The Poets' War

Frederick C. Beiser

in Diotima's Children

Published in print October 2009 | ISBN: 9780199573011
Published online February 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191722202 | DOI:
The Poets' War

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This chapter focuses on one of the most famous episodes in German cultural history in the early 18th century: Gottsched's bitter quarrel with the Swiss aestheticians J. J. Bodmer and J. J. Breitinger. This dispute officially began in 1740, though there were preliminary skirmishes dating back to the 1720s. Its epicenters were Leipzig and Zurich, but it eventually spread to every corner of Germany. Gottsched and the Swiss had armies of supporters, and everyone became either a Gottschedianer or a Schweizer. For ten years the dispute raged, giving birth to treatises, satires, poems, plays, and even whole journals. The basic issue dividing Gottsched and the Swiss concerns the nature of aesthetic pleasure itself. True to the Wolffian tradition, Gottsched defends a neo-classical aesthetic, according to which the sole object of aesthetic pleasure is beauty, which consists in order, regularity, or unity-in-variety. The Swiss, however, champion a proto-Romantic aesthetic, according to which there are other sources of aesthetic pleasure besides beauty; namely, the sublime and the wonderful, or, to use their own terms, the great (das Grosse) and the new (das Neue).

Keywords: Gottsched; J. J. Bodmer; J. J. Breitinger; Leipzig; Zurich; dispute; aesthetic pleasure

Chapter.  8190 words. 

Subjects: Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art

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