Symbolism (literature)

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The symbolism is created in the late 19th century in France literary direction as opposed to realism and naturalism by idealistic marked traits against the positivism oriented and seeks new opportunities for development.

Historical background

The literary epoch of symbolism began around 1890. Its roots can be found in the social upheavals and historical events of the 19th century, e. B. industrialization , technical and scientific progress and the emergence of materialism and philosophical positivism . Over time, the renunciation of abstract values ​​and idealistic-aesthetic sensations also became noticeable in literature, mainly in realism and naturalism . But the newly emerged rationalist worldview was not a uniform one and was enhanced by numerous discoveries in the fields of mathematics and physics , e.g. B. X-rays , radioactivity and a little later the theory of relativity , are repeatedly called into question. This crisis of the positivist worldview and of conventional religion and morals as well as the conception of the world as something inadequately understood, together with the optimistic mood of the fin-de-siècle culture, led to the search for new opportunities for development.

Stylistic devices and characteristics

For the French symbolists, only the symbol turned out to be a whole, as a stylistic-technical element, which enables the wholeness of the artistic representation of the world according to the aesthetic ideals. Therefore, the symbol, although it appears as a subjective impression, is to be regarded as a uniformly significant stylistic device . The symbolist poet creates symbols from fragments of the real world which, when reassembled, are supposed to result in a world of beauty or ideal, aesthetic and often spiritual perfection.

It is important that aesthetic truths are not described directly, but are to be evoked through indirect stylistic devices. The symbolist does not combine the elements of his work in the conventional way by creating connections between the words only with the help of metaphors , comparisons and other stylistic devices, but by exploring a kind of affinity or deeper relationship between things and words and thereby his own Can ideally approximate.

For this purpose, however, stylistic devices such as synesthesia and onomatopoeia are used, with the help of which all connections between smell, sound, color and the meaning of a word and its more detailed meaning are worked out. The increased musicality of the poem often plays a major role in symbolist poetry, striving for an experimental, i.e. experience-based, unity that cannot be rationalized .

The horizon of meaning of the thing is always important, which includes many other things and is intended to indicate a law in the world as a whole, the ever-present essence of the thing, the valid, timeless, exquisite. A symbolist poem, for example, does not describe the thing or the higher meaning directly, but rather describes it again and again from all sides until the center or the higher meaning is unmistakably there. The aim is to unite the inner and outer world. In this metaphysical sense of the symbol there is also a connection between the idealistic philosophy of Immanuel Kant , whose distinction between phenomenon and noumenon has a clear impact on symbolism.

Symbolism does not want social reality such as B. Realism, still represent personal feelings or subjective reactions to external events, as did Romanticism and Impressionism . He creates an aesthetic or mystical art world that for him also corresponds to "reality"; symbolist poetry depicts to the same extent as it wants to form and contribute to the creation of a new philosophy of life.

In part, the symbolists hope for social and cultural changes, especially during the later, less decadent phase of the current, for example in Russia . Some poets expected a new person (see Nietzsche'sÜbermensch ”) for their poems. Sometimes there is also a critical distance from everyday life and self-satisfied citizens.

Symbolism as a countercurrent

Too much everyday things like in naturalism displeased some poets, which is why there was a counter-movement. These poets only wanted to be poets, not world changers. They tried to find the beautiful again through language. In addition, literature should not imitate nature, as was the case in naturalism, nor should it be just subjective perception as in impressionism, but pure word art. Art was seen as an autonomous world with its own laws. A famous quote that underlines this attitude is “ L'art pour l'art ” (“The art for art”, “The art for art's sake”, or “Art only because of art”).

Symbolism on an international level

In addition to French symbolism, Russian and German symbolism also play a greater role in the history of literature.

French symbolism

Paul Verlaine's advice to "unite the unclear with the clear" in his poem Art poétique was obediently followed by the 'decadents'. In this poem from the collection of poems Jadis et naguère (1884) it says at the point mentioned:

Rien de plus cher que la chanson grise
Où l'Indécis au Précis se joint. -
( Nothing more expensive than the gray song
Where indecision joins the precise. )

Those who did this best called themselves symbolists.

On September 18, 1886, Jean Moréas published the manifesto Le symbolisme , in which he expressed the aversion of the Symbolists to a “clear sense, declamations, false sentimentality, and factual description” and stated that their aim was “to dress the ideal in a recognizable form "Whose" goal is not in itself, but in expressing the ideal. "

In France, the emergence of symbolism was linked to the trend of decadence and the culture of the fin de siècle . But it should not be identified solely with it.

After Charles Baudelaire , Stéphane Mallarmé , Paul Verlaine , Albert Samain , Arthur Rimbaud , Maurice Maeterlinck and Jean Lorrain were important representatives of French symbolism.

Spanish and Latin American symbolism

The Spanish simbolismo , whose most important representatives include Federico García Lorca and Juan Ramon Jiménez , winner of the 1956 Nobel Prize for Literature , was influenced by French symbolism . In Latin America it developed from 1880 - also under the influence of the French Parnassians - to modernismo , whose founder Rubén Darío from Nicaragua is considered to be.

Russian symbolism

In Russia, the influence of French symbolism caught on during the silver age of Russian literature , an era marked by enormous cultural and artistic activity. After the French, Russian symbolism is considered to be the most important outgrowth of the current and lasted there from around 1892 to 1920. As in France, symbolism in Russia was a relatively uniform movement that often represented its central views in manifestos. This is an essential difference to later currents such as acmeism .

