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From Romantic Irony to Postmodernist Metafiction

A Contribution to the History of Literary Self-Reflexivity in its Philosophical Context


Christian Quendler

This study represents a comparison between two radical gestures of literary self-reflexivity: romantic irony and postmodernist metafiction. It examines the impact of early German romantic theory and its central concept of irony on German and English romantic narrative fiction and relates the same to postmodernist self-reflexive novels, including its British and American variants. A primary objective of this comparison is to account for the radical skepticism that postmodernist metafiction voices with respect to the paramount philosophical question of truth and reality. The immanent tension between an absolute idealistic and a radically skeptic position which romantic irony articulates and enacts is conceived of as an important and instructive link to the understanding of postmodernism.
Contents: Aesthetics of Self-Reflexivity – Theory of Literary Self-Referentiality and Self-Reflexivity – Self-Reflexivity in Romanticism – From the Aesthetic Idea to Romantic Irony: theoretical aspects of early romantic theory – Romantic Irony in Brentano’s Godwi and Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus – Self-Reflexivity in Postmodernism – From Romantic Irony to Postmodernist Self-Reflexivity: theoretical aspects in Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Derrida – Postmodernist Metafiction in Gass’s Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife and John Fowles’s Mantissa – Functions of Difference in Romantic Irony and Postmodernist Metafiction.