Friday, September 18, 2015

The internationalization of literature

Dieter Lamping's book on Goethe and world literature, although small (138 pp. plus bibliography), is a very good survey of the "career" of the concept. Nevertheless, there are a couple places where I find some conceptual confusion on Lamping's part. That was especially the case in the fifth chapter, "Deutsche Literature um 1800," which begins with a discussion of the "internationality" of German literature at that point.

But what exactly is "internationality"?

Among other things he mentions the growing interest of German writers in non-German literary products, beginning, e.g., with Lessing or Wieland. Lamping contrasts the interest of Goethe in contemporary foreign writers with the more historical appropriation by the Romantic writers. The increase in translations, or "Verdeutschung," of foreign works is part of internationality, as is a rise in theorizing the practice of translation. Friedrich Schleiermacher, in a lecture in 1813 already at the Berlin Academy of Sciences, emphasized the importance of translation for German literature and sounded very much like Goethe speaking about world literature a decade or so later.:

Eine innere Nothwendigkeit, in der sich ein eigenthümlicher Beruf unseres Volkes deutlich genug ausspricht, hat uns auf das Uebersezen in Masse getrieben; wir können nicht zurükk und müssen durch.

German writers had of course been absorbing foreign influences for centuries, as Fritz Strich pointed out in his many articles and his book on Goethe and world literature. Clearly late eighteenth-century translations of classical and foreign works also enriched the capacities of the German language.  German writers were encouraged to undertake their own versions of ancient genres. Goethe's Hermann und Dorothea would be an example. Writers also accumulated a store of new motifs and themes.

But what is "international" about such literary commerce? When we use the word international in connection with literature, is there an analogy with its use in other contexts, e.g., as in "International Court of Justice" or "International Space Station," even international driver's license? More to come on this subject, as I have just turned to another small volume by Lamping: Internationale Literature.

Picture credit: Adobe Blog; Texas A&M International University

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