Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Being able to read slowly and carefully is such a pleasure!

Currently reading:

Gernot Böhme: Phänomenologie der Natur: Ein Projekt.
Adalbert Stifter: Brigitta
A paper I wrote on Austerlitz a couple years ago.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Stichworte zu Brecht

  • Einfühlung vs. Verfremdungseffekt
  • Theater des Wissenschaftlichen Zeitalters
  • Theater = Hörsaal
  • Venue for Marxist ideology
  • Do away with the illusion of theater as real - no more curtain, show the musicians

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Buell - The Future of Environmental Criticism

Larry Buell – The Future of Environmental Criticism.
The first chapter of Buell’s third book of/on Environmental Criticism (the others being the Environmental Imagination and Writing for an Endangered World) is a history of the emergence of environmental criticism (aka ecocriticism). Buell offers a good overview of what he calls the first and second waves of environmental criticism (first: looking primarily at nature writing, as LB does at Thoreau in The Env. Imag.; second: begins to question “organicist” view of environmental criticism – begins to look at urban/toxic/non-natural landscapes. Also, other streams of criticism creep in) and introduces many different threads of criticism that have arisen: very interesting one, ecofeminism, which sees the history of man’s dominion over nature as analogous to the oppression of women. Problems: dependence of “eco”criticism on science, which most lit scholars are weak on. Also, he acknowledges that the “environmental turn” is a recent development (he places it in the 1980-90s), but that it pursues a line of questioning that is Ancient. Also, it asserts itself as important because environment is universal. He thinks it will attain the level of AfAm Studies, Gender studies, etc. He concludes with the suggestion that environmental criticism will have to go more “mainstream” and link back up with more “traditional” critical methods before becoming more accepted, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s apparently already a rapprochement between hardcore ecocritics and other critical/theoretical techniques.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Lieblingsblick" - Annette von Droste-Hülshoff

Annette von Droste-Hülshoff – Lieblingsblick

Mostly pastoral description of the view of the Alps from a mountain hut in the woods. Mostly typical, but definitely has Romantic overtones – especially excurs at the end about the view of the mountains being most well suited to loneliness. She describes the view of the mountains as “der Tod in seinr grossartigsten Gestalt.”

Interesting aspects: she wanders through the mountains purely in her head, while looking at them. Experience through seeing and not doing. Also, heavy resonance with Prospect/Refuge theory. Mountain hut allows prospect with distance (refuge). Also, her favorite bench (she prefers to sit outside) is shaded/hidden by grapevines.

She's one of the few female writers on the list. Interesting that she seems so drawn to the mountains, which one would seem to see as a specifically male space. Perhaps her ruminations on them and insistence on her superior knowledge of them is in reference to the forbidden nature of the mountains to women. This frustration may also be reflected in her defiance in choosing the hard path to get to the hut (softened by reference to sin/religion, but still with a heavy defiant tone).

Friday, October 31, 2008

Period Notes

Arno Holz,M1

Gerhart Hauptmann

Arthur Schnitzler

Leutnant Gustl

Anti-Semitism in Vienna – but how?

Internal monologue, highly psychologically inflected


Fräulein Else

Internal monologue, highly psychologically inflected


Questions the merit of preserving bourgeoisie

Is a portrait of a Freudian hysterical episode, draws heavily on Freud’s ideas about the hysterical woman

?? possibly also shows a generational conflict/failed rebellion

Also an interesting look at the state of the woman in society at this time. Male author appropriating a female experience, but granted in a nuanced enough way that he makes it clear that she is not in control of her destiny – this is manifested by the family’s prospective benefactor assuming control over her body. At the same time that she’s not in control of her body or her life, her family’s livelihood depends on her in a way that seems as if it should be empowering, but isn’t.

Der Grüne Kakadu

Takes place on the eve of the French revolution. A revolutionary theater group puts on a performance of the beginning of the revolution (the assassination of a powerful bourgeois man), but fiction becomes reality when the main figure in the theater actually kills a man. The bourgeois audience is thoroughly entertained and doesn’t realize it’s real.


Series of love scenes – scenes of seduction between unseemly partners.

Piece was perceived to be obscene, not performed until much later.

Trying to chip away at bourgeois sexual mores – See also Frühlings Erwachen.


Frühlings Erwachen

Chips away at bourgeois sexual mores, questions validity of preserving innocence (ignorance) about sex.

