Terror has exterminated all the sentiments of nature: American terror, the French Revolution, and Charles Brockden Brown's Arthur Mervyn

Schweighauser, Philipp. (2011) Terror has exterminated all the sentiments of nature: American terror, the French Revolution, and Charles Brockden Brown's Arthur Mervyn. In: Terrorism and narrative practice. Zürich, pp. 45-60.

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'Terror' names both a feeling of intense fear and actions or sociopolitical configurations that have the power to generate that feeling. In the second half of the eighteenth century, the term was used in ways that provide crucial links between three domains: art (the Gothic), aesthetics (the sublime), and politics (the French Revolution). This paper explores those links with specific reference to Charles Brockden Brown's gothic novel Wieland (1798), the aesthetic theories of Edmund Burke and Friedrich Schiller, and the French terreur (1793-1794). In his Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757/1759), Burke famously characterized the effects of the sublime as "terror and delight." In defining the aesthetic experience as a mixture of pain and pleasure, this fierce British anti-revolutionary gestures forward to not only the emergence of gothic fiction but also to our own century's simultaneous fascination with and horror of mass-mediated spectacles of terror. And yet, it is the German poet, dramatist, and philosopher Friedrich von Schiller who most consistently links his aesthetic project to the roots of our twenty-first-century understanding of terror. Writing against the background of a French Revolution that had devolved into terreur, Schiller in his Briefe über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen (1793-95) considers the experience of freedom in the world of aesthetic semblance a necessary training that prepares human beings for the political freedom the Enlightenment project envisages and the French Revolution ultimately failed to deliver. For Schiller's idealist aesthetics, the French terreur was of crucial importance because it revealed the naiveté of an exclusive trust in reason--the full implications of which Adorno and Horkheimer would later outline in the Dialectic of Enlightenment. What human beings needed in the modern world, Schiller argued, was an aesthetic education that would allow them to reconcile feeling and reason. Only thus could they attain a freedom that would not descend into chaos, lawlessness, and terror. Clearly, the kind of art Schiller's aesthetic theory calls for is very different from that envisioned in Burke's reflections on the sublime. Yet in their own ways, both European aestheticians provide an important framework that allows us to explore both the aesthetic and the political dimension of the early American gothic. In the process, 'terror' will emerge as a term that brings together not only European theorizations of art and the American production of art, but also aesthetics and politics as well as feeling and reason.
Faculties and Departments:04 Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > Departement Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaften > Fachbereich Englische Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaft > Amerikanistik (Schweighauser)
UniBasel Contributors:Schweighauser, Philipp
Item Type:Book Section, refereed
Book Section Subtype:Further Contribution in a Book
Note:Publication type according to Uni Basel Research Database: Book item
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Last Modified:14 Aug 2020 12:42
Deposited On:08 Jun 2012 06:34

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