of tales, the Fantasiestücke, was published in four books between 1814 and 1816, and right from the start of his compilation in 1813 he adopted deliberate principles in the order and presentation of the individual works. Not yet at this point favoring the route taken by Goethe in his Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderten or Ludwig Tieck in his Phantasus, and which he himself would develop in Die Serapionsbrüder, of providing a frame narrative, he did not wish to throw his works before his public in a random fashion, either. Instead he adopted two unifying structural elements to place...

    • 2: Der Einsiedler Serapion: The Formulation of a Principle
      (pp. 33-56)

      Since his first attempts in the Fantasiestücke (the Callot preface and the “Kreisleriana”) to formulate his aesthetic ideas, Hoffmann’s Romantic program had been developing apace alongside his growing experience as a writer. The need for an appropriate medium to present his ideas was therefore becoming urgent. Like his fellow Romantics who had a theoretical bent, Hoffmann could not use forms like manifestos or treatises, all of which had associations with Enlightenment systems. His need was for a flexible instrument that could accommodate his ever-expanding thoughts about the creative process and give scope for the expression of different shades of an...

    • 3: Der Dichter und Der Komponist: Text and Music
      (pp. 57-71)

      As the title suggests, this dialogue addresses the relationship between words and music — here the libretto and the operatic score. It is an important historical landmark in the succession of lively debates over the centuries on this topic that have accompanied and tracked the emergence of German opera as a major and distinctive form, though Hoffmann’s contribution has been somewhat neglected in comparison with those of other illustrious practitioners, who include Gluck, Carl Maria von Weber, Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss, and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. It was in fact an issue that so preoccupied Hoffmann that he had been planning to...

    • 4: Alte und neue Kirchenmusik
      (pp. 72-91)

      This essay (or, as Theodor describes it, “kleine Abhandlung”) can be regarded as a continuation — and, as will be presently suggested, the climax — of Hoffmann’s exposition in the Serapionsbrüder of his theoretical program as it had been outlined up to this point in the various formulations of the Serapiontic Principle. Hoffmann has moved on from the literary aspects to a consideration of two major ways in which music can achieve its potential as the most expressive of all art forms: the first (outlined in “Der Dichter und der Komponist”) is in the hybrid form of opera, the second, in the...

    • 5: Prinzessin Brambilla: Callot Revisited
      (pp. 92-105)

      Even after having explored the extensive opportunities for analysing his aesthetic theories afforded by the framework in Die Serapionsbrüder, Hoffmann continues right to the very end of his career to examine points not covered there or to clarify and develop other key issues in greater detail than had been possible within the scope of the frame discussions. Prinzessin Brambilla offers the opportunity of tackling irony, a topic that had been somewhat neglected in the Serapionsbrüder (presumably, as I suggested above, because of the fictional frame itself) but that had been briefly identified as a key principle as early as the...

    • 6: Epilogue: Des Vetters Eckfenster
      (pp. 106-116)

      This very late tale, written in 1822, only a few months before Hoffmann’s death, has had a particularly contradictory reception from commentators. Perhaps this is the result of the editorial inconvenience created by a text that was posthumously published and therefore often absent from editions, or else incorporated into the miscellaneous collection of “späte Prosa.” Such a detachment from any fixed moorings may have contributed to, or may have encouraged, readings of the work as a kind of “odd man out,” its late date giving room for speculations about its ground-breaking status as a forerunner of nineteenth-century “realist” prose narrative...

  9. Part 2

    • 7: Frame Narrative and the Serapiontic Principle
      (pp. 119-134)

      Hoffmann’s development of the well-established German tradition of frame narrative takes the form to new heights, though this has scarcely been noted, so much has the attention of commentators been fixed on the individual tales in the collection. The starting point for Goethe’s pioneering frame-narrative Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderten, had been recent history, that is, the forced expulsion of German communities resident on the left bank of the Rhine during the Revolutionary Wars with France. Likewise Hoffmann, now writing at a later phase in the Napoleonic saga, makes several allusions to the recent war and its conclusion (his character Cyprian had...

    • 8: From Visual to Verbal: Three Serapiontic Tales
      (pp. 135-156)

      Artistic inspiration for Hoffmann derives from many sources. The origins of a process that he sometimes metaphorically terms “kindling” (“entzünden”), and the spark that ignites the imaginative faculties, may be traced to random associations formed between things seen and things interpreted, visual perceptions and mental transformations. As we have observed, the supremacy of visual perception in Hoffmann’s time is rapidly being challenged by other faculties that are less easy to identify precisely — hence Hoffmann’s portmanteau term “inneres Schauen” to describe the one to which he attaches special importance, a term that makes it clear that his aesthetic aim has to...

    • 9: The “Nachtseite der Natur” and the Serapiontic Principle
      (pp. 157-168)

      As we have already noted, topical issues such as magnetism and somnambulism play an important part in Hoffmann’s thinking, and link up with the fundamental mind-body question that was being formulated at the time in terms of the relationship between “Geist” and “Natur.” Hoffmann had followed debates about these topics in contemporary thinking at a theoretical level, in the writings of Schelling and Schubert, and at a more practical, psychological level in the influential treatises of Reil and Pinel. His close personal acquaintance with the influential medical director of the Bamberg hospital, Adalbert Friedrich Marcus, suggests that he had plenty...

    • 10: The Märchen and the Serapiontic Principle
      (pp. 169-184)

      Hoffmann’s Serapionsbrüder are in agreement about the general suitability of the Supernatural — whether malign or benign — as material for the imaginative processing of sense data, which is a characteristic feature of the Serapiontic principle in art, while being sharply divided on the question of the extent to which malign forces can be in control of human destiny. This distinction between the different functions of the Supernatural was, of course, also discernible right from the start of the Serapionsbrüder collection in the members’ various interpretations of the complex signals emanating from the Einsiedler tale, in which the hermit’s success as a...

    • 11: The Serapiontic Principle: The Wider Critique
      (pp. 185-196)

      The Serapiontic Principle has revealed itself to be a multifaceted concept, some of its strands opening out onto issues of a general aesthetic nature, others generating specific narrative techniques. Lothar’s broadly grounded “Erkenntnis der Duplizität,” for example, rooted philosophically as it is in a primary dualism between subject and object, leads directly, through the Serapiontic artist’s “Erkenntnis” of this dual state of affairs to his adoption of an ironic stance (what Hoffmann himself termed “eine durchgehaltene Ironie¹). Whether in a humorous or a more serious vein, this is a hallmark of virtually all Hoffmann’s literary oeuvre. Once more deriving from...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 197-200)

    The above investigation of Hoffmann’s ideas on aesthetics and their application to his own works has suggested a rather different image of the writer from that to which we are accustomed. We have been able first to identify a persistent undercurrent of reference to the fundamental issues that were being discussed by thinkers of the day, especially the relationship between “Geist” and “Natur.” Far from mere name-dropping — which has hitherto mostly served as an explanation for this phenomenon — Hoffmann consistently annexes this intellectual framework, which hinges for him on the centrality of the faculty of imagination, to his more practical...

  11. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 201-206)
  12. Index
    (pp. 207-212)