AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

"A Battle As Yet Not Fought": The Tragic Consequences of Early German Idealism.

by Jonah M. Johnson

Institution: University of Michigan
Department: Comparative Literature & Germanic Language and Literature
Degree: PhD
Year: 2009
Keywords: Kant; Kleist; Penthesilea; Schelling; Philosophy and Literature; Tragic Turn; General and Comparative Literature; Germanic Languages and Literature; Philosophy; Humanities
Record ID: 1854392
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/2027.42/62394


This dissertation articulates the relationship between Kant's critical philosophy and the discourse of tragedy that characterizes early German Romanticism and early German Idealism. Since Peter Szondi???s _Essay on the Tragic_ (1961), literary scholars as well as philosophers have located this ???tragic turn" in the Tenth Letter of Friedrich Schelling???s _Philosophical Letters on Dogmatism and Criticism_ (1795); from this shared premise, however, scholarship synthesizing both literary and philosophical approaches to the ???tragic turn??? has generally not resulted. This dissertation seeks to address that need. Chapters 1 and 2 clarify the philosophical motivations for a "tragic turn" within eighteenth-century philosophy and isolate the discursive figure of "conflict" (Kampf), through which Schelling brokers a philosophical appeal to art from within the antinomies of freedom and theoretical reason. I first examine how Kant's philosophy was itself led to such dualisms, then how these dualisms led to an impasse within post-Kantian foundationalism, and, finally, how Schelling's frustration with the solutions offered to this impasse by Fichte's "Criticism" as well as Spinoza's Dogmatism led him to wonder in the _Philosophical Letters_ whether the problems of philosophy could be solved by philosophy. The "tragic turn" thus emerges as a strategy for overcoming the self-alienation of philosophy's ends and means through an appeal to tragedy as a model for the sublation of the false dilemma between two absolutely opposed positions. Chapter 3 examines the risks and rewards of this appeal to tragedy for Hegel's development of dialectic beyond the dualisms of Kant, raising questions about the relationship between Hegel's desire for the disciplinary autonomy of philosophy and his rationale concerning the "end of art." Chapter 4 concludes with an exploration of the consequences of the "tragic turn" for a tragedian, Heinrich von Kleist, whose ambivalence concerning the use-values of both philosophy and tragedy are legible in the relationship between his "Kant crisis" (_Kantkrise_) and his presentation of failed mediation in _Penthesilea_ (1808). Through a close reading of _Penthesilea_, I show that the radicalization of the tragic medium by an artist could be employed to contest Idealism???s utilization of tragedy for its own self-legitimizing, anti-aesthetic, and rather anti-tragic ends.