Fall 2016 Colloquium Series: Käfige und Lauben: Schauplätze der Bildung und Infrastruktur des Alltags

October 14, 2016

Pál Kelemen

Pál Kelemen

On October 14, 2016, Pál Kelemen (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) work in progress titled “Käfige und Lauben: Schauplätze der Bildung und Infrastruktur des Alltags” in the IGCS colloquium series. Kelemen examined the symbolic structure of modern Gartenlaube, or bowers. The bower, portico, or pergola has a particular function in European modern novels, which can be described as the cultural production of a modern aesthetic. As an aesthetic object, die Laube is an apparatus of modern society in which nature appears as a framed landscape. As Kelemen argues, in this architecture of landscape, the whole landscape does not appear as a totality, but instead as a sequence of discrete units, each of which comprises a different scene. The implicit epistemology of this sequence rests in the fact that nature can be viewed only in successive parts. In an example taken from the iconography of the late nineteenth century, the bower in Biedermeier literature displays the mastery of cages and enclosures, as well as rational frames for emotions and reflections, in other words: the ability to domesticate human nature.

Scenes that are staged in bowers can be found in Goethe’s Wahlverwandscahften, in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, in Eliot’s Middlemarch, in Fontane’s Effi Briest, and Balzac’s Illusions perdues. Novels by the Hungarian writers Imre Madách and Mór Jókais contain the motif as well. The example discussed at length by Keleman, however, was Stifter’s Der Nachsommer. Through analysis of Stifter’s work, Kelemen formulated two central theses: first, the bower is an institution central to the nineteenth century, playing a role similar to that of public museums in the process of a general “museumization” of everyday bourgeois life. Second, the bower is a medium for exhibition, which makes human nature the proper object of collection itself.

A further question raised in discussion was how the invention of Biedermeier style in literary history can clarify the social practices embedded in the bower as an artifact: “more than political, or economical, the inwardness of human beings would be considered a moral and aesthetic ability that has a prescribed agency: that of creating spaces and places where it can express such qualities.” Unearthing an archeology of literary bowers, Kelemen illustrates the connection between cage-scenes and garden-scenes. The analysis of cage-scenes reveals the inside of the bower as a literary and practical tool for multiplying inside/outside relations in a story, so that its literary function can be described as a time multiplier. In light of this account of temporality, Kelemen turned to a discussion of temporality in museum collections and private collections; how is temporality perceived in a construction that creates distance from the nature-culture continuum? Which kind of distance from the living is it possible to gain inside it? Is it a place for reflection or rather a Bildungsmaschine? (Mariaenrica Giannuzzi)