History of (German) Literary Histories
Nowadays, writing literary history has a bad reputation—ever since the corresponding diagnosis by Hans Robert Jauß in 1970, it almost seems impossible. This provokes the question of what it even means to write a history of literature. To answer this question, it is necessary to critically examine the beginnings of literary history; what attempts there were at its renewal; the ideas or aims which these attempts pursued; and the challenges it faced. Beginning with Friedrich Schlegel’s attempt to establish a modern literary history, which stood in contrast to the universal scientific compendiums of the historia litteraria, the research project attempted a critical reassessment.
By examining selected continuations and revisions of this practice within German Studies (Gervinus’ national literary history, the Geistesgeschichte (history of ideas) in the early 20th century (Jauß’ reception history, Kittler’s history of media), problems, aporias, and proposed solutions were critically reviewed to gain insights into the past and present of literary history. This criticism is of great importance, not only to the historical reflection on the self-conception of German studies in Germany, but also to the localization and reorientation of German studies abroad and literary studies as a whole. After all, the examination of forms and models of literary historiography may help us understand just why historical representations of literature are important and necessary and what significance they may have for us today.
Fig. above: Matthias Lemm: Goethe-Schiller-Denkmal in Weimar (original image). Source: Pixabay