Aesthetic Exercises and Poetic Form in the Works of Holderlin, Novalis, and Rococo Poets

by Trop, Gabriel Stephen, Ph.D., UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY, 2010, 255 pages; 3556037


In the treatise Aesthetica (1750), Alexander Baumgarten describes the aesthetic exercise as a training of the senses through which innate sensual and spiritual proclivities are developed and perfected. He formulates aesthetics not merely as an epistemological theory, but as a way of life capable of generating a happy human being. Throughout the course of the eighteenth century, the aesthetic exercise functions as a model for poetic practices, both in the production and reception of poetry.

For Hölderlin, the harmony of the natural and historical world is not something given, but something that one has to be trained to perceive amidst the facticity of suffering and violence. The deliberate confusion of Hölderlin's poetry, triggered by complex syntactical structures and a dense semantic texture, challenges the human mind to find evidence of the divine in its own mental and poetic self-organization. Disjunction and chaos eventually triumph over organization, leading to a form of aesthetic exercise that undermines rather than bolsters a conception of nature and history as self-organizing, harmonious systems.

Novalis rejects a philosophical conception of the absolute in favor of a "physiological absolute," redefining the absolute as an intensification of stimulation rather than a realm of undifferentiated identity. For Novalis, poetry exercises the mind by generating imaginative multiplicities and differences, continually overturning orders of representation, and creating magnetically attractive signs and permeable poetic spaces. In Die Lehrlinge zu Saïs, Novalis uses poetry to disorganize the normative structure of institutionalized regimes of bodily and mental exercise, thereby differentiating the aesthetic exercise from disciplinary forms that produce stable subjects.

Following Baumgarten's definition of the aesthetic, which fuses sense perception and artistic activity, the rhetoric of Anacreontic and Rococo poetry functions as an exercise in sensory cognition. Anacreontic poetry, in some of its manifestations, imaginatively constructs a space of unbounded play that extracts the human being from its normative anchoring points: God, bourgeois economic rationality, the use of public reason, epistemological progress, the family structure, and boundaries between life and death, among others. Such poetry develops signifying practices divested of attachments to transcendent realms of meaningfulness. Instead of melancholy, trauma, and genius, it gravitates towards the pleasure of repetition, the immanence of play, and the possibility of an imaginative deviation from one's own patterns of selfhood.

AdviserWinfried Kudszus
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsGerman literature; Philosophy; Aesthetics
Publication Number3556037

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