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Title: Pretexts for writing : German prefaces around 1800
Author: Williams, Seán M.
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2014
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Throughout history, there have been playful prefaces to literature (or in classical oratory, before display pieces). But German examples written by authors around 1800 to their own works, together with contemporary, self-authored prefaces to speculative philosophy, constitute a peculiarly paradoxical text type. Once literature was conceived as an autonomous domain rather than as a branch of general learning; as a popular book market took hold; and once systematic philosophy competed with literature’s broad acclaim as well as intellectual independence, the preface became not only a pragmatic, but also a creative and conceptual problem. Hence the preface became complicated as a form, in a broadly Romantic tradition of thought in which every act of genuine reflection was understood to expose epistemological contradiction. After my general, theoretical Preface and my comparative, historical Introduction, I focus on three preface paradoxes and three case studies of remarkably complex textuality: on Goethe, Jean Paul and Hegel. Most notable among their prefatory texts are the prefaces to Werther (1774), to a fictive second edition of Quintus Fixlein (1797) and to Phänomenologie des Geistes (1807). This trajectory is a story that begins with literary creativity and moves towards greater philosophical intricacy. The significance of my study is threefold. First and foremost, considering prefaces in this period of German literature and philosophy complements and augments the negative, subjective Early German Romantic idea of irony, Romantic textual fragmentation, as well as Jean Paul’s and Hegel’s literary and philosophically informed attempts to render both concepts and their manifestation on the page more positive and objective. Fragments are conventionally conceived as additive pieces, fortifying or undermining works. This conception can hold true for prefaces, including those by Goethe, Jean Paul and Hegel. At the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century, though, a number of writers of fragments argued that their works should be understood as wholes. Precisely some prefaces by Goethe, Jean Paul and Hegel can be read so paradoxically: as unifying, wholesome (in a Sentimental sense) and systematic fragments respectively. Second and third, I show the wider importance of the German preface at the turn of the nineteenth century. Authors around 1800 not only displayed, but discovered and debated a prefatory paradoxicality that we encounter in post-Romantic, post-Structuralist and post-modern literature, theory and philosophy, too. Moreover, I demonstrate the ways in which prefaces by particularly Jean Paul and Hegel influenced especially Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Derrida.
Supervisor: Hilliard, K. F. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Intellectual History ; Literatures of Germanic languages ; History of the book ; Philosophy ; Prefaces ; Paratexts ; Fragment ; European Romanticism ; German Literature 18th & 19th century ; Post-Structuralism