For Friedrich Schlegel

When, in his commentary on G.E. Lessing’s writings, Friedrich Schlegel describes his aim “to characterize the spirit of Lessing as a whole," he evokes the traditional distinction between spirit and letter that had come to form the point of departure for the hermeneutic enterprise, in and beyond biblical exegesis. Yet the meaning that this distinction assumes in Schlegel’s writings, from his earliest studies of Greek and Roman poetry, to his Conversation on Poetry, is not one that would promise interpretive closure of any kind. Instead, the distinction itself and the infinite demands for interpretation that arise from it can be traced to a dynamic particular to writing, which Schlegel outlines in his philological approaches to biblical scripture, Lessing, and poetry. In my contribution, I seek to draw out the implications of Schlegel's scriptural philology, looking back to its biblical precedents and forward to the kind of reading his intervention solicits.

For † Friedrich Schlegel †

Kristina Mendicino
Brown University

Every blink of an eye verges upon an unknown eternity like the instant of death. Only that this last one appears and is palpable to the most common sense.
—Friedrich Schlegel, Philosophical Apprenticeship

1.        In the blink of an eye, more and more material on Friedrich Schlegel—among them, certainly, “several eloquent essays” (2: 100)—will have appeared to augment, supplement, or critique the renewed interest in his philology. [1]  Meanwhile, the book/s of Schlegel, both in the form of the current critical edition and the project of a new facsimile edition of his writings, beginning with his notebooks on philology, [2]  remain/s unfinished. Whether what remains are fragments from the future or from the past, progressive or regressive: the decision is suspended, as the two directions of Schlegel-philology—historical and forward-looking, and often both at once—proceed at a relatively even pace (Wohlleben ch. 6, Gray, Thouard, Benne). The motive for this general interest may be a certain skepticism towards philosophy and philology alike, [3]  or towards the critical intersection between the two, for which Schlegel’s title “philosophy of philology” has become the headline [4] —perhaps not without a certain dose of irony, even on the part of those philologists who seem to comprehend and affirm this spokesman of early Romanticism most wholeheartedly. Any attempt, however, to characterize Schlegel’s philology “as a whole” cannot strive towards a positivistic account, over and above a corpus of material to be examined, interpreted, and explained; it cannot be cited as evidence for a new thesis on the golden mean, golden age—or “golden mediocrity [goldene Mittelmäßigkeit] (2: 103)of clear and distinct results in the discipline of literary studies; and it cannot be opposed to the incomprehensibility of language, irony, and rhetoric in his fragmentary corpus (and their consequences for philology) [5] —without ignoring the spirit of the letter.

2.        It is evident from Schlegel’s attempts “to characterize the spirit of Lessing as a whole [Lessings Geist im ganzen zu charakterisieren] (2: 100, Lessings Geist 2: 4)] that no interested (or even interesting) reading would be adequate, should it seek merely to discern therein the “rules [Regeln] of dramatic poetry” or to find the “bare, blank, and rock-steady [bare und blanke und felsenfeste] science about the first and last causes [Gründe] of the plastic arts and their relationship to poetry” (2: 111). Reading to extract rules, petrified knowledge, or sufficient and final causes, is not true reading, at least not in Schlegel’s sense. Like the modus of aesthetic reflection in Kantian philosophy, which Schlegel seems to paraphrase in earnest, the only comportment worthy to be called “Studium,” or “exponentiated [potenziertes]” reading (16: 139) would be an uninterested and free one, limited by no definite “need [Bedürfnis]” or “goal [Zweck].” And only such a reading would be able to “grasp the spirit of an author and make a judgment about him” (2: 111). This makes, apparently, all the difference—though one must hesitate here, too, to draw any positive consequences on what difference it makes. For Schlegel will go on to parody the serious initiate from Lessing’s Ernst und Falk: Gespräche für Freimaurer, writing of his disinterested reading, “and a light went off [. . .] for me [und mir [ist] ein Licht [. . .] aufgegangen],” which, as for Ernst, is “too much at once [Zuviel auf einmal]” (Lessing 8: 589): [6]  Schlegel finds himself suddenly unable to extricate himself from the labyrinth of Lessing’s collected works in order to write—or so he writes. Or so he wrote. But Schlegel’s glaring parody of this Enlightenment author and the author of “What is Enlightenment?” does not diminish the seriousness of his objection to the first approach to texts. It indicates only that Kantian aesthetic reflection, too, cannot be taken as the unquestioned premise of philology—especially not when this disinterested modus will soon be reformulated as an “interest of study [Studium]” in its own right (2: 111).

3.        Should, however, Schlegel’s essay, as well as his three-volume edition and commentary on Lessing’s writings, entitled Lessing’s Spirit from out of His Writings [Lessings Geist aus seinen Schriften], be taken seriously as philology? One might speculate: because the object of philology and reading cannot be bare, blank, or rock-solid—it is, after all, inscribed—any imparting of textual understanding cannot but participate in the writing of the text, in its spirit. To return to the example of Lessing, whose “spirit as a whole” Schlegel attempts to characterize more than twice, [7]  it is the citation of and interpolations in the text; the re-presentation of selected passages, parodic or serious; and commentaries in a prose inflected by Lessing’s own, that appear in print. And at another extreme, at the end of the second edition of his Lessing essay, to which he adds a new conclusion, Schlegel reprints, in a different arrangement, many of the fragments that had appeared in Lyceum and Athenäum several years earlier to express in his own words what he calls the character of Lessing’s “mixture of literature, polemic, wit, and philosophy, and above all, his “Neigung dazu” (2: 398)—which could be translated as his “proper inclination to that mixture” or his “proper inclination in addition to all of that”—which would absolve Schlegel’s critique from Lessing’s writings utterly. Whether Schlegel’s inclination or philia is for the writing of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing or for Friedrich Schlegel is undecidable; however, both tendencies coincide in Schlegel’s curation of his texts under the auspices of Lessing. Here, appropriately, the word for philology, for the love of the word—the title that Schlegel gives this new collection of his former fragments, which he attributes to an affinity toward his predecessor and now gives back in tribute to him, as an “Offering for the Immortal Dead [Todtenopfer für den Unsterblichen]”—is “Eisenfeile,” or ‘iron-filings,’ which also nearly reads “Eisenpfeile,” or ‘iron-arrows,’ to denote magnet shavings which “from within and without, aim thereaway [dahin zielen] (2: 398). [8]  Schlegel’s feilology or pfeilology not only condenses attraction and dispersion in such a way that no determinate aim can be definitively met, but he also rends to pieces—to a plurality of filings—the magnetic chain of transmission that Socrates evokes in his description of the epic muses, poets, rhapsodes and audiences in Plato’s Ion; he breaks through while perpetuating the mixture that drew him early to Lessing and that still chains him (“und mich noch an ihn fesselt”); and he thoroughly departs from any assumption that a philology adequate to at least Lessing’s writings could be reached any other way but by parsing his writings differently and writing differently from him. And if this does not necessarily mean that one can only write of poetry in poetry, it does imply that one cannot read Schlegel unaffected by his own characterizations of philology, or the variants thereof.—

