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Rethinking Lessing's LaocoonAntiquity, Enlightenment, and the 'Limits' of Painting and Poetry$
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Avi Lifschitz and Michael Squire

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198802228

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198802228.001.0001

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Criticism as Poetry?

Criticism as Poetry?

Lessing’s Laocoon and the Limits of Critique

(p.243) 9 Criticism as Poetry?
Rethinking Lessing's Laocoon

Élisabeth Décultot

Oxford University Press

If Laocoon constitutes an attempt to delineate the boundaries of poetry and painting, to what extent can these categories be applied to Lessing’s essay itself? Is Laocoon an exercise in poetry—and what is the relationship between Lessing’s own mode of writing and his theoretical delimitation of poetry? To answer these questions, Elisabeth Décultot turns to a 1755 text that Lessing composed together with Moses Mendelssohn (Pope—a Metaphysician!), a treatise in which both thinkers had tried to delineate the different realms of poetry and philosophy. Décultot argues that there is a close proximity between what Lessing calls ‘poetry’ and the nature of his own critical writing: criticism, at least as Lessing practises it in Laocoon, narrates action in time through the representation of a sequence of readings and debates with Lessing’s contemporaries.

Keywords:   Lessing, Laocoon, Enlightenment, Johann Joachim Winckelmann, Moses Mendelssohn, criticism, literary genres, poetry, philosophy

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