Weltliteratur and the Crises of Comparative Literature

  • Anne Bohnenkamp / Matías Martínez (Hg.): Geistiger Handelsverkehr. Komparatistische Aspekte der Goethezeit. Göttingen: Wallstein 2008. 464 S. 5 s/w Abb. Kartoniert. EUR (D) 32,00.
    ISBN: 978-3-8353-0246-4.

To review this Festschrift, dedicated to Hendrik Birus, from London and from the perspective of Anglophone comparative literary studies, is arguably to engage in something akin to the process of geistiger Handelsverkehr which Goethe associated with the concept of Weltliteratur, and which he invokes in the following passage from his introduction to the German translation of Thomas Carlyle’s Life of Friedrich Schiller (1825):

Es ist schon einige Zeit von einer allgemeinen Weltliteratur die Rede, und zwar nicht mit Unrecht: denn die sämtlichen Nationen, in den fürchterlichsten Kriegen durcheinandergeschüttelt, sodann wieder auf sich selbst einzeln zurückgeführt, hatten zu bemerken, daß sie manches Fremde gewahr worden, in sich aufgenommen, bisher unbekannte geistige Bedürfnisse hie und da empfunden. Daraus entstand das Gefühl nachbarlicher Verhältnisse, und anstatt daß man sich bisher zugeschlossen hatte, kam der Geist nach und nach zu dem Verlangen, auch in den mehr oder weniger freien geistigen Handelsverkehr mit aufgenommen zu werden. 1

Despite the fact that Goethe’s ideas concerning Weltliteratur were never systematically elaborated by him in a single text, this concept has enjoyed an extraordinary reception beyond the confines of Goethe studies and Germanistik. As the editors of this volume point out, Goethe’s concept of Weltliteratur refers neither to all of the literature produced in the world, nor to »einen Kanon international annerkannter literarischer Spitzenwerke«; rather, it describes a process of increased (mostly European) literary communication and exchange, made possible by improvements in transport and communication, as well as by literary review publications – such as Le Globe in France and the Edinburgh Review in Britain – with an international focus (pp. 9–10). In his more optimistic moments, Goethe seems to have believed that the intensified intercultural exchange made possible by Weltliteratur might lead to a more cosmopolitan and more civilised world.


Yet as we shall see, the concept of Weltliteratur was never without its problems, and these problems have taken on an increasing urgency in our post-colonial and globalised world. The institutional context of these problems is, of course, found in the discipline of comparative literature, a discipline which was – as Hendrik Birus has shown – marked at its very inception by the concept of Weltliteratur. 2 To what extent does Weltliteratur, a concept developed by Goethe in a mostly Eurocentric context, include non-European literatures? Who determines which texts belong to Weltliteratur? Does this choice not depend upon precisely whose Welt, whose perspective on the world, we are talking about? And just how free of prejudices, inequalities and sleights of hand is this process of geistiger Handelsverkehr?


These and similar questions have, in the last two decades or so, attracted much scholarly attention in the English speaking world and especially in the United States, as part of broader debates about how the discipline of comparative literature might be redefined in what has been called the »Age of Multiculturalism« and »The Age of Globalisation.« 3 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak has even dramatically proclaimed the »death« of comparative literature as an academic discipline, 4 an announcement shortly followed by David Damrosch’s celebration of its »rebirth«. 5 All of this goes to show that the issues dealt with in this volume – especially those concerning the relation between European and non-European literatures, as well as the continuities and discontinuities between economic, political and literary varieties of Handelsverkehr – remain central to contemporary debates concerning both the history and the future of comparative literature in the academy.


Goethe and Carlyle:
German-British geistiger Handelsverkehr


In the foreword to this volume the editors (unfortunately all too briefly) contextualise the concepts of Weltliteratur and geistiger Handelsverkehr through an analysis of Goethe’s introduction to Carlyle’s Schiller biography. Written in 1829–1830, Goethe’s text is, in and of itself, a fine case study in German-British geistiger Handelsverkehr of the early nineteenth century. The elderly Goethe cannot help but see the young Carlyle in Rousseauist and Ossianic terms, bravely studying German literature in the bucolic Scottish setting of his cottage in Craigenputtoch, which Goethe describes as »eine fast rauhe Gebirgsgegend«. 6 Goethe is moved by the way in which the young Carlyle, this »rein und ruhig denkende Fremde«, has been able to find noble qualities in Schillers »ersten, oft harten, fast rohen Productionen«. This praise notwithstanding, Goethe at the same opines that Carlyle’s biography offers »kaum etwas Neues« for Germans already familiar with Schiller’s works, since »der Verfasser nahm seine Kenntnisse aus Schriften, die uns längst bekannt sind«. Its real value, according to Goethe, lies in the pathos to be derived from the image of a young Scotsman in the wilderness, devoting himself to the study of German literature. Carlyle’s Schiller biography allows the reader

unmittelbar zu erfahren, wie ein zartfühlender, strebsamer, einsichtiger Mann über dem Meere in seinen besten Jahren durch Schillers Produktionen berührt, bewegt, erregt und nun zum weitern Studium der deutschen Literatur angetrieben worden. 7