4.        Central to the articulation of not only Schlegel’s Lessing-philology, but also his Studium essay on Greek poetry and his notes towards a study of the “Concept of Philology” for Niethammer’s Philosophisches Journal, is the distinction between spirit and letter. This binary pair is crucial, not only because it should allow readers to distinguish something in Lessing’s letters that differs from mere objects of knowledge that one might reduce, reuse, recycle, but also in that it defines, arguably, the point of distinction that Schlegel reiterates between classical and progressive literature throughout his writing. First of all, however, no reading of “writing” as such, let alone any particular writer’s spirit, or his time, could be understood apart from this religious schism. [9]  For modern, progressive philology—which, according to Schlegel, has yet to reach its end—begins with the Lutheran apotheosis of scripture (18: 545, 2: 203), or, more generally, with the interpretation of Holy Scripture, from the Talmud through Protestant hermeneutics and beyond (16: 42). More literally, it begins simply with the written work, the “Bibel” or “Book” (18: 226, 227)—and “every book must, to a certain degree, be a Bible” (18: 344)as opposed to the “saga [Sage] or “mythos” of classical poetry. The saga can only, as such, be said, and thus can never be distinguished from the “saying [Sagen] itself.—Its transmission may proceed by pure inspiration or by purely memorized and mechanical means—and Plato’s Ion, to whom Schlegel refers in his discussion of the Homeric rhapsodes in his History of the Poetry of the Greeks and Romans, is exemplary of this ambivalence. But whether one takes him for a prophet or a parrot, “he knew nothing to say of the other poets besides Homer (1: 459), [10]  and for this reason, his saying says, strictly speaking, nothing of anything else. Insofar as there would be, so to speak, no way to tell the difference between inspiration and mechanism, freedom and compulsion, one can only affirm Schlegel’s dictum: without the letter, no spirit [ohne Buchstabe, kein Geist] (18: 327). What defines the book, on the other hand, is the inscription of the letter beside myth: “A book is a grammatical and mythological system—therefore a religious concept (18: 78), and it is this (dis)junction of saying and writing, spirit and letter that also marks phrases such as “Holy Scripture.” But one can describe this concept more precisely: the letter halts any saying decisively by inscribing it; finished, it may thenceforth only be endlessly approximated by those readers, interpreters, or magicians who would release the spirit that is bound (18: 297)—but that, as spirit, is boundless. The scission of writing thus founds a relation between the finite and the infinite—the privileged relation that will characterize Romantic reflection, philosophy, and religion. And at the same time, it produces the infinite incompletion or excess of writing and reading that any hermeneutic enterprise cannot but augment. Ernesti, and later, Schleiermacher, will insist precisely that for every word in every text there is only one sense at any one place and time, though every word can very well have a different, particular determination in each passage of each text (Ernesti 17; Schleiermacher 32, 36, 40). At the same time, to determine one word definitively in the ways they prescribe, one would need the totality of historical and archival knowledge that Schlegel asserts at the start of his Studium essay on the Greeks and Romans—only to abandon it immediately—as the precondition for working through even the smallest part of a literary whole (cf. 1: 206). This, one can only endlessly approximate: “How immense the difficulties of singular, perhaps very small parts!” (1: 205–06). But even before that, one would have to decide upon what the one place and time of one word in one text might be, which leads, in its own right, to immeasurable difficulties. Each word in each text would be infinite, like Holy Scripture, and also, for this reason, beyond any economy of knowledge, usage, or definition.—

5.        One could thus designate the philology of the book, with the Lutheran scholar Salomon Glass (and after him, Schlegel), Philologia sacra. [11]  But one would also have to note the paradox that, from the moment writing is taken to have spirit and sense; from the moment it is holy—and, consequently, a writing that must decry writing in its finite form—its further writing cannot stop. [12]  Consequently, no text, no Bible, can be complete, which can be just as well articulated by asserting, as Schlegel does at one point, “Fragments (sayings) [{Sprüche}] are the proper form of Biblical delivery (18: 201)—or, as he does at another, “the Bible had the beautiful disposition to be an <absolutely universal> popular novel that could always be furthered [immer fortgesetzt]; Luther’s mistake was to fix it and to cut off the Legends” (16: 123). The Bible—or the utterly dislimited, biblical text—as fragment and novel, as the two forms of Romantic literature per se, is structured such that there will always be more to read, and to read more.

6.        More than this, the reverse is also true: it is structured such that, in its furtherance, it may always be interrupted and further cut. Here, once again, Schlegel’s Lessing edition is exemplary. For in his introduction to the second volume, Schlegel writes,

In that now, however, everything that relates to the thoughts of another, to objects that are now completely indifferent, to opinions that are forgotten, to books that are so good as obliterated, had to be struck out, only fragments remained from the greater part of Lessing’s writings, which have become this [fragments] entirely without our doing, or rather, this is what they were from the very start, and only after the disturbing interpolations [Zwischendinge] were taken away, could they appear in their original shape. (2: 3)
The continuation of the book is its cutting, and this cutting, a return to its origin, since what was originally fragmentary can only be realized as such after the fact. However, Schlegel suggests no necessary or causal force behind the indifference, forgetting, and destruction that will render parts of a book extraneous to it. This progress is without orientation and thus no progress at all, and yet it turns Lessing’s collected writings into an assembly of fragments, which Schlegel himself can only reproduce by removing from Lessing’s writing what turns out to have always belonged to others, and by breaking off what had appeared to be complete. The task of the philologist, then, would be the critical task of deciding the original—as it always was for the classicist, concerned as he is with removing interpolations, or at least striving to restore the text “nearer to its former and proper form [propius ad antiquam et suam formam]” (Wolf 1)—but with the caveat that the original can become apparent only over time in the first place. And because the task of curating its appearance is infinite, it can only be cut off—and, at another point, by another reader, at another time, furthered. [13]  So long as the end of time has not arrived, no word will have found its ultimate place, date, or attribution; no spirit of any writer will have appeared; and modern philology will have to continue, with more or less precision, until the Revelation, which would “make an end to philology proper” (16: 41).

