Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel (SHLAY-guhl) was a founding member of Jena Romanticism. Enormously erudite, Schlegel published and lectured on an immense range of topics, established literary and philosophical journals, and wrote in numerous genres. His father, Johann Adolf Schlegel, a pastor, had literary interests, and his brother August Wilhelm was a critic and translator; the two brothers collaborated on several projects.
A restless young man, Schlegel unhappily studied law in Göttingen and Leipzig between 1790 and 1793. He made friends with Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg) and, influenced by Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s studies on classicism, Schlegel quit law in 1793 to study philosophy and literature, resulting in his monumental treatments of Greek and Roman poetry. Moving to Dresden in 1794, then Jena in 1796-1797, and then living in Berlin from 1797 to 1799, Schlegel had contact with leading German intellectuals and writers, among them Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, and Friedrich Schleiermacher. His early work contributed to the debate as to the relation between classical Graeco-Roman writing and modern poetry and prose. At a time when literary scholars paid scant attention to contemporary writing, Schlegel read widely in modern European literature; his essays and reviews on this work pioneered the relatively recently developed field of literary criticism.
Dismayed by the rigid generic constraints enforced by neoclassicism, Schlegel believed that writers should be free to make their own rules. He maintained not only that writers should devise unfamiliar generic combinations but also that they should engage in formal innovation. Athenäums-Fragmente embodies this aesthetic. Although the bulk of the text was written by Schlegel, his brother August Wilhelm and friends Novalis and Schleiermacher also...
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