There are two reasons why this expectation that literature should be mimetic and allegorical are problematic. First, if it is assumed that only notional objects can be imitated, fiction and fantasy are ruled out. It then follows that anything that does not exist as a notion cannot be imitated either. In fact, literature has not fulfilled this expectation, and has instead proved itself deserving of Plato’s accusation that it lies too much – an accusation that has acquired new currency in the current crisis of mimesis.
The research focus on ‘What is literature? Historical and systematic perspectives’ seeks to prove that this doubt about whether the imitator corresponds to the imitated was already strong in the early modern era and that literature itself addresses this doubt in its poetic statements about itself. Indeed, the literature of the early modern age brands its concept of the world as constructed simply by using the rhetorical instruments innate to language. Seen in this light, the ‘truth’ of literary representation can only mean taking its linguistic qualities seriously, which in turn means understanding literature as an ongoing act of naming something that is in itself neither unambiguous nor objective nor of fixed or defined content. It then follows that literature uses language to create (utopian) possible worlds and engages in an experimental exploration of conferring meaning – a process that can neither be concluded nor extend beyond the realm of contingency.

Project participant: Dr Ulrike Zeuch