What are the various atmospheres or moods that the reading of literary works can trigger? Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht has long argued that the function of literature is not so much to describe, or to re-present, as to make present. Here, he goes one step further, exploring the substance and reality of language as a material component of the world—impalpable hints, tones, and airs that, as much as they may be elusive, are no less matters of actual fact.
Reading, we discover, is an experiencing of specific moods and atmospheres, or Stimmung. These moods are on a continuum akin to a musical scale. They present themselves as nuances that challenge our powers of discernment and description, as well as language's potential to capture them. Perhaps the best we can do is to point in their direction. Conveying personal encounters with poetry, song, painting, and the novel, this book thus gestures toward the intangible and in the process, constitutes a bold defense of the subjective experience of the arts.
About the author
Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht is Albert Guérard Professor in Literature at Stanford University. His books in English include In 1926 (1998), Production of Presence (Stanford, 2004), and In Praise of Athletic Beauty (2006).
"In the first part of the book, entitled 'Moments', in a truly comparative tour de force, Gumbrecht moves insightfully and suggestively from Lazarillo de Tormes to Shakespeare's sonnets, from Diderot's Le Neveu de Rameau to Caspar David Friedrich's paintings, from Thomas Mann's Venice to Machado de Assis's Memorial de Aries, making these works apt condensations of particular 'forms of "life"' in different historical periods."
—Pierpaolo Antonello, Modern Language Review
"Writing in prose that is remarkably lucid for a philosophical text, the author illustrates his point with examples that range widely, from medieval verse to the picaresque narrative; from the art of Caspar David Friedrich to the music of Janis Joplin. Although the book will be most useful for specialists, less experienced readers would also benefit from engagement with Gumbrecht's heuristic for reading literature. Highly recommended."
—J. F. Moffett, CHOICE
"Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht is one of the 'Meisterdenker' (Master Thinkers) of our time and a teacher in the best sense of the word. The perspective on literature that he presents here—the study of the emotional reactions, moods, and atmospheres that reading can trigger—entails a serious methodological challenge. How can one avoid delivering subjective impressions without any objective relevance? His answer is as simple as it is bold, thought-provoking, and charming: You can't."
—Eckart Goebel, New York University
"This book, like most of Gumbrecht's previous work, will be a trendsetting example of literary criticism. It opens the way to a re-evaluation of what has been but a faint 'longing.' Monumental endeavors such as this keep alive the hard questions of which our profession has mostly lost track."
—Barbara Vinken, University of Munich
"A delightful read. There is a fine and subtle affinity between the form of the chapters, which might almost be called 'mood pieces,' and their delicate and somewhat elusive subject. Experts and general readers alike will derive both pleasure and profit from this book."
—Eric Downing, University of North Carolina