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Fragment & Panorama

Subjektivierungstechniken um 1800

Laufzeit 2010-2013, gefördert von der Japan Society for the Promotion of Science


I. Romantic fragmentation as a technology of “subjectification”

Aim of the project is to problematize the fragment which has been introduced by German romanticism (F. Schlegel and Novalis) in a new way by viewing it as part of a technique of subjectivity which came into being around 1800. Until now the fragment has been studied either as a metaphor for aesthetic modernism (i.e. as an aesthetic idea, cf. Ostermann; Neumann) or as a special form of the literary absolute (cf. Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy). Other scholars (cf. Menninghaus; Hamacher) read the fragment in relation to an “infinite critique of critique” undertaking a deconstruction of traditional literary genres and of German idealism. However, these analyses remain within the scope of epistemic orders described by Foucault as the episteme of “Man”, that is, within the scope of the discursive formations, its well-known fields of knowledge (i.e. literature, aesthetics, and philosophy) and the concepts of “œuvre”, “subject”, and “critique”. Here, the subject is already a given entity, or a given concept which is hardly ever questioned as such.

The planned investigation intends to overcome this context and will ask for the conditions of the subject constitution. In particular it asks how modern subjectivity expresses itself in artefacts and especially in literary forms like the fragment at the beginning of the 19th century and which role certain aesthetical forms could play for the constitution of the modern subject. The fragment, therefore, is understood as a reflecting medium, that means, as a medium that reproduces and reflects the conditions of the subject constitution. As a key concept I will use the term “subjectification” to analyze the process of self formation in which the individual is on the one hand objectified (for example by scientific classification) and on the other hand active itself.

In my research project, I will draw on the method of discourse and power analysis developed by Michel Foucault in his Archaeology of Knowledge and in Discipline and Punish. However, the research project also refers to own researches, i.e. to my PhD thesis on Foucault’s concept of literature (published in 2003), to my research on the concept of “dispositif” (essay published in 2005) used by Foucault, Deleuze, and Agamben to describe the relation of knowledge orders and power technologies, as well as to my studies about the romantic fragment (article published in 2000). In addition to Foucault’s analysis of power relations, the research will draw on certain media theories (cf. Kittler; Stiegler).

In Discipline and Punish, Foucault while investigating the connection between disciplinary technologies (the means of correct training and the production of docile bodies) and “subjectification”, employs the architecture of the “panopticon” in order to visualize the arrangement of disciplinary power techniques as a unique relation between space, knowledge, and power. The panopticon was invented by Bentham at the end of the 18th Century. It can be found in different sectors of society, such as prison, hospital, school, military. Foucault’s study provided the impetus to look for other configurations in art and society in order to investigate the relationship between knowledge, power and subjectivity from a different angle. But whereas Foucault focuses on the ways of disciplining and managing bodies by surveillance, the planned research project will turn to the realm of aesthetics and insists that there is a connection between aesthetics and subjectivity (or subjecitification).

Since of particular interest is the period around 1800, it is of great interest to observe that nearly at the same time, around 1795, in the fields of arts two in some way completely different phenomena appear, on the one hand, the fragment, on the other the panorama. The term “panorama” was first used in the patent of its inventor Robert Barker in 1792. In 1794, Barker created the first complete panorama in London, whereas the first collection of fragments titled “Blütenstaub” was published by Novalis in the journal “Athenaeum” in 1798 (while some preliminary work on the fragment go back to the year 1794; cf. F. Schlegel’s “Philosophical sketches”). Important for the proposed study is that both, panorama and fragment, indicate in a distinctive way a historical transition, not only with regard to the history of literature and arts, but above all with regard to the manner how the individuals constitute themselves as subjects implying the gaze, the differentiation of space, and the formation of knowledge.

