Exploration of the Carlo Barck Archive. Extra-European Relations in the Conception of the “Basic Concepts of Aesthetics”

Alongside Reinhart Koselleck’s Basic Concepts in History and Joachim Ritter’s Historical Dictionary of Philosophy, the historical dictionary Basic Concepts of Aesthetics (Ästhetische Grundbegriffe) that was developed at the ZfL between 2000 and 2005 and published in seven volumes is regarded as one of the most important 20th century dictionaries of its kind . Starting in the 1980s, the Basic Concepts of Aesthetics became one of the few scientific projects that were conceived in the context of the GDR and continued after 1989. It is thus a significant testimony to the history of science between East and West Germany, and its managing editor Karlheinz “Carlo” Barck (1934–2012) was the project’s central figure from the very beginning.

In contrast to the other two dictionary projects, the Basic Concepts of Aesthetics seek a reconstitution of the order of knowledge. The focus is not on the historical explanation of concepts, but instead on examining current conflicts through the identification of ‘basic concepts.’ In the introduction, these are understood as “semantic sites of the formation of social values” and “evidence of social contexts,” and they are described with regards to their “interdisciplinary and European perspective.” Contrary to this explicit European frame of reference, however, it is surprising how many references to extra-European concepts and authors are featured not only in the printed work, but also within the archive materials. A first sample has yielded numerous references and contacts to many South and Central American authors.

What role did these authors and concepts play in the making of the dictionary project? To answer this question, this project analyzes materials on the conception and the editing process of the Basic Concepts of Aesthetics that are currently held at the ZfL but have so far remained unexplored. This includes correspondences between the editors (Martin Fontius, Dieter Schlenstedt, Burkhart Steinwachs, and Friedrich Wolfzettel), correspondences with authors, and draft papers. By exploring the potential of these archive materials, this project seeks to initiate a larger research project.

Head researcher(s): Lydia Schmuck