In these few lines alone one can find complex processes of geistiger Handelsverkehr at work. Writing at the end of his career, and after having successfully contributed to the formation of a national German literature, Goethe is inspired by Carlyle to picture Scotland in the Ossianic terms of the Sturm und Drang period. It was during that period that Scottish and English literature (embodied by »Ossian« and Shakespeare respectively), had provided Herder and Goethe with models for what a modern German literature might become in the future. These British models were not purely aesthetic, but arguably also political and even economic, in the sense that Shakespeare in particular represented a politically unified nation with a strong sense of national identity and with significant colonial territories that lent it political, cultural and economic prestige. In Goethe’s twilight years, the comparative »weakness« of the German situation during the 1770s had, at least in part, been transformed by the unifying achievements of German Classicism: in Carlyle’s Schiller biography Goethe is able to find proof, not only of the fact that a national German literature is securely in place, but also that it is important enough to be received abroad. In short, Schiller’s writings have become Weltliteratur in precisely those terms outlined in a recent study by David Damrosch: literary works that »circulate« and are »actively present«, either in the original language or in translation, in »literary systems« beyond those of their original cultures. 8


Weltliteratur, Eurocentrism
and Global Capital


Perhaps more than any other scholar since Fritz Strich, Hendrik Birus has highlighted not only the aesthetic, but also the economic and political dimensions of Goethe’s conception of Weltliteratur. Goethe, according to Birus, was well aware that Weltliteratur would become a quantitative as well as a qualitative phenomenon, regardless of any canon of elite international masterpieces. 9 »Was der Menge zusagt«, observed Goethe, »wird sich gränzenlos ausbreiten und wie wir jetzt schon sehen sich in allen Zonen und Gegenden empfehlen«. 10 Goethe oscillated between pessimism and optimism regarding the possibility that the German language could contribute to this coming mass global culture of »Mittelmäßigkeit« made possible by »Eisenbahnen, Schnellposten, Dampfschiffe und alle mögliche Facilitäten der Communication«. 11 These two moods are, for example, combined in a single letter to Streckfuß, where in one moment Goethe sees the Germans as playing »eine schöne Rolle« in the coming Weltliteratur, only to express his anxiety a few lines later concerning the threatening »Überschwemmung« that may arise from »der englischen Springflut«. 12


Goethe’s commitment to what we might, in today’s terms, call literary multiculturalism was also ambivalent. It scarcely needs to be pointed out that the author of the West-Östlicher Divan was committed to a form of literary intercultural exchange, for which he attempted to develop a comparative scientific method involving purportedly universal Naturformen der Dichtung that could be applied to all national literatures, just as he had once imagined that the Urpflanze could be put to universal use in botany. Yet the status of these NaturformenEpos, Lyrik and Drama – soon revealed Goethe’s inevitable European biases. In his famous conversation with Eckermann on the subject of Weltliteratur, Goethe observes that while it is perfectly appropriate to study Chinese or Serbian literature, »im Bedürfniß von etwas Musterhaftem müssen wir immer zu den alten Griechen zurückgehen«. 13 And in one line from a schema relating to Über Kunst und Altertum that anticipates the subsequent development of comparative literature as an academic discipline, Goethe uses the simple yet telling formulation »europäische, d.h., Weltliteratur« to describe this exciting new phenomenon. 14 Goethe’s many and often contradictory positions on Weltliteratur bear out the excellent argument made by David Damrosch in his recent study: that the term Weltliteratur begs the question »Whose world?« World literature, he points out, »is constituted very differently in different cultures«, and its constitution often depends on the cultural needs and anxieties of the perceiving culture, which often in turn emerge from its political and economic status within the broader global context. 15


