Topos (humanities)

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A topos ( Pl. Topoi , from ancient Greek τόπος tópos "place, topic, commonplace") is understood to mean a commonplace , a stereotypical idiom , a pre-defined linguistic image ( metaphor ), an example or motif (e.g. navigatio vitae , which " Life (sea) journey ”).

Rhetoric and literary studies

In classical rhetoric , topoi, as part of the inventio, are general points of view from which one can draw arguments . ( Quintilian : " sedes argumentorum, in quibus latent, ex quibus sunt petenda "). The origin of a person or the time of an action are topoi if they say something typical about them. Aristotle understands the term topos as a spectrum of functions: both heuristic (as a search location), argumentative (as an impetus for an argument) and rhetorical (as part of the speech itself). His less systematic instructions for finding the topos were incorporated into late antique and medieval Latin rhetoric ( Matthäus von Vendôme , Johannes de Garlandia ) and gained special importance in the time of humanism ( Erasmus of Rotterdam , Philipp Melanchthon ) and their heyday in the Baroque era. Latin as well as vernacular rhetoric (such as Harsdörffer's Poetischer Fichter ) made finding topoi and their poetic execution their genuine subject. Collections of such topoi emerged and, when they froze, led to firmly established clichés , set pieces, and conventional platitudes .

Examples are the topos of the "evil stepmother " and the "lovely place" (Latin locus amoenus ) in nature where the action pauses temporarily (cf. motif (literature) ). In Prologues , the topos of modesty was seldom missing, often combined with the topical request that the dedicatee should correct the errors, decide whether it is worthy of publication and, if necessary, protect the work against malicious critics. In the rarest of cases, the humility topos corresponds to an actual lack of skills on the part of the author. On the contrary, it is to be understood as a signal that the customer is willing to make every effort to meet the highest quality requirements.

The Enlightenment , which strived for unconditional truth, and even more so on the part of Romanticism , which was concerned with the authenticity of feelings, ultimately disdained rhetoric . In addition to her other persuasion strategies, which are suitable for manipulating the judgment of the addressee , her work with frozen conventional topoi also led to this, since these also confirm existing prejudices by linking to actual or even supposed experiences of the addressee. The rhetoric, and thus also the mastery of the use of the topoi, was no longer regarded as the goal and identification of education , but as a medium of deception and untruth. Their knowledge was now seen primarily as a necessary tool for analyzing and criticizing their strategies. The abuse of rhetoric by the dictators of the 20th century for propaganda purposes and the use of anti-Semitic topoi or stereotypes (e.g. " Eternal Jew ", "Wandering Jew", "corrosive Jewish spirit", "Jewish avarice", " Jewish world conspiracy" “Etc.) by the National Socialists did the rest. It was now, especially in the Federal Republic of Germany , especially in subjects such as political science , sociology and educational science , viewed as a dangerous weapon of demagogy , which can only be rendered harmless by imparting knowledge of its psychological foundations, looking through its mechanisms of action and appropriately assessing its consequences be done. The imparting of this knowledge and competences has to take place within the framework of an educational concept that has to focus on education for democracy . The critical examination of traditional and unquestioned topoi, prejudices, narratives and stereotypes are of crucial importance.

The area of ​​rhetoric and literary studies that deals with the topos is called topic . Ernst Robert Curtius is one of its founders .

Humanities and cultural studies

In the humanities and cultural studies , the term topos is used both for categories and for (imaginary) images . For example, the category " definition " is a topos. Adam Smith described in 1776 the price mechanism as the "invisible hand" ( English invisible hand ). Like other Greek terms (such as myth ), the term topos today, in contrast to the sober ancient meaning, has a melodramatic aftertaste: One speaks of the “topos of God's punishment” or of the “topos of the music city Vienna” and sees it as a kind of awakened collective memory .


The term topos or place plays a special role in Japanese philosophy. At the beginning of the 20th century, Nishida Kitarō tried to use the term basho (for topos, place) to oppose the dominant subject-object dualism of Western philosophy and to introduce an alternative philosophical concept as bashoron (teaching of place, topology ). This approach was taken up by other philosophers after Nishida and led to a " topological turnaround " in philosophy, but also in the related humanities, such as sociology or cultural studies.

See also


  • Edgar Mertner : Topos and Commonplace . In: Peter Jehn (Ed.): Toposforschung. A documentation (=  Respublica Literaria ). tape 10 . Athenaeum, Frankfurt am Main 1972, ISBN 3-7610-9208-3 , p. 20-68 .
  • Walter Veit: Toposforschung: A research report. In: German quarterly for literary studies and intellectual history. Volume 37, 1963, pp. 120-163.

Web links

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

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations , Volume IV, 1776, p. 339