Stratum, structure, and genre: Interrelation of the terms

Essay, 2007

16 Pages


Table Of Contents







The concept of genre can be satisfactorily explained only in com­parison with the concepts of stratum and structure. Proceeding from this conviction we shall try here to establish a demarcation of these often used terms and at the same time prove their interdependence.


The strata-model has been fully and consistently developed only in Nicolai Hartmann's ontology[1)] which also represents a synthesis of all prior strata-conceptions. Since we do not attempt a historical survey a summary of his main ideas may suffice here:

The world is stratified. The strata, however, should not be confus­ed with the classes of animals. "The higher forms, out of which the world consists, plant, animal, man and nation, are stratified also; the strata that constitute the world can also be shown in them. In this respect man is a material an organic, an emotional and an intellectual being: he consists of four levels. The community of humans, e. g. the Greek polis, also has in its geographical situation a material structure. It has its organic life, its drives and needs, from which its economi­cal sphere arises, and also an emotional and intellectual life. Higher animals and the spiritless prehistoric consciousness of man have three levels; lower animals and plants have only two. In its extension the material stratum is the largest. The higher the level the less far spread it is. Only on a small part of inorganic existence is the organic built, and only in the most highly developed of these organic forms do we find emotions. Only one kind of creature has mind."[2)]

When all structures of a lower level become elements constituting a higher one, Hartmann speaks of "over-molding" (Überformungsver­hältnis), which applies to the step from the material to the organic stratum. The "overbuilding-relation" (Überbauungsverhältnis) of the next two strata differs from it in that only some of the categories of the lower level enter the higher one. "The principal difference be­tween the psychic level and the two lower ones lies in the spaceless­ness and the inwardness of the psychic contents ('psycho-physical de­marcation line'). The spiritual stratum again differs from the emo­tional mostly in its supra-individuality."[3)]

As opposed to the simple categories the fundamental ones determine all four strata. From the latter the "categorical laws" are derived, the fixation of which is one of the main achievements of this system. In the last analysis it is not important for us, whether we agree with Hart­mann in every single point or whether we further subdivide his strata. However, from his "Laws of categorical dependency" it follows, that the four basic strata may not be re-arranged, even if they may be subdivided in different ways (as Hartmann himself does in his Ästhetik). For the lower stratum is always stronger ("law of strength") and autonomous ("law of independence"), but supplies the matter for the higher level ("law of matter"), which in its turn has room for high­er principles ("law of freedom").

Here we can only mention, that these strata-principles find them­selves in complete accordance with the most important strata-models in psychology and anthropology, the synthesis and elaboration of which we owe to Erich Rothacker"[4)].

Hartmann has developed the most comprehensive strata model not only for general ontology, but also for esthetics"[5)]. The work of art is at once product and expression of man and therefore stratified like him[6)]. That the strata of the artifact are more finely distinguished from each other does not conceal their being based on the ontological ones. In the literary work of art Hartmann differentiates seven levels, progres­sing from the exterior to the interior: 1) the real foreground or "real stratum" (words and wri ting); 2) the unreal foreground or in be­tween-stratum, also occasionally called "second foreground of appearing perceptibility, directly evident by means of fantasy"; he also occasionally talks of "intermediary strata" and then divides "the sphere of the exterior, of bodily movement, mimetic expression, speech" from the "le­vel of plots, of exterior attitudes, of actions and reactions" (3) and from this the "level of psychic formation, of emotions and moods" (4) and that of fate (5); on the unreal foreground rests the "unreal back­ground" (or the "last background-levels") which is ideal and supra-­empirical, with its "level of the individual or personality idea" (6) and the level of "the universally human and the ideas" (7).

Specifically for the literary work of art the Polish philosopher Ro­man Ingarden[7)] developed another strata-model. Ingarden was interest­ed in linguistics. He distinguished five strata: 1) that of words and higher linguistic units; 2) that of units of meaning of different levels, syntactical structures; 3) that of "manifold schematized views, in which appear the presented objects"; 4) that of the presented objects and their fates, "which are depicted in the intentional circumstances, indicated by sentences"; 5) that of the expressed idea, of metaphysical qualities, essences.

A comparison of Hartmann's and Ingarden's subdivisions yields the following[8)]:

a. Hartmann's real-stratum (1) is subdivided by Ingarden. The dis­tinction of words and units of meaning is paralleled in painting by that in colors and black-and-white tones as basic structural elements on the one hand and lines (respectively proportions, given by the for­mer) on the other. The units of meaning ("meaning of sentences") are only made possible by the syntactical coordination of words; si­milarly contours and proportions by the coordination of colors and black-and-white tones. (These comparisons with other fields of art may be taken here as playfully non-committal. Since strata-theories are "spe­culative" in comparison to exact science, there is no reason, why a cur­sory allusion to parallels should not be justified by their "categorical dependency".) In an even more daring parallel we are also reminded of the relation of inorganic and organic existence: as words gain a func­tion for the units of meaning only in the context of sentences, and as colors can only relate to each other in contours and proportions, so inorganic matter finds shape, purpose and meaning only within an or­ganism and its matrix of functions. A general distinction between the strata of matter and of organized or structured matter is therefore justified.


[1)] Der Aufbau der realen Welt. Grundriss der allgemeinen Kategorienlehre. Berlin, 1964.

[2)] Nicolai Hartmann. Einführung in die Philosophie. Vorlesungsnachschrift. (Hannover, 1949) 121-122

[3)] ibid. 126

[4)] Die Schichten der Persönlichkeit. Bonn, 1938; 8th. ed. 1969. 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 Schichttheorie (Stuttgart, 1935) and the comprehensive synthesis in Philipp Lersch's Der Aufbau der Person (München, 1956). I published a comprehensive international bibliography of typologies and stratologies in phil­osophy, psychology, art criticism and related fields with more than 3,000 titles (annotated): Typologien und Schichtenlehren. Amsterdam: Rodopi-Verlag, 1973.

[5)] Ästhetik. Berlin, 1953; 2nd ed. 1966.

[6)] Rothacker goes even further(ibid., p. 170) : “. . . 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".

[7)] Das literarische Kunstwerk. Tübingen, 1931; 1965 and Vom Erkennen des literarischen Kunstwerks. Darmstadt, 1968; also Untersuchungen zur Ontologie der Kunst. Tübingen, 1962. His attempt at establishing indivi­dual strata-models for the other arts cannot be discussed here.

[8)] The numbers in brackets indicate in each case the resp. levels of the two authors, and later those of my synthesis.

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Stratum, structure, and genre: Interrelation of the terms
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Dr. Wolfgang Ruttkowski (Author), 2007, Stratum, structure, and genre: Interrelation of the terms, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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