Also, generational conflict

Can also be pulled into the gender discussion. W. sexualizes his young female characters in a way that is shocking even to the modern reader. Similar to the sexual portrait we get in Erdgeist and Die Büchse der Pandora

Plays on a number of taboo topics, including sex (among teenagers), teen rebellion, suicide, societal/familial pressure to succeed. This play still reads as relevant today. See as evidence, the Broadway hit musical.


The first of the Lulu plays

Highly stylized, formal language – conflicts with the coarse physical performance required by the play’s action

Die Büchse der Pandora

The second of the Lulu plays.

Highly stylized, formal language – conflicts with the coarse physical performance required by the play’s action

Hugo von Hofmannsthal

“Ein Brief.”

Published in two parts in a newspaper (WHICH?)

Fictional letter from Lord Chandos to Francis Bacon

Chandos is explaining himsef in response to a letter from FB which asks why he hasn’t written anything in the last several years. Chandos explains it is because he has lost the ability to think clearly, linearly, logically about anything, that his crisis of LANGUAGE has affected his ability to even think, let alone write.

Sprachkrise – The Brief is self-consciously contradictory. He bemoans his inability to express his experiences in words, but tries at the same time to express his experiences in words. The limits of a purely written/linguistic medium (the letter) force him to try to overcome the limits of language. See the scene with the water beetle.

Language is also connected to the ability of the human to unify the world and to connect to the world. When language fails, one loses the ability to connect.

After the publication of the brief, Hofmannsthal turns more to drama, which being an experiential medium, allows the audience to experience more directly the gestures/experiences of the characters/actors on the stage.

Collaboration with Strauss on Der Rosenkavalier seems also to connect with the Sprachkrise. Movement into opera allows music also to convey part of what language cannot anymore.

Der Tor und der Tod

Märchen der 672. Nacht

Der Rosenkavalier

Collaboration with Richard Strauss

Opera – comedy, but not without dramatic moments

Destroys notion of unified time – set in Theresian Vienna (Rococco), but includes musical motifs (some at the suggestion of HvH) from many different periods – Waltz, Wagnerian business, minuets, high operatic arias

Idea is that the past permeates the present – drawing on TONS of literary precedents from Moliere to Shakespeare

Marschallin is keenly aware of time marching on – her aging

“reflections on the paradoxes of outer change and inner continuity of subjective consciousness”

Der Schwierige




Based in part on the decadent life of a Roman Caesar.

Symbolist, heavily influenced by French Symbolists, esp. Mallarme

Das Jahr der Seele


Das Unheimliche

Deals with a psychological phenomenon by looking at literature – E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Sandmann

Deals with Hoffmann perhaps as a way of lending historic credence to his theory, also working with a text that is familiar

Works with literature why?

Der Dichter und das Phantasieren


Der Tod in Venedig

3rd person omniscient narrator

Much of the “action” is actually just thought

Pub. 1912, seems prescient of WWI

Artistic success connected with major failure/downfall

Doktor Faustus

Story of a German composer (Adrian Leverkühn) – specialist in 12-tone music (like Schönberg, who makes a deal with the devil, seals it by contracting syphilis from a prostitute, and is never allowed to love again. Blood pact is literally inscribed in him in the form of the disease living in his blood stream.

The story is narrated by Zeitblom, a music critic and humanist who is a friend of AL’s. He comes to represent a kind of Mitläufer figure. Not powerful or creative enough to be equal to AL, but still following his example or something.

Story becomes largely an allegory of Nazi Germany. Deal with the devil, timelines line up, and the last line of the book is “Gott sei eurer armen Seele gnädig, mein Freund, mein Vaterland.” Zeitblom seems to be praying for the soul of his friend as well as that of Germany.

It is emphasized that what AL really likes is the mathematical nature of the way in which he writes music – creativity wird technological. Mechanical nature of things during this period.


Malte Laurids Brigge

1910 published

First Person – partially journal form, but mostly disjointed notes on urban life and reflecting on non-urban childhood.

Defies unified notion of time and space

Reminiscent of Baudelaire Spleen de Paris – prose poems

Dwells on issues of fragility – frequent references to body parts, fragmentation, the fear of falling to pieces – sees self as permeability and has no defense against onslaught of stimuli in the city.

Also, trope of inside/outside being swapped – formerly interior wall of house now on the outside when the house is demolished. Also, old woman whose face comes off in her hands. Permeability again – fear of showing one’s insides

Dwelling on death and dismemberment, disease.

