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Heaving and swelling : aesthetics, the body, and erotic literature in the age of Lessing

Authors
Publisher
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library
Publication Date
Disciplines
  • Design
  • Linguistics
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science

Abstract

In this dissertation, I explore how signs affect the body in German neoclassicism. This period constructs a particular body (the voluptuary's body) that derives primarily sensual-as opposed to cognitive-pleasure from the signs of art. Erotic literature with its sensual appeal, then, becomes a special case of art, one that manifests this relationship between signs and the body the most clearly. By focusing on erotic literature as a paradigmatic rather than a marginal case of literature, I am able to reconsider our current understanding of German neoclassicism. Erotic literature exceeds the aesthetic and semiotic principles that scholars have come to expect to circumscribe the literature of this period. Erotic literature moves beyond such categories as vividness, veracity, and verisimilitude to achieve an aesthetic pleasure of virtuality. Its arousing signs produce voluptuous sensations and transformations in the reader's body in addition to transmitting knowledge and manipulating affect. And as they strike-or stroke-the body, these signs appear less transparent than sticky. They do not recede before the ideas they signify, as they should do. Rather, they stick around; they remain in the foreground of the reader's consciousness, insistently calling attention to their own materiality rather than sublimating into spirit. I track this motion through Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's critical texts Rettungen des Horaz and his Laokoon essay; Christoph Martin Wieland's major fictional works from the mid-1760s, the Comische Erzählungen, Don Sylvio, and Geschichte des Agathon; and Gustav Schilling's novel Die Denkwürdigkeiten des Herrn von H. And as I show, these texts attempt to harness-that is, both exploit and contain-this unruly relationship between literature and the body for political and pedagogical projects.

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