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  • Moritz's Veil:Observation, the Rupture of Individuality, and Magazin zur Erfahrungsseelenkunde
  • Richard B. Apgar

The late eighteenth century was an era of observation. Whether through the physical structure of the school, emerging practices of scientific observation, or a closer examination of statistics and data, the era's mission was to uncover and unlock the hidden workings of the world. As many have noted, Enlightenment projects were frequently driven by a "totalizing imperative" that attempted to map, locate, and fix subjects in grand systems.1 For example, statistical observation could monitor the state of the economy, the close study of a plant could categorize it within the Linnaean system, ethnological observation generated examples of human diversity, and measurements taken on opposite sides of the globe proved theories about the solar system. Information and data from these observations demanded new methods of presentation and re-presentation. New tables, charts, maps, graphs, and publications were created to convey, preserve, and reproduce the results of observations. Institutions were reorganized as existing systems for managing and locating materials became overwhelmed.

As Elliott Schreiber argues in The Topography of Modernity, Karl Philipp Moritz is one of the "keenest observers and theorists" of institutional spaces; his use of Spielraum, a fundamental concept that denotes "latitude or scope," introduces dynamic reconfiguration and constant renewal as a feature of emergent eighteenth-century institutions (Schreiber 5). As dynamic spaces, these institutions are continually produced through crises motivated by the "very impossibility of ever representing absolute totality" (Schreiber 157). In this article, I consider this impossibility within Moritz's writing on the individual. In exploring the "Erinnerungen aus den frühesten Jahren der Kindheit" (memories from the earliest years of childhood), Moritz seeks to discover "die allerersten Eindrücke" (the very first impressions) that form the foundation of all successive memories.2

At the launch of Magazin zur Erfahrungsseelenkunde in 1782, Moritz proposes that recounting earliest childhood memories "so getreu wie möglich" (as faithfully as possible) would reveal "die Geschichte seiner Gedanken" (the history of one's thoughts).3 Like Schreiber's description of modern institutions, the modern individual for Moritz is an "entity to be constructed."4 In Moritz's writing on the self, he seeks the "inscrutable, yet [End Page 47] irresistible" origins of the individual hidden by the "ultimate blind spot of self-observation."5 Engaging a memory, unlike reflections made in the moment, requires reading a "Bild, welches sie in der Seele zurückließ" ("Vorschlag" 494; image, which it left behind in the soul). Juxtaposing these images, as Moritz writes the "Nebeneinanderstellung des Successiven," produces the history of each individual ("Vorschlag" 494). As a series of successive images produced by memories, from the start, the individual for Moritz emerges from the interplay between memory and medium. At the same time, these images remain obscured by the veil of memory, and for the individual observer they linger, tantalizingly present yet inaccessible.

Through the Magazin, Moritz seeks to navigate this blind spot of observation by collecting multiple accounts as case studies for further evaluation in future issues.6 Just as the individual is the product of the "juxtaposition of successive" images, the Magazin is the "Resultat von allen neben einander gestellten Bemerkungen" ("Vorschlag" 494; result of all of the juxtaposed observations). As metaphorical space for collecting these accounts, the Magazin subjects these memories to further mediation. The collective form of evaluation the Magazin models echoes the notion of second-order observation proposed by Niklas Luhmann; as such, the observations collected in the Magazin create a separation that leads to the dismissal of "the world as unity (wholeness, totality) altogether."7 Tracing the dismissal of wholeness or totality to Moritz's writing challenges depictions of the Enlightenment as pursuing an all-encompassing order. The concept of the individual that Moritz ponders in his writings on childhood memories affirms Enlightenment as a human attempt to create patterns of orientation. By introducing memories as inherently mediated and as constituting the distinction between the adult self and the child self, Moritz distinguishes between the observing self and the self being observed. In his comments on self-observation, Moritz presciently anticipates the critiques Luhmann makes of Habermas two centuries later. As...