Terrifying experiences – not just from the city, but also in childhood memories. Uncle’s death, getting stuck in layers of clothes while playing dress-up

Disjunctions in place and time are reminiscent/prescient of Berlin, Alexanderplatz. On the other hand, though, where B,A has a changing voice and tone, Malte has a consistent tone and narrator.

Critique of city life, but also examination of self. Evident of identity crisis in narrator (and z.T. in the author as well.)

In contrast to his Elegies and Sonnets, Rilke tries here to find a new form (rather than resorting to old form) for new experiences.

Tries to write urban experience, but is not essentially an urban person.

Modern death vs. dignified death – the idea of mechanized death – not mechanized killing, but mechanized death.

Duino Elegies

Written over 10 years, during which WWI happened.

Dwells on the untimeliness of death – alluding to young dead (soldiers) without becoming “war poems”

Modern life = transitory, temporary, fragile; antiquity = stable, lasting

Plays with classical elegiac meter, but these meters begin to decompose under the weight of modern concerns.

Images of money meaninglessly reproducing itself are shocking against the historical backdrop of German inflation post-war

“Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich aus der Engel /Ordnungen” - SPRACHKRISE

Benn, Gottfried


Pub 1912

„Mann und Frau gehn durch die Krebsbaracke“

Use of synechdoche and metaphor underscores depersonalization

Also evident in Gehirne – just handles brains, not people

Uses the image of a rosary for the cancerous nodules in a woman’s breast – inversion of religious image

Mixed vocabulary – poetic language with scientific/medical vocabulary

Undermines idea of human as pinnacle of creation – death of a girl makes possible the life of the rats that are living in her gut

Mostly unrhymed free verse

Constant breaking down of the whole into parts (body parts) – see Rilke: Malte

For the expressionists – Nietsche’s idea that transcendend values were a fiction, a human invention for the purpose of imposing power on others.

Expressionism – grossstadtlyrik

Benn is also an ambiguous figure, as he briefly flirted with NS, but then rejected it.

Attempt to express their experience of the world without trying to reproduce objective reality.

Benn’s mixture of everyday, clinical, religious and poetic language typical of expressionism (SEE Berlin, Alexanderplatz)


Stories about the surgeon Rönne – dissolution of reality and unified ich



Reflects some of the messianic ideal of some expressionists. Foreign to Benn and Trakl (and others)

Sections: “Collapse and Cry”, “Awakening of the Heart,” “Exhortation and Indignation,” and “Love of human beings.”

Ambiguity in name –dämmerung = dawn or dusk

Appeal to renewal

“Call to fraternity, spirit, humanity, heart, and soul in the face of a bestial existence”

Social program does appear:

R. Becher’s “Der Sozialist”

Georg Heym

“Der Gott der Stadt” religious-ish tone. Steeples of churches become chimneys of factories


Das Urteil

Written overnight 22-23 Sept 1912

Shows an affinity with Expressionism in its fascination with the grotesque and the more rigorous, intense expression of experience.

Generational conflict (see also Hasenclever – Der Sohn)

Important to remember historical context – eve of WWI, tension in Europe

Motifs of betrayal and writing of “false letters” (encoding of engagement in letter to his friend in Russia) anspielungen on the political atmosphere

Father’s claim to have been in touch with the friend in Russia = diplomatic relations between Austro-Hungary and Russia

Also – Yiddish Theater exaggerated gesture of father emerging from bed, and of Georg jumping off the bridge – also has an Expressionist flavor as well.

Oedipal undertones & repression à Freud

SIGNIFICANT: development of limited 3rd person narration – limited to perceptual field of the protagonist – i.e. NOT OMNISCIENT

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hofmannsthal - Ein Brief - 1902

Hofmannsthal’s fictional Brief from Lord Chandos to Francis Bacon formulates a most eloquent complaint about the failure of language – or the failure of the speaker to harness his language. The irony is not lost on the reader, that a complaint about the inadequacy of language should be so beautifully written, but the impulse is not unfamiliar, especially to the reader of German literature. Granted, I haven’t undertaken a systematic study of English literature (or, indeed, of other literatures – even German, I’m ashamed to say), but this complaint does seem to particularly plague the German speaking world.

