Poetic Rhythm around 1800

Project description

The project takes the discussion of meter and rhythm unfolding in the 18th century as its starting point. Klopstock’s use of the hexameter in his Messias (1751–1773) introduces the problem of ancient meter in modern art to a larger audience. What starts out as a mere technicality soon comes to shape the 18th-century discourse on aesthetics. Thus, the problem of meter and rhythm in poetry pertains to the definition of art forms (specifically, the relation between poetry and music) as much as it matters to the differentiation of forms within literature (between poetry and prose). Conceiving of rhythm as a historical phenomenon becomes a problem for an emerging classicist poetry (Rousseau, G. Hermann, J.H. Voss), as it does for an anthropological understanding of rhythm, which bases rhythmical forms on the movement of the human body (A. W. Schlegel, Sulzer, K. Ph. Moritz). Finally, versification touches on changing conceptions of time and their various forms (Hölderlin, Schelling).

The project tackles this complex discourse by way of readings of poetic and poetological texts by contemporary authors (Klopstock, Goethe, Hölderlin, Novalis). Its focus on close readings of versified texts allows to circumnavigate the notorious elusiveness of the notion of ›rhythm‹ and tries to get a grip on its different formulations: Klopstock, for instance, is preoccupied with the doubtful organicity of meter; for Hölderlin, writing meter presents an ethical dilemma, whereas Goethe tries to employ the notion of ›Takt‹ as a social form. The project thus explores different notions of poetic meter and rhythm, while at the same time asking a methodological question: how can (or should) we read versified texts, more broadly speaking: rhythmical forms?

2016–2017 MacMillan International Dissertation Research Fellowship, 2017–2018 Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences University Dissertation Fellowship
Associate Researcher(s): Elisa Ronzheimer