The project is planned for the duration of 3 years and includes a contrasting comparison of two fundamentally different, but at the same time complementary techniques of “subjectification” as they appeared around 1800 on the threshold of early modernism, which will be related to the panorama and to the fragment, or to the process fragmentation. The panorama is an illusory figure or a narrative scene painted on a cyclorama, a curved or flat background, which surrounds or is unrolled before the viewer so that it takes the form of a plastic-looking-in perspective roundel. While the panorama is exhibited on the walls of a large cylinder, the viewer stands on a platform in the cylinder’s centre and turns around to see all points of the horizon. The first panorama, a view of Edinburgh, was installed in 1788 by Robert Barker. Characteristic of the panorama is the view from an elevated point and the possibility of unlimited visibility. Thus, the panorama implies the ubiquity of the gaze and is linked, in a certain sense, to the panopticon. Under these circumstances, the individual constitutes itself as an absolute seeing subject, pervading everything with his eyes, and at the same time it submits itself to total exposure when it is seen by others (or by itself; cf. the confessions of Rousseau). It is equipped with the ability to slide the eye across the surface of things and take everything in his sight. This capacity gives the subject of a sovereignty that was previously only granted to the divine authority. The panoramic subject is therefore linked to omniscient narrator as to be found in the literature of realism (Flaubert, Keller, Fontane) and in detective or crime stories as by Poe and Conan Doyle.

In contrast to the panorama, I want to study fragmentation as a technique of subjectification, which does not imply the absolute view, but its restriction or suspension while producing a new figuration of language and a new mode of artwork which implies wit, flash of inspiration, “thoughts splitter”, and sliding paradoxes. Characteristic of the fragmentation is the voluntary limitation, the suspension (the disruption or deprivation) of meaning (cf. F. Schlegel’s notion of incomprehensibility) and the allusion to the invisible (and in some way negative) absolute, since it implies a negative presentation, as Kant described the sublime.

The proposed research focuses on the configuration panorama/fragment as a two-folded manifestation of early modern subjectification. The first one privileges the gaze giving attention to the spatial arrangement that allows an overall view, and, as a reversed form, the turned-inward gaze as a vehicle of the hermeneutics of desire; the other involves the withdrawal of the gaze and privileges the self-reflexive and self-consuming work of language over the visible, incompletion over totality. The first is bound to the principle of representation, whereas the second, according to Schlegel and Novalis, implies a fundamental critique of representation and the alternative model of “oscillating representation” (“Wechselrepräsentation”). That is to say, as against the panoptic modality of power producing normalizing subjects, as described by Foucault and to be found also in the aesthetical dispositive of the panorama, I intend to study fragmentation as a somehow alternative technology of “subjectification”, which avoids the ubiquity of gaze and instead alludes to an absolute by suspending its representation. Thus, it challenges the established epistemic coherence and demands other strategies of knowledge formation and of subjectification.

From the perspective of this double configuration, a series of new issues will be addressed which do no longer only imply the fragment as a literary form. Since the transformation of one’s self seems to be close to the aesthetic experience, it can be regarded in terms of self-reflexivity or even “counter-transference” (originally a term used by Freud), that is to say, as if the painter or writer works while he is transformed by his own artwork. Now, the main question is, in what sense the fragment transforms the writer? To what extent this fragmentary transformation differs from the panoramic or panoptic modality?

In a close reading of texts by early German romanticism including additional material such as notebooks and sketches (by Schlegel and Novalis) I intend to reconstruct the system of “fragmentary transformation”, that is, the processes of subjectification induced by the fragment. Further questions concern the self-reflection of the writing subject using the fragment and submitting itself to incompletion. Which concepts and metaphors have been used, and which rhetoric and discursive strategies? What can these metaphors tell us about the formation of the self? The research will also focus on the question to what extent the fragment could be seen as an attempt to break away from the concept of static being (as implied in the panorama when the eye glides over things and measures their arrangement) in order to develop a concept of becoming which in principle will never be completed. The proclaimed aim of the fragment is to transform the subject in the process of thinking (and writing). The fragments will thereby act as stimuli. How can we verify this assumption while looking at specific forms of autobiographical writings such as letters, fragmentary diaries and so on, which instead of following the principle of “intrinsic panoramas” develop an “alternative” way of subjectification. Analyzing the spatial and temporal structures of these works, the study will focus on the specific narrative forms arising from the incompleteness of the fragment. How do the subject formations work when they do not tell a life story? How to imagine a narration without end and without purpose, in other words, how to imagine a life story without telling a life story? Is it possible to suppose a “repression of the story”; does it imply a kind of inertia (desœuvrement as Blanchot says)? And what are the effects of this inertia on the process of self formation? Thus the fragment is eventually not merely connected with the line of well-known philosophical key terms (the event, becoming, effect), which differs from the line linked to the panorama and panopticism (the ubiquitous gaze and its classification, static being); it also implies a special mode of existence and the subjectivity, which can be conceived in terms of transformation rather than of optimization and normalization.