The Sprachkrise does seem to have something specific to do with the turn of the century and the ushering-in of modern life. However, this is a complaint that seems to reach throughout German literary history. The most famous example that comes to mind is Werther’s lament about his inability to recreate the world in drawing or in word – of course (as with most things) I blame this more on Werther than on language or any other outside force. One could also recognize this Sprachkrise in much later literature. Die Klavierspielerin comes immediately to mind, as the main character there resorts to physical violence (against herself or her mother) and music as her only outlets, while really not letting anything out at all. When thinking about that book, I think about it as silent except for the shrieking of her mother. One of my dear friends and colleagues suggested that there’s also a connection to the Sprachkrise in Kleist, but I’m ashamed to say I can’t really vollziehen that myself because I don’t know Kleist well enough. (Thanks to google, I can say now that it may be to do with the end of Amphitryon – Alkmene ends the play with a resounding “Ach!”) Really, though, you could argue that anytime a speaker in literature says “Ach!” it is a symptom of Sprachskepsis. (I’m taking Sprachskepsis and Sprachkrise as roughly synonymous… perhaps krise is more acute than skepsis?) That means you, Goethe.
Back to Modern Times, though, you can look at Rilke – Malte Laurids Brigge – for a couple of different moments where language become superfluous if not inadequate. I’m thinking especially of the vocal but inarticulate suffering during the uncle’s epic death sequence. His Stöhnen makes everyone else’s language practically inaudible and definitely irrelevant – during his days-long death, inarticulate moaning is all that counts for anything. Language could not satisfy his death-urge.

One other interesting thing about Hofmannsthal’s specific Sprachkrise is that language doesn’t just fail him in speaking, but instead also fails him in thinking. More than just his ability to express himself comes into question, then – his entire logical system is threatened when he loses a language in which to think.

In his article on Hofmannsthal’s Brief in The New History of German Literature, Nethersole points out an important aspect of the letter that seems indeed to have repercussions for the whole of the modern world. He laments the falling of the unified world into pieces –
“Es zerfiel mir alles in Teile, die Teile wieder in Teile und nichts mehr ließ sich mit einem Begriff umspannen.”
Hofmannsthal’s ability to reconcile the different parts of the world into a coherent whole (which sounds like Lacanian integration of the self, actually) fails with the failure of his linguistic/logical system.

Interesting contrast: Hofmannsthal shares many characteristics with his imaginary counterpart, Chandos. However, H. does not abandon his poetic career. Instead, he continues to write very successfully for years to come.

Nethersole also suggests that the Krise in Hofmannsthal’s Brief is more than linguistic. He suffers, according to N. under the weight of an inherited cultural tradition that is unable to satisfy any more. He is making a break with the tradition he came out of, more than with the language he first learned to think in. More than that, though, he is dealing with the realization that society is not based on anything solid any more. Industrialization and modernization destroy any kind of previously-held belief in a unity of society and encourage, instead, more fragmentation and multiplicity and uncertainty. “It can rest only on das Gleitende, and is aware that what other generations believed to be firm is in fact das Gleitende.” [H.v.H. quoted in the New History of German Language. P. 655]
“This revolt is directed against the pathological condition, the “serious illness” of mind, to which Chandos alludes, which has plagued a rationalist age, centered on the idea of a unitary self in control of the subject. Freud, in Studies on Hysteria (1895), dispelled these ideas by positing the laws of the unconscious for understanding the human psyche. The unconscious operates through a series of associations whre different trains of elements form veritable networks, with notdal points at the intersection of several lines. While Schnitzler articulated the life of emotions through the abivalence he saw between old morality and new psychological reality, Hofmannsthal, in the Chandos Letter, applies language and its ability to relate to things with semi-surgical precision.” [New History, 655]
In this letter, H. calls into question the validity of a unified self, but at the same time seeks the moment of epiphany (in Joyce), which he calls the moment of Revelation, where one experiences unity of the ego with the outside world. Nethersole also alludes to a posthumous fragment of HvH’s which says “That which is most profound in experience defies words, I always felt that words divide human beings instead of connecting them.” [New History, 656]

This critique of language was typical in fin de siècle Vienna, apparently. “First voiced by Fritz Mauthner (1849-1923), the philosopher and cofounder of the Freie Bühne Theater in Berlin, the critique of language inaugurates the linguistic turn in the 20th century, a turn from speculative philosophy and methaphysics toward a definition of philosophy as linguistic or conceptual analysis, which dominated philosophy for nearly a century.” [New History, 656] (see also Wittgenstein)

