At the same time that Naturalism was getting going, there were movements against it. Authors like Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Stefan George (early works) saw the pure reproduction of reality as unproductive. Also some manifestos: Bahr: Kritik der Moderne (1890), Überwindung des Naturalismus (1891). This anti-realistic, anti-naturalistic movement manifested itself in the Heimatkunstbewegung and literary impressionism (taking the contemporary French painting school as a model and artistic ideal). These two directions unite in their attempt to overcome rationalism with intense feeling. There was a strong symbolic character to these groups’ works as a result of the impulse to stylize experience.
While both Naturalism and its detractors both criticized the bourgeoisie, they did it in very different ways. Naturalism attacked the bourgeoisie on an economic, social level, while the non-naturalists instead criticized the philistine disposition of the bourgeois (Bürgertum). Naturalism developed at the turn of the century in a more left-leaning direction, while Symbolism leaned right. All of the anti-naturalist movements shared a distaste for the philosophical background of Naturalism – they preferred a return to irrationalism, glorified death, metaphysics, the soul, and myth. (See here, Wagner’s music dramas, Schopenhauer.)
“An die Stelle von Positivismus und Optismus traten einerseits Lebensmüdigkeit, Resignation und Todesverherrlichung, ein pessimistischer Grundzug im Gefolge der Wirkung Schopenhauers, der in der Vermittlung durch die Musikdrr. Richard Wagners (1813-1883) eine romantische, rauschhafte Note bekam, andererseits Jugendlichkeit, Schönheitskult, Lebensgier, Tendenzen, die in der sog. Lebensphilosophie ihre Unterbauung fanden und das Dekadenzbewußtsein sowie den Nihilismus überwinden wollten. Leben erschien hier als dynamisch-ästhetischer Selbstwert, der weit über den Wert des Genusses hinausging.” [DdD, 484]
Very important: Nietsche’s Kulturpessimismus & Zukunftsphilosophie “Die Zukunft gebe unserem Heute die Regel.” Nietsche agreed with the Symbolists in his lifestyle as well as his philosophy. The world can only be saved by aesthetics; art is the only thing that has not fallen victim to the absurd, and is the sphere that lies beyond all worths and functions. à Jugendstil! And over-aestheticization of everything at this time. Parallels to this aesthetic Streben also in literature – George, Rilke, early Hofmannsthal, Hesse, Stadler, impressionistic Hauptmann. Sort of literary Jugendstil.
French Symbolists: Baudelaire, Verlaine, Mallarme, Rimbaud, Huysmans, Verhaeren, Maeterlink. Symbolism brought some ideals from the German Romantik back to Germany from France.
English language literature: Wilde (esp. Dorian Gray), Poe, Whitman (Formal importance. Content first appreciated by expressionism.)
Scandinavia: Strindberg influenced Wedekind. Became a more important influence in Expressionism.
Dostoyevsky was one of the biggest influences.
The antinaturalistic movements wanted to attain a level of art for art’s sake and praised not the reproduction of experience or facts, but rather of impressions, and impacts. When human beauty was praised it was seldom a beautiful strength, but rather a beautiful and interesting weakness that was praised (see Tadzio in Der Tod in Venedig). Neuromantik mixed in a Dionysian element. In one sense you could call the Neuromantik the Dionysian and Naturalism the Appolonian.
Lyric poetry was a particularly strong field at this time. First centering around Stefan George, then Rilke. Emphasis was less on formal perfection and more on word choice and rhyme. Metrically, poets were referring back to Hölderlin and Whitman’s free rhythms. There was also a renewal of the ballad – establishment of the literary cabaret furthered this fascination with the ballad/song. See Wedekind 1902 – joining the cabaret “Die elf Scharfrichter” in Munich.
The novel kept the microscopic vision of the Naturalistic novel, but had a more lyric, obscuring tone. Narrative works held onto a stylized idiom that had been rejected by the Naturalists and which almost became rhythmic prose. In drama, some romantic aspects recurred. One-acts by early Hofmannsthal signaled a new theater form. In this tradition are also Schnitzler’s dramas (the individual acts should stand more or less on their own, but work together as neighbors). Gerhart Hauptmann’s early impressionistic works show a mixture of naturalistic and romantic-symbolist characteristics.
Authors to consider: George, Hesse, Hofmannsthal, Mann, Rilke, Schnitzler, Wedekind, Zweig.