, Volume 15, Issue 2, pp 239–259 | Cite as

Romanticism, figuration and comparative literature

  • Paul Gordon


Comparative Literature Individual Work Prose Foreign Literature National Literature 
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  1. 1.
    René Wellek wrote a series of articles on comparative literature, beginning with the chapter inTheory of Literature, “General, Comparative and National Literature” (1949). The other principal articles, carried out over almost twenty years, are “The Concept of Comparative Literature,”Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature, 2, 1953; “The Crisis of Comparative Literature” (reprinted inConcepts of Criticism, 1959), and “Comparative Literature Today”,Comparative Literature, 17, 1965. This lengthy series represents a continuation of the discussion begun in the first article rather than any substantial revision of the author's earliest views.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The debate about comparative literature centers around a definition of what the discipline is supposed to study as well as how it is to proceed. See Wellek's articles mentioned above, as well as Remak's “Comparative Literature, its Definition and Function” inComparative Literature, ed. Stallknecht and Frenz, Illinois UP, 1971.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Lange, Victor, “Stand und Aufgaben der vergleichenden Literaturgeschichte in den USA,”Forschungsprobleme der vergleichenden Literaturgeschichte, ed. Wais, M. Niemeyer, 1951.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    The romantic origins of comparative literature, which are, to be sure, origins among others, are generally viewed as resulting in the first explicit call for an international or universal approach to literature. This romantic aetiology is also at work in the other nineteenth century comparative disciplines. For a discussion of the romantic forerunners of comparative literature see A. Kappler'sDie literarische Vergleich, Frankfurt: Lang, 1976.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Van Tieghem,La Littérature comparée, Paris, Libraire Armand Colin, 1931. This is the essential text from which to form an opinion either pro or contra the “French School” for, as Werner Friedrich says, “French criticism stands on Van Tieghem'sLa Littérature comparée”,The Challenge of Comparative Literature, Chapel Hill: 1970.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Wellek,Theory of Literature, p. 46.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Op. cit., Wellek,Theory of Literature, p. 52.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    E.g.: “The great argument for comparative literature is the obvious falsity of the idea of a self-enclosed national literature”. (“The Concept of Comparative Literature,” p. 5.) Compare similar statements in “Crisis” p. 282, “Theory” p. 49.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    For the importance of the romantic recognition of the symbolic function of language, see Wellek, “The Concept of Romanticism in Literary History,” collected inConcepts of Criticism, pp. 129–198.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Goethe's conversation with Eckermann of January 31, 1827.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Schlegel, Friedrich,Dialogue on Poetry and Literary Aphorisms (trans. Behler, Penn State University Press, 1968) contains the translations (occasionally modified) of both theFragment andGespräch used in this paper.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Arthur Lovejoy has argued against reading Schlegel'sFragment as “in praise of” the novel, particularly Goethe'sWilhelm Meister (v. “Romantic in Early German Romanticism” inEssays in the History of Ideas, Johns Hopkins Press, 1948). Although for different reasons I also interpret Schlegel's remarks as directed to romanticism in general and not the novel in particular.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Wellek,Theory of Literature, p. 49.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Goethe, op. cit.Theory of Literature, p. 49.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    De Staël,De l'Allemagne, Garnier Flammarion, 1968.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Aristotle,Rhetoric. III. xviii, 7.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    In their study of early German romanticism, particularly theAthenaeum, the authors ofL'absolu littéraire (Lacoue-Labarthe/Nancy, Editions du Seuil, 1978) discuss the importance of Witz as a recurrent motif and essential aspect of the genreFragment. This seemingly runs counter to Mme de Staël's claim that wit is to be associated with the French in opposition to the Germans, but in fact Mme de Staël's own witty and romantic style makes it apparent that the romantic, in contrast to both the French and the Germans, is capable of a more synthetic “serious wit.” The authors ofL'absolu littéraire also note that F. Schlegel himself argues for the more synthetic and against the more “French” wit: “L'écriture du fragment constitue donc en somme l'Aufhebung dialectique de l'antinomie interne du Witz” (p. 77).Google Scholar

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© Akadémiai Kiadó 1988

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  • Paul Gordon

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