On Seeing Otherwise: Johann Jakob Breitinger’s Poetics of Attention

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This article contextualizes Johann Jakob Breitinger’s Critische Dichtkunst (1740) within a transdisciplinary discourse on Aufmerksamkeit (attention) in eighteenth-century epistemology and science. I argue that Breitinger’s adaptation of the epistemology of attention defines his most distinctive poetological concepts, including his notion of poetry as a type of painting (poetische Mahlerey), his elevation of the new (das Neue) and the marvelous (das Wunderbare) into central categories of poetics, and his subversion of the traditional principle of imitation of nature (Nachahmung der Natur). Excavating Breitinger’s revision of poetics on the basis of a representationalist concept of attention recovers the Critische Dichtkunst as an important forerunner of Alexander Baumgarten’s momentous conjunction of artistic production and sense perception in a single discipline of aesthetics. Finally, the article demonstrates the transdisciplinary potency of the concept of attention in the early eighteenth century, well before the late-nineteenth-century rise of empirical psychology highlighted by conventional accounts of the emergence of attention as a key concern of modern culture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)162-181
Number of pages20
JournalThe Germanic Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


  • Attention; Baumgarten, Alexander Gottlieb (1714–1762); Breitinger, Johann Jakob (1701–1776); eighteenth-century aesthetics; poetics; poetology of knowledge; representationalism; Wolff, Christian (1679–1754)


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