“Mindful of the oscillating quality and ultimately untenable demand of language to speak truth by which to create unity, Hofmannsthal’s plays, like the conversational piece Der Schwierige (1921), depend largely on gesture. Language reconfigured as gesture interrupts the flow of talk and opens a different kind of space where, caught up in the living flux of things, human beings glimpse the momentary possibility of togetherness. Converging on the nodal point of the various concerns with the limits of verbal expressivity that pervade the crisis of language, Hofmannsthal asks, in the voice of Der Schwierige, for ways in which a speaker can act, if speaking always already constitutes a form of cognition of the futility of action.” [New History, 657]

Expressionism 1910 - 1925

Fairly easy to define: this movement was carried by people born between 1875 and 95, who witnessed the crises arising out of the First World War and were very engaged with and interested in the new political order that arose out of the Russian Revolution (1917) and the founding of the Weimar Republic (1919). Began as an aesthetically and philosophically oriented movement, but became politically motivated.

In the beginning, they suffered under modern life. They drew on Nietsche’s critique of European culture. Rejection of nature in the senses of Naturalism Realism, logic, causality, and psychology. Rebellion against the state and the older generation. Originally the movement was a negation of the “Welt der Väter”.

Finally, as a result of the crises of WWI, pacifism took center stage in expressionism, which was a change from the initial welcome distraction of the war from bourgeois malaise. The emphasis of the movement was to overcome patriotism and to think about menschheit instead of national allegiance. The war was increasingly recognized as criminal. This gave rise to a “Weltverbesserungsfanatismus” which also led to the individual experience being expanded to a mythic scale. Man needed to be saved from himself and the individual’s suffering was miniscule in comparison to that of collective mankind. The movement goes from this point in a socialist direction. Expressionism becomes a declaration of war against the Powers that Be – against mechanization and industrialization, capitalism and militarism, and against “Gewalt in jeder Gestalt.” Keywords: Socialism communism, pacifism, anarchism.

Fascination with the art of primitive civilizations and children. Also a fascination and identification with other historical periods whose problems mirrored the current ones – the Baroque with its brutal background of the 30 years war; transcendentalism of the Gothic period. Enthusiasm for the Lebensangst and religious ecstacy of those periods. – opposite of purely aesthetic appreciation of the past seen in impressionism. However, the rejection of the contemporary (modern) world was similar in both expressionism and impressionism.

VERY important influence: Nietsche, especially Also sprach Zarathustra.

“Auch die Auffassung Nietzsches, daß die Welt nur als ästhetisches Phänomen zu rechtfertigen und die Überwindugn des Nichts im künstlerischen Akt zu bewältigen sei, hat den Expressionismus beeinflußt. In dem „Expressiven“ überhaupt, bis in Wortstellung und Wortwahl hinein, zeigt sich das Weiterwirken von Nietzsches Sprache (Reinhard Johannes Sorge, Georg Kaiser, Gottfried Benn).” [DdD, 532]

Strindberg was a major forebear of expressionism.

“Die einzelnen Personen waren nur mehr Sprecher einer Beichte und Klage des Dichters, die Handlung löste sich in Visionen und Träume des Dichters auf. Die Anrufung einer neuen Menschheit, Schrei und Gebärdensprachen waren hier geprägt.” [DdD 532]

Also, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky’s mystical and social commentary were brought into Expressionism.

Whitman’s humanism was very important for the character of lyric at this time. Also important: French symbolists – Baudelaire-Verlaine.

Also important for linguistic innovation – Italian Futurists. Concentration and simplification of language was called for. “Beschränkung auf Substantiv und Infinitiv, nach Analogie-Reihungen, die Kausalität und Psychologie überwinden sollten, ist vom Sprachstil der dt. Expressionisten erfüllt worden.” [DdD 533]

Innere Erlebnis > äußere Leben.

