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Swarms of Aestheticians

In the 1804 preface to his Vorschule der Ästhetik (School for Aesthetics), Jean Paul is quite conscious of the fact that his treatise on aesthetics represents yet another critical foray in an already crowded literary marketplace: “our age swarms [wimmelt] with nothing so much as aestheticians [Ästhetikern].”[1] Moreover, as he notes, the contemporary fascination with aesthetic theories often extends across print publication and public lecturing: “Seldom will a young man actually pay his fee for [the ability to hold] aesthetic lectures without demanding from the public the same amount back after a few months for something similar he has published; indeed, many pay the debt out of the profit” (9, 22). It is comical enough that aspiring authors double-dip, as it were, asking the public to pay twice for the same critical discourse in two different media, but Jean Paul takes his joke about the literary critic’s dire finances one step further, observing that the paltry sum collected in listener fees was often not enough to cover the critic’s initial payment to rent a location for the lectures.[2] Jean Paul does not mince words when describing his own aesthetic interventions as a purchasable product, nor does he have any shame in printing parts of lectures he had previously held in Leipzig at the end of the Vorschule, what he names his “Leipzig Lectures.” Yet a text by Jean Paul wouldn’t be… well, a text by Jean Paul, without additional self-parodic twists: the end of the Vorschule narrates the scene of his own literary-critical lectures, telling of how they either trailed off after the entire audience left mid-lecture or never even really began due to a lack of listeners! It is these partially fictionalized lectures, their reflections on criticism and its mediality, and their larger role in Jean Paul’s literary aesthetics to which this article devotes its attention. As I show, Jean Paul’s lectures situate his own literary-critical discourse at the nexus of print and oral publication, frankly describing the life of the writer as a hard-fought and often ridiculous struggle to promote and project one’s voice in a crowded literary marketplace.

Jean Paul was spot on in noting the lecture’s prominence in late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century scholarly and literary life. Aspiring critics drew on the form’s historically central position in scholarly instruction while at the same time addressing mixed, lay audiences that went beyond the confines of the academic community. August Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel’s lectures on literature and drama were widely read and translated throughout nineteenth-century Europe, and figures such as Karl Philipp Moritz, Adam Müller, and Johann Gottlieb Fichte garnered significant notoriety through their popular lecture series on the arts and contemporary culture.[3] These and other scholars lectured with one eye on the lecture hall and one on the print public sphere, aggressively pursuing attention through all media at their disposal. Lecturing in Germany followed more established cultures of itinerant and popular lecturing in England and France, though later British and American lecturers such as Coleridge, Carlyle, and Emerson were clearly inspired by the systematic aspirations and self-presentation of Idealist and Romantic scholars in Germany (see Schaffer; Golinski; Klancher; Manning; and Lynn). Furthermore, the discursive situation of the lecture resonated in literary and theoretical texts alike: F. Schlegel’s Dialogue on Poetry, for example, is structured by a frame narrative in which a group of friends read extended treatises aloud to each other,[4] and one should not forget that Hegel’s aesthetic theory— the philosophy of art from this period still most widely read today– was held and printed as university lectures.[5]

The lecture’s public prominence was due in part to its increased print visibility: lectures were advertised and reviewed in journals and newspapers; excerpts were published before and after oral presentation; lecture handbooks were printed; descriptions of lectures and performances featured prominently in travelogues; lecture notes were circulated by hand and by letter. These intermedial reverberations doubtlessly led to a notion of the lecture as more than just a temporally and spatially constrained presentation to limited audiences. Indeed, occasional speeches and lecture series punctuated the cultural calendar at varying intervals, operating in tandem with (as well as in counterdistinction to) the periodicities of print. Recent scholars have noted how sites of performance and consumer items depended on readerly fantasy for their prominent place in the cultural imagination, and here the scholarly lecture was at times little different, as print periodicals reinforced the feeling that public presentations were fashionable and eventful.[6]

