Hans Robert Jauss, 1921 to 1997, promotes history in relationship to literary analysis. He stresses the importance of the expectations of the reader. For example, Ulysses, published in 1922, by James Joyce, the reader acknowledges the literary work of a genius. After all, Joyce is considered one of the most influential modernist novelists, and a forerunner in the “stream of consciousness” (1403). Jauss referred to this phenomenon as the “horizon of expectations” by the reader (1403). The “Literary History as a Challenge to Literary Theory,” published in 1969; rev. 1970, by Hans Jauss, makes a case for reader expectancy and anticipation regarding interpretation. This document is basic to the literary reader-oriented approach.
During World War II, Jauss was a German officer on the Eastern front. In 1957, he received his doctorate in literature from the University of Heidelberg, where he was a scholar of French literature of the medieval period. He had positions at the University of Heidelberg, Münster University, and the University of Giessen. In 1966, he was appointed as a professor at the University of Constance. He was also a visiting professor at the Sorbonne, the University of Zurich, Columbia University, Yale University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of California at Los Angeles.
In 1967, Jauss delivered the “Literaturgeschichte als Provokation,” or the “Literary History as Challenge.” With his reader-response theory, he captured an audience, and became a notable figure. At the University of Constance, he and other colleagues formed the “Constance School.” It fostered the study of Rezeptionsästhetik, the aesthetics of reception, and examined the interaction between readers with texts. Although during the 1960s, the “Constance School” was newly formed, its origin was founded on eighteenth-century German philosophy, which focusses on the interaction between subjects and objects. In particular, Jauss employs the concept of “historical horizons and the changing nature of interpretation and aesthetic judgment over time” (1403). He views texts as a variable rather than fixed symbolic object, which is influenced by phenomenology. Phenomenology is the metaphysical study of phenomena. It is the philosophical speculation or intellectual abstraction regarding something which is perceived or observed. It is a particular kind of occurrence as recognized through the senses or known intellectually. He emphasizes the collective understanding of historical readers.
Jauss reasons for increasing the narration of literature to include readers and the past upon which a text is received. He views texts as timeless and sacred. He states that “a literary work is not an object that stands by itself and that offers the same view to each reader in each period” (1404). He believes artistic views are molded by history, and are changed by time. He believes― only by studying the history of the integration among society of the text, can one more fully understand it.
He has seven theses, and they are as follows. The first, history is influenced by writing and reading. Second, an historian can establish an objective set of reader expectations. Third, the expectations form a “horizon that determines the interpretation” (1404). Forth, reception works between the writer and reader through “questions and answers” (1404). Fifth, overtime expectancy changes, and history evolves. Sixth, overtime and at one moment in time scholars can view the reception of text. Seventh, overtime, the history of literature establishes a chronology and sharing of dialogue that relates to history in general. The changes in dialogue are for the most extent a function of moral values.
Jauss borrows models from history, Marxism and Russian formalism. Although Jauss adopts the historical framework of Marxism, he rejects their notion that texts reproduce reality, and it is the mirror of socioeconomics. Jauss believes that literature functions as a formative function of reality. He maintains that literature as a form of art has a distinctive history, and it influences general history. For example, by questioning the morals of the day, literature may change history in general. Although Jauss draws on “literary evolution” by Russian formalist, he rejects their notion that only visual art can change general history. He bases literary evolution not on authorial creation, but on the changes overtime of the expectations and evaluations by readers.
Jauss believes that a reader does not read literature based on its merits, but rather it “is received and judged against the background of other works of art as well as against the background of the everyday experience of life” (1404). For example, Madame Bovary, published in 1856, by Gustave Flaubert, was considered pornographic and banned, but now it is considered entertaining yet tame. Jauss refers to the difference between the expectation of the original reader and current reader as “aesthetic distance” (1404). He believes the greater the aesthetic distance, the greater the measure of value.
In 1921, the Treaty of Versailles was signed, and Germany took responsibility for the war. As part of their reparations, they had to pay in current US dollar equivalent to $422 billion. It was a sum that some economist, including John Maynard Keynes, viewed as excessive. The treaty buried German. It made a desert and called it peace.
In Adolf Hitler’s autobiography Mein Kampf, published in 1925 and 1926, he describes the desire to gain new territory for German settlers.
In a memo, Hitler wrote―
I consider it necessary for the Reichstag to pass the following two laws: 1) A law providing the death penalty for economic saboteurs and 2) a law making the Jewish liable for all damage inflicted upon the German Economy, and upon the German people.
In relationship to history, his book and his memo reflects the plan by Hitler―to gain new territory for German settlers, to make a death penalty for saboteurs, which included France and Britain, and to murder the Jewish, supposedly for damages for the German Economy and German people, but most likely due to racism. The Germans murdered millions of Jewish people, and confiscating their possessions.
Hans Robert Jauss was a SS officer during World War II. He spent two winters, 1942 and 1943, on the Russian Front. On the Front, the German military suffered 80 percent of its total deaths; approximately 30 million people lost their lives.
Does the background of Jauss reflect why he promotes history in relationship to literary analysis? Had the end of World War I not been so damning to the German people―would the Treaty of Versailles be such an important document? Can we learn from history and literary analysis so we do not make the same mistakes? Regarding the Treaty of Versailles, what were the expectations of the reader? Were the expectations to bury Germany in debt? Was that necessarily a good idea? Had the readers examined the text? Did the writer’s and reader’s understand its ramifications? Did the writers understand that history is influenced by writing and reading? Did the writers have a set of reader’s expectations? Did the reader’s expectations form its interpretation? Did they imagine different participants, writers and readers, “questions and answers?” (1404) Did the writers understand that they were recording an evolution of change? Did the writers understand that it would be viewed not only at one moment in time, but also over time? Did the writers understand that the document would result in revisions of moral ideas? Was the theory by Jauss a reflection of his history?
Leitch, Vincent B., ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2010.