Fragment (literature)

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A literary fragment is either an incomplete text that has survived, an unfinished work, or a literary genre deliberately chosen by the author .

Word and conceptual history

Ancient Latin only knows fragmentum (substantiated participle II from Latin frangere '[to] break') in a physical sense: for example as fragmentum lapidis 'fragment of a stone'. Only since the Renaissance has the word been used by philologists to mean “literary fragments”. Luther's translation of the Bible has become influential for the history of words and concepts in German : “ colligite fragmenta, ne pereant: 'Collect the fragments that remain so that nothing perishes' (Joh. 6,12); and […]: ex parte enim cognoscimus: 'Because our knowledge is piecemeal!' (1 Cor. 13,9). ” Hamann followed this up in the 18th century when, on the one hand, he opposed all“ dogmatists ”with his“ Our knowledge is piecemeal ”and, on the other hand, understood and designed his texts in this sense as chunks (1758). Mediated through Herder , this “fragmentarism” ( Behler ) had a stimulating effect on the romantic conception of fragments.

Fragmentary tradition

In particular, literary works from antiquity and the Middle Ages have often only survived in fragments. In many cases, this can be traced back to external influences (water damage, mold, worm damage, fire, etc.), but in some cases also has to do with the circumstances of the time (political situation, cultural upheavals, migration, war, etc.).

Today's readers often only encounter works of ancient literature in the form of quotations or summaries from later, better-preserved authors; often only the titles or topics of texts that are lost today are known. The works of the Greek poet Archilochus , for example, have only survived in small fragments, and we know many statements by older philosophers only because the late ancient Neo-Platonist Simplikios quoted them in detail in his work. Reasons for such a fragmentary tradition can be the active destruction or (more often) the failure to copy manuscripts - which were underestimated in certain epochs .

Ancient authors only exceptionally indicated where they got their information from. Since one can therefore often only assume with greater or greater probability that certain passages in surviving works are literal or indirect quotations from texts that are now lost, the assignment of fragments is often not without controversy. We know, for example, that authors like Diodor and Plutarch have made massive use of older sources, but it is not always clear which one is actually involved, and it can always be ruled out with certainty that statements from different sources by later authors are mixed up and / or have been modified by own ingredients. Misunderstandings are also to be expected. An important working tool for ancient historians are The Fragments of the Greek Historians (FGrHist), a joint project that goes back to Felix Jacoby and which began in 1923 and has not yet been completed. See also The Fragments of the Roman Historians and Small and Fragmentary Historians of Late Antiquity .

Unfinished work

Texts can be incomplete from the start for various reasons and in different ways; such as For example, the historical work of Thucydides , which breaks off in the middle of the sentence and partly obviously represents a rough version, Gottfried von Strasbourg's verse novel Tristan or - if one can interpret the lack of an expected prologue in this way - the Eneasroman by Heinrich von Veldeke .

In the early modern period , the systematic apology of the Christian religion planned by Blaise Pascal did not go beyond preliminary work - handed down as a loose-leaf collection . These postponed notes were published in book form by friends as “ Pensées ” (1670; “Thoughts”) a few years after Pascal's death . Since then, generations of philologists have tried to plausibly arrange these fragments and to deduce the conception intended by the author from them - and the pensées have found their way into the canon of the literary genre 'fragment' (see below) as well as that of world literature .

Literary fragments - 'unfinished works' - of modernism are e.g. B. Georg Büchner's play Woyzeck , Robert Musil's novel The Man without Qualities or Bertolt Brecht's fragment of the novel The Business of Mr. Julius Caesar . There are three unfinished novels by Franz Kafka .

Fragment as a literary genre

In the cultural epoch of early romanticism , the fragment was developed into a literary genre. This mainly happened in the magazine Athenäum founded by the brothers August Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel . For the early Romantics, it was “essential not to confuse the fragment with an aphorism . Aphorisms are self-sufficient, self-contained forms of communication. Fragments, on the other hand, are not self-sufficient. ”Rather, they stimulate further literary or intellectual production that early Romanticism understood programmatically as social and communal, namely as“ symphilosophy ”. The most famous of these fragments is the AF (Athenaeum fragment ) 116 on romantic universal poetry . The theory goes right into the romance theory . According to Friedrich Schlegel, a good novel must remain a fragment. Examples of this are the romantic novels Heinrich von Ofterdingen by Novalis and Ludwig Tieck's Franz Sternbalds Wanderings . The romantic novel Lucinde by F. Schlegel itself is also considered by some interpreters to be incomplete.

