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Critical Time in Modern German Literature and Culture


Dirk Göttsche

The fleeting nature of time is a defining feature of modern and postmodern existence. Identified by Reinhart Koselleck as the temporalization («Verzeitlichung») of all areas of human knowledge and experience around 1800, the concept of critical time continues to intrigue researchers across the arts and humanities. This volume combines theoretical and critical approaches to temporality with case studies on the engagement with the modern sense of time in German literature, visual art and culture from the eighteenth century to the present. Contributions explore key areas in the cultural history of time: time in art and aesthetic theory, the intellectual history of time, the relationship between time and space in literature and visual art, the politics of time and memory, and the poetics of time. Essays question the focus on acceleration in recent critical discourse by also revealing the contrapuntal fascination with slowness and ecstatic moments, notions of polyphonous time and simultaneity, the dialectic of time and space, and complex aesthetic temporalities breaking with modern time-regimes.
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Eva Axer – The “inexorable law of perpetual mutation”: Motherwell and Goethe on the Tradition of the Ballad


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The “inexorable law of perpetual mutation”: Motherwell and Goethe on the Tradition of the Ballad

Around 1800 the way writers and scholars were thinking about genre fundamentally changed as a “new perception of time” evolved, which was “marked by a heightened sense of temporal flux and a new understanding of the historical relativism of cultural forms”.1 Genre was no longer perceived as a template but was henceforward seen as a tradition.2 Once neoclassical assumptions about the immutability of forms and the universality of rules were challenged, crucial questions on the relation of time and genre arose: if the ancient genres were not somehow transcending time but were aged or even dead, how can one relate to them and their pastness? Susan Stewart has argued that the process of dealing with those questions resulted in a variety of what she termed “distressed genres” – genres that were deliberately and artificially antiqued.3 Among these genres was the ballad, which was established as the ancient origin of a national literary history in a variety of ballad collections both in Great Britain and Germany.4 However, as soon as “age” ensured value and authority, there developed ← 145 | 146 → an anxiety about the authenticity of tradition and a dispute on how the present should appropriate the past.

As a response to the dubitable authenticity of edited ballads and a variety of scandalous modern ballad imitations, scholars and amateurs started to collect oral ballads.5 Oral...

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