For this reason, the appearance of the term Weltliteratur in the Communist Manifesto is no mere coincidence. Following the lead of Goethe – who had opined to Zelter that »Reichtum«, »Schnelligkeit« and »Weltliteratur« are all parts of a single phenomenon 16 – Marx and Engels see Weltliteratur as being intimately bound up with the flow of international capital. 17 And if the recent processes of soul-searching undergone by the American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) have made one single thing clear, then it is surely that just as »free trade« is far more often extolled than it is actually practiced by its neo-liberal proponents in the globalised marketplace, so too has there never been a level playing-field in the realm of literary geistiger Handelsverkehr. At its very inception as an academic field, announced by the appearance of Hugo Meltzl de Lomnitz’s Zeitschrift für vergleichende Literatur in 1877, the parameters of the discipline were drawn by the recommendation that this new journal should function in ten official languages, all of which were European. 18


Reflecting on these Eurocentric origins, both Charles Bernheimer and Haun Saussy have, in their respective ACLA »state of the discipline« reports published in 1995 and 2006, underlined the need to move beyond the Eurocentric canon of the so-called »developed world« by including texts from non-European cultures, as well as from minority migrant cultures within Western societies. 19 Here both Bernheimer and Saussy are confronted with the necessary evil of teaching so-called »minority literatures« in translation, which necessarily reduces claims to expertise. This delicate issue was of course dubiously negotiated by Goethe himself, who, as both Birus and Andrea Polaschegg (among others) have shown, had at best an extremely limited command of the original languages dealt with in the Divan – relying on translations such as those provided by William Jones and Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall – but who claimed to make up for this lack of linguistic ability through his purportedly remarkable capacity for intercultural Einfühlung, and his self-avowed skill in imitating Arabic calligraphy. 20


Temporally situated in between the reports of Bernheimer and Saussy, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak identifies US-based comparative literature as part of the »Euro-US cultural dominant« that emerged after the Second World War. Spivak argues that as single nation states decline in importance, and as Western nations become more culturally diverse, the old Eurocentric model of comparative literature, and the Eurocentric canon upon which it relied, will have to »die« and then renew themselves through increasing contact with »Area Studies« (Landeskunde) departments that deal with non-Western cultural traditions and languages. Opposing the hegemonic model of US-led globalisation and Anglophone multiculturalism, Spivak calls for a »planetary« comparative literature which, with its detailed linguistic and cultural knowledge derived from the expertise of Area Studies departments, would undermine the flattening and homogenising tendencies of global capital. 21 Following on from Spivak, David Damrosch has argued that the situation described by Spivak constitutes not the »death« but rather the »rebirth« of comparative literature in truly global or planetary terms. 22


Goethe’s European Receptions


An important feature of geistiger Handelsverkehr for Goethe was quite naturally the ways in which his works were translated and received outside of the German speaking territories, and this theme is explicitly dealt with by the contributions of Vladimir Artašesovič Avetisjan, Jürgen Lehmann and Friedhelm Kemp. In his essay, entitled »Puškin, Ševyrëv und Goethes Helena-Zwischenspiel«, Avetisjan shows that while the Zwischenspiel attracted little immediate attention within the German speaking world, it was received with great interest in two of the publications which Goethe came to associate with Weltliteratur: Le Globe in France and the Foreign Review in Scotland. In Russia, the Zwischenspiel was the subject of a detailed commentary written in 1827 by the leading Russian Goethe scholar of the period, Stepan Petrovič Ševyrëv. This review dealt explicitly with Goethe’s attempt to mediate between Classicism and Romanticism in the Zwischenspiel, while also playing a role in Russia’s own Classic-Romantic literary controversy, at the centre of which stood none other than Alexander Puškin. Avetisjan convincingly demonstrates how Puškin’s own literary standing in Russia was promoted by his being associated with Goethe by Karl August Varnhagen von Ense, while also revealing the extent to which the Zwischenspiel itself, in dealing with aesthetic issues that were central to many European literatures, made a decisive contribution to what Goethe himself referred to as the Beschleunigung der Weltliteratur.


Jürgen Lehmann’s essay concerns the writings on Goethe penned by the Russian poet, translator and literary critic Apollon Aleksandrovič Grigor’ev (1822–1864), who made Goethe into the object of his Schelling-inspired »organic« literary criticism, and who saw Goethe as the »fast unerreichbares Ideal des objektiven lyrischen Dichters« (p. 266).


Friedhelm Kemp’s brief essay, entitled »Übersetzen – wozu und wie? Am Handseil von Goethe«, examines the translations of Goethe’s works by Albert Alexandre Stapfer which appeared in Le Globe during the 1820s, as well as Jean Jacque Antoine Ampère’s review of these translations. The intensity and complexity which attended this case of Franco-German literarischer Handelsverkehr is revealed by the fact that Goethe himself – having been visited by both Stapfer and Ampère in Weimar in 1827 – translated and remarked upon Ampère’s review, while also discussing Stapfer’s translations and their accompanying commentaries. Goethe’s remarks appeared in various issues of Über Kunst und Altertum, and revealed a central feature of his ideas concerning Weltliteratur which would later become a key precept of comparative literature: the notion that highly original and often more objective views of a literary work can be gained by those who stand outside of its original national context.


