Posts Tagged ‘Eighteenth Century’


The volume Thinking about the Enlightenment: Modernity and its Ramifications, edited by Martin L. Davies of Leicester University has now been published by Routledge.

My chapter,

Multiple Counter-Enlightenments: The Genealogy of a Polemics from the Eighteenth Century to the Present

the penultimate in a very diverse series of perspectives on the various dimensions of the relationship between Enlightenment and the present, takes up the issue of counter-enlightenment(s). It asks how various criticisms of ‘the’ Enlightenment gradually came to be viewed as constituting a singular tradition of thought, constitutive of Western reflection upon or own place in history.

[Edit: The text is now available online here.]

Volume Introduction

Thinking about the Enlightenment looks beyond the current parameters of studying the Enlightenment, to the issues that can be understood by reflecting on the period in a broader context. Each of the thirteen original chapters, by an international and interdisciplinary team of contributors, illustrates the problematic legacy of the Enlightenment and the continued ramifications of its thinking to consider whether modernity can see its roots in the intellectual revolution of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Drawing from history, philosophy, literature and anthropology, this book enables students and academics alike to take a fresh look at the Enlightenment and its legacy.

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The conference proceedings of a workshop I participated in two years ago have now been published under the title:

Denis Diderot und die Macht / Denis Diderot et le pouvoir

My own contribution considers Diderot’s discussion of power, sexuality and colonial rule in the Supplément au voyage de Bougainville and is titled

Stimmen der Natur. Diderot, Tahiti und der homme naturel

Voices of Nature. Diderot, Tahiti and the homme naturel

Summary (in German):

Im Supplément au voyage de Bougainville setzt sich Diderot am Beispiel Tahitis mit Fragen der Macht, der Sexualität und der Kolonialherrschaft auseinander. Der Text gilt als Paradebeispiel für die exotistische Verklärung eines fremden Naturvolkes als Kontrastbild zur Verkommenheit abendländischer Zivilisation. Und tatsächlich gibt es Stimmen im Text, die einer solchen Idealisierung und einem ‚Zurück zur Natur’ das Wort reden. Aber es gibt auch andere. Erst die Auflösung der Stimmenvielfalt des Textes zugunsten der Identifikation einer eindeutigen Grundaussage lässt bestimmte Äußerungen im Text als Elemente einer systematischen ‚Naturtheorie‘ Diderots erscheinen. Jedoch muss eine solche Lesart nicht nur eine konstitutive Ebene des Textes – seine multiperspektivische Form – außer Acht lassen, sie verstrickt sich auch auf inhaltlicher Ebene in Widersprüche. In diesem Beitrag wird versucht, die verschiedenen Positionen im Text in ihrem Zusammenhang zu betrachten. Aus diesem Blickwinkel zeigt sich, dass Diderot sich keineswegs als autoritatives Sprachrohr der Natur aufführt. Im Gegenteil. Indem er die Vielfalt der Stimmen, die sich auf die ‚natürliche’ Ordnung als Legitimitätsbasis ihrer jeweiligen Autorität beziehen, miteinander kontrastiert, zeigt er performativ, was es heißt, sich auf die Veränderlichkeit der Natur einzulassen, ohne den Anspruch zu erheben, sie ein für alle Mal festlegen zu können.

I’m very grateful to the volume’s editor, PD Dr. Isabelle Deflers and the team at the Frankreichzentrum (Center for French Studies) of Freiburg University for making this publication possible.

Edit: A digital file of the article has now been made available here.

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Next week, 24 and 25 September, I’ll be participating in a workshop held in Marburg, titled:

Aristokratismus. Historische und literarische Semantik von ‘Adel’ zwischen Kulturkritik der Jahrhundertwende und Nationalsozialismus (1890-1945).

Aristocratism. Historical and Literary Semantics of ‘Aristocracy’ between Cultural Criticism of the Turn of the Century and National Socialism (1890-1945)

The workshop is part of a DFG-funded research project on the same theme and is organized by Prof. Dr. Eckart Conze, PD Dr. Jochen Strobel, Daniel Thiel und Jan de Vries.

My paper pursues a diachronic comparison of German discourses of cultural criticism around 1800 and around 1900, focussing on the differences in the use of semantics of aristocracy in these contexts. Thus, the paper offers an empirical case study using a model distinguishing between four dimensions of change in the history of cultural criticism I formulated last year on a conference in Heidelberg (soon to be published in its proceedings).

The Call for Papers for the Marburg workshop may be found here.

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Some of my writing has been made available online through the Freidoks server at Freiburg University.

