Parerga and Paratexts – How Things Enter Language

Practises and Forms of Presentation in Goethe's Collections

How do things enter language? How can they be addressed, become significant, or even expressive? Within the field of cultural studies, discussions of these questions currently tend to be influenced by two dominant approaches: Either things are regarded as being fraught with meaning, i.e. as signs pertaining to an encompassing language system, or they are attributed the status of eloquent agents in their own right. The project exposes the problems inherent to both these approaches and in their stead attempts to develop a third position from Goethe's concept of “conversing with things”, availing itself of the latter's capacity to challenge the subject-object dichotomy.

Inasmuch as of Goethe's expansive collections not only the objects proper, but also their fixtures and appertaining pieces of furniture such as pedestals, showcases, cabinets, as well as original letterings and labels have survived, the project profits from a singular windfall to cultural history. So far, however, the collections' exceptional holdings of purportedly trivial parerga and paratexts have hardly ever been brought into the focus of due scholarly attention. Yet it is precisely from a synoptic perspective which aligns the objects' material and textual adjustment with the dense tradition of archival sources and autobiographic texts that specific historical collection practices are to be reconstructed. Interacting with this praxeological approach in a process of mutual illumination, an analysis of the eloquence of objects as it is reflected in Goethe's aesthetic, scientific and literary writings is brought to bear. In three case studies parergonal framings of objects, paratextual adjustments of things and examples of epistemic furniture will be examined. A fourth study will focus on Goethe's geoscientific collection and assume the function of a cross- cutting project in relation to the others mentioned above, since this particular collection's holdings have been virtually preserved in their entirety, and thus allow it to scrutinise items exemplative of the mode in which all three aspects covered by the other respective studies interrelate.

The said four case studies will be interlaced with three additional modes of procedure in order to conduce to the project's interdisciplinary approach, ensure its visibility on an international level and impart its findings to a broader audience. A regularly convening working group, comprising scholars and conservators- restorers in addition to project leaders and academic staff members will discuss interim results and extend conceptual issues, not only correlating models derived from the arts with approaches rooted in the sciences, but also synchronising theory-oriented academic reflections with ways to address issues related to a museum's specific holdings or to the particulars of actual conservation work carried out on concrete objects. Furthermore, a selection of exemplary expressive objects is to be devised that is to feature at the centre of a small-scale experimental presentation using the medium of short films in order to translate historical modes of “conversing with things” into forms compatible with the media-related possibilities characteristically afforded by current exhibition practises. Two international conferences on ‘agency’ and ‘epistemic frames of objects’, planned in cooperation with partnering institutions of knowledge research in Leiden and Lucerne, are designed to reflect the project's results from a theoretical angle.

Picture - perception - time. Reception aesthetics and its temporality

In a particular manner, pictures and images (in a broader sense) are involved in different layers of time: the represented time, the aging and deterioration of the image carrier, processes of perception as well as the memories and expectations of the viewer. Thus, the perception of pictures cannot be understood as the simultaneous view of a given visual entity, rather it takes places within the framework of its own temporality when the eye of the beholder follows predetermined traces or establishes new ways of exploring the depiction. Each act of perceiving pictures implies processes by which different elements of the given depiction are related to each other.

Receptions aesthetics (Rezeptionsästhetik) is of crucial importance in order to better understand the temporal experiences in front of pictures. By their formal and figurative qualities pictures make certain processes of perception possible or impose restrictions. However, the extent and means by which pictures influence the complex temporality of their perception are hardly investigated.

Previous attempts to describe unequivocal eye movement patterns remain highly disputed. Therefore, this project does not primarily try to reconstruct such stable patterns but analyses conflicts and contradictions within pictures and examines how these tensions provoke a temporal extension of the perception. By critically reviewing previous research on the relationship between image and time as well as empirical approaches and cognitive science, this project tries to further develop the art historical reception aesthetics and to point out its hitherto neglected temporal aspects. For this purpose, systematic and historical perspectives are to be interconnected. Two historical case studies will examine how temporal aspects of the reception aesthetics of pictures were reflected and used in 19th century paintings. The first study shall reconstruct an ideal of 'vivid' or 'living' representation whose primary interest is to invest the means of representation with vitality and mobility. At the center of this study are pictorial allegories and the integration of writing into images at the beginning of the 19th century. The second study is dedicated to the work of Adolph Menzel in which the representation of time and the temporality of representation are interrelated in a particularly striking manner. Taking recourse to the results of these historical case studies, a theoretical and methodological study will develop the conceptual and analytical framework of a new reception aesthetics of the picture which focuses on the temporality of the act of viewing. The project aims at a new answer to the question as to why the active power of pictures is not restricted to deceptive illusionism or to the rhetoric of evidence.

Project Bielefeld (Prof. Dr. Johannes Grave)

  • Der Akt des Betrachtens. Zur rezeptionsästhetischen Temporalität von Bildern (systematische Studie)
  • Lebendige Darstellung. Dynamische Konzepte bildlicher Darstellung um 1800 (historische Fallstudie)

Project Jena (Prof. Dr. Reinhard Wegner)

  • Der bewegte Blick. Dynamisierungsprozesse als Darstellungs- und Wahrnehmungsstrategien in den Werken Adolph Menzels (historische Fallstudie)

Further Information about "Ästhetische Eigenzeiten. Zeit und Darstellung in der polychronen Moderne".