“Glaubenslose Destruktion und gläubiges Vertrauen in die Zukunft, Abbau der lit. Traditionen bis zum Primitivismus und artistische Strenge, Überschwant und Verknappung kennzeichnen das Doppelgesicht. Gemeinsam war den Expressionisten die auf das Wesenhafte gerichtete Intensität, die auf hist. und psychologische Einmaligkeit verzichtete, die Gestalten aus solchen Bedingtheiten löste und in der exkstatischen wie in der zynischen Darstellung zum Typus, zur Abstraktion und zum Symbol vorstieß. Die Konzentration auf das Wesentliche ergab eine im Gegensatz zum Naturalismus aussparende Darstellungsweise, und in zunehmendem Maße wurde das innerlich als entscheidend Erfaßte als Wirklichkeit gesetzt.” [DdD 533-534]
this lead to an intensivation of feeling, pathos à expressionist Schrei. Sprachkrise? This was an expression of the general rejection of the formal – especially as seen in George, Rilke, Hofmannsthal à full formal freedom.

Sprache goes in two directions – 1. Orgiastisch, barock, prefers free rhythms. 2. Rejects all decorative and explanatory padding, becomes a series or list of Hauptwörtern. Even the historical and atmospheric reality of mankind and experiences disappears. Abstraction, Typisierung und Mythisierung.

“Stil umfaßt alle jene Elemente des Kunstwerks, die ihre psychische Erklärung im Abstrationsbedürfnis des Menschen finden ... Schnelligkeit, Simultaneität, höchste Anspannung um die Ineinandergehörigkeit des Geschauten ... Eine Vision will sich in letzter Knappheit im Bezirk verstiegener Vereinfachung kundgeben ... Farbe ohne Bezeichnung, Zeichnung und kein Erklären, im Rhzthmus festgesetztes Hauptwort ohne Attribut ... Alles Erlebte gipfelt in einem Geistigen. Jedes Geschehen wird sein Typisches.” [DdD 534 – Theodor Däubler]

Ich à Wir. Thema: Untergang und Wiedergeburt der Zeit. Not des alten Menschen und Sehnsucht nach dem neuen Menschen.

Lyric poetry was central at the beginning of expressionsim. Frühexpressionisten came from Impressionism – Heym, Trakl, Stadler, Klemm, Else Lasker-Schüler. Symbolists – architektonisch bestimmt. Expressionists – rhythmisch bestimmt. Metaphors were ich-bezogen and not ding-bezogen (impressionisten – Rilke). Lots of interjections and very consonant-heavy. Feelings take control from thought. Short asyntactic sentences. Kabarett songs were continued with revolutionary tone.

Drama – toward the end of WWI, this becomes central. Early forebear – Woyzeck (Büchner). Expressionist drama takes critical/eccentric characteristics from Wedekind and mystical/visionary from Strindberg. In Wedekind’s tradition – Carl Sternheim. Stylized stereotypes of bürgerlichen Typen. In Strindbergäs tradition - Toller, Barlach, sort of Georg Kaiser – transformational and redemptive dramas. Expressionistischen Szenare – balladenhafte Aneinanderreihung von visionären Bildern. Stationen, Ringen eines Menschen, Dram. Sendung. Emphasis on lyric monologue. Protagonist usually only speaker and reflection of the author. “Statt die Kompliziertheit des allzu Zeitlichen untersuchen und analysieren zu wollen, sich dessen bewußt zu werden, was unzeitlich in uns ist ... So ist hier (im modernen Drama) der Mensch nichts als Geist und Seele, und darum haben diese Gestalten etwas von Rasenden an sich.” [DdD 537]

Novel was less important than lyric and drama. Romantheorien von Döblin und Lukacs – Entpersönlichung und Entfabelung, simultaneity, montage and collage, irone als selbstaufgebung der subjektivität. “In der expressionistischen Prosa scheint sich die gegenständliche Welt dem Zugriff entzogen zu haben, an ihre Stelle trat eine aus der Instrospektion entstandene, montierte Wirklichkeit.” [DdD 537]

Programmschrigen – result of revolutionary impulse.

Authors to consider: Barlach, Benn, Döblin, Kafka, Kaiser, Lasker-Schüler, Heinrich Mann, Toller, Trakl

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Period Considerations: Part II

Anti-Naturalism – Neuromantik und Neuklassik – 1890-1920

At the same time that Naturalism was getting going, there were movements against it. Authors like Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Stefan George (early works) saw the pure reproduction of reality as unproductive. Also some manifestos: Bahr: Kritik der Moderne (1890), Überwindung des Naturalismus (1891). This anti-realistic, anti-naturalistic movement manifested itself in the Heimatkunstbewegung and literary impressionism (taking the contemporary French painting school as a model and artistic ideal). These two directions unite in their attempt to overcome rationalism with intense feeling. There was a strong symbolic character to these groups’ works as a result of the impulse to stylize experience.

