The Strata-Model in Poetics (Schichtenpoetik)

Scientific Essay 1989 20 Pages

German Studies - Genres


The Strata Model in Poetics (Schichtenpoetik) [i]



Here, for the first time in English, one of the most fertile models in the theory of art and literature is being presented and explained: the strata model. At the same time, the theories of its most important proponents (Nicolai Hartman and Roman Ingarden) are being reconciled with each other. Lastly, the advantages of the strata model are demonstrated by a clarification of open questions: 1. How can art be differentiated ontologically from other objects? 2. How can the various kinds of art be defined ontologically? 3.In what relationship does the strata model stand to Marxist art theory? 4. How can the concepts of structure, g enre, and Aristotle's Three Unities be explained in view of the strata model? 5. How do "artistic values" differ from "aesthetic values"? 6. Where can literary values be located within the strata model?


Hier wird zum ersten Mal in englischer Sprache eines der fruchtbarsten Denkmodelle der Kunst- und Literaturwissenschaft vorgestellt und erläutert. Zugleich werden die Anschauungen seiner wichtigsten Vordenker (Nicolai Hartmann und Roman Ingarden) miteinander in Einklang gebracht. Danach werden Vorteile des Schichten-Modells exemplarisch an der Klärung von einigen noch immer offenen Fragen demonstriert: 1. Wodurch unterscheidet sich Kunst ontologisch von anderen Objekten? 2. Wie lassen sich die Kunstarten ontologisch voneinander abgrenzen? 3. Wie verhält sich das Schichtenmodell zur marxistischen Literaturtheorie? 4. Wie verhalten sich der Strukturbegriff, der Gattungsbegriff und die „drei Einheiten“ des Aristoteles zum Schichtenmodell? 5. Wodurch unterscheidet sich „künstlerischer“ von „ästhetischem“ Wert? 6. Wo sind literarische Werte im Schichtenmodell anzusiedeln?

Keywords: Poetics, Aesthetics, Strata Model, Schichtenmodell, N. Hartmann, R. Ingarden

I. The Strata Model

New concepts and models of thinking can precipitate new insights by giving a fresh direction to our observations and showing us what to look for. One very productive model for viewing complex phenomena in literature is the “strata” concept, a way of distinguishing in literature layers or levels, similar to geological strata. To our knowledge, Plato [ii] was the first to use a strata model for his description of the psychological functions of man, in which he uses the metaphor of a chariot driver. Since Romanticism we encounter traces of strata models more frequently, especially in psychology. Sigmund Freud [iii] made them famous with his strata of the id, the ego, and the superego. He realized, of course, that such spatial models are imperfect means for describing psychological processes and relationships. The German philosopher, Max Scheler [iv], used the model in 1916 for a description of emotional life. His pupil, Nicolai Hartmann [v], finally built a complete ontological, ethical, and aesthetic system of philosophy on the strata model. In addition to depth psychology and philosophy, strata models have been used successfully in other areas. In 1938, Erich Rothacker [vi] gave us a summary of their application to anthropology and characterology. Many other disciplines (like brain physiology, biology, and pedagogy) also adopted the strata model.[vii] For the analysis of literature in particular, it was first used in large scale by Roman Ingarden [viii], the Polish philosopher and pupil of the founder of Phenomenology, Edmund Husserl [ix].

The application of a strata model to the analysis of literature is mainly pragmatically motivated. The literary scholar or the interpreter of literature is less concerned with philosophical insights than with an objective comprehension of the literary work. Beyond that, s/he wishes to understand other, mainly psychological, phenomena observable within a literary context. Thus strata poetics is justified as a tool of cognition and systematization only insofar as it yields insights that could not have been gained otherwise. The philosophical dispute as to the justification of strata models as such will be of no concern in this paper.

Strata models are systems of categories that we project upon phenomena in order to make sense of them. They correspond to a synthetic mode of thinking, which attempts to strike a balance between the observation of universal laws and the description of individual characteristics. Like most concepts in the humanities, they do not limit, but rather serve to accentuate observed phenomena. They group together certain aspects of literature into unified strata of systems which can be said to stand in a relation to one another comparable to that of psychological strata within the human personality.

The correspondence between the stratification of the human personality and that of its products, especially the work of art, can be understood in psychological terms: when an artist creates a work of art, he does so under the influence of the various strata of his personality. These strata can participate in differing degrees (creating more “emotional” or “cerebral” art, for example). In the process of reception, corresponding psychological strata in the audience will resonate in varying degrees (e.g., the work of art will have a mainly “emotional” or “cerebral” impact). In this way it can be explained that not all art appeals equally to any receiver. A degree of “readiness” granted by a correspondence in the strata-structure between artist, work of art, and receiver will promote the reception of art.