Following recent work by Angela Esterhammer and Tom Mole,[7] this article suggests that the Romantic lecture exhibits essential features of what media theorists Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin define as remediation, namely as a “borrowing in which one medium is incorporated or represented in another medium” (Remediation 45). Drawing on Marshall McLuhan’s claim that every medium reworks other media into itself,[8] Bolter and Grusin offer a conceptual framework for describing how media reflect on and assimilate certain features of other media.[9] Previous media historians such as Walter Ong and others have frequently focused on the transition from oral to literate cultures, describing how writing and print remediate preexisting oral forms of communication; less attention has been given, however, to how orality itself reworks other media, one my main concerns in this article. Seen as a site for remediating handwritten manuscripts and printed texts, the lecture has historically served as a central site for exhibiting medial competency: in the traditional university, the lecture transmitted canonical textual authorities of the past through commentary, elaboration, and at times simple dictation. Handbooks on rhetorical speech or collections of exemplary orational modes likewise remediated oral communication when depicting imitable models of scholarly eloquence and comportment. It is here where I want to stress that print and oral media can thus be understood as capable of “remediating” each other, a feature of literary and scholarly cultures often neglected by narratives of older media being supplanted by more technologically advanced ones.

Subsequent Romantic scholarly cultures display an additional central feature of remediation. Identifying what they call remediation’s “dual logic,” Bolter and Grusin describe how media users tend to be highly attentive to the material, mediating features of specific media (what they call a sense of “hypermediacy”), even while simultaneously aiming to simulate directness and immediacy through these very medial operations (Bolter and Grusin 21). With the shift away from the canonical texts of the rhetorical tradition to models of new, original authorship, Romantic authors increasingly privileged the oral lecture as a site of spontaneous, direct communication. At the same time, however, the same writers were keenly aware of the interplay of print and orality at work in the cultures of lecturing: not only did literary-critical lecturers constantly refer to printed texts (offering guidance to audiences in selecting and appreciating literary works, for example), but they also advertised, promoted, and published their lectures in print (indeed, many of the most famous Romantic lectures had remarkably long shelf lives as printed texts). Far from solely viewing the lecture as a site of immediate communication, Romantic authors often used the form to reflect on and represent print circulation and the imagined publics that it was to set in motion. In contrast to traditional forms of scholarly lecturing, however (whose primary objects of remediation were often Latin and Greek texts accessible only to a small group of university-trained readers), Romantic writers increasingly used the lecture to represent the literary public sphere, of which their lecturing across print and orality was an increasingly important part.

This article proposes that Jean Paul’s aesthetic lectures exemplify certain literary manifestations of hypermediacy particular to the Romantic age. Though Jean Paul did have a strong sentimentalist streak (with concomitant yearnings for unmediated communion with the love object, friend, or even with characters from his novels[10]), his writings ceaselessly thematize the material processes of literature. Whether in his elaborate satires of scholarly life, in the self-consciously convoluted material organization of his works, which abound with “postponed prefaces, multiple appendices, repeated interruptions … satirical ‘extra-pages,’ fields of metaphors, and mounds of footnotes” (Fleming 17), or in his lifelong practice of collecting excerpts from other books as a kind of conceptual and rhetorical toolbox (see Müller), Jean Paul exemplifies a life lived in, with, and through literary objects.[11] In what follows then, I take a closer look at how Jean Paul filters his literary aesthetics through reflections on print and orality. Of particular interest is his account of the periodicities of literary-critical production and the narrative framing that introduce the quasi-fictional, so-called “Leipzig Lectures” at the end of the Vorschule. I suggest that we view this extended narrative framing as a remediational operation that is hyperaware of literary language’s essential materiality and mediality.

The Project of the Vorschule and the “Leipzig Lectures”

Jean Paul’s Vorschule is an important, though often understudied document of the Romantic era, “an expansive, eclectic exemplar of the intellectual diversity of its age” (Hale xlvi). Adopting a middle ground between the Jena Romantics’ ironic reflexivity and the measured neo-classicism commonly associated with Goethe and Schiller, Jean Paul foregrounds the concept of humor over that of irony or balanced cultural form. The aesthetic principle of humor emerges from the failed attempt to rise above the trivial ordinariness of life and helps to rediscover the small, the mundane; humor is the “inverted sublime [das umgekehrte Erhabene]” (88, 125), for it attends to the often ridiculous finitude of man rather than to any supposed supersensible moral vocation.[12] Jean Paul’s aesthetic sensibility thus combines a remarkably modern attention to the realia of everyday life with an almost Baroque vision of life’s fleeting impermanence, all the while filtering everything through an unparalleled command of the German language and the myriad puns and mixed metaphors that lie dormant therein.

