The Literary Absolute

The Theory of Literature in German Romanticism

By Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Jean-Luc Nancy
Translated by Philip Barnard, and Cheryl Lester

Subjects: Romanticism
Series: SUNY series, Intersections: Philosophy and Critical Theory
Paperback : 9780887066610, 194 pages, February 1988
Hardcover : 9780887066603, 194 pages, March 1988

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Table of contents

Translators' Introduction: The Presentation of Romantic Literature

Note on the Text

Preface: The Literary Absolute


Summary of the Athenaeum

Overture: The System-Subject

1. The Fragment: The Fragmentary Exigency

2. The Idea: Religion within the Limits of Art


Appendix: Note on Heinz Widerporst's Epicurean Confession of Faith


3. The Poem: A Nameless Art

4. Criticism: The Formation of Character


Closure: Romantic Equivocity




Appendix: Topical Index to the Fragments


The first authoritative study of the emergence of the modern concept of literature in German romanticism.


The Literary Absolute is the first authoritative study of the emergence of the modern concept of literature in German romanticism. The authors trace this concept from the philosophical crisis bequeathed by Kant to his successors, to its development by the central figures of the Athenaeum group: the Schlegel brothers, Schelling, and Novalis.

This study situates the Jena romantics' "fragmentary" model of literature—a model of literature as the production of its own theory—in relation to the development of a post-Kantian conception of philosophy as the total and reflective auto-production of the thinking subject. Analyzing key texts of the period, the authors articulate the characteristics of romantic thought and at the same time show historical and systematic connections with modern literary theory. Thus, The Literary Absolute renews contemporary scholarship, showing the romantic origins of some of the leading issues in current critical theory.

Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy are philosophers who teach at the Université de Strasbourg. Cheryl Lester is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Kansas. Philip Barnard is Assistant Professor of Literature at American University.


"The authors have effectively situated romanticism within its philosophical context in a brilliant way. " — Mark C. Taylor, Williams College

"It is the most useful historical and theoretical study of its topic that has been published during the last twenty odd years. Everyone concerned with literary criticism and philosophy should have it to read more than once. " — Werner Hamacher, The Johns Hopkins University