IZfK Band 5, 2022

Literatur. Philosophie. Ästhetik.
Herausgeber: Wolfgang G. Müller und Rainer Thiel


Wenn auch viel über die Beziehung zwischen Literatur und Philosophie nachgedacht worden ist, sind entscheidende Fragen noch offengeblieben, z.B. die Frage des Verhältnisses zwischen der prinzipiell ästhetischen Verfasstheit literarischer Texte und dem ebenfalls prinzipiell rational-logischen Argumentationsmodus philosophischer Texte und die Frage der Bedingungsfaktoren der seit der Antike fruchtbaren Interdependenz von Philosophie und Literatur, die als Signum einer Kultur gelten kann, in der Dichten und Denken koexistieren und vielfach auch konvergieren. Der Band widmet sich Erscheinungsformen und Spielarten der Interaktion von Philosophie und Literatur, so dem Mimesis-Konzept von der antiken Philosophie bis zur modernen Literaturtheorie, dem Denken der Vorsokratiker, das in der Moderne wieder aufgegriffen wurde, der antiken Gattung des Gedankenexperiments und seiner Bedeutung bis zur Gegenwart. Platons Ring des Gyges wird als antiker Ursprung der Vorstellung des unsichtbaren Menschen herausgestellt. Ein Beitrag untersucht die ethische Dimension der Literatur, ein weiterer Freges Deutung der Sprache der Poesie. Fallstudien beschäftigen sich mit Ciceros intrikater Verwendung des Dialogs, Hölderlins Umsetzung der Philosophie in Literatur, Hegels Vergeistigung der Kunst, Schopenhauers Literarisierung der Philosophie, Wallace Stevens’ lyrischem Philosophieren, der Assimilation von Derridas Denken bei Francis Ponge, der Bedeutung moderner wissenschaftlicher Theorien bei Samuel Beckett und anderen postmodernen Romanciers und mit der Anverwandlung asiatischer Philosophie im Werk des amerikanischen Lyrikers Gary Snyder.




Though it cannot reasonably be denied that there is a fundamental difference between the mode of rational-logical discourse in philosophy and the aesthetic mode of composition in literature, the two products of the human mind have a common origin in antiquity and have fruitfully interacted in the course of intellectual history. Indeed, philosophy and literature are siblings whose relation reveals infinite possibilities of mutual inspiration. This is the basic idea that informs the present volume, which looks at the interdependence between philosophy and literature from Greek and Latin authors over the millennia to modern philosophers like Derrida, Ricœur, and Gabriel. Some of the topics discussed are Aristotle’s concept of mimesis (imitation) and its tradition, Cicero’s use of dialogue, the logician Frege’s attempt to define poetic speech, the ethical dimension of literature, the literarization of philosophy in Schopenhauer, Hölderlin’s conversion of philosophy into literature, and Wallace Stevens’ lyrical philosophizing. The symbiosis of literature and philosophy is ubiquitous and especially conspicuous, of course, in authors like William Godwin, Albert Camus, and Jean-Paul Sartre, who are simultaneously philosophers and writers of fiction. Further examples of this symbiosis are, for instance, Schleiermacher’s vision of Plato as a philosophical artist in German Idealism; the relation between the modernist poet Francis Ponge and the philosopher Jacques Derrida, which is expressed in Derrida’s book titleSignéponge”; and the American poet Gary Snyder’s assimilation of Asian philosophy. Special emphasis is given to the respective forms of cognition (Erkenntnis) achieved in philosophy and literature and the different ways of handling the problems of reality and fiction—of truth and lyingin the two distinct kinds of discourse.