II. Das Panorama in der Literatur des 19. Jahrhunderts

Zwischen Verwunderung und Vergnügen.
Das Panorama bei Goethe und den Romantikern


Am 19. Juni 1787 erhielt der gebürtige Ire Robert Barker in Edinburgh ein Patent auf seine Maltechnik »nature at a glance« bzw. »la nature à coup d’œil«, das ihn in den darauffolgenden Jahren weltberühmt machen sollte. Sein erstes Rundbild, das diesem Konzept entsprechend fertig gestellt worden war, präsentierte er am 31. Januar 1788 in Edinburgh. Damals kannte noch niemand das Wort »Panorama«, und kaum jemand ahnte wohl, dass diese Erfindung die Art und Weise der Wahrnehmung im ausgehenden 18. Jahrhundert grundlegend verändern sollte.


Abb 1 Schnitt durch ein Panorama        Abb 3 Otto Lueger Lexikon der gesamten Technik S 797

Abb. 1: Schnitt durch ein Panorama
Abb. 2: Otto Lueger, Lexikon der gesamten Technik, S. 797


Zwar war Robert Barker der Schöpfer des Malkonzepts, doch fehlte ihm noch der passende Name für seine Erfindung. Der Begriff »Panorama« tauchte dann zum ersten Mal in einer Werbeanzeige der Times vom 10. Januar 1791 aus Anlass von Barkers zweitem Rundbild auf, welches er gemeinsam mit seinem Sohn vollendet hatte. In einer Zeit technischer Neuschöpfungen war dieser Begriff nicht der einzige, der dem Griechischen entlehnt wurde, obwohl das Bezeichnete völlig neuartig war – andere Beispiele sind »Diorama« und »Pleorama«, wie später dann »Telephon« und »Telegramm«.

Nachdem 1799 die erste Rotunde in Paris aufgestellt und dem Publikum zugänglich gemacht worden war, trat das Panorama auch in Deutschland seinen Siegeszug an, so im Jahre 1800 auf dem Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin und dann 1803 auf dem Hamburger Zeughausmarkt. Schon vorher war in Hamburg eines der Panoramen Barkers in einer eher behelfsmäßig errichteten Bretterbude gezeigt worden, und der Erfolg dieser Ausstellung sicherte der Stadt dann den Bau einer festen Rotunde. In verstärktem Maße berichteten nun auch die Zeitschriften und Journale über diese neue Attraktion. Aber auch die kritischen Töne nehmen zu. So schreibt z.B. Johann August Eberhard in seinem Handbuch der Aesthetik für gebildete Leser aus allen Ständen: »Der Zweck dieser neuen Art von Mahlerey soll seyn, zu zeigen, wie weit die Kunst die Blendwerke der Täuschung treiben kann. Und in der That versichern Alle, die es gesehen haben, daß die Aehnlichkeit einer Nachbildung mit der Naturwahrheit nicht weiter gehen könne.« (Johann August Eberhard, Handbuch der Aesthetik für gebildete Leser aus allen Ständen, 4 Bde., Halle 1803–1805, Bd. 1, 164.)


Der Aufsatz beschäftigt sich mit dem Panorama im Werk von Goethe, Eichendorff, Arnim und Poe.


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