The Vorschule maps out the basic elements of Jean Paul’s theory of literature, moving through key concepts of artistic productivity such as fantasy, wit, and genius, distinguishing between ancient and modern modes of art, differentiating various comedic modes (the humorous, the comedic, the ridiculous, the satirical, etc), and describing the central genres that have structured literary production throughout history. In turn, the three “Leizpig Lectures on the Contemporary [Critical] Parties [über die Parteien der Zeit]” recap and situate the Vorschule in the literary-critical landscape of the day. Bearing traces of actual presentations that Jean Paul gave in Leipzig, these so-called lectures place the office of literary critic and author into an extended narrative frame that combines real historical experiences with flights of poetic fantasy. They are organized by a tripartite structure that contrasts “the old realism” of late-Enlightenment utilitarian criticism with the “new idealism” of the Romantic generation (306, 443) and concludes with a suggested synthesis of the two.

All three lectures employ what the author calls “my weak jest of a fictive academic lecturer” (305, 442), a vehicle for relentlessly poking fun at his critical opponents. Satirizing scholarly life has long been a beloved literary diversion, and was a mainstay of many of Jean Paul’s literary idols, including Sterne, Swift, Rabelais, Cervantes, and others (See Schmidt-Biggemann). Jean Paul’s parodies of the lecture aim to deflate the self-seriousness of both the moralizing older generation and the egotistical young Turks of the Romantic movement: in effect, the critical potential of humor is lost on both parties.[13] Jean Paul criticizes the self-important gestures of critics who place themselves above the quotidian literary fray—it is an intellectual and moral failing to prefer to “belong to past or future than to the present [lieber der Vor- und Nach-Zeit angehören als der Zeit]” (290, 422). In an age of nascent literary celebrity, many Romantic writers ascribed lasting permanence to their own work as a way to assert themselves in a crowded literary marketplace, in effect anticipating and pre-programming literary-historical canonization by later generations (on the logic of Romantic celebrity and canonization, see Mole, Byron’s Romantic Celebrity). Jean Paul keenly diagnoses this tendency to bestow literary greatness on a select few as a vain, misguided form of self-assertion, noting dismissively that the Romantic critic Adam Müller typifies this tendency, “hardly extend[ing] his admiration of great poets […] to any but a select band of four modern evangelists- including, I assume, himself.”[14] In contrast, Jean Paul advocates a modest and generous contemporary-mindedness and eschews momumentalizing literary achievements. Indeed, the aesthetic principle of humor is inherently de-monumentalizing: in inverting the sublime, humor always relativizes the great (see Fleming 49). In contrast to the seriousness and bombastic style of Müller’s many lectures, Jean Paul goes out of his way to situate his own presentations as modest, often rather pathetic forays into the literary-critical marketplace. As irreverent parodies, Jean Paul’s “Leipzig Lectures” contain a wealth of insight into the material conditions and conceptual presuppositions of literature and criticism in the Romantic age, reflecting on the periodicities of oral lecturing and critical journals, the financial dependencies of the critic upon the literary marketplace, the polemical tone of contemporary criticism, the composition of mixed-gender reading and listening publics, and on the scene of the lecture as a catalyst for (at times rather elaborate) flights of literary imagination.

Lecturing at the Book Fair: On the Periodicity of Criticism

Jean Paul opens the first of his three lectures by performatively juxtaposing a range of print and oral media of which he himself takes advantage. This medial comparison is structured in large part around an extended series of thoughts on print periodicity. Expanding on the idea that the oral lecture operates according to temporal frames of occurrence that can both parallel and diverge from print media, Jean Paul reflects on the weekly, monthly, and yearly intervals of lectures series, as well as on their ability, like print periodicals, to appear timely or up-to-date by discussing recent political or cultural events.[15] In thematizing the temporal unfolding of various media, Jean Paul picks up on a feature of print that later media historians would characterize as definitive, namely its distinctive periodicities (see especially Pompe 162). The eighteenth century has repeatedly been seen as a time when new, characteristically modern temporalities of medial circulation and consumption emerged as a result of a substantial boom in vernacular books and periodicals and the rise of new conceptions of readerships and publics.[16] Jean Paul’s first lecture presents his readers with a clever and nuanced tableau of the literary critic’s medial practices in an age of what Siskin and Warner call “print saturation” (19-21).

