The Ends of the 18th Century

July 22, 2011

Initiated by Walter Benjamin’s seminal study on the German mourning play - in which Benjamin describes the Baroque prince as a melancholic, who is, deprived of his power to act, paralyzed by a new kind of “infinity” that ultimately also effects the final scenes of the mourning plays – this book will examine how textual endings have changed throughout the 18th century. In case studies on tragedies and Bildungsromanen around 1800, I will show how literary (and literal) endings correspond with other discourses and philosophies of that time period. It is by no means coincidental that Immanuel Kant, for instance, discusses the antinomies in the concluding chapters of his three critiques, defined as limits of reason that allow no final conclusions. How do these philosophical inquiries correspond to Kleist’s writings or Jean Paul’s poetic reflections on literary genres, for example? And what is the literary history of Hegel’s well-known contention that art has come to an end?