7.        Hence, Schlegel can affirm repeatedly the (relative) coincidence of Lutheranism and progressive philology and, in consonance with such assertions, write, “philologia sacra, a non-entity [Unding der philologia sacra]” (16: 41). But the paradox also follows: in the age of books and bibles, where no letter and no writer is certain, sacral or progressive philology may be performed only upon the profane classical text, and the fragmentary remains of antiquity may be the only finished text as such: “Among the ancients, one sees the achieved letter of poetry in its entirety: in newer [writers], one intimates the evolving spirit [In den Alten sieht man den vollendeten Buchstaben der ganzen Poesie: in den Neuern ahnet man den werdenden Geist] (2: 158). [14]  Upon these premises, the modern age of mere literature would be utterly bereft of letters and thus like “a collection of variations with running commentary [...] for which the classical text was lost” (2: 198). But the classical text—which by definition no longer speaks or says its myth—is from the moment it becomes the object of bibliophilic philology. [15]  At the same time, the original that each edition provisionally manifests—each time “now for the first time [erst jetzt]”—has and will change. And each different original can, consequently, be neither old nor new. Rather, it would be the promise of an original that was and is still to come, the temporary product of a philological decision, which, from its inscription, is also irrevocable and irrevocably lost, like the text before us, in the blink of an eye.—

8.        All of these observations have important consequences for Schlegel-philology, for his philology and for those who would take his text (which is at once incomplete and excessive, full of fragmentary variations that reprise and even reverse earlier versions) seriously. In other words, what Schlegel says of modern letters is and will be true, first of all, of his own, which, in turn, invalidates many of the terms that are still operative in literary scholarship today. Others, such as Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Susan Bernstein, have exposed incisively how Schlegel’s Romantic writing (itself a fraught category) makes the work, the subject of writing and reading, the boundaries and contours of a text (or “fragment”)—and thus their potential characterization as an object of study, reading, and writing—as well as the historical status of all these ideal entities, untenable. [16]  But if this has all been said, as Werner Hamacher has said, citing Schlegel, “nothing is said yet [Nichts ist noch gesagt]”—at least not so that it were not possible to say it further (Entferntes Verstehen 197). And one might add that the critical dissolution of our contemporary philological categories follows from the distinction between the spirit and the letter that Schlegel draws repeatedly throughout his œuvre.—

9.        If the difference between spirit and letter per se compels one to distinguish, in writing, something other than rules, science, or causes—and therefore something that cannot be prescribed, known, and determined—the more immediate origins of this distinction would nonetheless be crucial to study in approaching Schlegel’s philology. First of all, his affirmation of spirit in writing solicits closer attention to Fichte, whom Schlegel proclaims the proper heir of Lessing’s thought in the dedication, “An Fichte,” that opens his Lessing edition. [17]  And few writers insisted upon the spirit of writing so strongly and repeatedly as Fichte, who draws the distinction between spirit and letter with each iteration of his Wissenschaftslehre, before elaborating it at length in an epistolary essay from 1794, On Spirit and Letter in Philosophy. There, what begins as a response to his correspondent’s question on studiously reading philosophical texts develops into reflections on spirit as such, which, like Schlegel’s “Sage” or “Mythus,” is one: “Spirit is one [der Geist ist Einer], and what is set through the essence of reason is one and the same in all reasonable individuals” (I,6: 354).

10.        Because spirit, or reason, is one and the same in all, it is absolute and absolved from the categorical determinations that allow us to construe objects a priori and to know them when they appear—including the empty category “is” (I,6: 340, 341). [18]  For this reason, spirit cannot itself be represented or desired—or predicated. What is within us all, because it is within us, and not an object for us, cannot but be utterly foreign—at least at first. On the first analysis, we recognize nothing besides what we know and want, ourselves being the “now” of a “present need” (I,6: 348). Spirit would be nothing to speak of, and different from all we could speak, but suddenly: “That which is in us through the aesthetic drive is discovered through an unxpected, surprising, completely purposeless, intentionless contentment or discontent that stands in no conceivable relation to the remaining faculties of our mind” (I,6: 345). Aesthetic pleasure, as well as spirit, which will be its poetic counterpart, is discovered—discovers itself [entdeckt sich]—and takes us by surprise. In the blink of an eye, the moments of intention, purpose, conceptualization and anticipation, the finished and finite faculties of the mind, are suspended. But no sensation of this ungraspable intervention is sufficient to assure us of spirit, either. Captivated by the highest pleasure, Fichte continues, one is “still in danger to mistake a pleasure that rests upon an obscure, undeveloped, entirely empirical and individual practical consciousness, for an aesthetic pleasure” (I,6: 347). Such pleasure is “entirely similar [völlig ähnlich]” to and thus empirically indistinguishable from the pleasure a magnet would have every time it attracts and thereby receives “a preponderant feeling of itself, of its force” (I,6: 344). It may, in other words, be nothing more than an effect of a determining mechanism.

11.        Fichte asserts that this attraction would differ from the one that is proper to spirit, in that the latter should remain separate from the empirical individual—and therefore truly apart from what we may know and want, including, above all, ourselves. The love of spirit would consist, rather, in the kind of increase in accord that a songstress would enjoy every time she—were she driven along the scale of tones by a force unknown to her—perceived a “concord [Zusammenstimmung]” (I,6: 346). Here, the measure is not given by force and mass, but by the “scale [Stufenleiter]” of tones, and thus an ideal, mathematical topology of harmonic relations that exist in potentia for all time. But in both cases, the law of pleasure is more, and it is no accident that, in contrasting the attraction of metal to the immaterial cohesion of harmonics, Fichte draws together a sentient magnet and an inspired performer deprived of her senses, nearly pure matter and nearly pure spirit. For with these fantastic hypotheses, in the spirit of E.T.A. Hoffmann, Fichte illustrates two diametrically opposed moments of pleasure, which always exceed the conscious self, but which are, at the same time, the conditions for being conscious of oneself in the first place. So constituted, the self, properly speaking, is only, as such, ecstatic and certainly could not, for itself, tell the difference between magnetism and harmony. Despite their polarity, then, Fichte’s hypothetical examples blur as forces and feelings of attraction—like spirit, which may be clothed in different figures, but should be one.

12.        If there is something more than what we can know and desire, in and other than objects and selves, and thus, in and other than all that we can manipulate and dominate, how can one decide between spirit and stone? Since Fichte’s symmetrical opposition of magnet and musician will break down utterly, he suggests that we cannot. The first and lowest incarnation of aesthetic taste will manifest itself in pleasure, “in the garish colors that violently stimulate the dull eye, and in the sheen of rich metals” (I,6: 349); that is, in gold. Likewise, pure spiritual pleasure will be articulated in terms of an economy of accumulation: “Our single greed [Geiz], which is precious, seizes us to collect spiritual treasures, simply in order to have them and to enthrall us with their sight” (I,6: 350). Beyond the “present need” that, for Fichte, defines us as empirical individuals—so that, as individuals, each of us would be nothing other than one shifting “now,” but also simultaneously opposed to all others—the aesthetic sense owes itself first of all to a surplus: “During calm observation that no longer intends the knowledge of what is long since known, but approaches the object once more, superfluously so to speak—the aesthetic sense [...] develops” (I,6: 351). And when this surplus becomes productive; when the “gift of inspiration [Eingebung]” becomes “yield [Ausgabe]”; when the artist, overcome, invests spirit in a “more solid body [festeren Körper]”—and this body is called a “letter [Buchstabe]”—he may share his work with others, in order to make them, like his work, in his inspired likeness. He may thereby reproduce the supposed unity of spirit per se, at least in image, and in so doing, he may even complete half the work towards the establishment of a free community, a golden age—as Fichte suggests in the last sentence of his text (I,6: 361). But the logic of possession here suggests that spirit would be nothing other than a transposition of the very register of need and use value that it should have surpassed. So long as spirit is not articulated differently, so long as there is nothing more than more, the work of inspiration will oscillate between accumulation and lack; between the extension of a present need and its fulfillment; between ecstasy and doubt—so that the only alternative to gross materialism is an equally extravagant debt.