Each of the three “Leipzig Lectures” begins not with the lecturer’s transcribed first utterances but with an account of the oral presentation’s setting, what the text calls “some personal particulars [einige Personalien].” The first lecture likely corresponds most directly to presentations that Jean Paul actually advertised and held in Leipzig; its preface explains the author’s decision to lecture during the city’s yearly Easter Fair (Ostermesse)— a trade fair well known as a key gathering place of the publishing industry— and to announce his presentation ahead of time in newspapers and by invitational flyers hung up throughout the city. Book fairs concentrate medial objects in unparalleled fashion, offering fair-goers an abundance of new input from foreign sources;[17] they are perhaps the closest thing to a physical manifestation of the literary public sphere. It is thus hardly an accident that Jean Paul repeatedly takes the book fair as a point of departure for extended literary spoofs.[18] The preface introduces this first lecture in the following manner: “The yearly progression of trade fairs is as well known as that of the equinoxes” (223, 334). Recurring at predictable annual intervals, trade fairs here are brought into alignment with the natural cycles of the earth and the seasons. In turn, Jean Paul links his occasional lectures to the periodicity of the book fair and its rhythms of print publication and consumption, holding them around the “three Sundays of the three weeks of the fair” (224, 335) and anticipating the presence of out-of-town fair attendees. In typical fashion, however, Jean Paul takes his readers directly from the sublime realm of celestial equinoxes to the ridiculous, noting that he coordinated his lectures with the beginning of the fair’s so-called “cooper’s week.” Jean Paul has a keen awareness of literary interventions as products in a marketplace, public lectures being just one kind of merchandise among others, including barrels and tubs.

Jean Paul then depicts the setting of his lectures in Reichel’s Garden on the outskirts of the city, a public garden owned by a Leipzig businessman that hosted concerts, lectures, and other events. Jean Paul describes how waterways divide this Baroque park into different sections or “islands,” noting that he spoke on “Malta.” He then portrays the audience seated before him, which included “respectable wholesalers;” “lecturing schoolmasters … [and] their Leipzig publishers;” “an aesthetic and philosophical delegation” from the Neue Allgemeine Deutsche Bibliothek (New Universal German Library), a journal published by one of Jean Paul’s literary-critical opponents, Friedrich Nicolai; “[a delegation of] the local Institute of the Deaf and Dumb and corresponding members of the Leipzig German associations and historical classes;” “water superintendents, ecclesiastical comptrollers from the imperial cities,” and more (224, 335-36). Jean Paul pokes fun at this group of listeners as a mixture of scholarly pedants, business-minded philistines, and small-scale bureaucrats, social types that are the proper addressees of the ensuing lecture. There Jean Paul argues that the moralizing aesthetics of late-Enlightenment figures such as Nicolai shares an essential affinity with utilitarian, technical-bureaucratic business culture.[19]

The abundance of intermedial references at work here is complicated even further by the author’s substantial parenthetical extension of this opening frame narrative in the Vorschule’s second edition. Jean Paul introduces another layer of periodicity to the scene of the lecture when he claims to have repeated the same lectures each year after their original 1804 presentation:

Your Lecturer believes it might be of some use—to the listeners as well as to himself— if like every professor he were yearly to repeat in Leizpig the lectures which have already been printed; he has done so from year to year, for next to nothing as his lecture fee in this age of paper money [um ein halbes Nichts von Lesesold in diesem geldpapiernen Zeitalter].

224-25, 336

Joking self-deprecatingly about his own financial situation, the lack of popularity garnered by his lectures, and the laziness of academics, Jean Paul once more situates his presentations as part of a commercialized literary-critical landscape. The author’s masterful untranslatable pun on “gilded” [goldpapiern]— we live not in a gilded age, but an age of paper money [geldpapiern]— is simultaneously self-ironic, elegiac, and entirely realistic: literature really is a product to be bought and sold.

