Tracing the reception of Kant’s phrase “selbstverschudeten Unmündigkeit” (“self-incurred immaturity” is the current consensus on how to translate it), I stumbled on one of those things that reminds us about the books, and the worlds, we have lost:
This peculiar book, swept up into Google’s scanners during their sweep through the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich, is a survivor from a vanished world: a world in which a title like Teutonia could be attached, without irony or aggression, to a book that was edited by two Jewish pedagogues and intended for the education of “German boys and girls” .
Assembled by the rabbi, translator, and writer Gotthold Salomon (1784-1862) and the teacher and writer Maimon Fraenkel (1788-1848), it consisted, as announced on its title page, of selections of passages from the works of the “most excellent” German writers. The short extracts are organized topically and the table of contents gives a hint of the ambitions of the collection:
- God. Providence.
- The Knowledge of the World and of Man
- The Destiny of Man
- Virtue. Vice.
- Death. Immortality.
- Belief and Hope
- Reason and Truth
- Nature and Art
- Beauty. Taste.
- Love. Marriage.
- Women (Weibliches Geschlecht)
- Fortune and Misfortune
- Education and Culture
- Worldly Wisdom (Lebensweisheit)
The seventh item in the section dealing with “Reason and Truth” assembles a few passages from Kant, the last of which consists of the entire first paragraph of Kant’s essay on the question “What is enlightenment?”
Here, then, is one of the places where boys and girls from Jewish families, immersing themselves in what their families regarded as the culture to which they belonged, would have encountered Kant’s words.
It’s hard to look at things like this without thinking about all that was to follow. It’s also hard to look at the frontispiece of the collection without thinking about what history does to relics like this.
Adorno famously wrote that Mahler turned “cliché” into “event.” Looking at this frontispiece I couldn’t help thinking about the way in which history turns kitsch into monuments.