13.        Although spirit is one, common to all—and thus, the precondition of all common sense and consensus among free individuals, who are above all “free” of their empirical individuality—the moment of inspiration is absolutely fleeting. Any attempt to present it already reflects its loss. Before all, Fichte writes, the artist produces artifacts “in order to secure his believe for himself before the hour of cooling and doubt” (I,6: 354). Far from redemption, the artist distributes “over his entire species the debt which the make-up [Einrichtung] of his species charged him with” (I,6: 339). This remark may simply imply that we are obliged to attune ourselves to the spirit of his work—and later, Fichte uses the lexicon of music to describe the universal obligation of correct artistic judgment, recalling his songstress: “there is a point upon the scale [Stufenleiter] of the spiritual formation of all where this work would necessarily make the intended impression” (I,6: 354). However, there is no guarantee that anyone will reach this point, or that the impression an artwork makes is the intended one. And at the same time, Fichte’s rhetoric implies that the “makeup [Einrichtung]” of our species, like the “faculties [Verrichtungen]” of our mind, is ordered such that there is no way to grasp ourselves nor to give ourselves over, as we would have had to, when we encounter traces of spirit, caught as we are in a syntax of knowledge or desire. Either way, the gift of the inspired artist would engender a debt that renders his work, its history—as well as any philological relation to it, in Schlegel’s sense—utterly precarious.—

14.        For the logic of pledges and debts that Fichte evokes, however, the original is Paul, who is sealed (σφραγισάμενος) by spirit, bears its inscription in his heart, as in his letters, and refers to spirit as a pledge (ἀρραβῶνα) in its own right (2 Cor. 1: 22). The spirit is an inherent guarantee for his person and text, through which he, the Paul of Scripture, has come to the Corinthians: ”this,” he writes in and of his epistle, “is the third time I come to you” (2 Cor. 13: 1). However, the spirit, imprinted in his writing, is a guarantee only because he, living, gives himself perpetually and repeatedly (ἀεί) to death for the sake of Christ, so that the life of Christ, that is spirit, may appear in our mortal carcasses (2 Cor. 4: 11). And as soon as letters are no longer written in stone, like Mosiac law, but in spirit, everything, apostle and epistle alike, may be its writing. Thus, Paul dislimits the letter just when he appears to dispense with it, so that persons, too, are letters—or, as Fichte puts it in his Vocation of Man [Bestimmung des Menschen], “presentations [Darstellungen]” and “likenesses [Abbildungen]”—of spirit (I,6: 308). If the letter “kills” (ἀποκτένει), but the spirit “makes life” (ζῳοποιεῖ), the letter of spirit that Paul bears and disseminates—the “new testament, not of letter but of spirit,” which is writing—must kill and make life at once (2 Cor. 3: 6). Such is the paradox of the Pauline distinction between spirit and letter. Likewise, Fichte’s artist, who would make eternal images of spirit, must sacrifice himself first of all, in and for the work (I,6: 338), or, as Schlegel puts it in his Ideen: “to become an artist means to dedicate oneself to the subterraneous gods. In the inspiration of annihilation the sense of divine creation reveals itself” (2: 269). Moreover, the same sacrificial demand would fall upon his readers, for all who inherit this testament, or—to speak with Paul—his διαθηκή, “distribution.

15.        Notwithstanding this sacrificial logic, the inspired artist makes a security deposit that should secure credit against the moment of doubt, and from this moment forward, the debt that is thereby accrued can only increase. The mark of spirit already anticipates the “hour of doubt” and thus already belongs to the successive hours that differ from the instant of inspiration. Here, it is no coincidence that the Pauline affirmation of the Old Testament, inspired anew, “having the same spirit of belief, according to what was written: ‘I believe, whence I speak,’ we also believe, whence we also speak“ (2 Cor. 4: 13), is implicitly inverted: I also write, thence to believe. Also inverted is Paul’s unconditional affirmation, “What is announced to you through us [...] was not engendered as ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ but has in itself the ‘Yes.’ For all that is reported of God, in itself is the ‘Yes’” (2 Cor. 19–20): for what is announced through the artwork, where spirit is no longer or not yet, is a congenital “No.”

16.        As with the structure of revelation, which Fichte had elaborated in his Attempt at a Critique of All Revelation around the time he was drafting his epistle on spirit and letter, the distinguishing feature of inspiration is the uncertainty of its occurrence, and the proliferation of testimonies makes it only harder to tell. If repetition characterizes Paul’s affirmation, repetition becomes necessary—though no longer affirmative—in Fichte’s variation of testimony. And again, the law is more. Under the auspices of a coming hour of doubt, the original inspiration can only be substituted by a model of infinite reproduction, first in the artwork and then in its reception. This also has historical implications, for Fichte’s correspondent writes that such reproduction should be a holy day that would repeatedly scan, and thus suspend, the calendar until the end of days: “where educated men live, the commemoration of [the artist’s] long since extinguished inspiration will be celebrated with its repetition until the end of days” (I,6: 339).

17.        Either the extinguished inspiration or the inspiration itself is repeated and celebrated, which would amount to either an infinite process of reproduction—an end, of sorts, of days—or the instant that would incinerate of all these things, which would no longer be a repetition. But even if the repetition should be of the “inspiration” itself, as a repetition, it could not constitute instanteous absolution and could therefore only be the preparation for the first, inspired moment, still to come. This structure of the spirited letter thus infinitely approximates what Schlegel will note, repeatedly, in his Philosophical Apprenticeship [Philosophische Lehrjahre], in the context of allusions to Fichte’s Vocation of Man, which was published in the same year as his essay on the spirit and letter, and presented, too, as a text written after the “fire” of “inspiration”—as its afterimage—: [19]  “All humanity is set upon the one moment of self-destruction. What is not remembrance of the golden age cannot be anything but [...] preparation for that single moment, the festival of all festivals, the mourning play of joy” (18: 394, cf. 18: 175). All humanity would be set towards the single moment—each single moment, which, like inspiration, cannot but be repeatedly assured, even as it should be, finally, realized, and no longer remembered. Humanity would be determined to the dissolution of determination; to the instantaneous attainment of the absolute, annihilating pleasure of an end of all ends, of all finite being, itself first of all. Here, one finds the origins of Schlegel’s approach to Lessing’s writings, where each new testament to his spirit would also be a repetition of the old that erases and replaces it, to be continued until the original is at once revealed and absolved from its successive appearances.