But this parody of scholarly lecturing is far from over, as Jean Paul notes the consolation of not having to prepare for these repeats: he is now able “to read the ‘Lectures’ off [ablesen] almost entirely from the edition printed by Perthes, just as the listeners in turn had the advantage of holding the same edition and following the Lecturer, as one reads along [nachlesen] in a libretto at the opera” (225). Jean Paul playfully infuses the prefixes ab, nach, and vor with connotations of the temporality particular to this hybrid scene of print publication and oral performance: nachlesen is both reading “from” (a printed version) and “after” (their initial performance); vorlesen indexes both reading “before” or “to” an audience and the “prior” scene of the first lecture; and ablesen connotes reading “off of” an extant text as well as the act of reproduction itself—a print copy in German is an Abdruck. It is hard for the reader not to get lost in this confusing layering of oral performances, print objects, and their varying temporalities, nor is it easy to suppress laughter at the thought of an audience dutifully reading Jean Paul’s lectures along with him.

Jean Paul closes this fantasia on the periodicities of scholarly lecturing with what one can only call a professor joke about professor jokes, laying claim to

the old professorial privilege of making all the same jokes again in 1813, which I had published in the first edition … Readers who are at universities know without my reminding them that every professor has his jokes which he revives annually or biannually in accordance with the mystic doctrine of the eternal recurrence of all things, and whose return can be predicted with much more certainty than that of a comet. … Such immovable feasts of wit are favorites with professors, because they find new ears for old jokes and the change of listeners substitutes for the change of jokes.

225, 336-37

Returning full circle to the predictable cycles of planetary bodies, Jean Paul once more tropes on the lecture’s periodicity. In a peculiar twist however, he invokes the yearly pedantries of the university auditorium exactly as a way to comment on turning the second edition of the Vorschule over to the commercial logic of the print public sphere. Jean Paul ingeniously combines a critique of the conceit of authors and publishers to be publishing genuinely new and original literary products with a satirical characterization of the sleepy rhythms of university life, all the while playing the periodicities of print and oral media off of each other. An authorial voice emerges, then, with a keen consciousness of the mediality of literary-critical practice. Whether in print or orality, in literary or critical discourse, Jean Paul describes Romantic authorship as engaged in a complex medial network, as he deliberately riffs on their many interdependencies and analogous structures. In this way, Jean Paul likens the lecture—as both oral and printed text— to the intervals of the yearly publishing calendar, to the sequence of printing multiple editions of a book, to the periodicity of journals that advertised his lectures, and more. Far from polemically differentiating between print and orality, Jean Paul reflects on the intertwining medial logics and practices of literary criticism in an age of print saturation.

Frame Narrative as Remediation

I now would like to turn more directly to the question of how Jean Paul represents or “remediates” print and orality via the scene of the lecture. The depiction of the scene of oral communication in printed texts is a common strategy of Romantic discourse that has repeatedly been an object of critical attention. In this context, it might have been initially surprising that Jean Paul uses the scene of oral communication to reflect so sustainedly on—indeed, to “remediate”— print. In presenting an overview of the literary criticism of his age, Jean Paul’s lectures describe the print marketplace in which he himself participates. It is worthwhile then, to explore the particular logics of remediation that Jean Paul takes up when he uses the conceit of the lecture form to stage various encounters with other critical voices. Even though the “Leipzig Lectures” increasingly fictionalize the circumstances of his public appearance, they hardly cease to be a venue for reflections on the mediality of literary criticism. The representation of intertwining logics of print and oral media continue to permeate the fictional framing of these lectures.

