The Retreat of Representation

The Concept of Darstellung in German Critical Discourse

By Martha B. Helfer

Subjects: Romanticism
Series: SUNY series, Intersections: Philosophy and Critical Theory
Paperback : 9780791429129, 225 pages, March 1996
Hardcover : 9780791429112, 225 pages, April 1996

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Table of contents


Introduction: Heidegger's World Picture: A Space Withdrawn from Representation

1. Kant and the Genealogy of the Romantic Notion of Darstellung

Eighteenth-Century Aesthetic Theories of Darstellung

The Role of Representation in Kant's Epistemology

The Critique of Pure Reason : The Limits of Darstellung

The Critique of Judgment : The Darstellung of Limits


2. The Idealist Response: From Reinhold to the Romantics

Reinhold's Elementary Philosophy: Recasting Kant's First Critique as a Theory of Representation

Schulze's Aenesidemus : Meta-Critical Skepticism

Fichte's Own Meditations on Elementary Philosophy and the Aenesidemus Review: Defining the Subject as Darstellung

Fichte's Practical Philosophy and Beyond: The Aesthetic Transformation

3. Novalis: The Jena Romantic Poetization of Darstellung

The Fichte-Studies : The Necessary Deception of Darstellung

Klingsohr's Tale : "Prophetic Representation"

Hymns to the Night : "Representing the Unrepresentable"

4. Kleist: Transcending the Transcendental

On the Marionette Theater . "Reflection Is Getting Darker and Weaker"

The Foundling : The "Apparent Indifference" of the Subject

The Broken Jug : "Deceived by Appearances"

Epilogue: Romanticism Represented




Examines the notion of Darstellung [representation] in the critical discourse of German Idealism and Romanticism, paying particular attention to Kant, Fichte, Novalis, and Kleist.


The Retreat of Representation is the first book-length study to examine the radical new notion of Darstellung in its own discursive context. Martha Helfer traces the term's genealogy from its inception in Kant's Critiques through Fichte's definition of the subject as Darstellung to the poetic theory and praxis of the Jena Romantics. She argues that the conceptually powerful yet tremendously problematic figure of the negative Darstellung of the Kantian sublime opens up the possibility of a poetization of the philosophical discourse of transcendental idealism, and ultimately demonstrates that Kleist's oeuvre constitutes a critique of transcendental theories of Darstellung. Helfer provides remarkably clear, concise readings of major texts of Idealism and Romanticism in light of the Darstellung problematic, advancing compelling interpretations of Novalis's Hymns to the Night as a theory of the Romantic lyric, Kleist's essay On the Marionette Theater as a redaction and revision of the Kantian sublime, The Foundling as a critique of Fichtean ego philosophy, and The Broken Jug as a prototype of Heideggerian and post-Heideggerian critiques of representation

Martha B. Helfer is Assistant Professor of German at the University of Utah.


"I highly recommend The Retreat of Representation . Helfer's pursuit of the concept of Darstellung from Kant through the German Romantics is fresh and significant. Her patient and accessible readings are compelling, and they complement one another nicely in the development of the overall argument." — Tim Walters, University of Rochester

"The topic is extremely significant and timely, central to discussions not only of German Romanticism but to the kind of critical issues arising in a Heideggerian (and post-Heideggerian) context." — Rebecca Comay, University of Toronto