18.        Were there a relation to an artwork that would neither meld into an economy of gain and loss nor dissolve into an ultimate annihilation; were there a time for a philological intervention that neither progresses towards the revelatory telos that would destroy it, nor recycles spiritual material for accumulation and use, it would have to take place as a moment of crisis—a crisis of moments—suspended between an immediate “now” that no one can fulfill and a date that has not yet been given. And were the distinction between spirit and letter to mark this crisis in such a way that no debt or credit would be accrued, spirit could not be an anticipatory or promissory pledge. It would have to differ from any such unit or measure of value, and thus also from any unity that might be known through its magnitude—or magnetude—of pleasure and accord. The writing the reader takes in, that takes him by surprise or leaves him cold, would have to be closer to the ghosts of Hades that haunt Fichte’s interlocutor than the Holy Spirit Paul vouches: “and so often even you believe yourself to have grasped its spirit, it slips away from you beneath your very hands” (I,6: 334). At any rate, the spirit cannot be one. “But what consensus is there,” asks Paul, “in the temple of God with ghosts?” (2 Cor. 6: 16).—

19.        Even before Fichte published his essay on spirit and letter, Schlegel reiterates, “Spirit and letter is a religious distinction,” in his philosophical notebooks under the heading, “Spirit of the Fichtean Doctrine of Science” (18: 39). And after the appearance of Fichte’s essay, it haunts Schlegel’s texts repeatedly—his notes on philology, his Philosophical Apprenticeship, and his Ideen. Above all, however, it haunts the Conversation on Poetry [Gespräch über die Poesie]. For Schlegel opens this text with an affirmation of the unity of reason, which will soon be called spirit, one and the same in all (2: 284; cf. Fichte I,6: 354). Throughout his prologue, Schlegel retraces and alters Fichte’s topoi—as when the “crowd” that, under the influence of Fichte’s artist, “flows together [zusammenfließt] into one soul” (338) becomes Schlegel’s “muse,” who “seeks and finds the other, and all streams of poetry flow together [fließen zusammen] into the universally great sea“ (2: 84). Finally, the text nearly closes, like Fichte’s, with praise of Goethe, who clothes, for Schlegel’s poetic personae as for Fichte, “the ancient spirit in a modern veil” (2: 346). But all that was affirmed in Fichte’s epistles becomes, in Schlegel’s text, subject to a dispute on love and poetry—on philology.

20.        Fichte never ceases to affirm the eternal unity and self-equivalence of spirit, and thus a common origin and end of all art. But in his Conversation, Schlegel insists on singular difference through the personae of his dialogue. To begin towards the end: when Ludoviko, like Fichte, affirms Goethe’s ability to unite antiquity and modernity—for, he adds, “the spirit of poetry is only one and everywhere the same”—Lothario intervenes and appeals to the law of the letter, which is separation: “The spirit indeed! But I would like to apply here the division into spirit and letter. [...] In spirit your unconditional combination [Verbindung] of the ancients and moderns may take place, [...] but not in the letter of poetry. The ancient rhythm, for example, and the measures of rhyme remain eternally opposed. There is no third, middle term between both” (2: 348).

21.        At first, of course, Lothario appears merely to modify the opposition between a unity of spirit and a multitude of letters, which Fichte and Ludoviko share. But as he goes on to discuss mutually incompatible prosodies, he goes further than any affirmation or negation of this principle difference. For in taking up the very measures of tempus in language, rhythm, and meter, and in asserting their absolute difference for different languages at different times, Lothario suggests that this feature of letters, before any letter or word, would preclude the unification or mediation of two epochs in any poet’s works. As soon as there are at least two measures, the possibility of a standard that might unite them, and thus a standard measure at all, is negated: tertium non datur. And one can go still further, to read this turn in Lothario’s response as an implicit argument against the unity of spirit per se. Since, as Fichte’s references to harmonic scale had implied, spirit was analogous to formal measures, a fundamental difference in prosodic measure would also speak against the structure according to which a common spirit might be posited in the first place.

22.        Ultimately, there is no unit or unity to be found here. What is “one [Eins]” in Lothario’s rejoinder is not ‘unification’ or “Ver-ein-i-gung”—which he reformulates as combination “Ver-bind-ung,” placing an accent upon the binary—but, literally, “division [Ein-teilung].” And if this virtuosic performance in language does not constitute an argument against Fichte—it may simply be a play on words—any refutation of it, in turn, could rest only upon the conviction that arguments take place at a level distinct from the letter. And such a conviction cannot be taken for granted, for this is the topic of dispute—and not the standard for truth—among Schlegel’s interlocutors.

23.        Writing in or against the spirit of Fichte’s letters can only take place in and through further writing, and thus in a way where no hermeneutic recuperation of sense or spirit can be guaranteed. To return to the beginning: already in the prologue to his dialogue on poetry, Schlegel interrupts Fichte’s proclamation of unity:

Reason is only one and in all the same: but just as each man has his proper nature and love, so too does each bear his own poetry within himself. This must and should remain to him, as surely as he is who he is, as surely as anything soever original was in him; and no critique can and may rob him of his most proper essence, his most inward force, in order to cleanse and purify him into a universal image without spirit or sense, just as fools strive to do, who know not what they wish. (2: 284).
Following an apodictic sentence, reminiscent of Fichte, a colon: Schlegel’s assertion of universal reason is, in itself, incomplete, and if reason is one and the same in all, there is something else in each that is proper to him, and thus distinct, even if it is also proper to all others, which the distributive ”each” not only does not exclude, but grammatically implies. The same sentence of reason and poetry splits, then, between two incompatible universalities: the reason inherent in all and the poetry that each bears within him, like love and nature. The split is legible at the level of lexis—”in all [...] in himself “—as well as syntax, as the form of predication, bound by the copula (“reason is [...]“), gives way to an analogy (“just as [...] so too”). Here, the transcendental term cannot but (“but”) be disjunctively related to what follows, as Schlegel’s rhetoric shifts from what is one in all to determinate natures and inclinations, whereby the distributive does not affirm or negate, perpetuate or end, the initial testimony to unity. Unbound from the unity of reason, the predicates proper to each are, in turn, loosely connected with another, as to each man who has them. But how propriety should belong to each man is elaborated only in the following sentence, and in such a way that the unity of “each,” too, dissolves upon scrutiny. For as long as anyone is, be it that his most proper determination is no more than that he is who he is, no one can be one image, even of himself. His identity could only be affirmed in the redoubling and the minimal difference inscribed in “he is who he is,” where “he” oscillates between a pronomial placeholder and a deictic determination that points only to his further displacement.

24.        This means, perhaps, that nothing could be less certain than the identity of each, and thus his existence—though it is still possible to say that something “original was in him” and, as an original determination, made him the singular being that he may be. But if both propositions are “so sure,” and for the same reason, so equally uncertain, then there is no one “image,” neither singular nor general, of the spirit, the letter, or the apostle who would mediate the two. To want this image, which is the idea of Fichte’s “I,” if there ever was one, is to wish for the annihilation of any one and any thing that could be, on the part of those who know not what they do.

25.         It would be tempting, at this point, to suggest that Schlegel revises the catastrophic unity that characterizes Fichte’s spirit by dividing his text among many participants, themselves divided, including “me.” After all, it is after his opening presentation of a universal religion of poetic affiliation—”Poetry binds and befriends all minds that love her with insoluble bonds” (2: 284), and after his affirmation of a poetry proper to each—that Schlegel articulates the necessity of exceeding one’s own proper view of poetry by imparting it with others. This becomes, in turn, the immediate occasion for him to write in the first-person, for the first time—”For me it had always been very exciting to speak with poets and poetically minded people about poetry” (2: 286)—only to go further and reproduce the many other voices which will compose the Conversation, which is, in turn, only one among “many such conversations,” and thus itself partial (2: 286). But insofar as each cannot be one, if he is to be at all, Schlegel cannot but present a plurality of alter egos, who dissemble more than resemble the members of the Romantic circle with whom they are so often identified, and thus elude any historiographical or biographical determination. [20]  The text he introduces, for those who wish “to initiate themselves into the holy mysteries of nature and poetry by force of their inner fullness of life” (2: 286–87), is no temple of spirit, nor a demand for the sacrificial dedication of artist and reader, but a party of ghostly lovers of the word, or an orgy of spirits, “who occupy themselves freely and gladly with their predeliction [Liebhaberei]” (2: 287)—and who may never have been.