Theories of Weltliteratur


The theoretical core of this volume is to be found in a series of essays which focus upon Goethe’s concept of Weltliteratur and key aspects of its reception history. Harald Fricke undertakes a valiant attempt to elucidate what he terms the »implizite Theorie der Komparatistik« to be found in Goethe’s Sprüche in Prosa. Fricke is wise to point out that this theory is in no way architectonic; rather, it is more akin to a bricolage: an assemblage of sometimes connected, sometimes disconnected principles. Perhaps the most important feature of Fricke’s essay is his discussion of Goethe’s scepticism concerning the attainment of a universal position or Übersicht from which to undertake the kind of cross-cultural aesthetic judgements that are seemingly demanded by Weltliteratur. Goethe had attempted to develop such a universal model for literary comparison in the Noten und Abhandlungen to the Divan, and even as late as 1826, he remarked that »unsere wichtigste Bemühung bleibt es [...], zur allgemeinsten Übersicht zu gelangen, um das poetische Talent in allen Äußerungen anzuerkennen und als integranten Teil durch die Geschichte der Menschheit sich durchschlingend zu bemerken« (p. 187). Yet the inherent difficulty of this quest seems to have led Goethe to draw increasingly sceptical conclusions, which were outlined in a series of aphorisms under the title of Urteil über Nation und Zeit. Goethe’s late position, according to Fricke, runs to the effect that »weder über die Grenzen des eigenen Zeitalters noch über die der eigenen Nationalkultur können wir uns zu verlässlicher Intersubjektivität des Urteils hinwegschwingen« (p. 190).


A possible model for intercultural literary comparison – structuralist narratology in the manner of Lévi-Strauss and Aldirgas J. Greimas – is discussed by the contribution of Matías Martínez. In focusing upon apparently universal features of narrative, such structuralist approaches run the risk, according to Martínez, of eliding the historical and cultural particularities of texts. Martínez proposes that André Jolles’ theory of »einfache Formen« represents a suitable alternative to more purely structuralist models of narratology, in that Jolles’ forms combine textual and extra-textual (that is, historical, cultural) elements (p. 292). This thesis is tested in relation to Zacharias Werner’s Der vierundzwanzigste Februar and Calderón’s La devoción de la cruz, which Martínez interprets through three of the einfache Formen established by Jolles: Memorabile (the double or ambiguous motivation of actions in the narrative); Sage (a form of family tragedy, which often involves sins such as adultery, incest and the murder of relations); and Legende (which involves the transfiguration of characters through redemption). In Werner’s text, the function of these elements is shown to be influenced by concrete historical events beyond the world of the text, in that the date invoked by its title represents the day on which Werner’s mother and best friend died (pp. 303–304). These extra-textual facts, according to Martínez, cannot be overlooked in an interpretation of Werner’s text, in that they definitively anchor the text to the author’s biography. The message of this analysis seems to be that universal models of structuralist literary comparison may often miss the concrete cultural and historical contexts of a particular text. This thesis appears, however, only to be demonstrated with respect to Werner, and not in relation to Calderón’s text.


Stephan Grotz examines the reception of Goethean Weltliteratur in the writings of Erich Auerbach. The importance of Auerbach as a mediator between German and Anglophone comparative literary studies cannot be overestimated. As an exile from National Socialism, Auerbach was – alongside figures like Leo Spitzer and René Wellek – instrumental in creating the Eurocentric model of comparative literature which developed in the United States, a model which, as we have seen, has become the subject of significant and often polemical debate in recent years. Grotz analyses Auerbach’s essay Philologie der Weltliteratur which appeared in 1952, some six years after Mimesis. Auerbach shares Goethe’s scepticism concerning the possibility of gaining a universal Überblick which could enable »objective« intercultural comparison, while also outlining a kind of cultural pessimism characteristic of the immediate post-war period. While Goethe had been cautiously optimistic about the possibility that Weltliteratur might represent a kind of progress, leading to a more inter-culturally aware and civilized global politics, Auerbach, writing from the United States after the horrors of two World Wars, raises the possibility that twentieth-century global literary culture might be reduced to a few dominant languages (p. 227). In this respect – and notwithstanding the Eurocentrism of his great work, Mimesis – Auerbach’s fears and his suggested solutions seem particularly attuned to the contemporary problems of globalisation. It is surprising to find that Auerbach, not unlike Spivak and the authors of the two recent ACLA reports, recommends a Weltliteratur based neither upon an attempted Überblick concerning various literary cultures, nor upon ideas concerning progress (which would inevitably be influenced by the perceiver’s own historicity, cultural context and implicit or explicit political orientation). Rather, he argues for the recognition of the radical cultural particularities to be found in individual texts within individual national literatures.