It is Aristotle to whom we owe the first philosophical theory of poetic art fully extant from antiquity. He recognized the origin of art and poetry in man’s capacity for theory and his pleasure in it, for he considered imitation (mímēsis) as the beginning and basis of cog nition. He understood imitation not as a mere act of copying but as the realization and re-implementation of a single person’s general disposition to act, which is to say his or her disposition to turn towards the world aiming to seek pleasure or to avoid pain. The poet’s task is to represent such a way of acting, real or fictitious, in some medium in a certain way. An orderly representation of this kind starts from an (again, real or fictitious) person’s decision to prefer or avoid something. It closely follows this agent’s ‘quality’ (poiótēs), which is to say his or her character. Thereby, the poet can achieve a congruence of all parts of the entire action with one another and with the whole. This is what, in Aristotle’s view, is the poet’s task. At the time of the reception of Aristotle’s Poetics around 1500 AD, the understanding of poetry was widely shaped by Horace and Cicero and hence had a strongly rhetorical character. For Horace, it is true, the poet ought to be an imitator, as well, even though an ‘eru dite’ imitator. In Horace’s view, however, his knowledge regards the general manners of man. Therefore, the poet, gifted as such with ‘prophetic eye’ and ‘wisdom,’ has the ability to express this knowledge in vivid and concrete terms (communia proprie dicere). This knowledge, which men, parents, brothers, politicians, judges, military commanders, etc. use to act was considered to be learnable according to the rules of rhetoric, although it is only by the poet’s individual talent that it can become art. It was believed that what Aristotle had called the ‘probable’ could be equated with this skill based on acquired experience and genius. As a consequence of this reinterpretation, Aristotelian probability, which makes a certain man talk and act in a certain way in accordance with his character, changed into the probability of the course of the world. The order of the action was turned into the order of things as the object of imitation. The development of art and literature as well as of the aesthetic theories of the modern age was essentially influenced by the concept of an order of things and thus impedes access to the rationality of poetry envisioned by Aristotle.


How does one explain the remarkable resilience of the notion of mimesis in the face of frequently severe criticism, starting with Plato’s “Politeia”? How could a term, whose theoretical career begins with its dismissal, survive for more than two millennia? This article starts off from Hegel’s radical rejection of imitation as a basic principle of art. However, despite such fundamental disapproval, even in literary theory of the 20th century, mimesis continues to play an important role. It looks as if both phenomena—the at times profound criticism of mimesis as well as its remarkable resistance to this criticismcan be explained by going back to the origin of the concept in Ancient Greek philosophy and by reconstructing its transformation in modern times.


This essay attempts to establish an ethics of literature, which, as distinct from earlier approaches, is transgenerically oriented in that it does not focus on narrative alone but on the three main literary genres of narrative, dramatic, and lyric art. It follows Wittgenstein’s much-quoted dictum that aesthetics and ethics are one. Its basic assumption is that ethics emerges in literature under the condition of aesthetic form. The much-discussed problem of the relation between philosophy and literature is found in the concept of the proposition, which, in Aristotle, who uses the term apophansis, means a statement, assertion, or predication. In philosophy, the proposition is, as Gottfried Gabriel emphasizes in his monograph on cognition (2015), an essential element within deductive processes of argumentation, contributing to proving a theoretical position or working out a theoretical position. In literature, propositions usually do not occur in extended argumentative contexts. They make a statement that may have a significant philosophical and specifically ethical impact and that may relate to the entire works concerned. Hence, the concept of propositionality makes it possible to relate and simultaneously differentiate the two great achievements of the human mind: philosophy and literature. In the essay’s analytic part attention is given to specific ethical dilemmas in Homer’s “Iliad” and Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” the representation of evil in Shakespeare’s tragedies, narrative strategies for presenting ethical situations and events in nineteenth-century novels (Austen, Dickens, Trollope, Twain, Tolstoy), and the occurrence of ethical elements in lyric poetry. As far as the lyric genre is concerned, we take note of the paradoxical fact that even in the object poetry of Rilke and the imagists (Williams), an ethical aspect emerges. A common result of textual analysis is the recognition of propositional elements in all texts investigated.


The article starts from a thought experiment attributed to the Greek philosopher Carneades and handed down by Cicero and Lactantius. After a shipwreck, two seamen swim in the sea. There is a plank that promises rescue, but it has room for only one of them. The problem is that in this particular situation, the survival of one is only possible at the cost of the other’s life. This thought experiment, which is, in this instance, called the rescue or survival dilemma, has many intricate moral and juridical implications that require dis cussion. It is significant that what seems to be an intellectual experiment recurs in real-life situations throughout the ages. The first part of the article examines the discussion of the dilemma in question in philosophy from classical antiquity to modernity, with a special focus on Leibniz, whose importance in this tradition has been largely ignored so far. Since the rescue dilemma raises many legal questions, it is necessary to look at the way juridical discourse deals with it. The second part of the article investigates representative instances of the rescue dilemma in literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Since philosophy and literature do share a deep interest in one and the same problem here, the investigation is concluded by reflections on the relative nature of discourse in the two disciplines and their different ways of dealing with significant human issues.


