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  • Payne's Spinozan "Theodicy" in Georg Büchner's Dantons Tod
  • Rodney Taylor

In his work on the literary oeuvre and intellectual development of Georg Büchner, Hans Mayer emphasizes the importance of Benedictus De Spinoza's ontology for Büchner's philosophical perspective on the world. For Mayer, in the social sphere Büchner sees only chaos, while in Spinoza's pantheistic universe he perceives a harmonious interpenetration of forces (379). The past two decades have witnessed a resurgence of scholarly interest in Büchner's interpretation of Spinoza's conception of existence. This has bearing both on his nonliterary writings and on his literary production (Stiening, "Der Spinozismus" 207). In 1835/36 Büchner composed a series of lecture notes on the history of philosophy, many of which were based on Wilhelm Gottlieb Tennemann's Grundrisse der Geschichte der Philosophie (1798-1819). However, as pointed out by Gerhard P. Knapp, the most original of Büchner's critical reflections on philosophy are found in his manuscripts on Spinoza (3rd ed. 24). A fruitful area of investigation in Büchner studies involves the relationship of his meditations on Spinoza to significant strata of meaning in his literary works. Several studies have appeared that pursue this horizon of interpretation (e.g., Stiening, "Georg Büchner und die Philosophie" 47; Taylor, "Büchner's Danton" 238). Nevertheless, opening up further perspectives in this field of research remains a desideratum of Büchner research, especially in regard to philosophical works, familiar to Büchner, that reflect significant aspects of the reception of Spinoza's thought during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This article will consider how Büchner construes a salient dimension of Spinoza's ontology by incorporating into III,1 of Dantons Tod (1835) ideas in a philosophical treatise written by Ludwig Feuerbach, entitled Gedanken über Tod und Unsterblichkeit aus den Papieren eines Denkers (published anonymously in 1830; henceforth "Todesgedanken"). It will discuss this philosophical source and its implications for Payne's speculative utterance on Spinoza's system, showing how his reinterpretation of Spinozism reconstructs concepts from the philosopher's Ethica Ordine Geometrico demonstrata (1675) in the context of the Spinozan Naturanschauung developed in Feuerbach's text. The analysis of this source reveals the logic involved in Payne's acosmism and its relation to his theory of divine self-consciousness. This connection provides insight into his vision of human suffering in its ultimate existential significance.

Little doubt persists that ideas from Feuerbach's "Todesgedanken" inform significant strata of meaning in Büchner's drama. Louis Ferdinand Helbig [End Page 539] specifies numerous textual parallels between the work and Dantons Tod to show how Büchner incorporates concepts elaborated by Feuerbach into III,7 of his drama (109). Knapp and other commentators explore these connections (3rd ed. 124-25; Taylor, "Büchner's Critique" 244). An important aspect of these contributions discusses how III,7 contains an implicit reference to Feuerbach's critique of Pietism's hypostatization of the soul in its yearning for its final apotheosis in heaven. As Büchner is aware, Feuerbach's Spinozism in the "Todesgedanken" deplores Christian subjectivism's denial of this-worldly existence. However, the relationship of this text to the philosophical content of III,1 of Dantons Tod has eluded scholarly attention, though the Spinozan dimension of the "Payne Dialogue" exhibits Büchner's intense intellectual involvement with the young Feuerbach's meditations on the ontological significance of mortality in its relation to Spinoza's conception of eternity.

The historical trauma of Dantons Tod depicts the collision of democratic values projected upon society by charismatic visionaries with a horrific outcome of historical circumstance: "The Terror" (Jancke 166-67). This monstrous counterfinality of revolutionary endeavour is reflected in the subjectivity of the potentates Danton and Robespierre, both of whom Büchner depicts as demiurges of the historical upheaval. Danton embodies this gruesome effect of the brute vicissitudes of political reality. In II,5, he has a nightmare in which the word "September" resounds throughout the streets of Paris. In spite of his torment of conscience, however, Danton assures Julie that his ordering of the September massacres of 1792 was a necessary measure for preserving the revolution...


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