- Fugitive Objects: Sculpture and Literature in the German Nineteenth Century by Catriona Macleod
In the nineteenth century, sculpture was something of an underdog in the great paragone of the arts. Whereas painting, music, and poetry underwent rapid development during the Romantic period, sculpture seemed to be in decline. Catriona Macleod’s Fugitive Objects demonstrates how sculpture, in its own way, undergoes a number of radical changes linked to three manners of its “disappearance”: its consideration as an antique as opposed to a modern form of art, its subjection to the forces of mass production, and its “migration” into – or absorption by – another art form, namely literature (4). Fugitive Objects is an intelligent and informative study of a subject matter that has long eluded scholars in art history, aesthetics, and literary studies. Macleod’s evidence and argument are convincing: the reader is left at the end of the book with a sense that the disappearance of things is never complete. A law of conservation of energy is at work here, and its workings are provocative, troubling, and fascinating.
Macleod’s texts are well chosen. Her first chapter examines the theoretical backdrop to sculpture’s relegation to the past, stressing the exemplarity of the writings of A.W. Schlegel and G.W.F. Hegel. While eighteenth-century intellectuals (à la Johann Joachim Winckelmann) were enamoured of sculpture and its materiality, the nineteenth century became increasingly dominated by a yearning for the transcendent and immaterial. Other arts – music and poetry, above all, but also painting to a large degree – were better suited to respond to this longing. Macleod neatly ties this transcendental turn into the Pygmalion discourse of the time: the likes of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Schlegel critiqued sculpture’s reception, which all too often resulted from sculpture’s potentially erotic and/or upsetting aesthetic effects.
Chapter 2 moves into literary analysis, taking Clemens Brentano’s Godwi as the central example of the destructive turn in the ways in which sculpture is represented. The competition between plastic and verbal representation finds uncanny expression in Godwi: where language is used as a “dematerializing masculine force” (63), sculpture takes its revenge in the form of a mysterious disease of the mouth, which the fictitious writer Maria suffers. Macleod’s discussion of ekphrasis in this context is particularly intriguing and could perhaps have been expanded to connect to her later discussions of the obstructing potential of sculpture. Ekphrasis is a literary device often used for halting narrative movement; although it is a linguistic pursuit, it has, like sculpture, a prolonging and stalling function, both aesthetically and in terms of the action and will of the actors. [End Page 85]
Chapter 3 examines Achim von Arnim’s “Die Weihnachts-Ausstellung,” as well as Joseph von Eichendorff’s Das Marmorbild. These narratives present the competition between sculpture and painting, and that between sculpture and music, respectively. In the latter work, Macleod emphasizes, the iconic references (whether in painting or in sculpture) become increasingly vague; she interprets this as a “deliberate dislodging of the statue to an uncertain place between literary, painterly, and plastic referentiality, the latter always only a secondary, haunting presence, via painting and textuality” (98–99). Her discussion is particularly rich here, linking the absence of clear reference to the power of dreams. We might also say this is the power of the imagination. Her discussion of Eichendorff recalls the short poem “Lied und Gebilde” in Goethe’s West-Östlicher Divan. In that poem Goethe celebrates the power of the imagination to move beyond constraints, and in a few short lines he contrasts the Parmenidean plastic arts of the Greeks (“Gebilde”) with the Heraclitean art of the cultures around the river Euphrates, where “Lied” resounds unbound.
Chapter 4 treats Adalbert Stifter’s Der Nachsommer – and here Macleod’s book really shines. She focuses on the problems of motion and stasis with which the previous chapter had closed, and, more than in any other chapter, she unites the various aspects of her...