This paper takes up the topic explored by Wolfgang G. Müller in this volume and discusses the various forms in which Carneades’ thought experiment was conceptualized and employed in philosophy, science, and law, as well as literature and film of the 20th and 21st centuries. Of course, it will not be possible to address all instancesin particular in popular culture, where the dilemma raised by Carneades resurfaces in ever new metaphorizationsand I will have to focus on some theoretical aspects, a few practical cases, and a variety of patterns and motifs that emerge in literary works or films. In some variants, the elements of the thought experiment have changed to a certain degree, but the underlying dilemma is still clearly recognizable. Of particular importance in recent discussions is the so-called trolley problem and research into cognitive responses to the dilemma. A second approach can be found in evolutionary theory and the discussion of altruism and self-sacrifice, both of which do not seem to be compatible with the struggle for survival as described in Darwinism. In the realm of law, the case of Mary and Jodie Attard forced a court decision on whether a human being should be killed in order to save the life of the conjoined sibling: similarly, but on a different scale, controversial discussions following the aftermath of 9/11 have involved the question as to whether a plane with possibly hundreds of passengers should be shot down to prevent an even larger catastrophe. Each of these theoretical concepts and their very real considerations have had their impact on literature and cinema, and this paper offers a survey of the most important narrative patterns and examples.


This paper explores the relationship between philosophy and literature in the dialogues of Cicero. It argues that Cicero was a sceptic Roman philosopher who used the freedom permitted by his epistemological point of view to systematically present the doctrines of all the Hellenistic schools of thought without open polemics in an almost neutral and rather new way. In presenting the doctrines of the different Hellenistic schools of thought, Cicero, on the one hand, devaluates only the philosophy of Epicurus by means of rhetoric. On the other hand, he allows his reader, and even stimulates him, to make a rational choice between different philosophical options such as either the ethics of Stoicism or of the Peripatetic school. To this end, Cicero depicts his fellow citizens and himself in the situation or process of theoretical (and practical) decision-making between different philosophical points of view or even different ways of life.


A diachronic approach to the relationship between literature and philosophy since antiquity needs to include the field of rhetoric, regardless of whether it appears as a link or a disruption. This article discusses fundamental questions of rhetoric, philosophy, and poetics in the example of invisible characters and their moral qualities in antiquity and the mid-18th century. Plato’s mythical literary version of the Gyges legend in the “Republic” conceives of the invisible character as an illustration of the morally depraved nature of humans. In the following, I shall not trace this “Gyges problem” in the terms of influence studies but rather with an awareness of the ubiquity of ancient knowledge in philosophy and literature of the 18th century. I shall situate Adam Smith’s oft-discussed metaphor of the invisible hand in the context of his lectures on rhetoric, which were instrumental in founding the tradition of the Scottish New Rhetoric. I shall argue that invisibility forms a central element of Smith’s definition of character. The manifold implications of such a conception of invisible characters will then be illustrated using the example of Eliza Haywood’s “The Invisible Spy” (1755) and her conception of authorial ethos. Thus, the metaphor of invisibility proves itself to be of transhistorical relevance for the relationship between philosophy and literature, especially when they both turn to character – understood as fictional person, moral constitution, and the medium of the letter.


With Hölderlin’s conversion to philosophy, he began to take an interest in the problem of how to address philosophers and non-philosophers in one and the same literary work. He developed a doctrine that would enable him to transform the desire for eternal things in accordance with his political and educational ambitions. His understanding of exoteric teaching guided his reading of Plato, Kant, Hemsterhuis, and Fichte. It shaped both his correspondence and the composition of his novel,Hyperion.”


In Hegel’sLectures on Aesthetics,” poetry bears special relevance to the thesis of the spiritualization of art, the way of the medium from stone to word. The theoretical basis for this thesis rests on Hegel’s epistemic concept of intuition (Anschauung), representation (Vor- stellung), and the concept (Begriff), as well as the components developed in this context for a modern semiologya philosophical theory of signs and language. Poetry is considered as the most general, most comprehensive, and most spiritual art. A new kind of self-relation is constituted: imagination is related to imagination, representation to representation. Hegel unfolds a gradation from intuitive and imagining self-understanding—from art and religion—towards self-relational thought, a conceptual cognition of philosophy with its basis in the self-thinking thought (das Denken des Denkens). An intermingling of the forms of poetic and philosophical expression is to be avoided; crucial is a clean distinction between the forms of presentation proper to literature and to philosophy respectively, between the ‘army of metaphors’ and the phalanx of concepts (Begriffe).


