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Posts Tagged ‘Enlightenment’

9780367427733An article I wrote on the efforts to reform the German language during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries has been published in a volume edited by Susan Richter, Thomas Maissen and Manuela Albertone. Languages of Reform in the Eighteenth Century: When Europe Lost Its Fear of Change, published by Routledge, is based on a series of conferences held in Paris (2014), at the Villa Vigoni (2015) and in Heidelberg (2016). It’s scope is defined thus by the editors:

Societies perceive “Reform” or “Reforms” as substantial changes and significant breaks which must be well-justified. The Enlightenment brought forth the idea that the future was uncertain and could be shaped by human beings. This gave the concept of reform a new character and new fields of application. Those who sought support for their plans and actions needed to reflect, develop new arguments, and offer new reasons to address an anonymous public. This book aims to compile these changes under the heuristic term of “languages of reform.” It analyzes the structures of communication regarding reforms in the 18th century through a wide variety of topics.

My own contribution, titled

Mending the Boat While Sailing:
Languages of Linguistic Reform in the German Territories, c. 1750–1815

traces the ways in which projects of language reform in the German territories were framed. It identifies two different ‘languages’ of linguistic reform dominating debates on the topic from the second half of the eighteenth century to the early decades of the nineteenth: a language of linguistic enlightenment and one of linguistic identity. Despite their common subject matter , their perspectives were fundamentally different. Thus, two competing approaches of speaking about language emerged, presenting contrasting vistas on the German language’s current state, the possibilities of its future reform, and their political and social implications.

My thanks go out to the editors as well as to the co-contributors for their efforts in getting together this wide-ranging volume.

The volume’s introduction, written by Pascal Firges, Johan Lange, Thomas Maissen, Sebastian Meurer, Susan Richter, Gregor Stiebert, Lina Weber, Urte Weeber, and Christine Zabel, can be read online here.

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thinking-about-the-enlightenment

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

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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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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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An article I wrote on the concept of Counter-Enlightenment has been published in the proceedings of a conference I attended last year in Bern, Switzerland.

My contribution takes its starting point from the observation that a large part of the debate about the meaning(s) of Enlightenment in the present is structured around a pair of mutually exclusive counter-concepts: Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment. Tracing this opposition back to its most influential proponent, Isaiah Berlin, and ultimately to its emergence in the Eighteenth Century itself, I argue for a less schematic approach taking into account recent historical research especially in the field of historical semantics. Thus, a better understanding of the different meanings and uses of the concepts of Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment in the past may also shed light on our current debates about the relevance of the Enlightenment tradition to our own culture today.

The volume also includes interesting contributions by (among others) Claudia Honegger, Urs Stäheli, Hartmut Rosa and Andreas Langenohl. For more information, please click here and here.

Theo Jung, Gegenaufklärung. Ein Begriff zwischen Aufklärung und Gegenwart, in: Dietmar J. Wetzel (Hg.), Perspektiven der Aufklärung. Zwischen Mythos und Realität (= Laboratorium Aufklärung, Bd. 12), München 2012, S. 87–100.

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This winter semester, I will again be teaching two courses.

The Salon: a Form of Enlightened Sociability
The social life of the Ancien Régime has never lost its fascination. In many books and movies, a world is evoked in which beautifully dressed gentlemen and ladies cultivate a witty and light-footed conversation. The central and most famous form of this type of elitist sociability was, without a doubt, the salon. In this setting, an exquisite circle of guests of all sorts met under the gentle guidance of an elegant hostess. Drawing upon French and ‘German’ cases from the 18th and 19th centuries, this seminar studies the social, cultural and gender dimensions of this social form in their historical development. Its focus will lie on several questions which have been the subject of heated historiographical debate. Were these salons hatcheries of Enlightenment thought, of emerging civil society or of women’s emancipation, or did they rather represent a late – and ultimately dying – branch of aristocratic (court) culture? In the conversations that built the central element of any salon, what was the relationship between serious discussion and lighthearted amusement? Were the salons able to adjust to the new political environment after the French Revolution, or did the rise of bourgeois society spell their end?

Enlightenment and Revolution: Reading Course on French Sources
The French Revolution is often thought of as the birthplace of European modernity. Contemporaries were already very aware of its significance and debated about its various causes. Central among these was a diffuse set of phenomena that would gradually come to be subsumed under the title of ‘Enlightenment’. In this context, a controversial debate about the relationship between ‘Enlightenment’ and ‘Revolution’ emerged that has not quieted down since. Reading French primary sources (pamphlets, theatre, speeches, lexicon articles, etc.), this course will trace the political dimension of the Enlightenment as it was understood before, during and after the French Revolution.

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