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Project B8

Aesthetic Heroism:
Concepts of Heroization in Stefan George’s Work and Circle

Dr. Thorsten Fitzon

Department of German

The aim of this project is investigate the genesis, change and variety of the heroization concepts in the works of Stefan George and his circle, which were exemplary for classical modernity. The focus is on the turn of the 20th century and extends to 1933 (George’s death). This project comprises two complementary projects: Firstly, the heroization strategies in George’s poetry will be studied. Secondly, the heroization tendencies in the ‘Gestalt’ books, the biographies of important historical figures written by members of George’s circle, will be examined.

In order to elucidate George’s heroization strategies, the historical basis of his heroic conception will first be analyzed (symbolism, Carlyle, Nietzsche, antiquity). On this basis the concepts of heroization in George’s poetry will be reconstructed by a pragmatic analysis of the texts. George’s own conception of the heroic presents the central problem being one of a considerable aesthetic and holistic form of existence, which he uses as a culturally critical corrective to counter the rationalization and fragmentation of modern experiences. This ‘aesthetic heroism’ functions as a contrastive habitus model to the official heroic images of Wilhelminism. Since George’s symbolist heroism model manifests itself in autonomous art, but exhausts itself therein, it has to manage without a heroic deed or identify the ‘deed’ with the artwork. Therein lies the central antinomy according to the guiding thesis of the project. This antinomy is propagated in the heroism designs of George and his circle and remains unsolved. The intent of this project is to determine the meaning of this antinomy in the controversy between ‘word’ and ‘deed,’ which pervades George’s poetry like a leitmotif. In addition, the question is also posed, whether George’s notions of the heroic remain constant in their meaning or are transformed with the development of the work. Finally, George’s poetics on the heroic will also be questioned in regards to its gender specific commitment and designated as a symbolic construction of ‘manliness.’

The example of the heroizing Gestalt books present their own specific and relatively independent chapter in the heroization practices of the George circle. The historical biographies written by the George circle are bound to the Gestalt term, which Friedrich Gundolf essentially developed in accordance with the style of George’s works, the tradition of the Gestalt term and the discourse of the Conservative Revolutionary movement. The Gestalt term is integral in the biographies written by the members of the circle on prominent figures such as Goethe, Caesar, Shakespeare, Frederick the Great, Raphael and Napoleon. The monumental autonomy of vir illustris forms the basis of the type of ‘monadistic biography’ in relative terms to the model of aesthetic autonomy. This type of biography will be thoroughly characterized and investigated as to its historiographical models as well as to its effective aesthetic dimension. In this way the ethical and didactic function of the heroization concept in the George circle will be determined as an activation of the reader.