Libertinism combines the rejection of religious authority and the emphatic affirmation of sexual pleasure as part of nature. The research project investigates libertine currents in German literature around 1800.
Since the time of the Reformation, the term ‘libertine’ has been a downright insult: Jean Calvin himself polemicised against a sect of libertines in which heresy and immorality were allegedly prevalent. In the 17th century, the accusation of being a ‘libertine’, of thinking godlessly and living unrestrainedly at the same time, could land someone on a scaffold or at the stake. And indeed there are many literary products from Venice and especially from France in which heretical ideas and the language of sexual freedom are combined. In the Paris of the ‘philosophes’, the encyclopaedists, libertinism - although not unchallenged - forms part of the core of the Enlightenment, not only in the case of libertine authors such as Crébillon or the Marquis Boyer d’Argens (who was temporarily the Director of the Berlin Academy of Sciences!), but also in the case of Diderot, for example, who on the other hand remained detached from many of its manifestations.
For a long time, in Germany libertinism was regarded only as an expression of French amorality - a judgement made on the basis of an idealism that had a one-sided influence on intellectual culture in this country. While libertinism has been studied in France since the 1990s and its most important writings have even been included in the Olympus of bibliophilic classics, German Studies has excluded them from its field of study: As a literary phenomenon it is not pornography, however, it does make use of pornographic language.
But there are quite a few traces of libertine thought in the literature of Goethe’s time: in Wilhelm Heinse, perhaps the most important libertine author of the German language, but also in Wieland and Goethe. Researching these influences is the aim of the third-party-funded project funded by the Hamburger Stiftung zur Förderung von Wissenschaft und Kultur (Hamburg Foundation for the Promotion of Science and Culture). At the same time, it will also examine the significance of the libertine part of the Enlightenment on contemporary issues.