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On October 5th, it will be 300 years ago that the French philosopher, writer, encyclopedia editor and brilliant conversationalist Denis Diderot (1713-1784) was born in a small town in north-eastern France. To commemorate this, Dr. Isabelle Deflers of Freiburg University and the Center of French Studies have organised a public symposium which will take place on October 28th. It’s title is:

Diderot und die Macht / Diderot et le pouvoir

Focussing on Diderot’s thought on power (and his quarrels with it), an interdisciplinary group of specialists will present various aspects of his work and influence. I have been asked to address Diderot’s intellectual confrontation with Tahiti, which he famously discussed in his Supplément au Voyage de Bougainville, a text written in the early 1770s but unpublished until well after his death. The focus of my presentation will be on Diderot’s views on sexual morals and their relevance to his political thought. The title of my presentation is:

Diderot und Tahiti: Europa im Spiegel einer außereuropäischen Gesellschaft

(Diderot and Tahiti: Europe Mirrored in a Non-European Society)

Admission to the symposium, which will take place in the historical Haus zur lieben Hand in Freiburg from 10:00 to 18:15, is free and open to all.

For the program, click here.

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A short article I wrote about luxury debates at the end of the eighteenth century has been published in the Zeitschrift für Kulturphilosophie.

Luxus und Sozialordnung. Kulturelle Selbstbestimmung und die Grenzen des Konsums am Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts, in: Zeitschrift für Kulturphilosophie 7, Nr. 1 (2013), S. 199-203.

In essence, the article  provides a commentary on and contextualization of a text published in 1776 by Lorenz Hübner (1751-1807) titled Abhandlung von dem Luxus, oder schädlichem Prachte, which is also reprinted in the Zeitschrift. Hübners text – originally a speech in honor of the bavarian elector Maximilian III. Joseph – provides an interesting insight into the history and development of eighteenth century luxury debates. books

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On May 15th to 17th of next year, I will be attending a conference titled “Declines and Falls: Perspectives in European History and Historiography” organized at the Central European University in Budapest.

My presentation – which draws upon my dissertation research – will address the complex interrelations between the concepts of progress and decadence in the long eighteenth century. Often, these two concepts are understood as mutually exclusive counter-concepts, epitomizing a forward-looking ‘Enlightenment theory of progress’ on the one hand and the backward and ultimately futile ‘complaints’ of conservatives and reactionaries on the other.

A closer look at the semantic structure of debates about the development of civilization in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries reveals, however, that to contemporaries, these concepts were not usually counter-concepts at all. Rather, they were regularly understood as linked, or even interdependent. To understand this paradox, my paper addresses the various ways in which ‘the culture/civilization as a whole’ was conceptualized in these discourses.

Joining the analysis of the semantic structure of contemporary narratives of cultural decline with their pragmatic interpretation as speech acts in public interaction, I identify three different types of interpretation of the ‘whole’ in which ostensibly monistic claims about civilization in toto were linked to a differentiated understanding of its plural nature. In this way, the common view of narratives of progress and decadence as mutually exclusive discourses – at worst resulting in a general narrative of modern intellectual history as an eternal struggle between Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment – may make way for a more detailed understanding of the complexities of the debates about the character and development of civilization that have been so very important to public discourses of self-reflection in the modern age.

Update: a conference report has been published on the CEU website.

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This summer semester I will be teaching one master seminar and an exercise course on the reading of French sources. As usual, I have assembled a ‘pearltree’ for each of these courses with weblinks to the specific themes.

A History of Time – Changing Cultures of Temporality (ca. 1750-1850)
(Pearltree – websites on this topic)


Politeness – Sources on the History of Manners in France (ca. 1700-1850)
(Pearltree – websites on this topic)

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An article I wrote about the concept of the ‘spirit of the age’ in the long Eighteenth Century has been published in the volume Frühe Neue Zeiten, edited by Prof. Dr. Achim Landwehr.

Zeitgeist im langen 18. Jahrhundert. Dimensionen eines umstrittenen Begriffs, in: Achim Landwehr (Hg.): Frühe Neue Zeiten. Zeitwissen zwischen Reformation und Revolution (= Mainzer Historische Kulturwissenschaften 11), Bielefeld: transcript 2012, S. 319–355.

In my article, I trace the meanings and usages of the concept of zeitgeist in its various forms (esprit du siècle, Geist der Zeit, spirit of the age, etc.) across a number of contexts in France, England and the German lands. The concept is shown to be at the center of the temporalization of discourses about contemporary culture and its historical development during the Eighteenth Century. A special focus of the article lies on the complicated relation between the unstressed usages of the concept on the one hand and the explicit, metalinguistic discussion about it on the other. Because of its controversial and elusive nature, the concept of the spirit of the age was at the center of heated debates about its cognitive and metaphysical legitimacy and its pragmatic usefulness. How did such debates influence its use in other contexts?

To read the Achim Landwehr’s introduction to the volume, click here.

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My dissertation has been published as volume 18 of the series ‘Historische Semantik‘ by Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht.

For more information, click here. For ordering from within Germany, click here.

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