26.        Equally uncertain is the time of the conversation itself, where, suspended between “fantasy” and “remembrance,” “much is real, and other parts, invented” (2: 286), and where nothing that is said to have happened can be plotted along the lines of a sequence or encompassed in a model of cyclical repetitions. In his introduction to the Conversation proper, in which he records the conditions surrounding its occurrence, Schlegel evokes and disrupts both of these alternatives in terms that echo the determination of the single moment of inspired speech, so crucial to Fichte’s letters as to Schlegel’s own Ideen. The conversation begins as the interruption of “many other similar ones” (2: 286), which had hitherto taken place “without appointed time or law [ohne Verabredung oder Gesetz]” (2: 287). These continue even now, with a dispute between Amalia and Camilla on the appointed day, in the absence of two latecomers—until, that is, “two of the expected friends, whom we will call Marcus and Antonio, entered the society with loud laughter” (2: 287). Beginning with this interruption, which will inaugurate the conversation, Schlegel will return to it only after recounting the circumstances that preceded it, which include the decree—during a previous, similar conversation—that it should no longer be a conversation at all, but the reading of speeches that individuals of this group are to write, to be delivered on a particular date: “the interest grew with the work and the preparations for it; the women made themselves a festival [Fest] out of it, and finally a date was fixed [festgesetzt] on which each should read what he would bring” (2: 287).

27.        Already here, Schlegel suggests that the singular and commemorative date, the “Fest” that would differ from other days, is not one, but aligned with the many “preparations” of the women. Meanwhile, they prepare indefinitely, before “finally” a day is “fixed,” whereby Schlegel’s formulation here still defers the day, marking only the entrance of “an appointed time or law” into this society. Or, to put it differently, the “festival [Fest]” melds with “law [Gesetz]” in the “fixed [festgesetzt]” date, but only insofar as each amounts, together, to the promise of a day that will not have yet arrived. [21]  And, in fact, this day is never narrated explicitly, as the “circumstances” that precede it give way seamlessly to the dispute between Camilla and Amalia on the appointed day, to be interrupted, first by the arrival of the last two guests and then, finally, by the first speech. But then, as the date, law, and letter should coincide in a new event—”so that something new would happen, a change from [their] eternal reading”—the change that is thereby heralded is nothing other than an exchange of more texts, variant readings (2: 287).

28.        This text of these texts, of the Conversation, can thus only be a narrative, alternating between the preterite and the subjunctive, of what had happened, if there were no guarantee of a date, nor the beginning, middle, and end of an event. That is, it can only be a narrative that is governed by no law of succession or repetition. This is also why, by the time Marcus and Antonio interrupt for the second time in Schlegel’s account, Antonio can have already arrived and participated in Amalia and Camilla’s debate on the theater—”‘grant us our way of doing things,’ said Antonio, as he ostensibly took the side of Camilla, ‘when for once, through a happy coincidence, a spark of life, of joy and spirit, develops in the common mass’” (2: 288). Thus it is no coincidence that, when “the entering friends” enter the conversation next, only the second of them, Marcus, will be named (2: 289). In the blink of an eye, what was written can alter, and if it can alter, it can alter endlessly—which is why, even in the passage that seals the agreement among these lovers of words to read their writings on poetry, the privileged conjunction is the disjunctive “or”: “each, or [...] whoever has the most desire to do so, should for once utter his thoughts on poetry, or on a part [...] of it, or rather write it out, so that one has it in black and white” (2: 287). When, next, Camilla ”most animatedly agreed with her friend,” there is no way to tell what is thereby accorded in this bare affirmiation of φιλία. No choice could be definitively determined as true or false, as a decision or as a counterfactual conditional. No, nothing could have been promised or fulfilled here, since teleological or cyclical completion—including a complete assumption into the unity of spirit—would have been a fatal end: “absolute achievement is only in death” (2: 286). Rather, the law that is agreed upon is lawless. With every announcement, with every affirmation—and their possible repetitions—there is a congenital alternative—neither “Yes” nor “No”—that frees what is bound in and by these letters from the assumption of a unified spirit, reason, or poetry, as well as from the fatal logic of exchange, accumulation, or promissory seals that govern Paul’s and Fichte’s letters on spirit.—

29.        But, perhaps, the most precise analysis of philology as well as history—its end or “purpose,” as Schlegel had written elsewhere (16: 37)—took place at the opening of the first lecture, on the “Epochs of Poetry,” where spirit and letter return once again in Andrea’s account of ancient and modern, old and new poetic art. Andrea—who is, perhaps, a variant of the Other, the “Andere,” in personbegins: “Where any living spirit whatsoever appears bound in well-formed letters, there is art, there is separation, material to overcome, tools to use, a draft and laws of treatment. Therefore we see the masters of poetry strive most powerfully to form themselves in the most multifaceted way” (2: 290). He thus begins what would be a lecture on classical poetry, with the distinction that defines progressive or sacral philology, the binary pair, “Geist und Buchstabe.” And if this may seem to invert the epochal order that otherwise plays a crucial role in the philologies of the brothers Schlegel, as well as Winckelmann—to whom Andrea explicitly and implicitly refers throughout his speech—it will not be the first or last time, nor will the operations of his philology remain restricted to inversion.

30.        As for the letter, the sequence of “living spirit [lebendiger Geist]” and “well-formed letter [gebildeten Buchstaben]” in Andrea’s opening sentence involves a series of inversions that liquidate the distinction between the two, as well as each term itself. With the exceptions of two letters, r and t, “lebendiger” and “gebildeten” are anagrams of each other, with the opposite sequence of vowels; rhythmically, they share the same shape (– ' – –), and besides, within the writings of Schlegel, what is living and what is formed should be two inseparable aspects of the same. [22]  Between their prosodic and alphabetical arrangements, as well as their semantic similarities, the adjectives that should distinguish spirit and letter alike, blend. And at the same time, each also becomes divided and distinct from itself, so that one cannot tell, precisely, what is bound here—whereby the adjective “bound [gebunden]” echoes the “well-formed letter [-bildeten -chstab-],” too, unbinding and recombining the elements of these terms as well, and turning them into something other than they were. In other words, synthesis and analysis coincide here, forming and dissolving at once what should have been the topic of discussion. The beginning of the “Epochs of Poetry” is, in short, incessantly splitting and turning from itself, as well as any commonplaces of philological or philosophical inquiry—like spirit and letter.