In what is perhaps the most theoretically interesting and penetrating essay in this volume, Roger Lüdeke contextualises both Goethe’s correspondence with Thomas Carlyle and Carlyle’s novel Sartor Resartus in relation to recent debates concerning Weltliteratur and comparative literature. Central to this account is the contemporary intersection between Weltliteratur and post-colonial studies which has emerged in the last two ACLA reports, and in texts like Homi Bhabha’s Location of Culture and Spivak’s Death of a Discipline, an intersection which, according to Lüdeke, is seen by some as threatening to replace traditional Komparatistik with an alternative, transnational mode of literary studies. Lüdeke points out that such an apparent »crisis« is nothing new to comparative literary studies, which, in both its German and Anglophone manifestations, has always struggled sharply to define its boundaries and objects of inquiry. The myriad contemporary problems faced by comparative literature – its often problematic relation to language departments, the question of which primary academic competencies it should teach and in which languages, and the problem of finding academic posts for its graduates – are, according to Lüdeke, more or less the same as those faced by the first comparative literature departments established in Munich and at Columbia University at the end of the nineteenth century.


The epistemological problems raised by Weltliteratur are given ironic embodiment in the form of Professor Teufelsdroeckh, the »Philosopher of Clothes« and hero of Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus. Teufelsdroeckh’s arcane theories – outlined in his opus magnum entitled Clothes, Their Origin and Influence – reveal that society itself, its laws, and its juridical procedures, are based on conventions rather than on universal values, and when these »clothes« of culture are stripped away, humans can scarcely be distinguished from animals. In a similar way, Weltliteratur – by questioning and looking beyond national literary boundaries and the value systems upon which they are based – tends continually to undermine judgements concerning literary value, thereby enacting what Lüdeke calls a »quasi-revolutionäre Verunsicherung interkultureller Kommunikation« (p. 281). Lüdeke foresees no epistemological solution to this problem; indeed, insofar as comparative literature has, since its inception, been inscribed by issues arising from Weltliteratur, one of its central tasks may be that of seeing this epistemological uncertainty as its condition of possibility rather than as its irresolvable problem.


Interkulturalität, the Divan,
and Post-Colonial Questions


Hendrik Birus’s edition of the West-Östlicher Divan, prepared for the Frankfurter Ausgabe of Goethe’s works, must rank as one of the most impressive recent achievements of interkulturelle Germanistik. For this reason it is fitting that a number of essays in this volume focus upon the Divan and its contemporary reception. Virginia Richter analyses the »West-Eastern Divan Workshop« – jointly organised by Daniel Barenboim and the late Edward Said in 1999 – which brought together young musicians from Israel, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia in a spirit of musical friendship and intercultural dialogue, and in the highly symbolic setting of Weimar. On this occasion, Barenboim proposed that the project was about »hearing the narrative of the other«, a theme which had also preoccupied his co-organiser, Edward Said, in Orientalism (p. 411).


Richter neglects to mention the special status which Said affords to Goethe in the new Preface to Orientalism that appeared in 2003. Here the Divan is explicitly distinguished from the colonialism of Britain and France by virtue of Goethe’s epistemological approach to the Other, which Said sees as being defined by the principles of sympathy, hospitality, respect and Einfühlung, as well as by »an excellent command of several languages«. These values, according to Said, have influenced his own training in comparative literature, which he sees as part of a great tradition, beginning with Herder and Goethe, which came down to him via the influences of Erich Auerbach, Leo Spitzer and Ernst Robert Curtius. 23 Said was thus seemingly unaware of, or chose not to mention, Goethe’s lack of facility in Oriental languages, his continual use of colonial source material like that provided by William Jones, and his wildly prejudiced remarks concerning the alleged »Unsinn« and »Verrücktheit« of Hinduism, 24 which were used as part of Goethe’s very local polemic against the Romanticism of Friedrich Schlegel. Richter relies heavily on certain aspects of Andrea Polaschegg’s recent account of the Divan, emphasising the fact that Goethe’s text achieves a form of intercultural mediation or Akkulturation, while at the same time playing down Polaschegg’s more interesting and original finding: that the Divan is continually marked by Goethe’s highly successful Selbstinszenierung as an expert on the Orient. 25 The question, therefore, as to whether the Divan offers a positive model of intercultural understanding for thoroughly laudable projects like Barenboim’s and Said’s »West-Eastern Divan Workshop« is rather more complicated than Richter’s presentation sometimes suggests.