As we have seen, the first lecture’s castigation of an outmoded critical generation repeatedly metaphorizes the workings of the literary marketplace. In its fifth section thematizing “Reviewers and Learned Journals in General,” Jean Paul describes his combative, self-defensive stance vis-à-vis the journals: “Courage, auditorium, is the winged flame of life; your Lecturer fears no journal; bold as Carnot he speaks his opinion on every island, on every mainland and is ready for the consequences” (241, 358). Likening critical exchange to political maneuvering and even warfare—Carnot was a famous French general who opposed Napoleon’s rise to emperor— Jean Paul jokingly anticipates attacks from the journals with which he takes issue (though the threat of polemics against him from these journals was often very real [on the many pro- and anti-Romantic polemics in the era, see Schmitz]). He also tropes once more on the garden setting of his lectures, as if the garden “island” on which he spoke were one in a series of battlefields in the theater of literary-critical war. The end of this lecture returns to these figurations of oral and print media, as the lecturer relates a dream where he addresses his opponents in an imagined diatribe. Within this dream Jean Paul first engages his opponents in direct conversation; ironically, however, the immediacy of the dream’s face-to-face communication stands in direct negative correlation to the mid-lecture departure of his listening audience, which, as he narrates, have been slowly and steadily trickling away from Reichel’s Garden. This dream sequence reaches its climax when this face-to-face dialogue abruptly morphs into a Swiftian scene of ‘actual’ warfare:

I experienced exactly the laws of dream, for the heat within me was transformed into a heated crowd outside attacking me by storm. And I myself was transplanted onto the true fortress of Malta […] positioned above like a howitzer. Below me in a sea black as ink I saw everything cruising and firing to take, if possible, both me and Malta. But how dream plays, and makes use of metonymy, of causa pro effectu! For they set upon me with nothing but printers’ equipment. Several pounds of italic type and of small pica were shot out of matrices—sharpened exclamation points, long dashes, and quotation marks instead of battered lead darted by me—the fire out of the printing cases was almost frightful, and the cannon and type foundries worked incessantly.

265-66, 390

This rather silly “dream” operates according to the metonymic equation of critical exchange with war, as Jean Paul playfully depicts the print public sphere as a place where simple punctuation marks function as deadly shrapnel, critics man pieces of artillery, and literary-aesthetic positions are defended to the bitter death. Here the lecture’s remediation of print is entirely figural, operating according to the jumblingly metonymic logic of dreaming, but it is remediational nonetheless: as both oral and printed text, the lecture represents, engages with, redirects, and reorganizes print in new ways, all the while being dependent on modes and media of print circulation. At the same time as recognizing the essential mediality of criticism, however, this passage pokes fun at the self-seriousness of critics and their conceit to social and political efficacy— it is little more than an illusion that critics might change the course of history like an important battle. Waking up from this dream is perhaps another core message of Jean Paul’s parody: from an honest or realistic perspective, scholars and critics represent little more than petty print-shop employees furiously repositioning punctuation marks, all the while losing the attention of reading and listening publics (much in the way that Jean Paul himself has steadily been losing his listeners).

The second lecture takes aim at a different group of critics, no longer targeting business-minded book fair attendees (of whom, as the lecturer reports, not a single representative has returned). Inhabiting the genre of the cautionary moral lecturing to student-youths rather common at the time,[20] Jean Paul’s second lecture reviews various poetic, aesthetic, and moral abuses to be avoided in pursuing the author’s life: “enthusiasm” (Schwärmerei), excessive partisanship and ad hominem polemics, pride, crudity, misanthropy, excessive sensualism and more. The frame narrative duly describes the proper audience for this discourse: “foreign students,” “Jews, some quiet bookdealers, […] and a few aristocrats—one and all sworn enemies of the stylists” (272)—in other words, a rather accurate portrait of the milieu of the Jena and Berlin Romantics. Stylishly dressed and a tad vain, this second group evokes various aspects of Romantic sociability such as the salon, student life, and reading societies rather than staid administrative world of the absolutist state. Jean Paul’s description of their physical appearance concretizes their youthful inexperience as well as their aesthetic promise, and legitimizes the cautionary, moral-aesthetic discourse coming their way. And yet like the first lecture, this second one abruptly concludes with the entire audience departing mid-lecture, “probably from vexation” (298, 433), and with the Lecturer’s own preparations to leave, “for I surely have no need to persuade myself” (298, 433). This framing helps to map the process of fictionalization undertaken by these lectures as a whole. The critic left to himself, divorced from authentic social interaction: this is, of course, the danger as well as the virtue of the fecund Romantic imagination. Jean Paul parodies the scene of the Romantic poet becoming all and everything to himself and uses the lecture form—privileged by so many of his contemporaries as a site of unparalleled social interaction— to stage this process of isolation and individualization. As we will soon see, the final lecture continues to chart this course of fictionalization.

