New Book | Rethinking Lessing’s Laocoon

Posted in books by Editor on March 26, 2018

From Oxford UP:

Avi Lifschitz and Michael Squire, eds., Rethinking Lessing’s Laocoon: Antiquity, Enlightenment, and the ‘Limits’ of Painting and Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 480 pages, ISBN: 978-0198802228, $110.

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.

Avi Lifschitz is Associate Professor of European History and Fellow of Magdalen College at the University of Oxford. Among his publications are Language and Enlightenment: The Berlin Debates of the Eighteenth Century and the edited volumes Engaging with Rousseau and Epicurus in the Enlightenment (the latter co-edited with Neven Leddy). Michael Squire is Reader in Classical Art at King’s College London. His books include The Iliad in a Nutshell: Visualizing Epic on the Tabulae Iliacae and The Art of the Body: Antiquity and Its Legacy.


List of Illustrations
List of Tables
Note on Laocoon Editions

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

Notes on Contributors



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