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Abstract  

The story of the Romanticism sub-series of the Comparative History of Literatures in European Languages illustrates the need for collaborative team efforts such as have actually been promoted by the International Comparative Literature Association to cope more adequately with the complexities of transnational cultural constellations over time. From its inception, the Romanticism sub-series has exhibited a spirit of pragmatic engagement, a will to proceed from concrete examples of literary works and cultural discourses, rather than to impose supposed norms based on pre-agreed paradigms or to privilege today’s theorizing over the past. The cooperation among some 100 researchers from some two dozen countries has yielded an intellectually open picture of how a multifaceted heritage gathers momentum and is blended into the flow of a larger cultural poly-system.

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Divided into three parts, this article investigates how Johan Huizinga and Walter Benjamin draw upon romantic formulations regarding the difference between symbol and allegory in their respective books on the Middle Ages and the Baroque. The first part of the article offers a close reading of the “Symbolism in its Decline” chapter of Herfsttij der Middeleeuwen (The Autumn of the Middle Ages) (1919) to show how Huizinga sides with Goethe in his preference for symbol over allegory. The second part of the article examines the Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels (The Origin of German Tragic Drama) (1928) to decode Walter Benjamin’s account of how “in the wake of Romanticism” a notion of the symbol derived from Classicism was deployed to underwrite a conservative critical practice. The third part pits Benjamin’s allegorical order against Huizinga’s symbolical one and shows that the latter’s humanism provides a less penetrating criticism of modernity as an ongoing process.

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The Comparative History of European Literatures, published by John Benjamins, includes five volumes on Romanticism which culminate with comprehensive studies of the non-fictional and the fictional prose of the period. All five volumes document Romanticism as a pan-European movement sharing literary motifs and topoi across national boundaries. Of special significance in the last two volumes is the close examination of genre new to the period and the rapidity with which new forms of non-fictional prose influenced corresponding innovation in fictional narrative. Prominent among the emergent forms of prose fiction were the detective story, the Bildungsroman, the Gothic tale and the case study of mental pathology.

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Alban Berg has long been seen as the most conservative member of the Second Viennese School, a ‘moderate modernist’, an accessible throwback to Romanticism for audiences afraid of the supposedly more radical innovations of Schoenberg or Webern, and hence for much of the 20th century has suffered from the stigma of a perceived lack of progressivism. Yet recent decades have witnessed a gradual shift in critical opinion on this issue, coinciding with a loosening of the claims of high modernity and arguably a move to a more ‘postmodern’ outlook. This paper explores further the relationship between the historical tendency in Berg’s music and the complex notion of modernity through an analysis of the early String Quartet op. 3, his first large-scale atonal composition, focusing on the idea of synthesis between old and new, conservative and progressive — the nature of the modernity which arises out of his music’s relationship with the past. This is the most problematic category in relation to advancing Berg’s credentials as a modernist but thus possibly the most interesting, and also useful since it can ultimately allow a critique of the whole notion of the modern imperative.

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In 1865 short poem “Obraz VII” (Picture VII) published by the Slovenian post-romantic poet Simon Jenko (1835–1869), paradigmatic figures of speech (exclamation, apostrophe, and rhetorical question) subvert the presence of the speaking persona and the subjectively modalized landscape (Stimmungslandschaft) that were characteristic of the obraz genre. Rhetoricity of the lyrical voice may be seen as the trace of the underlying traditional intertext of ruins stemming from the early modern topos, in which the image of demolished buildings is linked to the notion of vanitas vanitatum, i.e., to the idea of the elusiveness of being, society, and culture. Jenko’s short poem is a variation within the vast and intermedial imaginary of ruins that has been central to the fashioning of European cultural identity (viewed as the presence of the past under permanent de- and reconstruction), especially since the eighteenth century. Compared to other variations of the ruin motif in romanticism (e.g., Byron, Uhland, Lenau, Mickiewicz, Petőfi), Jenko’s ascetic, fragmented poem re-writes the topos differently, through semantic undecidability that comes close to the post-modern existential condition.

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In terms of poetic composition, Zsigmond Kemény’s Pál Gyulai is probably the fanciest Hungarian romantic novel, although this is the first literary work the excellent Transylvanian writer published, in 1847. It could easily win international acclaim among specialists in Romanticism, if it had a translation into one of the widely spoken foreign languages. This essay attempts to interpret the novel from a primarily mediological point of view, focusing on a small number of scenes, and discussing some relations between certain images, poetic interpretation and ethical issues.

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By the time of his death in 1827, the image of Beethoven as we recognise him today was firmly fixed in the minds of his contemporaries, and the career of Liszt was beginning to flower into that of the virtuosic performer he would be recognised as by the end of the 1830s. By analysing the seminal artwork Liszt at the Piano of 1840 by Josef Danhauser, we can see how a seemingly unremarkable head-and-shoulders bust of Beethoven in fact holds the key to unlocking the layers of commentary on both Liszt and Beethoven beneath the surface of the image. Taking the analysis by Alessandra Comini as a starting point, this paper will look deeper into the subtle connections discernible between the protagonists of the picture. These reveal how the collective identities of the artist and his painted assembly contribute directly to Beethoven’s already iconic status within music history around 1840 and reflect the reception of Liszt at this time. Set against the background of Romanticism predominant in the social and cultural contexts of the mid 1800s, it becomes apparent that it is no longer enough to look at a picture of a composer or performer in isolation to understand its impact on the construction of an overall identity. Each image must be viewed in relation to those that preceded and came after it to gain the maximum benefit from what it can tell us.

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