While both Naturalism and its detractors both criticized the bourgeoisie, they did it in very different ways. Naturalism attacked the bourgeoisie on an economic, social level, while the non-naturalists instead criticized the philistine disposition of the bourgeois (Bürgertum). Naturalism developed at the turn of the century in a more left-leaning direction, while Symbolism leaned right. All of the anti-naturalist movements shared a distaste for the philosophical background of Naturalism – they preferred a return to irrationalism, glorified death, metaphysics, the soul, and myth. (See here, Wagner’s music dramas, Schopenhauer.)

“An die Stelle von Positivismus und Optismus traten einerseits Lebensmüdigkeit, Resignation und Todesverherrlichung, ein pessimistischer Grundzug im Gefolge der Wirkung Schopenhauers, der in der Vermittlung durch die Musikdrr. Richard Wagners (1813-1883) eine romantische, rauschhafte Note bekam, andererseits Jugendlichkeit, Schönheitskult, Lebensgier, Tendenzen, die in der sog. Lebensphilosophie ihre Unterbauung fanden und das Dekadenzbewußtsein sowie den Nihilismus überwinden wollten. Leben erschien hier als dynamisch-ästhetischer Selbstwert, der weit über den Wert des Genusses hinausging.” [DdD, 484]

Very important: Nietsche’s Kulturpessimismus & Zukunftsphilosophie “Die Zukunft gebe unserem Heute die Regel.” Nietsche agreed with the Symbolists in his lifestyle as well as his philosophy. The world can only be saved by aesthetics; art is the only thing that has not fallen victim to the absurd, and is the sphere that lies beyond all worths and functions. à Jugendstil! And over-aestheticization of everything at this time. Parallels to this aesthetic Streben also in literature – George, Rilke, early Hofmannsthal, Hesse, Stadler, impressionistic Hauptmann. Sort of literary Jugendstil.

French Symbolists: Baudelaire, Verlaine, Mallarme, Rimbaud, Huysmans, Verhaeren, Maeterlink. Symbolism brought some ideals from the German Romantik back to Germany from France.

English language literature: Wilde (esp. Dorian Gray), Poe, Whitman (Formal importance. Content first appreciated by expressionism.)

Scandinavia: Strindberg influenced Wedekind. Became a more important influence in Expressionism.

Dostoyevsky was one of the biggest influences.

The antinaturalistic movements wanted to attain a level of art for art’s sake and praised not the reproduction of experience or facts, but rather of impressions, and impacts. When human beauty was praised it was seldom a beautiful strength, but rather a beautiful and interesting weakness that was praised (see Tadzio in Der Tod in Venedig). Neuromantik mixed in a Dionysian element. In one sense you could call the Neuromantik the Dionysian and Naturalism the Appolonian.

Lyric poetry was a particularly strong field at this time. First centering around Stefan George, then Rilke. Emphasis was less on formal perfection and more on word choice and rhyme. Metrically, poets were referring back to Hölderlin and Whitman’s free rhythms. There was also a renewal of the ballad – establishment of the literary cabaret furthered this fascination with the ballad/song. See Wedekind 1902 – joining the cabaret “Die elf Scharfrichter” in Munich.

The novel kept the microscopic vision of the Naturalistic novel, but had a more lyric, obscuring tone. Narrative works held onto a stylized idiom that had been rejected by the Naturalists and which almost became rhythmic prose. In drama, some romantic aspects recurred. One-acts by early Hofmannsthal signaled a new theater form. In this tradition are also Schnitzler’s dramas (the individual acts should stand more or less on their own, but work together as neighbors). Gerhart Hauptmann’s early impressionistic works show a mixture of naturalistic and romantic-symbolist characteristics.

Authors to consider: George, Hesse, Hofmannsthal, Mann, Rilke, Schnitzler, Wedekind, Zweig.

