Jean Paul. Universe of Ink

Writing is reality


In commemoration of Jean Paul’s 250th anniversary in 2013, this project presented the first major solo exhibition featuring the German poet’s extensive oeuvre. In cooperation with the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - Preussischer Kulturbesitz and the Jean Paul Edition of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the exhibition has been shown at the Max Liebermann Haus. In addition to the funding provided by the Federal Cultural Foundation, the exhibition has been sponsored by the Josef Breitbach Foundation. The organisers were also cooperating with the Literaturhaus Berlin and the Deutsches Literaturarchiv in Marbach am Neckar, whose exhibition “Zettelkästen. Maschinen der Phantasie” (4 Mar. – 15 Sept. 2013) was featured in Berlin

Jean Paul (1763-1825) is one of the great storytellers and philosophers of German literature. And in many ways, he was Germany’s first modern poet. For Jean Paul, the essence of the story was in its telling and often the digressions were more important than the story itself. His use of polymetric verse was an early form of prose poetry. Politically, he was radically opposed to princely rule as he was to French revolutionary despotism. At the same time, he didn’t believe it possible to provide a clear and conclusive explanation of the world. His educational theories influenced the pedagogy of his time, and his view on aesthetics sought an alternative to that of the classicists and romanticists. Schiller once remarked that Jean Paul was like somebody who had “fallen from the moon”. As German literature of the 19th century oriented itself more and more to the works of Weimar Classicism, this maverick writer/philosopher vanished from the literary canon. Only after 1900 did a new generation of modern writers rediscover Jean Paul’s unparalleled language.

Jean Paul was convinced that one cannot describe reality in words, but only capture and invent it through the process of writing. He created his own literary world, a universe of ink (Dintenuniversum). Forty thousand pages of his “universe” are archived today at the Berlin State Library. This exhibition was the first ever in Germany to present a representative selection of works by Jean Paul, the poet, philosopher, the literary and media star (with gifts from the Prussian Queen Luise). Not only did it include his important manuscripts, but also all of the important portraits of Jean Paul, shown together in one place for the first time. The exhibition illustrated his relationship to contemporary history and offered impressions of the automats and devices which had fascinated him. The exhibition portrayed the man and his times in the form of busts, paintings, illustrations, engravings, original prints and maps. And it presented Jean Paul as a reader himself, one who obsessively held on to what he read, systematised what he held on to and developed a system for what he had systematised. In cooperation with the German Literary Archive in Marbach, the exhibition included Jean Paul’s “note boxes” (Zettelkästen), as well as note-filing systems of the 20th century, “Machines of the Imagination” by Eckhard Henscheid, Peter Rühmkorf, Arno Schmidt and others. The epilogue of the exhibition guided visitors to modern times and presented Jean Paul’s influence in Germany and Europe.

The goal of “Jean Paul. Universe of Ink” was to re-examine the work and poet from the perspective of modern-day research and literature and emphasize his integral role as a pioneer of European modernity. A works catalogue accompanied the exhibition, along with workshops for pupils and a teacher training event. The project included an extensive accompanying programme with lectures, discussions and readings by national and international scholars and renowned writers. They addressed Jean Paul and his literary criticism of the past and present at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, the Max Liebermann Haus and the Literaturhaus on Fasanenstrasse.

Research directors: Markus Bernauer, Jutta Weber
Curator: Angela Steinsiek
Artists and scholars: Julia Cloot, Elisabeth Décultot (F), Bernhard Fischer, Jens Malte Fischer, Christian Helmreich (F), Reinhard Jirgl, Navid Kermani, Michael Krüger, Uli Lechtleitner, Thomas Lehr, Norbert Miller, Helmuth Mojem, Alain Montandon (F), Cornelia Ortlieb, Albert Ostermeier, Ernst Osterkamp, Jörg Paulus, Karl Pestalozzi (CH), Helmut Pfotenhauer, Friedhelm Ptok, Monika Rinck, Uwe Schweikert, Ralf Simon (CH), Peter Sprengel, Maike G. Werner, Michael Will, Christof Wingertszahn and others


Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften

Jean Paul Edition

Jägerstraße 22/23

10117 Berlin (external link, opens in a new window) (external link, opens in a new window)