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Metamimesis: Imitation in Goethe's 'Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre' and Early German Romanticism

Mattias Pirholt
Volume: 124
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Mimesis, or the imitation of nature, is one of the most important concepts in eighteenth-century German literary aesthetics. As the century progressed, classical mimeticism came increasingly under attack, though it also held its position in the works of Goethe, Schiller, and Moritz. Much recent scholarship construes Early German Romanticism's refutation of mimeticism as its single distinguishing trait: the Romantics' conception of art as the very negation of the ideal of imitation. In this view, the Romantics saw art as production ('poiesis'): imaginative, musical, transcendent. Mattias Pirholt's book not only problematizes this view of Romanticism, but also shows that reflections on mimesis are foundational for the German Romantic novel, as is Goethe's great pre-Romantic novel 'Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship'. Among the novels examined are Friedrich Schlegel's 'Lucinde', shown to be transgressive in its use of the aesthetics of imitation; Novalis's 'Heinrich von Ofterdingen', interpreted as an attempt to construct the novel as a self-imitating world; and Clemens Brentano's 'Godwi', seen to signal the end of Early Romanticism, both fulfilling and ironically deconstructing the self-reflective mimeticism of the novels that came before it. Mattias Pirholt is a Research Fellow in the Department of Literature at Uppsala University, Sweden.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-833-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    Mattias Pirholt
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    From the very beginning mimesis and its various translations — imitatio naturae, imitation of nature, Nachahmung der Natur — have proved themselves to be ideological concepts. Plato’s famous rejection of imitation in the Republic — that imitation of objects removes us one step further away from the world of ideas — has not only aesthetic and philosophical implications but political ones as well. Imitation is more precisely a form of activity that diverts the attention of the citizen from his or her real duty.¹ In Aristotle mimesis becomes an anthropological theory. Imitation, Aristotle argues, is a fundamental faculty of mankind...

  6. 1: Romanticism, Mimesis, and the Novel
    (pp. 10-40)

    The Immense amount of scholarship attempting to define the nature or essence of romanticism has suggested that one’s interpretation of mimesis constitutes a dividing line between, on the one hand, (neo)classicism and the Enlightenment and, on the other, romanticism. After the resurrection of the interest in the romantic movement in the early twentieth century, brought about first by Ricarda Huch and Josef Nadler and then by H. A. Korff, Josef Körner, Julius Petersen, and Fritz Strich, the consensus has been that the young romantics put a definite end to the hegemony of classicism by replacing mimesis, or the imitation of...

  7. 2: Double-Entry Imagery: Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre
    (pp. 41-79)

    Over the course of time, as more and more of the unpublished material of the Jena romantics — fragments, letters, annotations, diaries — has been made available, it has become abundantly clear that Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre constituted nothing less than an aesthetic earthquake, comparable to the French Revolution and Fichte’s Wissenschaftslehre as it says in one of Friedrich Schlegel’s fragments (KA II, 198). However, it has also become obvious that the members of the young generation of writers (August Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel, Novalis, and Tieck, among others) were extremely ambivalent about Goethe’s novel — a natural reaction, it...

  8. 3: Imitation and Indolence: Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde
    (pp. 80-113)

    Friedrich Schlegel's first and only attempt in the novelistic genre, the roman a clef Lucinde, has been called many things: the apogee of formlessness and unnaturalness (Schiller), an irreligious work (Kierkegaard), aesthetically and morally depraved (Haym), and a formal monstrosity (Dilthey).¹ Despite being probably the most read of all the romantic novels,² it remains a provocative work of art, whose “ability to disturb (or delight) its readers seems out of proportion to its actual offence against public moeurs,” as Marc Redfield has noticed in an essay on “Lucinde’s Obscenity” (2000).³ And it is a scandalous piece of work, no doubt,...

  9. 4: Imitation and Simulation: Novalis’s Heinrich von Ofterdingen
    (pp. 114-154)

    A year before he died in March 1801, Novalis outlined in a letter to Ludwig Tieck the plot structure of his novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen: as the first part of the novel draws to a close, his protagonist Heinrich is “zum Dichter reif,” but he will not become “als Dichter verklärt” until the second part (February 23 1800, S IV, 322).¹ Thus, while Heinrich is said to have been born to become a poet — a description that is repeated several times in the course of the story² — he is yet to become one. The first part tells the...

  10. 5: Beyond Romantic Representation: Clemens Brentano’s Godwi
    (pp. 155-188)

    Clemens Brentano wrote most of his first and only completed novel, Godwi oder Das steinerne Bild der Mutter: Ein verwilderter Roman, in the environment of Jena around the year 1800, in the overshadowing presence of Friedrich Schlegel and his circle. Published in two volumes in 1801 and 1802 by Friedrich Wilmans in Bremen, it is generally regarded as a typical, though perhaps unsuccessful, expression of the early romantic theory of the novel and the product of a far-from-independent young author. Studying medicine in Jena during the critical years of early romanticism (1798–1801), the young aspiring writer came in contact...

  11. Conclusions: Mimesis and the Critical Politics of Romanticism
    (pp. 189-194)

    From the very beginning, the political implications of romantic aesthetics and philosophy have been under debate. The radicalism that epitomizes Madame de Staël’s interpretation in De l’Allemagne (1810) — she construes German literature in general and romanticism in particular to be closely connected with the formation of the modern political institutions¹ — was soon replaced by an equally radical conservative conception, often combined with an explicitly derogatory attitude. The latter view dominated the better part of the nineteenth century, expressed most eloquently in Heinrich Heine’s Die romantische Schule (1833) and in Theodor Echtermeyer and Arnold Ruge’s Der Protestantismus und die...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 195-212)
  13. Index
    (pp. 213-220)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 221-221)