Because of the comparability of the stratification of the literary work of art on the one hand, and of the personality of the poet and of the receiver on the other, strata models point beyond the literary realm. If strata are to be viewed as categories applicable to both the human personality and its products, they must correspond to ontological as well as to psychological laws.

II. Hartmann and Ingarden

Hartmann and Ingarden are the only two thinkers who applied strata models systematically to aesthetic phenomena, but neither compared his findings with the other’s in a constructive manner.[x]

While systematic studies of the “ambiance” of literary works and of certain relationships in style between various arts gained more and more acceptance, a theoretical inquiry into ontological questions as to the different modes of existence of various forms of art was generally avoided. However, it is only in comparison to the ontological structure of other kinds of art (that is, their varying “stratification”) that literature can be fully understood.

Roman Ingarden has had a notable impact on literary theory, starting with the so called “immanent interpretation” school[xi] in Germany following World War II and continuing in some American publications that look back to Husserl’s phenomenology and its usefulness for the cognition of literature.[xii] Nicolai Hartmann, on the other hand, seems to be forgotten for the time being.[xiii] His works on ethics are known to some specialists in religion, but his theories of aesthetics, based on the same ontological strata model, seem to be widely unknown. Even works in cultural anthropology that use the same model, or a very similar one, mention him only sparingly or not at all. Considering the importance of his basic premises and the richness of his observations, this is an injustice and should be corrected.

The attacks that were occasionally aimed at Hartmann’s general ontology should not apply to his aesthetics: Since, according to him, the aesthetic object exists only for the recipient of art (contrary to the object of cognition), a discussion of Hartmann’s “realistic ontology” and its epistemological assumptions[xiv] can be here omitted. Neither should we lament the somewhat scarce treatment of societal determinants, which Georg Lukacs [xv], who otherwise thinks highly of Hartmann, accuses him of. For an aesthetics, which understands itself as an ontology of art, societal factors belong only in so far to the work of art as they have been integrated into it, just as do psychological and philosophical factors. They certainly become part of the strata of the work described by Hartmann.

In spite of their very different reception, Hartmann and Ingarden have much in common[xvi]: They both stood in the middle of the idealism-realism controversy, and both decided in favor of realism by insisting that epistemology would have to be re-constructed out of ontology, and not vice versa. That is in Hartmann’s case surprising, since it meant opposing the German idealistic tradition.[xvii] For Ingarden, this decision has been explained with the influence by the Polish analytical school, from which he came.[xviii] – Both were influenced by Scheler as well as by Husserl ’s phenomenology. Both, however, did not follow the transcendental idealism of the later Husserl (and even less Heidegger ’s existentialism), but rather insisted on a patiently detailed analysis of existing objects (to which both counted art objects), that is to say, on a kind of phenomenological realism.

Both saw the work of art as an “intentional object” (Ingarden’s term), based in reality and therefore lasting, but depending on the creative act of the author as well as on the act of reception by the audience. Both saw it mainly as a “stratified object” and both saw the problems in using such spacial metaphors. Lastly, both saw the relationship between the general ontological strata model and that specifically focused on literature, Hartmann, however, much more so than Ingarden, and that is, where their differences start:

One of the first problems one encounters in comparing these two attempts at a stratified theory of art is whether one should design individual strata models for each art (music, painting, sculpture, literature, etc.) or, instead, one comprehensive model accommodating all of them. The former method was used by Ingarden whereas Hartmann used one comprehensive model.[xix] It seems, however, that one of the greatest benefits of “Strata aesthetics”, namely the possibility of comparing, describing, and defining the arts according to the way they use the available strata, would be lost if we used different models. For the purpose of comparative analysis one comprehensive system serves us better than many since, as stated previously, strata models are merely systems of categories, which we project upon phenomena in order to better distinguish them.

Such a unified system should also be based on the ontological strata model, encompassing inorganic, organic, emotional, and spiritual levels of existence in the world, since works of art are anchored in reality. We project the same categories simultaneously on art as well as on its surrounding reality. By using the same strata, we are enabled to compare art objects with other objects in ontological terms. The simple division into four levels of existence (material, biological, psychological, and intellectual, or whatever they may be called) can be further subdivided for aesthetic considerations, but its sequence cannot be changed. This claim may be justified by the following quotation from Hartmann: “The same strata that could be shown in the real world can also be found in the work of art and have to be run through by the spectator: first a material level (in the work of art, probably two), then one of life [lyness] , then one of emotion, and finally a spiritual one.”[xx]

