Sturm and Drang

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German, literally, storm and stress, from Sturm und Drang (1776), drama by Friedrich von Klinger †1831 German novelist and dramatist


2: turmoil


Sturm und Drang (German pronunciation: [ˈʃtʊʁm ʊnt ˈdʁaŋ]) (literally "Storm and Urge", although usually translated as "Storm and Stress") is a movement in German literature and music taking place from the late 1760s through the early 1780s, in which individual subjectivity and, in particular, extremes of emotion were given free expression in reaction to the perceived constraints of rationalism imposed by the Enlightenment and associated aesthetic movements.

The philosopher Johann Georg Hamann is considered to be the ideologue of Sturm und Drang, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a notable proponent of the movement, though he and Friedrich Schiller ended their period of association with it by initiating what would become Weimar Classicism.

French Neoclassicism, a movement beginning in the early Baroque, and its preoccupation with rational congruity was the principal target of rebellion for adherents of the Sturm und Drang movement. The overt sentimentalism and need to project an objective, anti-personal characterization or image was found to be at odds with the latent desire to express troubling personal emotions and an individual, subjective perspective on reality. It was considered that the Enlightenment ideals of rationalism, empiricism, and universalism had failed to adequately capture the human experience - its emotional extremes and the inherent impurity of personal motivations.

Origin of the term

The term Sturm und Drang first appeared as the title to a play by Friedrich Maximilian Klinger, published in 1776, about the unfolding American Revolution, in which the author gives violent expression to difficult emotions and extols individuality and subjectivity over the prevailing order of rationalism. Though it is argued that literature and music associated with Sturm und Drang predate this seminal work, it was from this point that German artists became distinctly self-conscious of a new esthetic. This seemingly spontaneous movement was embraced by a wide array of German authors and composers of the mid to late Classical period.

Sturm und Drang came to be associated with literature or music aimed at frightening the audience or imbuing them with extremes of emotion. The movement soon dovetailed into Weimar Classicism and early Romanticism, whereupon a socio-political concern for greater human freedom from despotism was incorporated along with a religious treatment of all things natural. There is much debate regarding whose work should or should not be included in the canon of Sturm und Drang. One point of view would limit the movement to Goethe, Johann Gottfried Herder, Lenz, and their direct German associates writing works of fiction and/or philosophy between 1770 and the early 1780s. The alternative perspective is that of a literary movement inextricably linked to simultaneous developments in prose, poetry, and drama, extending its direct influence throughout the German-speaking lands until the end of the 18th century. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the originators of the movement came to view it as a time of premature exuberance which was then abandoned in favor of often conflicting artistic pursuits.

Kraftmensch existed as a precursor to Sturm und Drang among dramatists beginning with F.M. Klinger, the expression of which is seen in the radical degree to which individuality need appeal to no outside force outside the self nor be tempered by rationalism. These ideals are identical to those of Sturm und Drang, and it can be argued that the later name exists to catalog a number of parallel, co-influential movements in German literature rather than express anything substantially different than what German dramatists were achieving in the violent plays attributed to the Kraftmensch movement.

Major philosophical/theoretical influences on the literary Sturm und Drang movement were Johann Georg Hamann (especially the 1762 text Aesthetica in nuce. Eine Rhapsodie in kabbalistischer Prose) and Johann Gottfried Herder, both from Königsberg, and both formerly in contact with Immanuel Kant. Significant theoretical statements of Sturm und Drang aesthetics by the movement's central dramatists themselves include Lenz' Anmerkungen übers Theater and Goethe's Von deutscher Baukunst and Zum Schäkespears. The most important contemporary document was the 1773 volume Von deutscher Art und Kunst. Einige fliegende Blätter, a collection of essays which included commentaries by Herder on Ossian and Shakespeare, along with contributions by Goethe, Paolo Frisi (in translation from the Italian), and Justus Möser.

Sturm und Drang in literature

The protagonist in a typical Sturm und Drang stage work, poem, or novel is driven to action—often violent action—not by pursuit of noble means nor by true motives, but by revenge and greed. Goethe's unfinished Prometheus exemplifies this along with the common ambiguity provided by juxtaposing humanistic platitudes with outbursts of irrationality. The literature of Sturm und Drang features an anti-aristocratic slant while seeking to elevate all things humble, natural, or intensely real (especially whatever is painful, tormenting, or frightening).

The story of hopeless love and eventual suicide presented in Goethe's sentimental novel Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774) is an example of the author's tempered introspection regarding his love and torment. Friedrich Schiller's drama, Die Räuber (1781), provided the groundwork for melodrama to become a recognized dramatic form. The plot portrays a conflict between two aristocratic brothers, Franz and Karl Moor. Franz is cast as a villain attempting to cheat Karl out of his inheritance, though the motives for his action are complex and initiate a thorough investigation of good and evil. Both of these works are seminal examples of Sturm und Drang in German literature.