But before arriving at his third lecture, Jean Paul includes a “Supplementary Reading of the Lecture for this Year to the Poetesses [Diesjährige Nachlesung an die Dichtinnen]” as part of the Vorschule’s second edition. Riffing once more on his claim above that he would re-read the lectures in subsequent years even after printing them, he relates how a subsequent re-reading found “several listeners [who] had been forcibly conscripted and dragged back by their arms by certain ladies, so that they might attend a supplement to the lecture” (298). Stating that they themselves are poets, these women press Jean Paul for an application of his moral advice to female writers.[21] Indeed, they have come not after having heard him speak the year before, but in response to having read the Vorschule: they all read it “many years ago and desire no repetition of that boredom.” Once more playing with the semantics of lecturing as nach- and vorlesen, Jean Paul writes how these ladies want a “re-reading of the previous reading [eine Nachlesung der Vorlesung]” (298, emphasis in original)—that is to say both a revision and a supplement, and this is exactly what the second edition of the Vorschule presents.

In response, Jean Paul holds an improvised speech (299),[22] advising aspiring woman writers to avoid marriage above all else, in direct opposition to many contemporary writers who relegated the woman to the household role of family mother. However, the conceit to produce spontaneous, oral discourse thinly conceals the fact that this “Supplement” directly takes up his ongoing debates with leading female writers and salonnières about the role of women in contemporary society, a feature of this section of the Vorschule that Andrea Albrecht has recently analyzed in detail (“Bildung und Ehe”). As Albrecht shows, Jean Paul was in steady correspondence with Ester Gad und Rahel Levin Varnhagen, two Jewish intellectuals active in literature and the arts in Berlin at the time. All three were united in their critique of the views on marriage and the place of women articulated by writers such as J.H.G. Campe and J. G. Fichte. Among other things, the “Supplementary Reading” is a parodic reversal of Campe’s 1789 Väterlicher Rath für meine Tochter (Fatherly Advice for My Daughter), a text that Gad attacks in print, contrasting its conservative views with the more emancipatory impulses of Mary Wollstonecraft (see Gad). Like the “Supplementary Reading,” Campe’s text stages a mixed-gender scene of conversation, though unlike Campe (who portrays a dutiful daughter adopting her father’s prescripts), Jean Paul depicts a group of relatively self-confident and self-assertive women. On the one hand, this addition to the second edition remediates sites of face-to-face, sociable communication in print, evoking the intimate, salon-like atmosphere depicted in other Romantic writings such as F. Schlegel’s Dialogue on Poetry. On the other hand, however, this supplement also clearly serves to revive and extend contemporary debates in print. Jean Paul metaphorizes and fictionalizes public and private correspondences alike, using the scene of oral communication in order to continue his participation in these debates in an expressly print medium.

Romanticizing the Lecture

The third lecture increasingly leads the reader into an imaginary realm of idealized communication analogous to other contemporary texts such as Schlegel’s Dialogue on Poetry or Novalis’s The Novices at Sais; as Margaret R. Hale describes it, this text shifts “from argument to eulogy, to chains of images, to intensifying repetitions, to the logic of emotions” (li). With the eulogy, the third lecture takes another familiar rhetorical genre as its point of departure, bringing the Vorschule to a close with something of a funeral oration praising Herder, a literary and critical hero of Jean Paul’s who had died just prior to the Vorschule’s first print edition. And yet the larger frame narrative within which this speech occurs situates the eulogy as part of a larger discourse between the author and an “unknown youth.” Staging a quasi-Socratic dialogue between a mature scholar and an irreverent youth in need of convincing of Herder’s poetic greatness, this speech sustains the narrative conceit of the “Leipzig Lectures” even while moving most decidedly into a fictional realm of poetic imagination.