Earliest Greek philosophy concurred with traditional poetry in its attempt to deliver cosmological thought about the Universe (τὰ πάντα); to this end, it used a paratactically descriptive prose style (Anaximander, Anaximenes). Adopted by a new kind of poetry criticizing the traditional myths as mere opinions (δόξαι) and mediated through its Pythagorean mathematization, philosophy gathers itself into its own critical principle: Identity (Xeno- phanes). Identity and Difference together (Heraclitus) differentiate the world-immanent Logos (λόγος ἐών). In human thought, this Logos presents itself as Judgement (κρίσις): Predication is reflected in a tropic prose style. The disentanglement of the resulting paradoxical unity of opposites calls forth the principle of contradiction and reinstates poetry as self-revelation of intellectual intuition (νοεῖν): while in the opinions of mortals, everything might be considered as merely asserted and ambiguous, contradiction is the ever-present presupposition in every act of thinking (Parmenides). The infinite progress of excluding contradiction (Anaxagoras) is itself dialectically shown as contradictory (Zenon): What remains is the perception of the sole, non-conceptualized phenomenon, whose apprehension existentially deepens into faith (πίστις). Linking up with pre-philosophical myth (Hesiod), it manifests itself once again as poetry, now already rhetorically (Empedokles).


The claim that a thinker concerned with the development of a totalizing metaphysical system can be a literary philosopher may seem hard to justify. For Arthur Schopenhauer, the entire world is the representation or appearance of the will to life, the metaphysical essence of all being. And yet, because this will must always appear and always take form, it is only formally that we can grasp it, only in concrete instances. For this reason, the poet ‘shows us how the will behaves under the influence of motives and reflection. He presents us this for the most part in the most perfect of its appearances’ (WWRII, 310). In this paper, I will argue that Schopenhauer founds a philosophical approach which comes to rest on literary foundations and which alights at key moments on the strength of his literary as well as his philosophical forebears. I will do this by means of looking at how Schopenhauer treats the concept of fate. It is my contention that the fatalism inherent in Schopenhauer’s ethics is a direct result of a fundamentally literary approach to the concept. This enables us to conceive of fate from a literary and not solely from a metaphysical standpoint. I will begin by outlining the place of the literary in Schopenhauer’s philosophy, including a brief account of those writers whose work he incorporates into his analysis, and then I will demonstrate its relation to his fatalism.


In this paper, I examine Gottlob Frege’s attempt in “On Sense and Reference” to determine semantically what poetry is. Therefore, Frege’s assumptions as well as strategies concerning the distinction between poetic and non-poetic discourse are analyzed in order to show in which way a theory of “poetic meaning” is possible. Frege’s rather inconspicuous explanation of poetry, although itself quite unsatisfactory in the end, allows us to strengthen the hope for a ‘minimal’ semantic theory of poetry that depends on a certain idea of fictionality.


This article aims to reconstruct the reception of pre-Socratic philosophy, especially that of Parmenides, in Russian modernism and avant-garde literature. In doing so, it places this reception into two contexts: the contemporary discussion of pre-Socratic ideas in Russian, European and American philosophy, on the one hand, and the proclamation of a third, a Rus sian and/or Slavic Renaissance, on the other. This Renaissance has been conceived as the intense discussion and reconsideration of ideas, notions, and expressions of ancient Greek thinking. It aimed also to avoid the reduction of Greek philosophy to Plato, as had been practiced by the Russian Orthodox Church and largely pushed through in Russian culture. One of the main points of this reconsideration concerned the quest of the relation between the word, the process of thinking, and human life, while another one connected with it involved the (re-)establishment of a close bond between the poetic word, its meaning, and its sense. The integration of this productive discussion with pre-Socratic Greek philosophy enriches and improves our knowledge of Russian modernism and avant-garde literature.