31.        Still more importantly, beyond any such inversion and before any history is given, the topic of his speech, albeit liquidated, should be an inspired letter that “appears [erscheint]” in the absence of any artist or agency. And there, where it appears, because it simply appears, it would be, at least at first, a radically indefinite phantom, absolved from any particular relations that might determine its time or genesis. The historical inquiry that Andrea will draw from this utterly unaccountable moment—which vanishes in the blink of an eye, so that “art” and “separation” can follow “there,” in its place—is thus utterly contingent upon a moment that, for itself, can be attributed to no source or end, and that is thus before its proper history and future. Only “around” this “there”—”darum”—do we “see the masters of poetry strive most powerfully to form themselves in the most multifaceted way,” as though nothing were there yet, no art, but rather the separate stages and elements of its production: “material to overcome, tools to use, a draft and laws of treatment.”

32.        Where there is poetic art, there is separation, and where there is separation, one might add that there is an infinite distance to any artwork. Instead, a series of infinitives, designating the sheer work of overcoming, using, and executing, postpones the work precisely through its prescription. Meanwhile, what we “see [sehn]” when the artwork is not yet or no longer “there,” and therefore infinitely distant from any moment or locus we could point out, becomes, at least for lovers, a “longing [Sehn-sucht]”—for its history: "where she [art] not yet was, there she should come to be, and if she was, she surely arouses in those who truly love her a strong longing [Sehnsucht] to know her, to understand the intention of the master, to grasp the nature of the work, to experience the origin of the school, the course of her formation. Art rests upon knowing, and the knowledge of art is her history” (2: 290). But because art should rest upon the knowing that is its history, its history would have to be restlessly in advance of art itself—or art would have to be predicated upon a history that cannot yet have happened, but that its lovers, in its absence, strongly desire to see and to know. At the same time, its past and future are articulated in terms of an ethical exhortation (“should”) and an erotic excitation (“arouse”), so that the only difference between past and future appears to be the difference these two verbs demarcate, and the present is nothing other than the scission, or sexus, of these two modes of desire.—

33.        Each such historical intersection might be read as an inclination or philia—towards nothing we might have or accumulate, promise or provide, at the limits of spirit and letter—and this might also have been the end or purpose of Friedrich Schlegel’s philology. History, of art as of ethics or sex, may be nothing other than the scansion of imperatives and seductions, and thus oriented towards what can never have been, what we could not even will or want, were we truly lovers.—

Works Cited

Benne, Christian. “Philologie und Skepsis.” Was ist eine philologische Frage? Edited by Jürgen Paul Schwindt, Suhrkamp, 2009, pp. 192–210.

--- and Ulrich Breuer, editors. Antike—Philologie—Romantik. Friedrich Schlegels altertumswissenschaftliche Manuskripte. Schöningh, 2011.

---, Felix Christen, and Wolfram Groddeck, editors. Philosophie & Philologie. Special Issue. Text: Kritische Beiträge , no. 14, 2013.

Behler, Ernst. Frühromantik. de Gruyter, 1992.

Benjamin, Walter. Der Begriff der Kunstkritik in der deutschen Romantik. Gesammelte Schriften. Edited by Rolf Tiedemann and Hermann Schweppenhäuser, vol. 1, Suhrkamp, 1991, pp. 7–122.

Bernstein, Susan. “Re-re-re-reading Jena.” MLN, vol. 110, no. 4, 1995, pp. 834–55.

Blanchot, Maurice. L’entretien infini. Gallimard, 1969.

Bultmann, Christoph and Lutz Danneberg, eds. Hebraistik—Hermeneutik—Homilitik. Die “Philologia Sacra” im frühneuzeitlichen Bibelstudium. de Gruyter, 2011.

Chaouli, Michel. The Laboratory of Poetry: Chemistry and Poetics in the Work of Friedrich Schlegel. Johns Hopkins UP, 2002.

Ernesti, Johannis Augusti. Institutio interpretis novi testamenti. Edited by Christoph Frider Ammon, Leipzig, Weidmann, 1809.

Fichte, Johann Gottlieb. Werke 1799–1800. Edited by Reinhard Lauth and Hans Gliwitzky, Frommann, 1981.

Gray, Richard T. “Skeptische Philologie: Friedrich Schlegel, Friedrich Nietzsche und eine Philologie der Zukunft.” Nietzsche-Studien, no. 38, 2009, pp. 39–64.

Hamacher, Werner. Entferntes Verstehen. Studien zu Philosophie und Literatur von Kant bis Celan. Suhrkamp, 1998.

---. Für—die Philologie. Urs Engeler, 2009.

Kilcher, Andreas. “Die Kabbala als Trope im ästhetischen Diskurs der Frühromantik.” Kabbala und die Literatur der Romantik. Zwischen Magie und Trope. Edited by Eveline Goodman-Thau et al., Niemeyer, 1999, pp. 135–66.

Kittler, Friedrich. Aufschreibesysteme 1800/1900. Fink, 1995.

Lagny, Anne and Denis Thouard. “Schlegel, lecteur de Lessing. Réflexions sur la construction d’un classique.” Études germaniques, no. 208, 1997, pp. 609–27.

Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim. Gesammelte Werke. Edited by Paul Rilla, vol. 8, Aufbau, 1956.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. Le partage des voix. Galiliée, 1982.

Novum Testamentum. Graece et Latine. Edited by Eberhard and Erwin Nestle et al., Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1984.

Schlegel, Friedrich. Kritische Friedrich-Schlegel-Ausgabe. Edited by Ernst Behler et al., Schöningh, 1958–. 35 vols.

---. Lessings Geist aus seinen Schriften, oder dessen Gedanken und Meinungen zusammengesetellt und erläutert von Friedrich Schlegel. Leipzig, Hinrichs, 1810. 3 vols.

Schleiermacher, Friedrich. Hermeneutik. Edited by Heinz Kimmerle, Winter, 1959.

Schneider, Helmut J. “Die unsichtbare Kirche der Schriftsteller: Geselligkeit und Bildung zwischen Aufklärung und Frühromantik.” Die Romantik: ein Gründungsmythos der Europäischen Moderne, edited by Anja Ernst and Paul Geyer, Bonn UP, 2010, pp. 145–65.

Szondi, Peter. “Friedrich Schlegels Theorie der Dichtarten: Versuch einer Rekonstruktion der Fragmente aus dem Nachlaß.” Euphorion, no. 64, 1970, pp. 181–99.

Thouard, Denis. “Der unmögliche Abschluss. Schlegel, Wolf und die Kusnt der Diaskeuasten.” Translasted by Max Erben. Antike—Philologie—Romantik, edited by Christian Bene and Ulrich Breuer, Schöningh, 2011, pp. 41–61.

Weissberg, Liliane. Geistersprache: Philosophischer und Literarischer Diskurs im späten achtzehnten Jahrhundert. Königshausen & Neumann, 1990.

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Wolf, Friedrich August. Prolegomena ad Homerum. 2nd ed., Berlin, Calvary, 1876.


