Figures of Simplicity

Sensation and Thinking in Kleist and Melville

By Birgit M. Kaiser

Subjects: Literary Theory, Philosophy, Aesthetics, Comparative Literature, Literature
Series: SUNY series, Intersections: Philosophy and Critical Theory
Paperback : 9781438432304, 171 pages, January 2012
Hardcover : 9781438432298, 171 pages, January 2011

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Table of contents


Introduction: On Subterranean Connections

1. Aesthetics: Sensation and Thinking Reconsidered

The Copernican Turn
The Folds of Small Perceptions
Sensate Thinking
Figures of Simplicity

2. Sentimentalities

Befuddling the Senses (The Betrothal in St. Domingo)
Spectacularly Simple: Well-Willingly Seeing Nothing (Benito Cereno)
Sentimentalizing Resentment

3. Affectivity

Resolute Simplicity (Billy Budd, Sailor. An inside narrative)
Calculating Mindlessness (Michael Kohlhaas)
Baroque Heroes

4. Insistence

On Passive Resistance (Bartleby, the Scrivener. A story of Wall-Street)
Figures of Simplicity
Lingering before Consciousness (Das Käthchen von Heilbronn oder Die Feuerprobe)
Supersensible Figures of the Fold

5. Conclusion


A fascinating comparison of the work of Heinrich von Kleist and Herman Melville.


Figures of Simplicity explores a unique constellation of figures from philosophy and literature—Heinrich von Kleist, Herman Melville, G. W. Leibniz, and Alexander Baumgarten—in an attempt to recover alternative conceptions of aesthetics and dimensions of thinking lost in the disciplinary narration of aesthetics after Kant. This is done primarily by tracing a variety of "simpletons" that populate the writings of Kleist and Melville. These figures are not entirely ignorant, or stupid, but simple. Their simplicity is a way of thinking; one that author Birgit Mara Kaiser here suggests is affective thinking. Kaiser avers that Kleist and Melville are experimenting in their texts with an affective mode of thinking, and thereby continue, she argues, a key line within eighteenth-century aesthetics: the relation of rationality and sensibility. Through her analyses, she offers an outline of what thinking can look like if we take affectivity into account.

Birgit Mara Kaiser is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.