Literature of the German Enlightenment

Absolutism in Germany took a specific shallow-water form. The mass impoverishment of the peasants led to the emergence of spontaneous social protest; Fugitive gangs consisting of fugitive peasants wielded in the forests and on large roads. For politically fragmented Germany, a multiplicity of cultural centers is characteristic. Such centers were Leipzig, Hamburg, Göttingen, until finally in the last quarter of a century the priority was not established for Weimar, the residence of a small principality, in which all the color of German literature-Goethe, Schiller, Wieland, Herder, was concentrated. The disproportion between the intellectual and creative potential and the low level of spiritual needs of society. Literary work could not provide even the most modest existence.

The specifics of Germany’s socio-historical development determined the uniqueness of the German Enlightenment. Until the second half of the century it did not pose serious political problems, to which

the public consciousness of the German burgher had not yet grown. Enlightenment ideals of freedom and personal dignity, denunciation of despotism were reflected in literature in the most general and rather abstract form. Only in “Emilia Galotti” Lessing (1772) and in the dramas of the young Schiller, in verses and essays by his older compatriot Christian Daniel Shubart, they received a concrete embodiment.

Religious issues, which played such an important role in Catholic France, were overshadowed by the presence of two officially recognized religions – Catholicism and Lutheranism, as well as many sects and religious movements. But here, too, the struggle against ecclesiastical orthodoxy

On the whole, the German Enlightenment gravitated toward abstract theoretical problems, it broadly developed questions of aesthetics, philosophy of history, philosophy of language. In these areas, German spiritual culture in the last third of the century is even ahead of other European countries.

The German philosophy of the Enlightenment was mostly idealistic. At its sources stands Gottfried Wilhelm

Leibniz, an outstanding mathematician and philosopher of the rationalist trend. His ideas of the “pre-established harmony” of a world that generates a balance of good and evil, a causal relationship governing the world, finally, the doctrine of the multitude of “possible worlds” had a great influence on literature and for a long time dominated the minds of not only German but also European enlighteners.

Sensationalism at first did not receive such wide distribution in Germany as in England and France, but it has already penetrated into aesthetic theory since the 1730s, is visibly strengthened in Lessing’s aesthetic and literary-critical works and finally triumphs in the worldview and work of Herder and Goethe and writers “Storm and onslaught” (1770s). The true rise of German classical philosophy falls on the last decades of the century (I. Kant). Moreover, it is in the depths of German idealism that a dialectical approach to solving basic philosophical questions is born.

The periodization of the German Enlightenment generally corresponds to the European one. However, the literary development here was distinguished by peculiar changes and fluctuations in the rhythm – at first clearly slow, then more and more rapid.

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Literature of the German Enlightenment