As an aesthetically valued - and in this sense 'strived for' 'form, the fragment is a typically modern phenomenon. "The fragment seems to be the appropriate art form of our time," suggested Susan Sontag ; and Theodor W. Adorno also stated: “Art of the highest demands pushes beyond form as totality , into the fragmentary.” In the narrower sense, one asks about the genre history of the literary fragment - usually published in collections of fragments - following Romanticism 19. – 21. Century, its affinity and partly also congruence with the literary hybrid genre " records " can be stated. As collections of notes and sketches, such recordings are ideal for recording fragmentary forms. A corresponding line of tradition ranges from Georg Christoph Lichtenberg's Sudelbücher , Friedrich Hebbel and Franz Kafka's diaries to Walter Benjamin's One-Way Street (1928) and Theodor W. Adorno's Minima Moralia (1951), the notes of Elias Canetti and Marie Luise Kaschnitz to Botho Strauss ' Couples, Passers-by (1981), Friederike Mayröckers Lection (1994), Rainald Goetz ' Abfall für Alle (1999) and Wolfgang Herrndorf's Work and Structure (2013). For the French literary history of the 20th century, only Paul Valérys Rhumbs (1941–43; German translation: "Windstriche. Aufzüge und Aphorismen"), Roland Barthes ' Fragments d'un discours amoureux (1977; German translation: "Fragmente einer Sprach of love ”) and Jacques Derridas Biodegradables. Seven Diary Fragments (1989).

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: Fragment  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. Ernst Behler: The fragment. In: prose art without narration. The genres of non-fictional short prose. Edited by Klaus Weissenberger. Niemeyer, Tübingen 1985, pp. 125-143, here p. 126 f. (Italics in the original).
  2. Hamann to Herder, May 8, 1785. In: Johann Georg Hamann: Briefwechsel. Edited by Arthur Henkel . Volume 5: 1783-1785. Insel, Frankfurt am Main 1965, p. 432 (italics in the original).
  3. See Johann Gottfried Herder: About the newer German literature. Fragments. First collection. Second completely redesigned edition. Hartknoch, Riga 1768, preface, unpaginated: "Brocken", "Frage", "Pieces of observations" ( digitized version of the BSB ).
  4. Peter Strohschneider : Fragment 2 . In: Reallexikon der Deutschen Literaturwissenschaft . Revision of the real dictionary of German literary history. Edited by Klaus Weimar a . a. Volume 1. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1997, pp. 624-625.
  5. ^ Peter Brunt: On Historical Fragments and Epitomes. In: Classical Quarterly 30 (1980), pp. 477-494.
  6. Karlheinz Stierle : Pascal's reflections on the 'ordre' of the 'Pensées'. In: Poetica 4 (1971), pp. 167-196; Louis Marin : The Fragments of Pascal. Translated by Edmund Jacoby . In: Fragment and Totality. Edited by Lucien Dällenbach, Christiaan L. Hart Nibbrig. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1984, pp. 160-181.
  7. Manfred Frank : About style and meaning. Wittgenstein and Early Romanticism. In: Manfred Frank: Style in Philosophy. Reclam, Stuttgart 1992, pp. 86-115, citation p. 101; see also Eberhard Ostermann: Fragment / Aphorism. In: Helmut Schanze (Ed.): Romantik-Handbuch (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 363). 2nd, revised and updated edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2003, ISBN 3-520-36302-X , pp. 277-289.
  8. ^ Kurt Röttgers : Symphilosophieren. In: Philosophisches Jahrbuch der Görres-Gesellschaft 88 (1981), pp. 90–119.
  9. Cf. André Malraux : The imaginary museum (1953–55). Translated by Jan Lauts. With an afterword by Ernesto Grassi. Campus, Frankfurt am Main / New York 1987, p. 21; Jean-François Lyotard : Réponse à la question: Qu'est-ce que le postmoderne? In: Critique 38 (April 1982), pp. 357-367, here p. 367; also Dietmar Dath : Pro prose. About overview and clarification in brief. In: Texts on Art, Vol. 12, Issue 48 (December 2002), pp. 53–54, albeit decidedly critical: “Fetzchendenken” (p. 54).
  10. ^ Susan Sontag: The Doors and Dostojewski. The 'Rolling Stone' interview (by Jonathan Cott, translated by Georg Deggerich). 2nd Edition. Dtb, Munich 2016, p. 73.
  11. ^ Theodor W. Adorno: Aesthetic Theory . Edited by Gretel Adorno , Rolf Tiedemann . 4th edition. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1984 (=  Collected Writings. Volume 7), p. 221.
  12. See Thomas Lappe: The recording. Typology of a literary short form. Alano, Rader Publications, Aachen 1991; Hugo Dittberner : What I could say. About records. Franz Steiner, Stuttgart 1996 (=  Academy of Sciences and Literature • Mainz. Treatises of the Class of Literature. Year 1996, No. 1); Susanne Niemuth-Engelmann: Everyday life and recording. Investigations on Canetti, Bender, Handke and Schnurre. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 1998; Hargen Thomsen: Friedrich Hebbel's diaries. Paradoxes of a non-literary literature. In: Hebbel-Jahrbuch 68 (2013), pp. 32–65.
  13. This author later titled one of his recording volumes with “Fragments”: Botho Strauss: Fragments of Indistinctness. Hanser, Munich / Vienna 1989.
  14. ^ Original publication in English: Jacques Derrida: Biodegradables. Seven Diary Fragments. Translated by Peggy Kamuf. In: Critical Inquiry 15 (Summer 1989), pp. 812–873 - as PDF (7.4 MB) .