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Gymnastics of Affections and Fitness

Preliminary Remarks to a Bio-Poetic Lecture of Emilia Galotti

Maurizio Pirro    Università degli Studi di Bari «Aldo Moro», Italia    



The category of biopoetics constitutes an ulterior development of what is known as the ‘anthropological turn’, which, from the mid-1980s onwards, profoundly modified the face of the humanistic disciplines. Biopoetics finds its niche at the junction between two methodological orientations focusing on clarifying the relationship between literary invention and the sphere of bios in a mainly cognitivist perspective (the evolutionistic aesthetic and the neurological interpretation of processes of aesthetic reception); biopoetics can be defined in terms of a meta-discourse that is required to hold together the forms in which bios has found its structuring in: the poetics of authors, the rhetoric that presides over fictional representation of bios in literary works and the way in which processes of aesthetic response are regulated by anthropological constants. The article aims to adopt this conceptual apparatus in its analysis of Emilia Galotti by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. A traditional and now dated political interpretation of this tragedy saw in the character of Emilia the exponent of bourgeois opposition to the caprices and immorality of the feudal aristocracy. This resistance had no real space in which it could be exercised pragmatically and was therefore doomed to extinguish itself in a pure and simple spiritual testimony, culminating in the (self)-destructive gestures of Emilia and Odoardo Galotti. In line with the hypotheses of eighteenth-century anthropology and, above all, Lessing’s theories regarding drama, a biopoetic reading of the work should, on the other hand, draw attention to the aspects of unilaterality and imbalance in Emilia’s character, to the absence, in her upbringing, of ‘gymnastics’ of passion geared towards reinforcing her emotional ‘fitness’ (‘fitness’ is a fundamental category in evolutionistic aesthetics). A reading of this nature would also conclude by placing the character of the Prince of Guastalla in a different light; he would look like the carrier of a notion of “fitness” based around premises typical of absolutist culture, such as ‘sprezzatura’ and décence, which, however, never reach the point of mitigating his personal inclination towards excess and loss of control.

Sept. 30, 2016
July 19, 2016
April 19, 2016

Keywords: FitnessEmilia GalottiGotthold Ephraim LessingBiopoetics

Copyright: © 2016 Maurizio Pirro. This is an open-access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction is permitted, provided that the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. The license allows for commercial use. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.