Based on an analysis of Christoph Martin Wieland’s political novel "Der Goldne Spiegel" (1772), his libretto "Die Wahl des Herkules" (1773), and his essays on music theatre (1773/1775) in the broader context of the German Enlightenment, this dissertation argues that late eighteenth-century’s anthropology, moral philosophy, political thought, and musical aesthetics subscribe to the ideal of a pastoral exercise of power. Discourses committed to this ideal hold that any exercise of power – be it in the sphere of politics, education, and aesthetics, or with regard to the subject’s comportment towards itself – is legitimate only insofar as it realizes, or at least strives to realize, the ‘Glückseligkeit’ of those submitted to it. Within the pastoral paradigm, melancholy, an enigmatic paralysis that threatens to cancel all striving for happiness, poses a latent threat to any exercise of power.
Presenting the universal acknowledgment of the pastoral ideal as a necessary precondition for realizing the common good, Wieland’s works present the creation of a new order in which private and public happiness will be secured as the vocation of quasi-pastoral agents. Comprising characteristics of God, prince, father, educator, and author, these imaginary figures, and those who take them as their model, are driven by fantasies of power that cannot be lived. Bound to rigid regimes of self-control and constant control of others, they fall prey to, and cause in others, the very melancholy they set out to overcome.
Their failure to live up to the pastoral ideal enables a new form of critique that draws upon literature, opera, and dreams, in order to foster conversations between those in power and those who are powerless, about the causes of melancholic suffering. These conversations are crucial for the ongoing process of establishing a new social and political order in which such suffering will be overcome. Music and literature partake in this project. While literary authorship provides a metaphor for melancholic sovereignty, music subverts any notion of what may be considered a legitimate exercise of power. As an ambivalent cultural practice, it has a critical function in its own right.