The Formation of Theory and the Critique of ›Wissenschaft‹ in the Early Twentieth Century

Project description

Theory has often been associated with a number of antiscientific or at least anti-academic sentiments. The prehistory of what has come to be referred to as ›theory‹ and specifically the relationship between theory and the so-called »Krise der Wissenschaft« (»crisis of science«) around 1900 lies at the center of this research project. A particular focus will be placed on theory’s affinity with literature since both are dealing with phenomena that cannot be grasped discursively or conceptually. The project examines the distinctive rhetorical forms, modes of representation, and medial formats that authors deployed in what have become canonical styles of thought in order to stabilize their individual, or group positions. This line of inquiry also includes examining ›nonscientific‹ authorities like charismatic teachers and prophets as well as addressing figures of thought that were not traditionally part of accepted academic discourse like the concepts of the Tragic or the Demonic.
The focus of this interest is the way in which ›theory‹ addresses its audience, or figures an immanent or imaginary addressee of theoretical speech. Who, ultimately, does theory address and how is this reader solicited in theoretical texts? Which rhetorical and argumentative strategies does theory pursue and which types of texts are deployed in order to influence and guide the addressee? Does theory, especially in the German tradition, contribute to the formation of a monumental, singular subjectivity? Or does theory aim to mobilize communication? Is theory interested in ritual or emancipatory notions? Which kinds of social models does theory see itself as aspiring toward? Is theory’s addressee conceptualized as the member of an elitist circle (itself perhaps an element of an atrophied stage in the »aesthetic state«), or rather as someone who is enabled by theory to emerge and act as a universal intellectual?
The project, which is part of the ZfL’s larger research focus on The History of Theory, assumes that the formation of theoretical discourses can be viewed from this perspective in a manner that allows discourses that are not part of certain schools or intellectual factions, to be recognized and examined in a new light. It aims to make a significant contribution in historicizing such formations of theory from an interdisciplinary point of view.

Program funding through the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) 2017–2019
Head researcher(s): Claude Haas
Associate Researcher(s): Patrick Eiden-Offe, Andrea Erwig


  • Claude Haas/ Johannes Steizinger/ Daniel Weidner (Hg.): Goethe um 1900. Berlin: Kulturverlag Kadmos 2017 (forthcoming)
  • Claude Haas: Hölderlin contra Goethe. Gemeinschaft und Geschichte in Max Kommerells "Der Dichter als Führer in der deutschen Klassik", in: Zeitschrift für Germanistik. Neue Folge XXVII (2017), H. 1,  149–162