Modern Languages and Literatures, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in The German Quarterly 65 (Winter 1992), pp. 66–67.
Published by the American Association of Teachers of German (AATG), 112 Haddontowne Ct. #104, Cherry Hill, NJ 08034-3668 USA. Copyright © 1992 American Association of Teachers of German. Used by permission.


This volume is the last of five in a series edited by Wolfgang Wittkowski and based on symposia held at SUNY-Albany on various aspects of German Classicism. The topic of this last symposium—aesthetic autonomy— fairly bristles with controversy, as historically it has formed a dividing line of sorts between ideological camps within German literary scholarship. Beginning with the Bildungsbürgertum of the 19th century, aesthetic autonomy came to be defined as the mark of highest literary quality, defined formally in terms of closure, self-containment and “perfection,” and restricted in terms of content to the apolitical, “purely aesthetic” realm. On the other hand, from Heine to the Marxists, Neo-Marxists, and the New Left, aesthetic autonomy has frequently been viewed as a compensation for the political impotence of the German Bürgertum—one more manifestation of “deutsche Innerlichkeit.” The essays in this volume attempt to situate the concept of aesthetic autonomy in its historical context, the period of the French Revolution, in order to come to a better understanding of the relationship between aesthetics and politics in this period.