The Concept of Reality and the Possibility of the Novel

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Hans Blumenberg

Text of The Concept of Reality and the Possibility of the Novel

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    NEW PERSPECTIVES IN II\

    GERMAN LITERARY CRITICISM A Collection of Essays

    Edited by Richard E. Amacher a17d Victor Lange

    Translated by David Henry Wilson and Others

    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY

    -... I - \ ' f I

  • 'ALE

    Copyright 1979 by Princeton University Press Published by Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey In the United Kingdom: PrincftOn University Press, Guildford, Surrey All Rights Reserved , Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data will be found on the last printed page of book This book has been composed in V.I.P. Aldus and Optima Clothbound editions of Princeton University Press books are printed on acid-free paper, and binding are chosen for strength and durability. Printed in the United States of America by Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey

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    Ill. The No Longer Fine Arts: Border Phenomena of Esthetics. From Poetik und Hermeneutik Ill

    CONTENTS

    KOSELLECK Chance as Motivation for the Unexplained in Historical Writing: Notes on Archenholtz's History of the Seven Years' War 211

    WOLFGANG PREISENDANZ Bridging the Gap Between Heine the Poet and Heine the Journalist 225

    ODO MARQUARD On the Importance of the Theory of the Unconscious for a Theory of No Longer Fine Art 260

    MAX IMDAHL Overstepping Esthetic Limits in Visual Art: Four Aspects of the Problem 279

    IV. Myth and Modern Literature. From Poetik und Hermeneutik IV

    MANFRED FUHRMANN Myth as a Recurrent Theme in Greek Tr11gedy and Twentieth-Century.Drama 295

    WOLFGANG ISER Patterns of Communication in Joyce's Ulysses 320

    JURIJ STRIEDTER The "New Myth" of Revolution-A Study of //,,, Mayakovsk'y' s Early Poetry , ,...,,-- 357

    V. History and Literary History. From Poetik und Hermeneutik V

    KARL-HEINZ STIERLE \ Story as Exemplum-Exemplum as Story: On the Pragmatics and Poetics of Narrative Texts 389

    RENE WELLEK The Fall of Literary History 418

    CONTENTS

    HANS ROBERT JAUSS History of Art and Pragmatic History

    Notes on Contributors Index

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    432

    465 471

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  • HANS BLUMENBERG

    The Concept of Reality and the Possibility of the Novel

    THE history of Western literary theory can be summed up as a continuous debate on the classical dictum that poets are liars. 1 Even Nietzsche was still under the influence of this assertion, when, claiming a metaphysical dignity for art, he.had to invert it, contrasting the truth-fulness of art to the falseness of Nature. 2 Halfway between the classical

    1 For the history of its influence, the origin of this dictum is scarcely relevant; but for a proper understanding of the matter, it is worth noting that at first there was no general devaluation, but a critical reminder that the epic is obliged to be truthful-it should not bring up the unprofitable writings of earlier times, but ought to reveal noble deeds through the power of memory (Ecnn.a avacf>a,vi) (Xenophanes, fr. B I, 19-23, Diels). The re-proach of untruthfulness is therefore based on the premise that the epic should communi-cate truth. As B. Snell has shown in Die Entdeckung des Geistes (Hamburg, 1946), p. 87 et seq., the reproach takes on a general significance only through problems contlected with dramatic illusion in the theatre; here the technique of actualization, arising from the mythical significance of the lyric and tragic chorus, no longer coincides with the conscious-ness of reality underlying the epic. The transition from ecstatic identification in the cult of Dionysos to technical accomplishments of representation tears open the differences be-tween reality and art, a split which, typically, is thought out to its ultimate theoretical consequences by the Greeks: even for Aeschylus, Agatharchos not only painted a decor in perspective, butalso left behind a treatise on it (Diels, 59 A, 39; vol. 1, 14 et seq.). There has also survived a piece by Gorgias (fr. B 23, Diels), with a moralizing justification of illusiof\ in tragedy which is apparently excused by its effect upon the spectator. And so in classical times, as in the eighteenth century with Diderot, the starting-point for these reflections on poetic illusion was provided by the drama. But in both eras this starting-point was soon abandoned. For the tradition of this saying-that poets are liars-two points became sig-nificant: Plato's critique of the truth content of art in general, and the Stoic-Christian habit of allegorizing, which depended on defending a relic of truth in literature in order to be able to rescue it from dispersal or concealment.

