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Ellwood Wiggins. Odysseys of Recognition: Performing Intersubjectivity in Homer, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Goethe, and Kleist. Lewisburg: Bucknell Up, 2019. 342 Pp., 2 Tables.

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 October 2020

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Summary

It might come as a surprise to some readers that the newest monograph in the series “New Studies in the Age of Goethe” would open with a discussion of the famous recognition scene between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker in the 1980 film The Empire Strikes Back (“‘I am your father’”). But with this opening salvo in Odysseys of Recognition, Ellwood Wiggins illuminates the status of recognition— what Aristotle terms anagnorisis—in modernity. As Aristotle's definition in the Poetics reads (as quoted by Wiggins): “Recognition, just as the name itself signifies, is a change from ignorance to knowledge, into either friendship or enmity, among those bound for good or bad fortune.” While we generally associate recognition with internal, cognitive flashes of insight or “a-ha” moments, Wiggins argues that the operation has, in fact, long consisted of external, intersubjective performance. If Luke Skywalker suddenly knows his father after his utterance, older renderings of recognition require characters to negotiate their own identities performatively and across time. It is in and through action that characters—and readers—come to know both others and themselves.

Wiggins develops this notion of recognition from the ancient Greek tradition, performance studies, and moral philosophy. Recognition, he writes, “is a change that can never find fulfillment and an action with a beginning, middle and end; it is the actualization of interpersonal knowledge as potential.” By defining recognition as performance in this robust sense, Wiggins's monograph breaks new ground in our understanding of one of Aristotle's notoriously slippery concepts. Recognition, he shows, informs both epistemology and ethics, and it underlies the very makeup of the self (“The self is constituted in, during, and by the enacted recognition of the other”). While Wiggins starts from Aristotle's conception of recognition (anagnorisis), he shows how the operation informs related terms and ideas that likewise rely upon intersubjective dynamics (e.g., Hegelian Anerkennung).

The book is divided into two sections comprising five compact chapters each. Part 1 focuses on ancient recognition (Aristotle, Homer), part 2 on modern recognition (Shakespeare, Goethe, Kleist). Like the introduction, the conclusion points forward to modern recognition—in this case, in Kafka and Blumenberg. Wiggins brilliantly unpacks Aristotle's aporetic definition of recognition, which provides the organizational scaffolding for the individual chapters.

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Goethe Yearbook 27 , pp. 383 - 385
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2020

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