So "progessive Universalpoesie," although not in the sense in which Friedrich Schlegel meant. World literature was the inspiration for reformers, not only of their own society, but also of the world. The project was utopian: formal analysis was set aside, and aesthetics was subsumed into ethics. It was this utopian vision that drew Marx’s ironic response to world literature in The Communist Manifesto and to the more scathing ridicule in Engels’ Anti-Dühring.
Goethe himself had of course asserted that literary exchange among the European nations would erode the prejudices that existed among them and, in the future, extend beyond Europe to encompass the world. Echoing Goethe, if not in his own words, the German-American comparatist Louis-Paul Betz (for Betz, see my earlier post) wrote the following in 1903:
"Comparative literature not only creates new and more liberal insights into both national literature and foreign literature, it not only reveals errors and corrects traditions, but it also achieves useful, ideal, and ethical purposes: world peace, mediation between peoples, a humanity that, regardless of the inner life of a nation, also has heart and feeling for that which takes place on the other side of the boundary post. … it leads to the recognition that the concord of peoples and progressive national development are based on an continuously growing consciousness of the richness of all peoples and of their universal unity and on the principle of being forever true to oneself and of joining with the Other."
|French soldier and Indian bride return from Paris, 1720|
Picture credit: Anglais pour le Bac