Another reason for following Hartmann in this respect is the fact that Ingarden, in contrast to Hartmann, finds his strata simply by a phenomenological analysis of the arts. In Ingarden’s later book, The Recognition of the Literary Work of Art[xxi] , he describes the ways in which we realize the various strata. However, he never goes so far as to demonstrate points of correspondence between the strata in the personality structure of the artist and the receiver on the one hand, and the aesthetical structure of the work of art on the other hand. One reason for this is that Ingarden, at least officially, was not interested in the psychological aspects of literature. He also did not apply strata models to human beings, which had been the main concern of psychology and anthropology for quite a while, as best demonstrated by Rothacker’s book. Rothacker even indicated points of correspondence in strata between human beings and their world of experience as stated in the following quote: “... substantial strata, characterized by autonomous laws, correspond to their correlated ‘environments’ ... zones of meaning, aimed only at them, which they derive from reality according to their intrinsic organization, and which offer them stimulation.”[xxii] - If we consider that not only art but also nature, and even inanimate environments can provide us with an aesthetic experience, we can better understand Rothacker’s meaning. “Manipulated” nature or environments (such as gardens, flower arrangements, or architecture) form a transition from art to “real” (or un-manipulated) nature.

Hartmann, as mentioned before, bases his complete ontology on a strata model. This allows him to see the work of art as “just another” stratified object. Granted, this object may have a more complex stratification than any other kind, but nevertheless it is based on the ontological model. We will later see that this enables him and us to more clearly define so far unexplained phenomena through the use of points of correspondence in the particular strata between author, receiver, the work of art itself, and the world in which it participates.[xxiii] - In this way, we attain a system whereby the strata are connected in two directions, namely “from the bottom up” (each stratum is supported ontologically by the one “below”, its existence made ontologically possible by the one beneath it) and “from the top down” (each stratum is structurally determined by the one above it).


[i] Parts of this paper were presented at the annual meeting of the Japanese Society for Germanistics in Tokyo (20.5.1989). The present form was published in Kyoto Sangyo Daigaku Ronshuu, Humanities Series No. 30 (March 2003) 1-20.

[ii] H. Wagner: “Die Schichtentheoreme bei Platon, Aristoteles und Plotin” in Studium Generale, 9/6 (1957) 283-291.

[iii] Sigmund Freud: Vorlesungen zur Einführung in die Psychoanalyse (1917); Das Ich und das Es (1923); Ges. Schriften (12 vols., since 1924).

[iv] Der Formalismus in der Ethik und die materiale Wertethik (Halle 1916; Berne 1966) 332-345.

[v] Der Aufbau der realen Welt. Grundriss der allgemeinen Kategorienlehre. Berlin 31964. - Ästhetik. Berlin 1953; 21966. - Einführung in die Philosophie. Vorlesungsnachschrift (Hannover 1949) 121-122.- Comp. Timotheus Barth: „Zur Ästhetik Nicolai Hartmanns“ in: Wissenschaft und Weisheit, 17 (1954) 137-140; Friedrich Löw: „L’estetica de Nicolai Hartmann“ in: Aut aut (1954) 377-383. Hartmann (1882-1950) studied in St. Petersburg, Dorpat and Marburg. He taught in Marburg (1920-25), Cologne (1925-31), Berlin (1931-45) and Göttingen (1945-50). His basic ideas concerning a strata model for aesthetics were already published (two years after Ingarden’s first book) in 1933, in Das Problem des geistigen Seins. Untersuchungen zur Grundlegung der Geschichtsphilosophie und der Geisteswissenschaften (in its 3rd section: “Der objektivierte Geist”, pp. 406-515). According to his wife, his strata-aesthetics was completed in 1945, but published only posthumously in 1953 (2nd. ed. 1966), at a time when German scholarship was only starting to re-connect to international exchange of ideas. That may be one reason, why his strata-aesthetics has been almost completely (and undeservedly) forgotten. Rene Wellek, e.g., does not mention Hartman, even in his annotations or bibliography, in: Four Critics: Croce, Valery, Lukacs, and Ingarden (Seattle: U. of Washington Press 1981). See also an.13.

[vi] Die Schichten der Persönlichkeit. Bonn 1938; 81969. - There, we read in the “Foreword to the Sixth Edition” (III): “The frequent comparisons of my theories ... with the ontology of Nicolai Hartmann surprisingly suggest, because we both use the word ‘stratum’, a deeper connection, which is not well considered.”- On pages 109 and 167, however, Rothacker uses Hartmann’s ontological laws in order to support his own theories. Compare also the first attempt at establishing a strata-model in Hermann Hoffmann’s Die Schichtentheorie (Stuttgart 1935) and the comprehensive synthesis in Philipp Lersch’s Der Aufbau der Person (München 71956).

[vii] In 1974, I published a comprehensive, annotated, international bibliography: Typologien und Schichtenlehren. Bibliographie des internationalen Schrifttums bis 1970. Beschreibende Bibliographien 5 (ed. C. Minis, Rodopi N.V., Amsterdam).

