Rethinking Lessing's Laocoon: Antiquity, Enlightenment, and the 'Limits' of Painting and Poetry

ISBN : 9780198802228

Michael Squire; Avi S. Lifschitz
464 ページ
135 x 216 mm
Classical Presences

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing first published Laokoon, oder uber die Grenzen der Mahlerey und Poesie (Laocoon, or on the Limits of Painting and Poetry) in 1766. Over the last 250 years, Lessing's essay has exerted an incalculable influence on western critical thinking. Not only has it directed the history of post-Enlightenment aesthetics, it has also shaped the very practices of 'poetry' and 'painting' in a myriad of different ways. In this anthology of specially commissioned chapters - comprising the first ever edited book on the Laocoon in English - a range of leading critical voices has been brought together to reassess Lessing's essay on its 250th anniversary. Combining perspectives from multiple disciplines (including classics, intellectual history, philosophy, aesthetics, media studies, comparative literature, and art history), the book explores the Laocoon from a plethora of critical angles. Chapters discuss Lessing's interpretation of ancient art and poetry, the cultural backdrops of the eighteenth century, and the validity of the Laocoon's observations in the fields of aesthetics, semiotics, and philosophy. The volume shows how the Laocoon exploits Greek and Roman models to sketch the proper spatial and temporal 'limits' (Grenzen) of what Lessing called 'poetry' and 'painting'; at the same time it demonstrates how Lessing's essay is embedded within Enlightenment theories of art, perception, and historical interpretation, as well as within nascent eighteenth-century ideas about the 'scientific' study of Classical antiquity (Altertumswissenschaft). To engage critically with the Laocoon, and to make sense of its legacy over the last 250 years, consequently involves excavating various 'classical presences': by looking back to the Graeco-Roman past, the volume demonstrates, Lessing forged a whole new tradition of modern aesthetics.


List of Illustrations
List of Tables
Note on Laocoon Editions
0 W. J. T. Mitchell: Foreword: Why Lessing's Laocoon Still Matters
1 Avi Lifschitz and Michael Squire: Introduction: Rethinking Lessings Laocoon From Across the Humanities
2 David E. Wellbery: Laocoon Today: On the Conceptual Infrastructure of Lessing's Treatise
3 Michael Squire: Laocoon among the Gods, or: On the Theological Limits of Lessing's Grenzen
4 Luca Giuliani: Lessing's Laocoon as Analytical Instrument: The Perspectives of a Classical Archaeologist
5 Katherine Harloe: Sympathy, Tragedy, and the Morality of Sentiment in Lessing's Laocoon
6 Frederick Beiser: Mendelssohn's Critique of Lessing's Laocoon
7 Avi Lifschitz: Naturalizing the Arbitrary: Lessing's Laocoon and Enlightenment Semiotics
8 Daniel Fulda: Temporalization: Lessing's Laocoon and the Problem of Narration in Eighteenth-Century Historiography
9 Elisabeth Decultot: Criticism as Poetry: Lessing's Laocoon and the Limits of Critique
10 Ritchie Robertson: Suffering in Art: Laocoon between Lessing and Goethe
11 Jason Gaiger: Transparency and Imaginative Engagement: Material as Medium in Lessing's Laocoon
12 Jonas Grethlein: Lessing's Laocoon and the 'As-If' of Aesthetic Experience
13 Paul A. Kottman: Art and Necessity: Rethinking Lessing's Critical Practice
14 Jurgen Trabant: Image and Text in Lessing's Laocoon: From Friendly Semiotic Neighbours to Articulatory Twins
15 Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht: Envoi: The Two-Fold Liminality of Lessing's Laocoon
Notes on Contributors


Avi Lifschitz is Senior Lecturer in European Intellectual History at University College London (UCL). Among his publications are Language and Enlightenment: The Berlin Debates of the Eighteenth Century (OUP, 2012), the edited volume Engaging with Rousseau: Reaction and Interpretation from the Eighteenth Century to the Present (CUP, 2016), and Epicurus in the Enlightenment (co-edited with Neven Leddy; Voltaire Foundation, 2009). He has held research fellowships at the Clark Library at UCLA, Oxford, the Lichtenberg-Kolleg at the University of Gottingen, and the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin.; Michael Squire is Reader in Classical Art at King's College London. His research has explored the interface between ancient art and literature, as well as the critical reception of ancient visual culture; previous books include Image and Text in Graeco-Roman Antiquity (CUP, 2009), The Iliad in a Nutshell: Visualizing Epic on the Tabulae Iliacae (OUP, 2011), and The Art of the Body: Antiquity and its Legacy (I. B. Tauris, 2011). He has held fellowships at Cambridge, Cologne, Harvard, Munich, Stanford, and the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin.