[-empyre-] love on -empyre-, forwarded by Edgar Landgraf

Nicholas Ruiz III editor at intertheory.org
Sat Oct 4 01:14:03 EST 2008

forwarded by guest contributor Edgar Landgraf:
In my German Quarterly essay “Romantic Love and the
Enlightenment: From Gallantry and Seduction to
Authenticity and Self-Validation,” I looked at changes
in the semantics of love in the eighteenth century as
recorded by epistolary novels, the bourgeois tragedy
and finally by Goethe’s The Sufferings of Young
Werther. These literary works demonize the notions of
love typical for the aristocratic society of the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which conceived
of love in highly formulized, playful, rhetorically
defined terms, as the art of gallantry and seduction.
This paradigm is replaced with a new emphasis on
authenticity and self-validation which sees in love no
longer a social game of sorts that is played and
enjoyed as many other things in life, but rather links
love to the semantics of individuality: rather than
being merely a skill and an enjoyment, love now
fundamentally comes to define who a person is and how
he or she relates to him- or herself. This shift, in
essence, takes place in two steps. The epistolary
novels of the mid-eighteenth century and the bourgeois
tragedy still frame the argument in terms of moral
codes and familial constellations, supporting the
transition from, as Friedrich Kittler put it, the
family of generations to the family of procreation
that links love to marriage. In this respect, love
becomes important for the life especially of young
bourgeois daughters whose existence is cast to depend
on finding love, marriage, and a home away from the
home of their fathers (interesting here, of course,
how much more starkly gender differences are
implemented and the possibilities, roles, and options
for women are reduced in the Enlightenment as opposed
to pre-modern aristocratic society). Sturm und Drang
as well as Romantic literature (in my essay, I focus
in particular on Goethe’s Werther – where we can
witness a new and truly modern notion of love emerge),
link love even more closely to the identity of the
(modern) individual. Love now becomes a medium for
self-exploration and self-validation independent of
particular economic, moral, or other social needs. 
My article drew on the works of the German sociologist
Niklas Luhmann, especially his book Love as Passion:
The Codification of Intimacy. Luhmann (and, more
generally, contemporary systems theory) encourages one
to read the changes in the semantics of love and
individuality against the backdrop of a comprehensive
theory of modernity, as responding to the change from
stratification to functional differentiation. In my
article, I point out that the semantic changes of love
must also be linked more immediately to a change in
communicational media. The dominant communicative
medium of pre-modern aristocratic society was
conversation. In the eighteenth century, however, as a
late effect of the printing press and due to the
increased alphabetization of Europe, writing becomes
the preferred communicational medium. As Cornelia Bohn
has argued, writing (esp. letter writing) fosters a
very different semantics that conversation, puts a
premium on communications of authenticity and
individuality and invites more self-reflection. 
I would be happy to expand and further discuss any of
these developments as well as the theoretical
framework that supports the argument. In light of the
medial changes mentioned, I would also like to discuss
the present state of affairs, in particular the effect
of the new, digital media (email, internet, cell
phones, text messaging, Facebook, etc.) on the
semantics of love. Cell phones reduce the distance and
availability of addressees; Facebook comes to
structure our “individuality” once again along types
and ideals rather than profiling individuality in
terms of difference; the constant flow of messaging
reduces rather than increases the propensity for
self-reflection, emails in particular present a
strange cross between writing and conversation that
affects how we present ourselves, address the
recipient, how we profile and differentiate
sensibilities, etc. (those of us who still remember
writing personal letters will easily notice such
difference). I hope we can discuss and theorize some
of these changes. Do they lead to more “rationality”
with matters of the heart? Does constant availability
increase or decrease intimacy levels? Can we relate
them to the increased decoupling of love and sex? How
do they affect the eighteenth-century idea that binds
love to marriage? How are gender roles affected? Etc.
Edgar Landgraf 

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