[viii] Das literarische Kunstwerk. Tübingen, 1931; 31965; Engl. transl. by George G. Grabowicz: The Literary Work of Art. Evanston 1973. - Vom Erkennen des literarischen Kunstwerks. (1937 in Polish) Darmstadt 1968; Engl. Transl. By Ruth Ann Crowley and Kennet Olson: The Cognition of the Literary Work of Art. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern U. Press 1973. - Untersuchungen zur Ontologie der Kunst. Tübingen 1962. - Erlebnis, Kunstwerk und Wert. 1969. - His attempt at establishing individual strata-models for the other arts cannot be discussed in detail here. Compare my book (1978) and Hans H. Rudnick: “Roman Ingarden’s Literary Theory” in: Ingardenia (ed. Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1975) 105-119, as well as Eugene Hannes Falk: The Poetics of Roman Ingarden. Chapel Hill: U. of NO. Press, 1931.

[ix] “Die Idee der Phänomenologie” in Husserliana, vol.2, 1958.

[x] See my book (Typen und Schichten. Zur Einteilung des Menschen und seiner Produkte. Berne-Munich 1978) which, among other things, was an attempt to lay a foundation for strata-aesthetics, based on Ingarden’s and Hartmann’s works, though differing somewhat from their findings. The book contains several chapters dealing with the stratification of literature, but always in comparison with that of the other arts.

[xi] Emil Staiger: Die Kunst der Interpretation. 1955; Johannes Pfeiffer: Wege zur Dichtung. 1952; Wolfgang Kayser: Das sprachliche Kunstwerk. 1948.

[xii] e.g., Wolfgang Iser: Die Appellstruktur der Texte. Unbestimmtheit als Wirkungsbedingung literarischer Prosa. Konstanz: G. Hess , 1970; The Implied Reader. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U. Press 1974; The Act of Reading. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U. Press 1978. – Iser utilizes Ingarden’s terms concretization, schematic views, intentionality, and points of indeterminacy of the work of art. Comp. Also Jane P. Tompkins, ed.: Reader-Response Criticism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U. Press 1980.

[xiii] It seems to be characteristic that he is not mentioned once in a study like Robert Detweiler’s Story, Sign, and Self. Phenomenology and Structuralism as Literary Critical Methods (Philadelphia 1978), which devotes many pages to Ingarden.

[xiv] Comp. Katharina Kanthack: Nicolai Hartmann und das Ende der Ontologie. 1952; Ingeborg Wirth: Realismus und Apriorismus in Nicolai Hartmanns Erkenntnistheorie. 1965.

[xv] E.g. in Der Aufbau der realen Welt. Berlin 1940.

[xvi] Comp. The article by Anna-Teresa Tyrnieniecka: “Essence et existence. Etude a propos de la philosophie de Roman Ingarden et Nicolai Hartmann” in: Philosophie et l’esprit (Paris 1957) 255.

[xvii] Comp. The article by Walter Cerf on Hartmann in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy Vol. III (new York: Macmillan 1967 ff.) 421 ff.

[xviii] Comp. the article by Henryk Skolimowski on Ingarden, ibid. Vol. IV, S. 193 f.

[xix] One of the reasons why Hartmann’s thoughts on literature have gone widely ignored may be the fact they are imbedded in general observations on aesthetics and descriptions of other kinds of art (painting, sculpture, music, architecture, ornamental design) and have to be isolated from these by the careful reader. Of the 475 pages in Hartmann’s Ästhetik (2nd unchanged edition, 1966), only one fifth (roughly 85, if we count isolated paragraphs) deal with literature expressly and exclusively. Nevertheless, the reader gains a comprehensive insight into the position of literature within (and in comparison to) the other arts. Ingarden, on the other hand, went the opposite way: He first published an analysis of the literary work of art exclusively, which already in its title announced to literary scholars that the book fell within their realm of competence. Only afterwards did he extend his model to other kinds of art. However, the focus of one philosopher complements that of the other: While Hartmann offers the “large perspective”, Ingarden supplies the detailed analysis of literature.

[xx] Einführung, p. 204.

[xxi] See note 8

[xxii] Rothacker (1938) 170.

[xxiii] In my book (1978), I also needed to insure that Hartmann’s ontological strata were harmonized with the psychological ones established in the literature to date. Thus, I had to compare all-important psychological and anthropological strata-models and find their common denominators in order to combine these with Hartmann’s categories. - Since I discovered that strata-theories are closely connected to type-theories (e.g., the various “Typologien” of German “Charakterologie”), I also had to find a synthesis for the latter. This endeavor occupies roughly the first half of the book.


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Kyoto Sangyo University – Japanese Society for Germanistics
Strukturbegriff structural concept Gattungsbegriff in Literatur genre in literature Schichtenpoetik strata-model poetics Schichtenaesthetik strata-model aesthetics




Title: The Strata-Model in Poetics (Schichtenpoetik)