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Passions of the Sign

Revolution and Language in Kant, Goethe, and Kleist

Andreas Gailus

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Passions of the Sign traces the impact of the French Revolution on Enlightenment thought in Germany as evidenced in the work of three major figures around the turn of the nineteenth century: Immanuel Kant, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Heinrich von Kleist. Andreas Gailus examines a largely overlooked strand in the philosophical and literary reception of the French Revolution, one which finds in the historical occurrence of revolution the expression of a fundamental mechanism of political, conceptual, and aesthetic practice.

With a close reading of a critical essay by Kleist, an in-depth...

Passions of the Sign traces the impact of the French Revolution on Enlightenment thought in Germany as evidenced in the work of three major figures around the turn of the nineteenth century: Immanuel Kant, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Heinrich von Kleist. Andreas Gailus examines a largely overlooked strand in the philosophical and literary reception of the French Revolution, one which finds in the historical occurrence of revolution the expression of a fundamental mechanism of political, conceptual, and aesthetic practice.

With a close reading of a critical essay by Kleist, an in-depth discussion of Kant's philosophical writing, and new readings of the novella form as employed by both Goethe and Kleist, Gailus demonstrates how these writers set forth an energetic model of language and subjectivity whose unstable nature reverberates within the very foundations of society. Unfolding in the medium of energetic signs, human activity is shown to be subject to the counter-symbolic force that lies within and beyond it. History is subject to contingency and is understood not as a progressive narrative but as an expanse of revolutionary possibilities; language is subject to the extra-linguistic context of utterance and is conceived primarily not in semantic but in pragmatic terms; and the
individual is subject to impersonal affect and is figured not as the locus of self-determination but as the site of passions that exceed the self and its pleasure principle.

At once a historical and a conceptual study, this volume moves between literature and philosophy, and between textual analysis and theoretical speculation, engaging with recent discussions on the status of sovereignty, the significance of performative language in politics and art, and the presence of the impersonal, even inhuman, within the economy of the self.

Reviews

Reviews

Offers original insights into these well-known works... A sound contribution to the critical literature.

This book is far too short for the large and complex topics Andreas Gailus engages with so boldly and skillfully.

Gailus' book provides a needful reminder that the concept of history is theoretical and the meaning of theory historical.

The great virtue of this book is that its author is an attentive reader who reads important texts and writes well about what he reads.

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Book Details

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations
Preface
Introduction: Energetic Signs: Autonomy and Novelty in the Age of Revolution
1. Revealing Freedom: Crisis and Enthusiasm in Kant's Philosophy of History
2. The Poetics of

List of Abbreviations
Preface
Introduction: Energetic Signs: Autonomy and Novelty in the Age of Revolution
1. Revealing Freedom: Crisis and Enthusiasm in Kant's Philosophy of History
2. The Poetics of Containment: Goethe's Conversations of German Refugees and the Crisis of Communication
3. Border Narratives: Kleist's Michael Kohlhaas
Conclusion: The Big Either
Notes
References
Index

Author Bio
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Andreas Gailus

Andreas Gailus is an associate professor of German at the University of Minnesota.