There are astonishingly numerous and profound influences of the Pre-Socratics – especially Herakleitos and Zenon on Russian literature between realism and the avant-garde of the 1920s. The focus here is on the concepts of Herakleitos’ “panta rhei” and his pre-dialectical thinking in polarities. From there, a bridge can be built to Leo Tolstoy’s narrative technique of the “stream of consciousness” and his speculations on time and history in the context of his novel “War and Peace.” The Russian novelist was particularly fascinated by Zenon’s time paradox (Achilles and the Tortoise). Furthermore, this contribution is concerned with Herakleitos’ model of circulations and dualities in the mytho-poetics of Russian Symbolism around 1900 (Viacheslav Ivanov, Andrey Bely, Konstantin Balmont) and, above all, with Russian poetry of the absurd (Daniil Kharms, Aleksander Vvedenskii) and the concepts of nothingness, of infinity in the context on this side of the categories of space and time (“cisfinite poetry”), and with the spirit of the time paradox of Zenon.


Francis Ponge’s work represents a highly reflective concept of writing. His attempt to come close to nature is determined by the conviction that this approach has to be taken by an almost monastic respect for the phenomena and has to eschew abstract notions and gener alizations. His project of writing is a deeply moral one; it pursues a type of representation that involves the subject and does not conceive the world he approaches by writing as an object. In order to grasp the essence of this author’s work, Jacques Derrida’s monograph “Signéponge is adduced, which is the most enlightening contribution on Ponge to have ever been made. Furthermore, it will be shown that Ponge’s work relates to issues that are central to the poetry of Friedrich Hölderlin and the language theory of Walter Benjamin.


Wallace Stevens is widely regarded as an author whose poetry possesses a particularly close affinity to philosophy, which is usually taken to mean that his poems contain statements of philosophical concepts or propositions. In contrast to this, the following article examines the relation of Stevens’s poetry and philosophy with respect not to the contents of his poems but to their sequential structure. This analytic focus is motivated by the observation that the progression of the utterance in a great many of Stevens’s poems appears to be modelled on the principles of philosophical argumentation: i.e., that the poems go through a quasi-philosophical process of questioning, reflection, and cognition. As lyric poems, however, they pursue this practical process of thinking and arguing on the basis of the principles of poetic composition. The poems can thus be described as employing two different discourse types at the same time and in interaction with each other: philosophical argumentation, on the one hand, and poetic composition on the other. Accordingly, the following analyses are guided by two questions: first, what aims do the argumentations in the poems pursue and, second, how do the two discourse types interact with each other in that process? Three poems from different periods of Stevens’s poetic œuvre are used as examples: “A High-Toned Old Christian Woman” (1923), “Man Carrying Thing” (1947) and “The Plain Sense of Things” (1954).


Gary Snyder, a renowned 20th tcentury American poet, has been strongly influenced by Eastern cultures, especially Chinese. The philosophical spirit of Eastern culture and its intuitive way of thinking have taken root in Snyder’s mind and directly shaped his perception of nature. Hence, in view of the inadequacy of Western literary criticism in interpreting the Eastern dimensions of Snyder’s poetry, this article takes the classical Chinese literary theory “Twenty-Four Styles of Poetry” as its theoretical perspective and uses its categories of “Flowing Movement” and “Lofty and Ancient” to explore how the dissolved or solitary poetic self achieves the mental state of “emptiness” (kong in Chinese Taoism and sunyata in the Buddhist sense) and creates the poetic worlds of the “flowing movement” and the “lofty and ancient” (transcendence) in Snyder’s poems.


The article analyzes three modernist novels, Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s “Death on Credit,” Samuel Beckett’s “The Unnamable,” and Paul Auster’s “4321.” The texts examined manifest radical discursive changes that are connected with epistemological and ontological conceptions of mind and being. Modern conceptions of being are seen as being based on the non-concepts of exaiphnes, the timeless instant, as developed by Parmenides, sunyata as defined in Buddhist thought, and the indeterminacy of particles as discovered by quantum phys ics. The idea of being as a state of infinite potentiality impacts the discourse and the form of the modern novel as it moves in the direction of formlessness, thus mirroring the non- substantiality of the human subject. The narrators of the three novels speak at a breathless pace that punctuates and disrupts the narrative and that inserts death as the agent of the negation of meaning.