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Literatur als Laboratorium für Formen guten Lebens: Potential einer wissenschaftlichen Metapher und Leistungsvermögen der Literatur

Ansgar Nünning

Pages 313 - 334

Although literature has occasionally been called a ‘laboratory’, no sustained attempt has yet been made to explore the implications of this metaphorical usage of the term. The main goals of this essay are to gauge the potential of the scientific metaphor of literature as a laboratory for forms of the good life and to explicate the hypotheses about the functions that literary works can fulfill that are implied in this metaphor. Taking its cue from the notion of the laboratory as a “travelling concept” (Mieke Bal), the article conceptualises literary works as “thought experiments” (Catherine Elgin) and as “experiments in life” (George Eliot) which generate aesthetic experiences and new perspectives on the good life. Drawing on Paul Ricoeur’s notion of a ‘circle of mimesis’, the essay argues that aesthetic forms of literary configurations do not merely represent existing cultural models of the good life, but rather serve to reflect upon and critique prevailing notions, while also generating alternative ideas and models of what a good life could look like. The value of literature, it is argued, resides in its capacity to broaden the range of possibilities of cultural models and to function as “valorization laboratories” (Yves Citton) that can entail revalorizations of prevailing views of the good life.


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