Anke Bosse deals with the often dizzying intertextual and intercultural complexities that attended a project undertaken by the newspaper Die Zeit in 2003, in which contemporary German authors were asked to rewrite (umschreiben) Goethe’s poem Gottes ist der Orient within the context of the Iraq war, and in light of the following highly suggestive commentary: »so friedlich wünschte Goethe sich die Welt, als er den Westöstlichen Divan [sic] schrieb. Ein schöner Wunsch, ein schönes Gedicht. Muss man es heute nicht umschreiben?« (p. 116). Bosse shows in great detail how Goethe’s original poem is itself a complicated intertext, which was in turn inspired by yet another intertextual construction: the German translation of a verse from the Koran that appeared on the cover of Hammer-Purgstall’s Fundgruben des Orients. Although it is impossible to give an adequate account of Bosse’s essay here, her findings concerning the contemporary rewritings of Goethe’s poem – undertaken by poets such as Kurt Drawert, Albert Ostermeier and Ulrike Draesner – bear out her central line of argumentation: that most of the poets dutifully fulfilled the invitation to undermine Goethe’s »Inszenierung eines globalen, durch göttliche Präsenz garantierten Friedens« (p. 118) by pointing to the darker side of globalisation which came to expression in the Iraq war: the extended reach of US hegemony and global capital, which amounted to a kind colonialism in anything but name.


The most explicit Auseinandersetzung with post-colonial questions offered in this volume can be found in Ulrich Johannes Beil’s interpretation of that key text for German post-colonial theory, Kleist’s Die Verlobung in St. Domingo. Beil frames his analysis in relation to recent theoretical arguments – put forward by Roland Borgards, Harald Neumayer and Joseph Vogl, among others – that literary texts do not merely communicate fictional worlds, but rather offer »ein positives Wissen, das mit historisch und kulturell bestimmbaren Wahrheitsordungen korreliert«, and which may undermine the epistemological distinction between literary and non-literary texts (pp. 37–39). Kleist’s text offers, according to Beil, a perfect testing-ground for this kind of theory, since the Wissen which it produces can usefully be compared with the anthropological, gender and racial theories of its age. Beil points out that the recent reception history of Kleist’s texts has been dominated by Deconstruction and post-colonial theory, with the broad consensus of the previous two decades being that Kleist seems in large part to have shared the racial and cultural prejudices of his age. Yet Beil argues that while Kleist’s text does seem to reflect the anthropological discourses of its historical period, it does so in such a way that these discourses are neither explicitly endorsed nor critiqued, but rather subjected to a »Poetologie des Wissens« which plays upon the boundary between scientific fact and literary fiction. In a complex and sensitive reading of Kleist’s novella, Beil shows that there is in fact no »positives Wissen« to be derived from Kleist’s text; rather, Kleist’s narrative strategy is continually to question what counts as »Wissen«. In this way it could be argued that Beil succeeds only in synthesising, rather than demonstrably moving beyond, earlier Deconstructionist and post-colonial readings of Kleist’s novella.


Literarischer Handel
and its Consequences


While Goethe, especially in his introduction to Carlyle’s Schiller biography, tended to see Weltliteratur as a normative and civilising tendency in world affairs, at other times he seems to have regarded it as an uncontrollable force that could potentially overwhelm him, as he ironically suggested to Zelter in 1828 when he observed: »bemerke, daß die von mir aufgerufene Weltliteratur auf mich, wie auf den Zauberlehrling, zum Ersäufen zuströmt«. 26 In her essay concerning Johann Georg Hamann’s career as a translator, Anne Bohnenkamp shows just how radically an author can lose control of his or her works, their possible meanings, and their original contexts, when they are translated in ways that suit the cultural goals of the translator, regardless of the original intentions of the author. Hamann tended to be just such a translator, especially when it came to translating the poem attributed to Voltaire entitled Epitre à Uranie. While Voltaire’s original had been a criticism of the dominant French religious tradition and a plea for an enlightened natural religion, Hamann’s translation of Voltaire’s text – which was published alongside the original French version so as to be placed in dialogue with it – offered, in turn, a critique of Voltaire’s own enlightenment position. In this way, translation could become a kind of cultural dialogue or Handel, in which the translator’s renderings »zielen auf Aneignung und Anwendung des Fremden für eigene kommunikative Zusammenhänge« (p. 86).


