Weimar Classicism

Weimar Classicism

Weimar Classicism (German “"Weimarer Klassik"” and “"Weimarer Klassizismus"”) is a cultural and literary movement of Europe, and its central ideas were originally propounded by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller during the period 1788–1832.

Although Weimar Classicism's status as a "movement" and "classical" has been questioned by some scholars and historians, notably those outside Germany, its growing, immediate importance has precipitated greater awareness of it within academia and within German scholarship. Since contemporaries seldom adopted Goethe and Schiller's particular views on the “classical” it has been remarked these were possibly "premature" in development; [Wilkinson and Willoughby, Introduction to "On the Aesthetic Education of Man", op. cit., p. ci.] it is, notwithstanding, plain that their efforts made profound and lasting contributions in such areas as philosophy, science, psychology, art, literature, and aesthetics.



The German Enlightenment, the culture of which is traditionally referred to as “neo-classical”, burgeoned in the synthesis of Empiricism and Rationalism as developed by both Christian Thomasius (1655–1728) and Christian Wolff (1679–1754). This philosophy, which was circulated widely by the "Popularphilosophen" in many magazines (“"moralische Wochenschriften"”), journals, and encyclopedia and dictionary entries, profoundly directed—along with its antithesis, Pietism—the subsequent expansion of German-speaking and, more inclusively, European, culture. The inability of this “common-sense” outlook convincingly to bridge “feeling” and “thought”, “body” and “mind”, led to Immanuel Kant's epochal “critical” philosophy. Another, though not as abstract, approach to this problem was a governing concern with the problems of aesthetics. In his "Aesthetica" of 1750 (vol. II; 1758) Alexander Baumgarten (1714–62) defined “aesthetics”, which he coined earlier in 1735, with its current intension as the “science” of the “lower faculties” (i.e., feeling, sensation, imagination, memory, et al.), which earlier Enlighteners had neglected . (The term, however, gave way to misunderstandings due to Baumgarten’s use of the Latin in accordance with the German renditions, and consequently this has often lead many astray to undervalue his accomplishment. [Cf. Nivelle, "Les Théories esthétiques en Allemagne de Baumgarten à Kant". Bibliothèque de la Faculté de Philosophie et Lettres de l’Université de Liège (Paris, 1955), pp. 21 ff.] ) It was no inquiry into taste—into positive or negative appeals—nor sensations as such but rather a way of knowledge. Baumgarten's emphasis on the need for such “sensuous” knowledge was a major abetment to the “pre-Romanticism” known as "Sturm und Drang" (1765), of which Goethe and Schiller were notable participants for a time.

These and other publications set the stage for the “cultural struggle” (“"Kulturkampf"”) that would later be known as the historical period of Weimar Classicism. Education via art was used to reach a veritable relation between “action” and “insight” that revealed Goethe and Schiller's motion to produce a flourishing cultural milieu and innervate mankind to become “whole” in the process. This was particularly embodied in Schiller's "Aesthetic Letters" (into which Goethe later cast his fairy tale "The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily" [cite web | url = http://www.newview.org.uk/green_snake.htm |title = Goethe's Fairy Tale |accessdate = 2007-08-02 | author = Tom Raines |date = Summer 2003 | publisher = New View Magazine | language = English] ).

Cultural and historical context

Characteristically and roughly, the movement Weimar Classicism is described to have occurred between Goethe’s return from his Italian journey (1788) and Schiller’s death (1805), his close friend and collaborator. It, however, could also extend beyond this delimitation to the death of Goethe himself. It was named in light of a handful of authors’ immense significance, and, more particularly, Goethe and Schiller, both of whom resided in the Duchy of Saxe-Weimar at this time, hence the toponymic “Weimar Classicism”. Responding to Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s (1717–1768) "Gedanken über die Nachahmung der griechischen Werke in der Malerie und Bildhauerkunst" ("Reflection on the Imitation of the Greeks"; 1755) and "Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums" ("History of the Art of Antiquity"; 1764), [Morrison, ed.," Winckelmann and the Notion of Aesthetic Education" (Oxford, England: Oxford University, 1996), pp. 206 ff.] Goethe and Schiller developed a literary pursuit and praxis of the imitation of ancient Greek, classical models, a veritable undertaking of socio-cultural reformation through aesthetic conceptions and values, where organic wholeness and harmony (among other classical values, partly spurred on by the Enlightenment) were of central inspiration and importance.

