Writing Prose: Narrative Forms and Social Communication in Goethe’s Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderten
The concept of prose is unique in that it is the only rhetorical term that has gained prominence as a central metaphor of modernity. Since the 18th century this concept has been marked by an irreducible ambiguity. On the one hand, it refers to a written idiom not constrained by metrical regulations. On the other hand, it designates a modern “sphere of thought” and a modern “state of the world” (Hegel) that find their adequate expression in this idiom. To write prose not only means to write in a language of prose. It means to write a language of prose and thus, mediated through language, to write a certain condition of the world.
The lecture will discuss how this correlation informs Goethe’s 1795 collection of novellas Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderten (Conversations of German Refugees). Not only at the level of content but in the very forms and structures that bind its narrative prose this collection addresses the question of the social bonds and the fabric of society in an age of prose.
Inka Mülder-Bach is Professor em. of German and Comparative Literature at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich and visiting professor at the Department of German in Princeton. Her most recent book publications are Was der Fall ist. Casus und Lapsus (ed. with Michel Ott, 2015), Prosa schreiben. Literatur – Geschichte – Recht (ed. with Jens Kersten and Martin Zimmermann, 2019).