In: KulturPoetik 2013, Heft 1


Katja Mellmann


Was man wissen kann. Oder: Gedanken zur Erkenntnisfähigkeit der Literaturwissenschaft am Beispiel der Rede von den Werther-Selbstmorden




In recent introductions to German literary studies one reads that the publication of Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther was followed by a veritable wave of suicides among its readers. However, according to two studies that have collected and reexamined the few hints we have about such alleged cases the story of the suicide wave seems to be a myth rather than an accurate historical account. Why, then, do we still spread this myth? First, I outline a number of cognitive predispositions that might be responsible for the intuitive plausibility of the suicide story. Second, I try to explain why even in academic writing we often succumb to these cognitive tendencies. I propose that our discipline suffers by generally undervaluing empiricism and that this calls for revision.