This essay reexamines Johann Gottfried Herder's theoretical import for the idea and practice of comparative literature. To that end, it contextualizes Herder's defense of poetry within the historical debate between Kant and Herder over the genesis, cast, and practical value of critical reason, and also emphasizes Herder's turn to poetry as a molding influence on Erich Auerbach's conception of philology as effective preservation and a form of synthetic mythography. To delineate and defend Herder's position, the essay undertakes a revisionist theoretical reading of Herder's neglected essay “Iduna, or the Apple of Rejuvenation,” which offers a persuasive counter-position to Kant's critical trajectory. In reinvigorating the idea of rejuvenation tied to the formative power of the imagination and poetic synthesis, Herder sets out to explicate the generative power of poetry as configuring creative inventions and relative differences in poetic as much as cognitive structure, as a way of substantiating and legitimating his—comparative—defense of original poetry. The essay concludes by suggesting how Herder's historical intervention may be inserted, theoretically, into still current questions regarding ideas of “world poetry.”

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