The fragment is an unfinished work of art. Consequently, the concept may refer to an incomplete work of art, music, literature, or even quite similar expressions. In most cases, the term is referred to in the literature, and here it is a genre of its own. In the literature, the fragment means either an incomplete text or an incomplete work. The unfinished work can be consciously chosen by the author as a genre. This genus is typical of the epoch of romance. Romantic poetry was described by Friedrich Schlegel as a progressive universal poetry. Progressive means that something is advanced and is always expanded, that is, never completed. Romantic poetry was often incomplete and fragmentary. The feature is also found in novels of the time. In the widest sense, the fragment means a fragment, that is, a part of the larger whole, and can thus mean an unfinished work of art, sculptures, or fragmented documents.

The term can be traced back to Latin. Here, there is the verb frangere, which can be broken or broken. The substantiated fragment is derived from this, which, however, has been used above all in terms of objects and can be understood as a fragment. However, the translation already refers to the fundamental point: namely, a thing that is only fragmented and therefore the part of a larger one.

It is only since the Renaissance that the noun is used to describe fragmentary art, and especially literature. Now the term is used more and more frequently to denote literary fragments. The translation of Martin Luther’s translation took a great influence on this development. This translates colligite fragmenta, ne pereant, an extract from the gospel of John, with Sammlet, the remaining chunks, that nothing will perish, and so has a lasting influence on the understanding of the word in relation to an abstract thing which has remained unfinished and is therefore incomplete.

Explanation of literary fragments using examples
As regards literary works, there are fundamentally two different types of fragmentary texts: namely, works which are only partly handed down – one speaks of fragmentary traditions – and texts which the author has not written to the end, and thus are incomplete works. This can be done intentionally or unintentionally. It would be unintentional if the respective poet died before the completion, it would be deliberate if the author consciously did not finish the work.


Fragmentary tradition
Texts are described as fragmentary traditions, which are not handed down completely into our time and are therefore only fragmented. This is a problem, especially in very old texts, as in the case of works from antiquity or the Middle Ages.

The reasons for the fact that a work is preserved only in parts or extracts can be quite different in nature. Very often, accidents or catastrophes (fires, water damage, mold, etc.) are responsible for the loss of large parts of a work. Sometimes, however, political events as well as warlike controversy can be responsible for the disappearance of texts. Some of the manuscripts, however, were simply not in demand and were no longer copied.

In addition, there are some ancient authors who are only known to us today because their works are quoted or quoted in the texts of other poets. In addition, there are authors of which only a few verses on Ostraka are handed down. Furthermore, there are numerous adespota – works that can not be attributed to an author – which are also preserved only fragmentarily.

As an example, the poet Archilochos (c. 680 BC – c. 645 BC) can be cited. His work is now only fragmentarily preserved. His extensive oeuvre contains only 500 verses, but not a single complete poem. Nevertheless, it can be seen from these fragments that Archilochos decisively influenced lyricism and, as the first Greek, intersected personal feelings and experiences in his poems, thus permanently influencing personal lyricism.

In addition, there are even writers whose writings are no longer preserved at all. For example, many of the ancient philosophers are only known, as the late-classical commentator and philosopher Simplikios quoted their statements in his own works, his writings being still available today, as there was always an increased demand for them.

Unfinished works
But if a work is not only fragmentary because it has been lost, but because it has simply not been completed, this can have two reasons. Either the author did not manage to finish the work during his lifetime or left it intentionally unfinished. Such fragments were even an independent and popular genre in Romanticism.

There are different ways that a work is considered fragmentary. Thus, for example, the story of the Peloponnesian War of the ancient historian Thucydides breaks off in the middle of the sentence, which, as the circumstances of his death are also unexplained, partly led to adventurous legends.

Another work, which remained a fragment, was about Tristan of the medieval poet Gottfried of Strasbourg. This eventually involved about 20,000 verses, but probably 30,000 were planned. Another example is Les Pensées by Blaise Pascal (1623-1663), one of the most widely read philosophical, theological works of European intellectual history. However, this is a compilation of notes that emerged as a preparation for a work to justify the Christian faith and were published by friends after his death.

There are still many examples of authors who did not manage to complete individual writings before their death. Other examples are Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, Bertolt Brecht’s novel The Business of Mr. Julius Caesar, Robert Musil’s novel The Man Without Qualities, and the Three Novel Fragments The Process, The Castle, The Lost of Franz Kafka.

However, such fragments can be found in almost all authors. In some form there are incomplete pieces in the estate of most poets, although their significance varies naturally within the artistic work of the poet. However, such work in the estate is, of course, essential for the artistic evaluation of the Creator.

“Intentional” fragments
Works, which were intentionally not accomplished by their author, form within literature a separate genre: one speaks of literary fragments. This genre was particularly popular in romance, although such works can also be found in other epochs.

In this context, the fragmentary is intended to express the fact that the topic appears to be infinite, that the language can not be exactly grasped, or that the language would narrow the content too much, since it is very concrete. The romantics also referred to this – above all Friedrich Schlegel – that in the fragmentary the possibility exists that a thing is unfinished and thereby a permanent state of becoming can assume. Schlegel summarized this as follows:

“It can thus lose itself in what has been depicted, that one would like to think of characterizing poetic individuals of every kind, be their one and all; and yet there is still no form which would be made to express the author’s spirit completely, so that some artists who wanted to write a novel, as well, have represented themselves by themselves. Only like the epic it can become a mirror of the whole surrounding world, a picture of the age. […] Romantic poetry is among the arts, which is the joke of philosophy, and society, dealing, friendship, and love in life. Andre Dichtarten are ready and can now be completely dissected. The romantic mode of poetry is still in the process of becoming; indeed, their real nature is that they can only be eternal, never completed. It can not be exhausted by any theory, and only a divinatory criticism would dare to characterize its ideal. It alone is infinite, as it alone is free, and which recognizes as its first law, that the arbitrariness of the poet does not suffer any law upon himself. The romantic mode of poetry is the only one which is more than a kind, and, as it were, poetry itself: for in a certain sense all poetry is or should be romantic. “(116th Athenaeum Fragment, 1798. In: Friedrich Schlegel: Critische Schriften, hg by Wolfdietrich Rasch, 2nd edition, Munich, 1964.)

Schlegel’s estimation is reflected in numerous works of the time. Novalis’ Heinrich von Ofterdingen (1802), who is a fragment and also takes up further motifs of the epoch (eg the motif of the “Blue Flower”), is particularly significant here. Similar works, which also play with the non-perfection, are, for example, Herder’s fragments on the later German literature (1766/67), Schlegel’s Lucinde (1799), and Die Kronenwächter (1817/1854) by Achim von Arnim.

Short overview: The most important overview

The fragment is an unfinished work of art. Consequently, the concept may refer to an incomplete work of art, music, literature, or very similar expressions. In most cases, the term is referred to in the literature, and here it is a genre of its own. In the widest sense, the fragment means a fragment and can thus mean an unfinished work of art, sculptures, or fragmented pieces.
With respect to literary works one can distinguish between 1) fragmentary traditions and 2) unfinished works. If the tradition is only fragmentary, essential parts of an old work have been lost. If a work is unfinished, however, it is either intentionally or unintentionally.
If a work a) is unintentionally fragmentary, it was simply impossible for the creator to complete it during his lifetime. If, however, b) is deliberately designed as a fragment, it is a genre which wishes to express the fact that the respective work of art is always “in progress,” ie not complete, and that the presented content could be represented only by a finalization.


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