SoSe 15: HS-Literary and Cultural Theories: 17th-Century Moralist Writing
André Otto/Barbara Ventarola
Throughout Europe, there is in the 17th century a rising interest in the human being and the hidden motivations that make him act in particular ways in the most diverse circumstances in life. The ... Lesen Sie weiter
Throughout Europe, there is in the 17th century a rising interest in the human being and the hidden motivations that make him act in particular ways in the most diverse circumstances in life. The authors who played an eminent part in this reflexive turn have been called moralists. This term does not, in the first instance, refer to a normative moralizing. It rather entails a relentless analysis of human nature that contradicts any idealised moral code and has its roots in a profoundly sceptical thinking. It thus not only propounds a very characteristic kind of negative anthropology. On the basis of its pragmatic reflexivity on the affective motivations and possibilities of the individual, it also provides the matrix for modern conceptions of subjectivity. At the same time, the reflections on the human being and the self are closely related to the process of writing and lead to the creation of new forms of writing that manifest themselves in an aphoristic style and the new genre of the essay.
In this seminar, we will focus on the central topics as well as techniques of moralist writing and try to connect this to the discursive formations that inform it. Apart from situating it in its context of absolutism and projecting it onto emerging techniques of the self, this will also include considerations of literary genres and their indebtedness to the rhetorical tradition. But as the main genres of moralist writing are non-fictional, we will also deal with the distinction between literature and non-literature, or, rather, with the emergence of an aesthetic discourse as a result of this differentiation. According to the European nature of moralist thinking, we will examine not only the paradigmatic French authors François de La Rochefoucauld (Réflexions ou Sentences et maximes morales), Jean de La Bruyère (Les Caractères, ou, Les mœurs de ce siècle), Molière (Le Misanthrope) and Jean de La Fontaine (Fables), but will also consider Spanish and English writers Balthasar Gracián (Oráculo manual y arte de prudencia), Francisco de Quevedo (Sueños), Francis Bacon (Essays) and Thomas Browne (Religio medici).