Universität Erfurt

Projekt von Michael Gordian M.A.

Debates on and Perceptions of Simulation and Dissimulation in Late Seventeenth- and Early Eighteenth-Century German Literature

The starting point of my research project is my doctoral thesis at the Warburg Institute London which examines early modern perceptions of the twin notions of simulation and dissimulation in various literary, social and semantic contexts and from a pan-European perspective. Throughout my research, I have come across a large number of interesting texts from the end of the 17th and early 18th century, which were beyond the time frame of my dissertation. Many of these sources remain largely unstudied with regard to this subject – a lacuna which I would like to close. My aim is not only to investigate further the subject of my dissertation with regard to a future publication but also to conduct research for a more encompassing postdoc project which I plan to carry out in the next years.

Jon R. Snyder closed his study on early modern culture of secrecy and dissimulation with a brief overview of the rejection of these notions in the eighteenth century in favour of an ideal of transparency and honesty. Earlier, Ursula Geitner had offered a detailed analysis of the semantic shift in European thought at the beginning of the 18th century, which, she claimed, moved away from a ‘negative anthropology’ towards new concepts and perceptions of human communication and interaction grounded in sincerity and candour rather than secrecy and opacity. Although Snyder’s and, above all, Geitner’s interpretations seem plausible, it is, nevertheless, worthwhile to reassess their assumptions. It is, for example, important to examine to what extent authors from the first half of the 18th century really condemned any form of dis/simulation in favour of the ideal of sincerity.

I shall limit myself to two examples at this point. Julius Bernhard von Rohr, for example, devoted attention to the problem of feigning and dissembling in his Unterricht von der Kunst der Menschen Gemüther zu erforschen of 1714, in which he presented an art for the examination of the human mind, known as the ars conjectandi hominum mores. What is more, von Rohr also addressed the subject in his Neuer Moralischer Traktat Von der Liebe gegen die Personen anderen Geschlechts of 1717, in which he perceived dis/simulation as an instrument for preserving and maintaining marriage. Another example worth mentioning is Johann Dietrich von Gülich’s Larva iuridico-politica detecta. Sive discursus iuridico-historico-politicus de simulatione et dissimulatione from 1688. Although it is one of the most extensive early modern treatments of this subject filling more than 600 pages, this treatise has not been mentioned in the scholarly literature on dis/simulation.

While it is worthwhile to look closely at the continuation of earlier debates on simulation and dissimulation, it is also important to take into account and to analyze the shifts in the interest in and the perception of this subject in the eighteenth century.

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