Simon Richter. "Laocoon's Two Bodies," and "Winckelmann: Laocoon and the
Eunuch." Laocoon's Body and the Aesthetics of Pain: Winckelmann, Lessing,
Herder, Moritz, Goethe. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1992. 13ñ37, 38ñ61.
|IN "LAOCOON'S TWO BODIES"
Simon Richter re-establishes the history of the Laocoon statue and demonstrates
how its own discovery and rediscovery, placement and displacement, damage
and rebuilding have intensified its interest as a focus of German aesthetic
criticism. He traces classical, medieval, and Renaissance accounts of the
statue and also chronicles its restoration, which changed the gesture of
Laocoon's right arm from extended to bent. Various meditations on authenticity
may be derived from this historical inquiry. More important to Richter,
however, is a renewed emphasis on the pain that the five critics he examines
see or fail (or refuse) to see implicit in what each posits as an example
of Classical beauty.
The following chapter, "Winckelmann: Laocoon and
the Eunuch", makes a startling case about the material motivations
of the critic who set this statue adrift in the sea of German letters.
In the context that Richter establishes throughout the chapter, the "noble
simplicity and quiet grandeur" that Winckelmann famously attributed to
the Laocoon is not a bland appreciation of the Classical form, but a valorization
of the ability to conceal pain in blankness and silenceówhich Winckelmann
read into the stature. "Representation depends on resistance. Though pain
and the soul's efforts to conceal pain are violently opposed, it is only
in their mutual tension that representation takes place." In other words,
the harmony and balance often employed as the definition of Classical art
are reflected in emotional content (pain and stoicism) as well as form
This is a kind of high-art version of "Pinch me.
I must be dreaming." This particular argument is very well laid out and
an intriguing read. Richter's take on Lessing and euphemism is less persuasive.
Richter's continual return to a meditation on the statue of Laocoon itself
seems to orient criticism in men's reaction to objects deliberately.
He does not slip into an accidental or negligent privileging of the text
over the image. Instead, through all the chapters his book, he keeps the
tension bewteen text and image apparent to the reader. (Joan Menefee.)
Return to Text and Image: Selective Annotated
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Created 24 November 1997
Revised 23 December 1997