The movement began in 1892 with Dmitri Mereschkowski's lecture on new trends in contemporary literature. In 1893 Valery Bryusov published the anthology Russian Symbolists . He is considered the leader of the early symbolists, while Dmitri Mereschkowski is considered their ideologue.

In Russia too, symbolism was a reaction to materialism and its effects in the literature of naturalism . In his theoretical writings, Balmont also divides literature into realistic and symbolist tendencies and rejects realism as obsolete. For him symbolism is a powerful new form of art which he combined with the type of Dionysian poetry and which for him meant the independence of the individual and the importance of personality. In addition, symbolism, e.g. B. for Brjusow, able to open up reality in the form of another, ideal world.

In Russia, the movement can be divided with great accuracy into two groups, the so-called younger and older symbolists, who have to be differentiated not only in terms of time, but mainly in terms of content. (The older Russian : старшие символисты ) include Innokenty Annenski , Valeri Bryusov, Konstantin Balmont , Zinaida Hippius , Dmitry Merezhkovsky, Fyodor Sologub , (the younger Russian : младосимволисты ), Andrei Bely , Alexander Blok , Fedor Stepun .

The older symbolists were closer to the French, decadent symbolism, which emphasized the aestheticizing aspect. They attached great importance to intellectual and ideal values, saw in art a way to open up the world, but also attached great importance to the person of the poet and saw themselves as a kind of medium . In addition, the poetry of the older Symbolists was philosophical, spiritual, and almost mystical.

The philosophy of the younger symbolists is shaped by religious ideas. This literature is modeled on the works of the Russian philosopher, writer and publicist Vladimir Solovyov , whose sophiology (doctrine of the creative wisdom of God) and others. a. Influenced the poetic-mystical works of Alexander Alexandrowitsch Bloks.

Both older symbolists like Bryusov and Vyacheslav I. Ivanov and younger ones like Belyj - especially in his essay "Magic of Words" - were inspired by the literary theory of the philologist Alexander Potebnja , who died in 1891, after the turn of the century . As a result, the Russian symbolists began to focus more and more on the intellectual potential of language (language as a means of expressing mentally grasped certainties) as well as its potential to generate ideas (language as an independent creative variable).

German symbolism

The symbolists found imitators in Germany too. The most important representatives of symbolism in Germany are Karl Gustav Vollmoeller , Stefan George and Richard Dehmel , in Austria Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Rainer Maria Rilke . A dream poem, such as Hanneles Himmelfahrt by Gerhart Hauptmann , and the later works by Karl May tie in with the symbolist endeavors. Karl Gustav Vollmoeller was regarded by his contemporaries as one of the most important representatives of German symbolism. Edward Jaime wrote: “His dramas have remained almost the only examples of symbolist theater in Germany. George highly praised Vollmoeller's set-up. ”By Vollmoeller's dramas are the works Catherina - Countess von Armagnac , Giulia - The American , Assüs, Fitne and Sumurud, and The German Count . The playwright and poet Kurt Zotz is a late German symbolist .

In Germany, around 1910, symbolism turned into a heroic, monumental art of style. This is particularly evident in the later works of the George Circle. In his essay "Role Models" in the 1912 Yearbook for the Spiritual Movement , the influential Friedrich Gundolf condemns impressionism in literature and the fine arts, but also the refined sensualism of French symbolism: not exploring, "looking and accepting", i.e. being able to understand rather, the “picky way of doing things”, that “awakens strength, increases the feeling of life”, is popular. In contrast to the impressionistic prediction of the great, to the “glittering, sketchy” surface description, one should strive for the representation of the unattainable, overcome pure aesthetics through ethics: the actions of the great role models are “cult, their life and being is myth”. It was not only under the influence of the First World War that most of the writers distanced themselves from what they now perceived as decadent, exotic and alien, and turned to the homeland in order to emphatically demand a new lifestyle. This is exemplified by George's poem “Carpet of Life”.

Individual evidence

  1. Engel, Eduard : History of French literature. From the beginning to the present. 10th edition, Friedrich Brandstetter Verlag, Leipzig 1927, pages 502-505
  2. Le symbolisme
  3. Matthias Aumüller: Inner form and poeticity. Aleksandr Potebnja's theory in its conceptual historical context. Frankfurt / M .: Peter Lang, 2005, pp. 165-218.
  4. Quoted from Richard Hamann , Jost Hermand : Stilkunst um 1900. Munich 1973, p. 98 f.
  5. Hamann, Hermand 1973, p. 106 f.


German symbolism

  • Edward Jaime: Stefan George and World Literature. Aegis, Ulm 1949.
  • Frederik D. Tunnat: Karl Vollmoeller - poet and cultural manager. A biography. Tredition Verlag, Hamburg, ISBN 978-3-86850-000-4 .
  • Gregor Streim: Life in Art: Investigations into the aesthetics of the early Hofmannsthal. Königshausen & Neumann, 1996.
  • Walther Killy, Hans Fromm (Ed.): Authors and works in the German language. Literature Lexicon Vol. 4. Bertelsmann Lexikon Verlag, Gütersloh 1988.
  • Mario Zanucchi: Transfer and Modification - The French Symbolists in German-Language Poetry of the Modern Age (1890-1923) . De Gruyter 2016, ISBN 978-3-11-042012-8 .