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Enlightenment Aesthetics and the Eucharistic Sign: Lessing’s Laocoön

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Chapter Summary

It is impossible to know for certain whether Lessing's conceptualization of the aesthetic sign in the Laocoön essay was directly informed by the Lutheran concept of the eucharistic sign, or whether he was simply reminded of his own notion of aesthetic representation when he read Berengar's text, whose notion of sacramental representation Lessing understood to adumbrate Luther's. Whereas the evidence for the latter is incontrovertible, the evidence for the former is largely circumstantial. Nonetheless, the overwhelming similarities, down to the identical terminology employed, make a strong case that Enlightenment aesthetics are a continuation of the Lutheran reform of religious and profane media. Whether wittingly or unwittingly, Lessing understands the aesthetic sign to function in similar ways as the eucharistic sign of Berengar and Luther and, thus, this secular construct is doing much of same work as its religious counterpart.

Keywords: eucharistic sign; Laocoön; Lessing



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