Article Details

In: KulturPoetik 2018, Issue 1


Manfred Engel


Kontexte und Kontextrelevanzen in der Literaturwissenschaft




Although working with contexts is one of the most basic operations of literary criticism (and particularly of cultural literary studies), there is still a definite shortage of theoretical reflection on this question. My essay will first examine the traditional context model of concentric circles (1), then consider the different functions which contexts can have in (cultural) literary studies (2), and discuss how contexts can be selected and how their relevance can be evaluated (3). The last section will try to add at least some practice to these theoretical considerations by looking at two examples (by Schiller and Novalis) from the cultural and literary history of the dream (4). 
Though much of my argument will be as general as possible, my essay will also try to close a gap which I, personally, have found particularly frustrating in recent debates on the methodology of literary criticism: there is a flagrant disregard of positions which try to situate and understand texts historically within their culture and time and to avoid any form of anachronistic actualization. These positions are not discussed as arising from a distinct method in its own right, there is not even a commonly accepted term for them, they seem, rather, to be beneath contempt – yet they obviously play an important, maybe even a dominant, role in the mainstream of literary studies. If this should be due to a particular abstinence from theory on the side of historicist literary critics, it would be high time for them to end it, as historical literary studies are as worthy of theoretical reflection as they are in need of it.
»Context is king«
(unbekannter Urheber)