Sebastian Donat takes this argument further in his essay entitled »Weltliteratur zwischen geistigem Handelsverkehr und Markenpiraterie«. Donat notes that Goethe himself had been aware of the fickleness and complexity of intercultural literary reception processes, having been in some ways dissatisfied with the French reception of Faust. Concerning the reception of German works in other nations, Goethe had observed that:

Alle Nationen schauen sich nach uns um, sie loben, sie tadlen, nehmen auf und verwerfen, ahmen nach und entstellen, verstehen oder misverstehen uns, eröffnen oder verschließen ihre Herzen; dieß alles müssen wir gleichmüthig aufnehmen, indem das Ganze von großem Werth ist. 27

Through being personally confronted by the processes of Weltliteratur in the form of how his works were received, exploited, adapted and misunderstood outside of his homeland, Goethe came to a realistic view of Weltliteratur as a form of Handel, not merely in the normative sense of intercultural understanding invoked in his introduction to Carlyle’s biography of Schiller, but also in the form of authors and critics using foreign traditions for their own often polemical and political purposes, in what are sometimes less than transparent ways.


Donat elucidates this latter form of reception in his analysis of an edition of poems attributed to the Persian poet Hafiz, which were allegedly collected and translated in 1852 by the German philosopher of religion Georg Friedrich Daumer (1800–1875). Unlike Goethe’s engagement with Hafiz in the Divan – which was presented as an active process of reception, creative adaptation and transformation, made possible by Hammer-Purgstall’s translations of Hafiz – Daumer presented his edition of Hafiz not as an interpretation, but as an archival collection and translation which was allegedly »treu, wahr und wesenhaft« in relation to the originals (p. 157). This allowed him to present his own often controversial political, religious and erotic themes under the name of Hafiz, elaborating them in poems that often bore only a tenuous relation to Hafiz’s text, and also drawing heavily on Goethe’s Divan. In this way Daumer engaged in a form of Handelsverkehr as »Nutzbarmachung von vorgefundenen Themenbereichen und Darstellungsformen zur Verdeutlichung und Verbreitung eigener Ideen« (p. 157). Yet this form of Handel far exceeded even Daumer’s own intentions, in that his version of Hafiz enjoyed a rapturous reception at the hands of important nineteenth century artists like Richard Wagner and Ivan Turgenev. And while the German reception of Daumer tended to display a greater awareness of his highly creative yet disingenuous use of Hafiz’s originals, Turgenev and his contemporaries took Daumer at his word, seeing his text as a faithful rendering of the great Persian poet. Only in 1935, when the first proper Russian translation of Hafiz based on the original Persian text appeared, were Daumer’s texts revealed to be appropriations rather than translations of Hafiz.




It has not been possible within the space of this review to give an account of every essay in this large volume. Taking its subtitle into consideration – komparatistische Aspekte der Goethezeit – the focus here has been on the most innovative essays which specifically address the following themes: Goethe’s reception outside of the German speaking territories; the origin and influence of his concept of Weltliteratur; and the subject of intercultural literary exchange. Many of these essays represent excellent engagements with pressing questions which currently lie at the centre of world-wide Komparatistik. At the same time, however, some of the essays in this volume are not really concerned with intercultural exchange or Komparatistik in any explicit way, dealing with (albeit highly interesting) internal interpretations of Goethe’s works (Gerhard Neumann on Die Wahlverwandschaften, Nicholas Rennie on Faust, and Christoph Perels on Wilhelm Meister). This feature of the volume points to a more general problem that is not resolved by the editors: namely, that the book is simultaneously presented as a Festschrift and as a coherent collection addressing the theme of komparatistische Aspekte der Goethezeit. In relation to the former aim it succeeds admirably, presenting the breadth and depth of Hendrik Birus’s influence as a comparatist and theorist, as well as outlining possible future directions and questions for Komparatistik. The latter aim is, however, far less successfully fulfilled, in that the book lacks a comprehensive introduction and a tight editorial focus in relation to its stated theme. That said, the genre of the somewhat disorganised Festschrift is no doubt worth supporting in the age of akademischer Handelsverkehr. In Britain, publications appearing in Festschriften are increasingly seen as being of little academic value for the purposes of »research assessment«, which play a crucial role in determining the funding that accrues to beleaguered humanities departments. In response to this instrumentalisation of university research, the genre of the Festschrift implicitly expresses confidence in the idea of academic communities defined by collaboration, mutual support and good will. This is an idea worth defending at all costs.



