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  • Dramatische Eigenzeiten des Politischen im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert ed. by Michael Gamper and Peter Schnyder
  • Seán M. Williams
Michael Gamper and Peter Schnyder, editors. Dramatische Eigenzeiten des Politischen im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert. Wehrhahn, 2017. 280 pp. €29.50 (hardcover). ISBN 978-3-86525-598-3.

German drama of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries certainly courted controversy. Rarely, however, was German drama or its reception political in any applied, narrow sense—especially when seen from a comparative perspective. As always, an exception proves the rule: the only theatrical topic in my own introduction to German history lectures for first-year students, for example, is the dramatic assassination of prolific playwright August von Kotzebue in 1819. Otherwise, German drama pre-unification tends to be understood as a more aesthetic and cultural enterprise—or else the personal is understood as political. To take the paradigmatic case of the Storm and Stress—a late eighteenth-century literary movement that mostly comprised dramas—a revolution of fictionalized but increasingly cultural feeling played out on the stage. Schiller caused enough of a stir by simply appealing for freedom of thought. The dramatization of contemporary political concerns, or any call for urgent activism, was in large part left to other cultures. Instead, theatres in small, sleepy German principalities, filled with the ascendant middle classes and aristocracy, were woken up to some of Europe's most avant-garde, often (ostensibly) historical plots—and, as Michael Gamper points out in his contribution to the present volume, personalities (he explores the works of Goethe, Johann Anton Leisewitz, and Friedrich Maximilian Klinger during the 1770s). Gamper thereby sees dramatic, individual character as a fourth, post-Aristotelian dimension to drama that, alongside Aristotle's two categories of plot and space, drives the third traditional aspect that is under fresh consideration in Dramatische Eigenzeiten: time.

Indeed, examining time as separate from the trinity of Aristotle's poetics—that is to say, as a chief category—is fundamental to grasping the opening centuries of modern culture more generally. For the old European order around 1800 was reset politically, historically, and quite literally in terms of time. Mealtimes changed, for example; political unrest, if not outright revolution, and industrial innovation meant that life's pace picked up. Or so it seemed. As Gamper reminds us, canonical theorists such as Michel Foucault, Niklas Luhmann, and Reinhart Koselleck have each emphasized the plurality of timekeeping across cultures and subsections of society at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth. The same common yet heterogeneous attention to the passing of time holds for the sphere of art, too. [End Page 175]

Editors Gamper and Peter Schnyder are first concerned with the formal qualities of time from a theatrical point of view, inspired by Peter Szondi's conviction that every text has its own monarchical impulse. In other words, how does time govern drama with respect to its poetics? In their introduction Gamper and Schnyder note that literary scholars of theatrical works could learn from the field of narratology, which to date has been most concerned with prose. In a second step, the question arises as to how texts as they relate to time might also be read politically. Here Gamper and Schnyder draw on Claude Lefort's broader conception of the political—including ethical and abstract concerns and circumspect approaches towards controversial themes—rather than necessarily political action, narrowly understood. In the German parlance of the time around 1800, I suppose this concept encompasses, among other things, das Sittliche—something contemporary authors wrote about at length, not least in order to avoid the topics of politics proper (das Politische).

This approach lends the collected essays at hand a conceptual coherence, while leaving their authors free to explore more material and cultural-historical questions as well. For instance, Juliane Vogel compares props and stage equipment designed to create the effects of sunlight to narrative experiments with time—and both might be interpreted politically. Johannes F. Lehmann looks once more to the old question of the structure of the public sphere around 1800, as a complement to his historicization of "contemporary literature" as an academic subject in the mid-nineteenth...


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pp. 175-177
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