The lecture opens with a scenario that should be familiar by now: an empty auditorium. This changes with the arrival of a young man, who wastes little time before impudently addressing Jean Paul, one-upping the Lecturer’s critical remarks from previous lectures. This young man speaks the language of the post-Kantian Idealist youth, discoursing with surprising command about syntheses and antitheses, freedom and necessity, difference and indifference. The lecturer, having attempted to assert a position of mature, moral superiority to the Romantic/Idealist school in the previous lecture, engages distractedly and playfully with this youth, not taking him very seriously. In a curious twist, the Lecturer turns by chance to the windowsill and finds a copy of an anonymous pamphlet directed against him and Herder (305, 442), which turns out to be an actual text published in 1798 by a critic of Jean Paul’s.[23] This print document’s mysterious arrival on the scene interrupts the face-to-face communication with the youth, again infusing the scene of the lecture with fundamental intermediality. “‘Allow me to answer,’ I answered the youth, gaining time to read the page first” (305, 442). In effect, the lecturer is engaged in an intermedial splits caused by the coordinated arrival of this young man and of the print pamphlet in the lecture hall.

But face-to-face discussion soon takes the upper hand, and it becomes apparent the cautionary remarks of the second lecture did little to chasten this youth’s inexperience and vanity. This initial dialogue comes to a close after the youth finally admits to have written the pamphlet attacking Herder: “He maintained his stand, said farewell, and added only that he had written the letter attacking Herder. How repulsive he had become, even in his fair figure! During the whole lecture I had been thinking of Herder, and believed he was as well. ‘Addio Amico,’ I said, and left without a word of reply” (311, 449-450). The lecturer proceeds to narrate his elegiac evening stroll through a garden, with Herder, Nature, and poetics on his mind. As if out of nowhere, the youth appears once more—is he an apparition or a reality?— and tells Jean Paul that he is, of all people, Albano, the main character from Jean Paul’s novel Titan, and that he actually likes Herder (at least the early works, “before the earth had made his free comet into a mild moon” [312, 451])!

Now so much was changed. This somewhat proud youth had no faults except pardonable ones; I loved him so much that I wanted to speak with him about the dear dead man despite them. “Now, dear youth, graciously hear what I have to say about him. The stars come to help my words.”

312, 451

Having finally secured an attentive listening audience, Jean Paul commences his Herder eulogy, closing the Vorschule with this idealized pedagogical scene of an author addressing his favorite, eminently instructable character from one of his own novels. One might well say that Jean Paul here “romanticizes” the genre of the eulogy, situating it in a series of elaborate frames of self-reflexive irony and deliberately fantastical fictions. Needless to say, it is a stroke of Jean Paul’s genial weirdness to use the lecture form to address to one of his novel’s main characters, bringing yet another component of literary authorship to the forefront of the Vorschule’s reflections on literary mediality.

Once more parodying the scene of literary-critical communication, Jean Paul leaves the readers of the Vorschule with a final provocation: if the ideal pedagogical transmission of his “School of Aesthetics” is really only realizable in the realm of poetic fantasy, what then are the genuine public, pedagogical stakes of literary criticism? Must readers of Jean Paul aspire to communing with him in an imaginary garden idyll as if they were figures in a novel of his composition? Yet however much this final course charts a course towards some sort of pure, direct communion of souls— of author with his poetic creations— Jean Paul’s staging of oral communication likewise serves to reflect once more on the mediality of criticism. Jean Paul relativizes and ironizes the Romantic privileging of immediacy and discursive directness even while invoking it; indeed, sharing more than elegiac effusions of Herder appreciation, the author and his interlocutor are described as trading explicitly printed literary-critical documents. I thus want to argue that it would be a mistake to dismiss the frame narrative of these lectures as little more than extended ironic literary play, as trivial external trapping. Rather, these frame narratives are a light-hearted, yet theoretically substantial figuration of the essential mediality of critical practice. On the one hand, the media-theoretical conclusions that one might reach from Jean Paul’s extended riffs on scenes of reading, writing, lecturing, and printing seem rather self-evident: criticism is a commodity; writers try to profit from their works as much as they can; they furiously produce material for publication; they attack each other ceaselessly in print; they use all the media at their disposal, etc. That said, it is remarkable how Jean Paul reflects sustainedly on an era saturated with print, all the while attending to the hypermediacy of literary criticism. In an age when critics stylize themselves as monumental geniuses and configure their own discourse as original acts of unmediated acts of spontaneous creative effusion, Jean Paul’s parodies act as a welcome reminder that modern literature always already occurs in an age of paper (money).