Translation as Subversion: Ludwig Tieck’s Don Quixote and the Poetic Logic of Jena Romanticism

Henrik S Wilberg


This article sets out from a hitherto overlooked connection between literature and philosophy in the Jena Romantic period. In Ludwig Tieck’s translation of Cervantes’ Don Quixote (1799) there is a direct interpolation of a major philosophical concept: the Spanish hazaña—describing the undertakings of the hero, meaning “heroic deed” or “exploit”—is translated as Tathandlung, the neologism Fichte had forged in the first Wissenschaftslehre (1794). This gives rise not to an abstract question of poetry’s relation to thought but a complex constellation of responses within the literary politics of Jena Romanticism, from the place of Fichte to the role of translation, as well as the theory of the novel, in which, in the quarrel over Don Quixote, the Romantic “transcendental poesy” becomes subverted. I show that Friedrich Schlegel responds with a strategy in which one of the professed collective and collaborative ideals of Romantic thought—symphilosophy—comes to exclude Tieck’s position, applying the framework of Plato’s Ion. The ironic position Schlegel claims can thus, I argue, be constructed as a response, in Platonic terms, to the un- or even antiphilosophical rhapsode—the ionic position—perceived in the poetic practice of Tieck. (HSW)

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