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Karl Philipp Moritz—Signaturen des Denkens ed. by Anthony Krupp (review)

From: Goethe Yearbook
Volume 20, 2013
pp. 278-279 | 10.1353/gyr.2013.0019

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This magisterial collection of articles deals with the thought and language of Karl Philipp Moritz, and is part of something of a recent Moritz renaissance. Unlike other recent works on Moritz, the volume does not restrict itself to understanding Moritz’s psychology as part of an aesthetics (Alexander Košenina, or Elliott Schreiber, who have sought to vindicate Moritz as a philosopher), or as a precursor to positivistic sciences of the mind (Robert Weston’s book on Moritz as pedagogue, Anja Müller’s recent book on eighteenth-century conceptions of childhood). Rather, it concerns itself with Denken, with all the mobility and instability that capacious term suggests.

That roving quality, its unwillingness to let traditional boundaries stand in the way of Denken, elevates this book head and shoulders over other recent work on Moritz, but the volume is perhaps too content to follow the tracks of Moritz’s Denken, and at times unwilling to step back from them. While indispensable for scholars with an interest in Moritz, the volume perhaps misses the opportunity to make a broader and bolder statement about why Moritz matters today and how he is to be read. Frustratingly, the individual articles come tantalizingly close to doing just that, but the volume as a collection falls short of this much-needed telos.

Krupp’s own backdoor preface gives an ample overview of Moritz’s life and work, but does little to explain why Moritz matters now, or why the texts do that are being unearthed so capably in the following three hundred pages. Krupp presents Moritz as an author who insists on “the ability to move, to walk, to travel” (12), crisscrossing boundaries between fields of inquiry whose separation otherwise served to stabilize the European Enlightenment. The volume’s contributions follow suit, focusing on texts and philosophemes that straddle and under-cut, that progress “beyond” stability and systematicity. In some cases, the authors argue, Moritz doesn’t even seem to know how to cross a particular boundary, but he just insists that language must allow us to imagine such a crossing. Neither Krupp’s contribution(s) nor the others spend much time presenting the peculiar challenges the peripatetic Moritz posed to the reception of two centuries, challenges that continue to the present day.

One feat the volume performs (and effortlessly so) without ever commenting on it, is to situate Moritz in wider trends and to show how short distances are between aspects of his oeuvre that to the modern observer seem miles apart. Rüdiger Campe’s contribution to the volume integrates Moritz into the discussion of the word sein, and of “small words” more generally, around the turn of the nineteenth century, and shows that these “small words” became crucial to the question of how things could be said about works of art. Similarly, Simon Richter’s essay links Moritz’s most well-known critical text, the 1788 “Über die bildende Nachahmung des Schönen” to the Spinoza debate raging at the same time. Claudia Sedlarz situates Moritz’s Italian journey in dialogue not just with contemporary German obsessions with Rome, but also with eighteenth-century questions of cognition, consciousness, and evidence. Chenxi Tang convincingly locates freemasonry as a secret key behind Moritz’s aesthetic texts.

While the individual pieces each justify this volume’s existence, the volume as a whole has more problems doing the same. The collection presented here is the result of a 2006 conference of the same title, and those origins show a bit: the individual authors make impressive cases for neglected texts by Moritz, or for reading well-known ones differently, but, given the short shrift Moritz has often received in American academe, a less piecemeal rehabilitation might be in order. To be sure, individual contributions signal how this can be done, and indeed must be, given how imbricated Moritz’s separate spheres of activity were in his own mind—but the wish for a program or mission behind a very impressive collection of individual pieces remains frustrated throughout.

Copyright © 2013 Goethe Society of North America
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Adrian Daub. "Karl Philipp Moritz—Signaturen des Denkens ed. by Anthony Krupp (review)." Goethe Yearbook...

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