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DOI 10.12887/31-2018-3-123-04

Agnieszka K. HAAS – On Coded Volumes: The Topos of Books in the Prose of German Romanticism and the Problem of Self-Consciousness

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The present article aims at demonstrating the link between the topos of books and its derivatives, such as writing, letters, or hieroglyphs, and the inner world of the characters representative of German literary fiction of the turn of the 19th century. The article attempts to address the question of whether books and their diverse forms (such as parchment, a folio volume or a scroll) function as coded mirrors of the human psyche, and whether books, like the ‘book of Nature,’ need decoding. The topos of books, despite its numerous shapes, refers the reader to a reality outside books, simultaneously demonstrating limitations of human cognition. Kant’s criticism, as well as Fichte’s subjective idealism, affected the way consciousness was approached and analyzed. The link between the motif of ‘book’ and epistemology, philosophical idealism, and in particular Kant’s, Schelling’s and Fichte’s transcendental philosophies, makes it clear why the topos of books occupies a predominant place in the output of German writers of the period of Romanticism. Fichte’s attempts to define ‘the absolute I’ and ‘the empirical I’ proved decisive for the turn to the consciousness in literature. Owing to his distinction between ‘the I’ and ‘the not-I,’ and his reduction of the world first to ‘the absolute I’ and subsequently to ‘the empirical I’ and the consciousness, narration enabled a synthesis of the reality, thus obliterating the limits of time and space as well as the distinction between the real and the imagined. A literary tool enabling an insight into oneself is ‘the book,’ which manifests both material and metaphysical significance. The indeterminacy and subjectivity of the world depicted in the literary fiction of the time is reflected in the consciousness of the characters, in particular in the motif of an ‘opaque’ and confusing ‘book of life.’

 Translated by Dorota Chabrajska

Keywords: the topos, 19th century German literature, Novalis, Friedrich Schlegel, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, the Bible, the absolute book, Ernst August Friedrich Klingemann, Bonaventura’s Nachtwachen, E.T.A. Hoffmann


Contact: Katedra Literatury i Kultury Niemieckiej, Instytut Filologii Germańskiej, Wydział Filologiczny, Uniwersytet Gdański, ul. Wita Stwosza 51, 80-308 Gdańsk, Poland
E-mail: filah@univ.gda.pl
Phone: +48 58 5232181

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  1. ISSN 0860-8024
  2. e-ISSN 2720-5355
  3. The Republic of Poland Ministry of Science and Higher Education Value: 100.00
  4. Quarterly “Ethos” is indexed by the following databases: EBSCO, CEEOL, Index Copernicus (ICV 2017: 55.26), Philosopher’s Index, ERIH Plus.
  5. DOI Prefix 10.12887