By contrast the contemporaneous and efflorescing literary movement of German Romanticism was in opposition to Weimar and German Classicism. It is in this way both may be best understood, even to the degree in which Goethe continuously and stringently criticized it through much of his essays, such as “On Dilettantism”, [Borchmeyer, op. cit., p. 58.] on art and literature. After Schiller's death, the continuity of these ramifications partly elucidates the nature of Goethe's ideas in art and how they intermingled with his scientific thinking as well, [Vaget, "Dilettantismus und Meisterschaft: Zum Problem des Dilettantismus bei Goethe: Praxis, Theorie, Zeitkritik" (Munich: Winkler, 1971).] inasmuch as it gives coherence to Goethe's work. Weimar Classicism may be seen as an attempt to reconcile—in “binary synthesis”—the vivid feeling emphasized by the "Sturm und Drang" movement with the clear thought emphasized by the Enlightenment, thus implying Weimar Classicism is intrinsically un-Platonic. On this Goethe remarked:

Quotation|“The idea of the distinction between classical and romantic poetry ["Dichtung" [The German word has its English equivalents in “poetry” and “fiction”.] ] , which is now spread over the whole world, and occasions so many quarrels and divisions, came originally from Schiller and myself. I laid down the maxim of objective treatment of poetry, and would allow no other; but Schiller, who worked quite in the subjective way, deemed his own fashion the right one, and to defend himself against me, wrote the treatise upon ‘Naïve and Sentimental Poetry.’ He proved to me that I myself, against my will, was romantic, and that my ‘Iphigenia,’ through the predominance of sentiment, was by no means so classical and so much in the antique spirit as some people supposed.

“The Schlegels took up this idea, and carried it further, so that it has now been diffused over the whole world; and every one talks about classicism and romanticism—of which nobody thought fifty years ago.”|Eckermann; trans. Wallace Wood|Conversations with Eckermann", Wed., Mar. 17, 1830'

Centrally, the conception of “harmony” (also “totality” or “wholeness”)—as it was earlier accepted as a fundamental element in Greek culture by German Classicism—profoundly embedded within Weimar Classicism, which developed during a period of social turmoil and upheaval, is neither an aim toward Platonic perfection nor, as promoted by the German Romantics, toward universality, which was systematized later by G. W. F. Hegel; it is the sole expression of a particular’s singular imperfect integrity. In like manner, whereof Goethe enunciated, the two polarities of classicism and romanticism may be employed in a work of art by means of excellence and discretion; and further, the naïve and sentimental forms of poetry, of which the aforesaid polarities bear out respectively, remain within a relation of mutual dependence and according to which they are limited.

Aesthetic and philosophical principles

Similar to the binarity noted above is Schiller's treatment of "Formtrieb" (“formal drive”) and "Stofftrieb" (“material drive”) when the two, which were inspired by Kant's various critiques, via reciprocal coordination—in a “proto-Hegeliandialectical fashion—give birth to "Spieltrieb" (“ludic drive”), that is to say, the aesthetic "par excellence". Schiller's elementary attitude toward art is given in “What Difference Can a Good Theatrical Stage Actually Make?” (1784):


These are essentials used by Goethe and Schiller for which it is necessary to understand the course of their project.

Three key-terms:

# "Gehalt": the inexpressible “felt-thought”, or “import”, which is alive in the artist and the percipient that he or she finds means to express within the aesthetic form, hence "Gehalt" is implicit with form. A work’s "Gehalt" is not reducible to its "Inhalt".
# "Gestalt": the aesthetic form, in which the import of the work is stratified, that emerges from the regulation of forms (these being rhetorical, grammatical, intellectual, and so on) abstracted from the world or created by the artist, with sense relationships prevailing within the employed medium.
# "Stoff": Schiller and Goethe reserve this (almost solely) for the forms taken from the world or that are created. In a work of art, "Stoff" (designated as “"Inhalt"”, or “content”, when observed in this context) is to be “indifferent” (“"gleichgültig"”), that is, it should not arouse undue interest, deflecting attention from the aesthetic form. Indeed, "Stoff" (i.e., also the medium through which the artist creates) needs to be in such a complete state of unicity with the "Gestalt" of the art-symbol that it cannot be abstracted except at the cost of destroying the aesthetic relations established by the artist.

In sum, "Gehalt" and "Stoff" must coalesce through the creative, aesthetic potential of the artist as a means to manifest "Gestalt" whereby all faculties converge within the percipient who may thereby participate in apperceptive aesthetic imagination in lieu of the artist's artistic imagination.

Other considerable terms and phrases used:

External links

Primary sources

* [http://www.studiocleo.com/librarie/schiller/essay.html “On the Sublime” by Schiller]
* [http://www.bartleby.com/39/34.html “Introduction to the Propyläen” by Goethe]

Other sources

* [http://www.litencyc.com/php/stopics.php?rec=true&UID=1476 Weimar Classicism in Literary Encyclopedia]
* [http://www.klassik-stiftung.de/index.php Klassik Stiftung Weimar] De icon
* [http://www.goethezeitportal.de/index.php?id=808 Goethes Allianz mit Schiller] De icon
* [http://www.goethezeitportal.de/index.php?id=809 Der späte Goethe] De icon
* [http://www.cis.arts.gla.ac.uk/cassirerproject.htm Centre for Intercultural Studies—Ernst Cassirer and Weimar Classicism]
* [http://www.aim25.ac.uk/cgi-bin/search2?coll_id=5722&inst_id=31 English Goethe Society]
* [http://www.goethesociety.org Goethe Society of North America]

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