This essay explores the concepts and practices of culture and the public sphere that Wieland, Goethe, and Schiller outline and realize in their journals, letters, and other writings. The background of this investigation is the ongoing debate in Germany about the function of a majority culture, based on a national tradition, in a multi-cultural, democratic society. The investigation of the three authors’ concepts and practices of both the public sphere and publishing demonstrates that majority cultures can be conceived in a variety of ways that can be more or less compatible with a liberal society. In their journals, Die Horen and Propyläen, Schiller and Goethe, respectively, are speaking to an ideal public, with the support of a select number of like-minded authors, aiming at the establishment of a national, symbolically structured culture and education (Bildung) that shows affinities to absolutist political structures. By contrast, Wieland opens his Der Teutsche Merkur up to a variety of contributors and readers, which are conceived and accepted as fallible, though teachable, with the goal of furthering the development, over a long period of time, of a national culture that is, at the same time, universal and timeless, thereby questioning the concept of nationhood.
The internet has led to a rearrangement of the public and private spheres. Social media in particular have contributed to the blurring of boundaries between public and private as they allow for unrestricted self-representation via text, images, and video to a more or less unlimited online audience. More than ever, individuals are thus forced to take into account questions of un/desired observability. For a critical analysis of this development, this article draws upon Jürgen Habermas’ The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere and Beate Rössler’s The Value of Privacy. Both authors argue that the modulation of publicness and privacy is intertwined with the process of individuation and hence concerns the autonomy of the individual, as self-realization depends upon responses from others, but also upon the ability to withdraw from public scrutiny. Drawing upon their findings, the article discusses if and how social media enhance or delimit self-realization and therefore serve or hinder individuation and autonomy.
Recent developments in digital network communication suggest that the distinction between public and private has become precarious. This situation warrants a closer look at the infrastructures and practices of making things public. What can we learn about the public sphere by studying how, exactly, it is being produced? What constitutes the threshold between public and private, and how does one pass it? Which medial, social, rhetorical, and political practices and semantics, which modes of cooperation are involved in acts of publishing? The introduction critically re-examines 20th-century theories of the public sphere in light of these questions.
According to Jürgen Habermas, equality amongst those of unequal social standing in 18th-century society was limited to the private sphere. Though Gottsched shows how to use this sphere strategically for private policy and cooperation, he knows how to modify his publication strategies wisely in order to achieve the greatest and best possible effectiveness in his attempt to popularise Enlightenment. By his Moralische Wochenschriften as well as by his more popular way of academic writing for students he spreads controversial ideas such as theoretical and practical reason’s primacy over theologic argumentations, the academic education of women, or female authorship. Yet, he does so prudently and expertly uses the opportunities offered by publishing anonymously or under a pseudonym to support scientific integration of women. Gottsched relied upon a variety of rhetorical strategies to introduce controversial ideas to the broader public without embracing them openly. Employing different strategies of publication, he pursued his agenda as a moral educator, promoted emancipation from religious authorities, and advanced his own brand of cultural nationalism in order to unfold and popularise the German literary tradition. He thus significantly contributed to the structural transformation of the public sphere as described by Heinrich Bosse.