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Exemplarity and MediocrityThe Art of the Average from Bourgeois Tragedy to Realism$
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Paul Fleming

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780804758901

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804758901.001.0001

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Introduction

Introduction

Chapter:
(p.1) Introduction
Source:
Exemplarity and Mediocrity
Publisher:
Stanford University Press
DOI:10.11126/stanford/9780804758901.003.0001

This book examines German-language literature from 1750 to 1850, focusing on the tension between exemplarity and mediocrity that was played out primarily in the world of letters. In particular, it considers the paradox of how something that by definition is “nothing out of the ordinary” can be ordinary and extraordinary at once, discussing this paradox along three interrelated aesthetic axes: the average audience, the average artist, and average life. The book offers an interpretation of the first great work of German literature, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Die Leiden des jungen Werther (1774, The Sorrows of Young Werther), which manifests one of the tensions between exemplarity and mediocrity: the unequivocal demand for artistic genius coupled with a decided affection for everyday life. It also comments on a dilemma faced by Germany: to establish itself as a literary nation of European quality at a time when success began to be measured in sales. This particular German dilemma is tackled by Goethe and Friedrich Schiller in the collection of notes and charts on dilettantism.

Keywords:   German literature, Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, mediocrity, exemplarity, average life, average audience, average artist, Germany

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