[1] All translations, unless otherwise noted, are mine. I refer here to the two recent collections of essays, Antike—Philologie—Romantik: Friedrich Schlegels altertumswissenschaftliche Manuskripte (2011) and Friedrich Schlegel und die Philologie (2013), as well as Christian Benne’s contribution to the collection of essays from 2009, Was ist eine philologische Frage? BACK

[2] For more on the—well-grounded—call for a new facsimile edition of Schlegel’s notebooks, which will be realized in the forthcoming edition Hefte zur Philologie, see Benne / Breuer, “Einleitung” 12–13. BACK

[3] For a reading of the ancient tradition of skepticism and its relation to Schlegel’s usage of “Skepsis” in his philological and philosophical notebooks, see Benne, “Philologie und Skepsis.” BACK

[4] Here I refer to “Philosophie & Philologie,” the issue from 2014 of Text: Kritische Beiträge. BACK

[5] One of the most exceptional readings of Schlegel’s fragments on philology—and philological texts in their own right—is Werner Hamacher’s Für—Die Philologie. BACK

[6] The sequence in Lessing’s dialogue that Schlegel parodies begins, as Falk interrupts himself to ask “Ernst! How are you? to which Ernst answers “Like a blinded man.” Falk then asks, “Does some light go off for you now? [Geht dir nun einiges Licht auf?]” to which he replies, “Some? Too much at once [Einiges? Zuviel auf einmal]” (8: 589). BACK

[7] For a recent discussion of Schlegel’s Lessing studies and a copious bibliography on his Lessing reception—which, however, follows a very different trajectory than my own—see Lagny/Thouard. Although these writers stress the importance of the distinction between spirit and letter to Schlegel’s philology and argue that a combination of disinterested reflection and a sudden illumination are what guarantee the validity of Schlegel’s critical intervention, they do not address the way Schlegel’s prose suggests that Kantian reflection is not sufficient, and that the breakthrough he claims to have experienced is itself a parody of Lessing’s dialogue, Ernst und Falk. BACK

[8] Schlegel translates the philia of philology with the German word “Neigung” in his first notebook, “Zur Philologie” (16: 42). BACK

[9] For two very different approaches to this problem, see Kittler and Chaouli. BACK

[10] For an excellent reading of this Platonic dialogue and its implications for hermeneutics, see Nancy Le partage des voix. BACK

[11] For a useful introduction to this work, see Bultmann / Danneberg. In none of the notes on philology that have been published in the Kritische Ausgabe, however, does Schlegel name Glass among the many philologists he mentions. Hence, the term in his writings need not necessarily refer to this particular articulation of “sacral philology,” which was a widely reprinted, edited (and read) handbook for Biblical interpretation. BACK

[12] For an incisive discussion of the centrality of the book—as Bible—to the Romantic project, see Lacoue-Labarthe / Nancy 195. BACK

[13] One of the best commentaries on philology as furtherance is Hamacher’s Für—die Philologie 40 c.f. See also Entferntes Verstehen 229. BACK

[14] Of course, as Lagny / Thouard remark in their discussion of Schlegel’s Lessing studies, the moment that a work is taken as an object of reading, it is taken as a classical text (612)—which Schlegel’s Marcus states explicitly in the Conversation on Poetry (2: 340). However, this only strengthens, rather than weakens, the fragility of the classical text as such. BACK

[15] This is also one of the most radical consequences of Friedrich August Wolf’s Prolegomena ad Homerum, which suggests that the closest we might come to the original Homeric poems is the critical editions of the first Alexandrian scholars (3). Schlegel stresses the importance of Wolf’s philology to his own explicitly in his notebooks “Zur Philologie I” and “Zur Philologie II” (16: 25–81), and in his earlier, published essay “Über die Homerische Poesie,” which begins with a footnote, in praise of Wolf’s Prolegomena (1: 116). BACK

[16] This list is necessarily incomplete, given the vast amount of scholarship devoted to the problem of addressing Schlegel’s writing in terms adequate to it. Still, there are few scholars who take this problem seriously enough to let it inflect their own scholarly prose. Other notable exceptions would include Blanchot and Benjamin. BACK

[17] The most extensive commentary on Fichte’s distinction between spirit and letter is Weissberg, who devotes much attention to the tensions between his essay and Friedrich Schiller’s On the Aesthetic Education of Man, which led to the breach between Fichte and Schiller, the latter of whom had intended to publish Fichte’s text in the Horen—until he read it. Nonetheless, the more general scope of her study means that her account differs from the narrower analysis of Fichte’s text that I am offering. BACK

[18] Structurally, the problem of speaking of spirit, or of a spirit that would speak in and through letters, thus resembles the problem of Fichte’s first foundational proposition of the I” that sets itself, as Hamacher describes it in Entferntes Verstehen: “sheer performation, the setting I is capable of no constatation, but is absolute excess over every possible objectification and every subject reflecting itself in an object as itself. If this performation nonetheless becomes an object of constatation, then its setting must cease / set out in a set law, must be brought to an end set not in itself; it must be broken off and can therefore no longer be constated as performation and reflected as constating [schiere Performation, ist die Setzung Ich keiner Konstatierung fähig, ist sie absoluter Exzeß über jede mögliche Vergegenständlichung und jedes sich in einem Objekt als sich selbst reflektierende Subjekt. Wird diese Performation dennoch Gegenstand einer Konstatieren, so muß ihr Setzen in einem Gesetzten aussetzen, muß an ein in ihr selbst nicht gesetztes Ende gebracht, abgebrochen werden und kann also nicht mehr als Performation konstatiert und konstatierend reflektiert werden]” (208). BACK

[19] Fichte writes in his preface, “at least the author is aware that he did not set out to work without inspiration,” then adds: “often the fire with which one took hold of one’s purpose vanishes during the toil of carrying it out [...]” (I,6 :189). BACK

[20] Many others have linked the Gespräch to the union of the Romantics in 1799, including Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy (273–74), who base their brief discussion of this historical coincidence upon Ayrault’s four-volume study of the genesis of Romanticism. BACK

[21] The suspension of both Fest and Gesetz in this passage is reinforced by the way in which the two clauses, “the women made themselves a festival out of it [die Frauen machten sich ein Fest daraus]” and “and finally a date was fixed [es wurde endlich ein Tag festgesetzt]” form two iambic pentameter cola in which Fest and fest appear in the same metrical positions. Such parallelism in Schlegel’s rhetoric implies a formal structure of repetition that turns the singularity of the festival and the establishment of law—the law, that is, of the appointed day—into periodic occurences, literally. BACK

[22] For example, Schlegel writes in his Ideen, “There should be absolutely no common standpoint, no natural way of thinking only in opposition to law and formation, no mere life [Einen gemeinsamen Standpunkt, eine nur im Gegensatz der Kunst und Bildung natürliche Denkart, ein bloßes Leben soll es gar nicht geben]” (2: 261). He also binds the two terms in the prologue to the Conversation, writing “Immeasurable and inexhaustible is the world of poetry, like the richness of enliving nature in plants, animals, and formations of every kind, shape, and color [Unermeßlich und unerschöpflich ist die Welt der Poesie wie der Reichtum der belebenden Natur an Gewächsen, Tieren und Bildungen jeglicher Art, Gestalt und Farbe]” (2: 285). BACK