Johann Wolfgang Goethe: Vorwort zu Carlyles Leben Schillers. In: J. W. G.: Sämtliche Werke [Frankfurter Ausgabe]. Ed. by Friedmar Apel et al. Frankfurt/M. 1985 et seq. I. Part. Vol. 22: Ästhetische Schriften 1824–1832. Ed. by Anne Bohnenkamp. Frankfurt/M.: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag 1999, pp. 869–883, here p. 870. The Frankfurter Ausgabe of Goethe’s works will hereafter be cited with the letters FA, followed by part, volume and page number.   zurück
Hendrik Birus: The Goethean Concept of World Literature and Comparative Literature. In: Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek (ed.): Comparative Literature and Comparative Cultural Studies. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press 2003, pp. 11–22.   zurück
See Charles Bernheimer (ed.): Comparative Literature in the Age of Multiculturalism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press 1995. Haun Saussy (ed.): Comparative Literature in the Age of Globalisation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press 2006.   zurück
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: Death of a Discipline (The Wellek Library Lectures in Critical Theory). New York: Columbia University Press 2003.   zurück
David Damrosch: The Rebirth of a Discipline: The Global Origins of Comparative Studies. In: Comparative Critical Studies 3.1–2 (2006), pp. 99–112.   zurück
Goethe: Vorwort zu Carlyles Leben Schillers (note 1), FA, I.22, p. 872.   zurück
Ibid., p. 870–871.   zurück
David Damrosch: What is World Literature? Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press 2003, p. 4.   zurück
Hendrik Birus: Goethes Idee der Weltliteratur. Eine historische Vergegenwärtigung. In: Manfred Schmeling (ed.): Weltliteratur heute. Konzepte und Perspektiven (Saarbrücker Beiträge zur Vergleichenden Literatur- u. Kulturwissenschaft, Vol. 1). Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann 1995, pp. 5–28. Hendrik Birus: The Goethean Concept of World Literature and Comparative Literature (note 2).   zurück
Goethe: »Aus dem Faszikel zu Carlyles Leben Schillers«. In: FA, I.22, pp. 865–868, here p. 866.   zurück
Goethe an Zelter, 06. 06. 1825? In: FA, II. Part. Vol. 10: Briefe, Tagebücher und Gespräche von 1823 bis zu Goethes Tod. Teil I, von 1823 bis zum Tode Carl Augusts 1828. Ed. by Horst Fleig. Frankfurt/M: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag 1993, p. 277.   zurück
Goethe an Streckfuß, 27. 01. 1827. In: Goethes Werke. Hg. im Auftrage der Großherzogin Sophie von Sachsen [Weimarer Ausgabe]. Weimar: Hermann Böhlau 1887–1919. IV. Part. Vol. 42, p. 28. The Weimarer Ausgabe will hereafter be cited with the letters WA, followed by part, volume and page numbers.   zurück
Goethe an Eckermann, 31. 01. 1827. In: FA, II. Part. Vol. 12: Johann Peter Eckermann: Gespräche mit Goethe. Ed. by Christoph Michel with the collaboration of Hans Grüters. Frankfurt/M: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag 1999, p. 225.   zurück
Goethe: »Schema zu Kunst und Altertum VI.« In: WA, I. Part. Vol. 42.2, p. 500.   zurück
David Damrosch (note 8), pp. 1, 26 et seq.   zurück
Goethe an Zelter, 06. 06. 1825? (note 11), p. 277.   zurück
See David Damrosch (note 8), p. 4.   zurück
See David Damrosch (note 5), pp. 101–102.   zurück
Charles Bernheimer (note 3), Haun Saussy (note 3).   zurück
Hendrik Birus: Goethes Imaginativer Orientalismus. In: Jahrbuch des Freien Deutschen Hochstifts (1992), pp. 107–128, here p. 120. Andrea Polaschegg: Der andere Orientalismus. Regeln deutsch-morgenländischer Imagination im 19. Jahrhundert. Berlin: de Gruyter 2005, pp. 316–326.   zurück
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (note 4), pp. 25, 53, 72–73, 100.   zurück
David Damrosch (note 5), p. 99.   zurück
Edward Said: Orientalism. London: Penguin 2003, pp. xviii-xix.   zurück
Goethe: »Noten und Abhandlungen zu besserem Verständnis des West-Östlichen Divans«. In: FA, Part I Vol. 3.1: West-Östlicher Divan. Ed. by Hendrik Birus. Frankfurt/M: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag 1993, p. 164.   zurück
See Andrea Polaschegg (note 20).   zurück
Goethe an Zelter, 21.05.1828. In: WA, IV.44, p.101.   zurück
Goethe: »Le Tasse«. In: FA, I.22, pp. 353–357, here pp. 356–357.   zurück