By Lilian R Furst
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Extra resources for Fictions of Romantic Irony in European Narrative, 1760–1857
What is more, the metamorphosis of irony is directly linked to the reorientation of semantics. For when 'the name ceases to be the reward for language', 57 when 'words ceased to intersect with representations and to provide a spontaneous grid for the knowledge of things', 58 that is to say, when signification and meaning in themselves become matters of doubt, then it is no longer practical to say the contrary to what is meant in the supposition that meaning and countermeaning will immediately be understood.
It was not until 1850 that this 'unhappy phrase' made its debut in a scholarly work, Die romantische Schute in ihrem Zusammenhang mit Gothe und Schiller, by Hermann Hettner, the first systematic historian of German literature. Hettner writes of that 'iibermiitig auflosende Willkiir des Schaffens . . die unter dem Namen der romantischen Ironie so beriihmt und beriichtigt geworden ist' 30 ('exuberantly dissolving wilfulness in creativity ... that has gained such fame and notoriety under the name of romantic irony').
Like the image, which underwent a parallel metamorphosis at about the same time under the impact of the same cultural constellation, irony rose from the position of servant to that of master. In its traditional role as a verbal trope it could make a limited, peripheral contribution to a work whose direction had already been determined; it was rather more than just ornamental, but less than essential. In its new guise it stood at the epicentre of the aesthetic artifact, defining not only its mode but its meaning and intent, permeating them with an ironic sense of ambivalence, mobility, and paradoxicality.
Fictions of Romantic Irony in European Narrative, 1760–1857 by Lilian R Furst