    2 Der Philosoph. Betrachtungen iiber den Kampf von Kunst und Erkenntnis (Entwiirfe von 1872) (WW, Musarion-Ausg., VI, 31). Now the concept of Nature is completely ori-ented towards scientific objectification and its command over the concept of truth, which fulfills itself in the destruction of anthropomorphic immanence. But the taming of science offers a questionable justification for the need for illusion (WW, VI, 12); ultimately, this kind of truth cannot escape from the tradition of imitation, but is committed only to a world interpreted as an appearance that liberates the desire for cognition: 'Art therefore treats appearance as and so does not seek to deceive at all, but is true (WW, VI, 98). This interpretation of art as a true appearance remains bound to the metaphysical tradition of art theory, for it pins art down to the character of given reality, even if this is

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    topos and the modem antithesis stands the scholastic concession to liter-ature of a "minimum veritatis."

    If we are to consider the pros and cons of the classical dictum, we must first decide what is meant by its antithesis-i.e., that poets "tell the truth." There ate, I believe, two sorts of truth involved: first, when it is claimed that literature refers to a given outside reality-whatever that reality may be; second, when literature is said to create a reality of its own. We must also bear in mind the purely logical possibility that both thesis and antithesis may be ignored, and art may be regarded as totally divorced from such considerations as truth and falseness or any criterion connected with "reality." However, this logical scheme does not neces-sarily coincide with the historical possibilities.

    At no time in the history of Western esthetic theory has there been any serious departure from the tendency to legitimize the work of art in terms of its relation to reality, and so any critical assessment of the foundation of traditional esthetics must begin with a clarification of what is meant by "reality." This is difficult, for generally in our dealings with what we regard as real, ,we never get down to the predicative stage of defining exactly what it is that constitutes the re!llity. And yet the mo-ment a dbubt is on the reality of an action or a proposition, our at-tention is drawn to the specific conditions which have led us to regard it as real. The very fact that the "truth" of literature has always been con-tested has made literary theory a focus for the critical assessment of con-cepts of 'reality and for the unmasking of implicit preconceptions. Ulti-mately we shall have to recognize what at a given time h"as been taken for granted as most obvious and trivial; i.e., not even worth stating-and hence never specifically formulated. Our immediate task, then, must be to define the various historical concepts of reality.

    The first historical concept that I should like to discuss here is-what we I might call the "reality of instantaneous evidence." This concept is not

    explicitly propounded but is presupposed when, for instance, Plato un-hesitatingly proceeds {rom the assumption that at the first sight of ideas the human mind immediately and with total confidence realizes that it is confronted with the ultimate and unsurpassable reality and, at the same time, is aware that the sphere of the empirical and the sensual is not and could never be such a reality. However, it is by no means taken for granted that anyone could view the duality of the empirical world and the ideal world without risking a corresponding split in his own con-sciousness of reality-a risk we should certainly apprehend the moment

    called incognizapjlity. As regards the function intended for art in this reversal of his-tory, it cannot be anything different: such efforts always assume the premises of that which they set out to repeat.

    HANS BLUMENBERG 31

    we tried to imagine our minds transferred from the worla around us to one that was completely different. The classical concept of reality that gave rise to Plato's doctrine of ideas-though not identical to it-presumes that reality presented itself as such and of its own accord, and that at the moment of its presence it was there and totally incontroverti-ble. 3 For these formal characteristics, the metaphor of light is particu-larly apt. This concept of reality also gave sustenance to a way of think-' ing that saw nothing problematic in biblical and other accounts of the appearance of God or of a god, who could present himself as such in a moment of direct revelation, leaving absolutely no room for the suspi-cion or the fear that he was illusory. 4'"Instantaneous evidence" is a con-cept that involves the instant recognition of ultimate reality and can be identified precisely through this implication.

    A second concept of reality, basic to the Middle Ages anc:f after, may be called guaranteed rea1ity. The length of time philosophy took to I grasp and express the implications behind man's understanding of an at-

    J Although I should not maintain that the Platonic world of ideas is representative of the classical concept of reality, I do believe that