Period Considerations: Part I

Jahrhundertwende – 1945

The period I’m learning about is defined somewhat arbitrarily. While other periods are defined by particular literary or intellectual movements (Romanticism, Enlightenment) or by specific historical events (post-1989), mine is sort of a mixture. The starting date is vaguely defined around the turn of the twentieth century, but reaching a bit further back to about 1890. By going back a little further, it becomes possible to look at some of the movements that inspired and anticipated developments in literature after 1900. Also, some of these early 20th century movements started just prior to 1900 and carried over even into the late teens and twenties. Furthermore, the historical events of the last decade of the 19th century in many ways influenced and anticipated the events of the first half of the 20th century in Germany. 1888 saw Wilhelm II rise to become Emperor of Germany and there is a new movement of colonialism. His epic struggles for power with Bismarck (Wilhelm II eventually prevailed) seems in retrospect to foreshadow the machinations that led to Hindenburg naming Hitler Chancellor of Germany in 1933. Wilhelm II’s interventional and expansionary foreign policy and actions following the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke of Austro-Este, did nothing to prevent and, in fact, may have hastened the development of WWI, which caused, in turn, the devastation of the German economy after war’s end, which, in turn, gave rise to the Nazis and WWII.

1945 becomes an obvious cutoff date for this period, being the end of WWII and marking a rather drastic shift in literature predicated to no small degree by Adorno’s polemic against art, but also impacted by the devastation of Germany and the division of East and West. But the time in between ca. 1900 and 1945 is a time of subtler shifts in literary styles and movements and a time of major schisms and political upheaval in Germany’s history. The literature that appears around the time of these upheavals seems to gain in significance by its relation to those historic events and, more obviously, becomes inextricably tied to those events by their response to the political and historical shifts that the authors themselves witnessed and experienced.

So, the period from 1900-1945 can’t be said to have a unified vision or approach in the way that Enlightenment or Classicism could, and its context can’t be narrowed to any single political/historical event. Looking at it this way, I would perhaps call it literature of upheaval? The literature itself reflects the political/historical ruptures and shifts in content and (in some cases) form – this is especially true in Expressionism (particularly in Expressionist film and theater), which developed as well as it could a new medium – as well as reflecting on the social and cultural inheritance of the past – here we can think about Thomas Mann’s dealing with an outmoded bourgeoisie in Der Tod in Venedig or in Wedekind’s criticism of outmoded social mores and ideas about education in Frühlings Erwachen.

In the period of time from 1900 to 1945, we find a group of movements that act in harmony or discord with one another. Starting in about 1880, Naturalism becomes a major literary movement on the German scene. Naturalism was a self-conscious movement and saw itself as a literary revolution. The word Die Moderne was used to describe Naturalism. This movement’s active grappling with the social problems which plagued the political system (the worker’s movement and socialist movements within Germany) and it’s self-conscious modern-ness seems to place it more at the beginning of the twentieth century rather than at the end of the nineteenth. Around this period there is also an acute awareness of Darwin’s theory of evolution, which gave rise to “die Hoffnung auf eine Aufwärtsentwicklung des Menschengeschlechts.” [Frenzel, H.A. and E. Daten deutscher Dichtung. p. 458] Naturalism is marked by a reliance on natural laws – “Auch die psychischen Äußerungen des Menschen seien eine Funktion des körperlichen Mechanismus. Die geistige Welt funktioniere wie die natürliche nach Kausalgesetzen.” [DdD, p. 459] They saw, as did the philosophers of the time (Mill, Spencer, et al.), knowledge as the product of experience. Important influence: Hippolyte Taine (1828-1893) transferred positivism also to the judgment of history and art and exposed the influence of race, milieu, and time on the artistic product. Hence, Naturalism moves away from transcendentalism and the transcendent. Instead a kind of fatalistic/deterministic impulse takes over – emphasis is only on the time we have on Earth and there is very little belief in free will. Politically, the state began to be seen as oppressive of the lower classes (see here the struggles between Wilhelm II and Bismarck about workers’ rights) a tendency that continues to be an issue well into the twentieth century (see the Russian revolution, socialist movements in Germany, nationalists’ attempts to crush socialist movements and the division of Germany). (aside: Marx’s Communist Manifesto – 1848) The naturalist movement in Germany looked to similar movements in other countries for inspiration in hopes of expanding their own literary borders and to achieve a renewed international appeal. International naturalists of impact include: Balzac, Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant, Emile Zola, Russian realists: Turgenyev, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Ibsen, other Scandinavians.

“Die Modernität dieser Welt wurde im wesentlichen in ihre Natürlichkeit und die Modernität der Literatur in der Wiedergabe dieser Natürlichkeit gesehen.” [DdD, p. 460]

“Moderner Nachfolger des traditionellen ‘Helden’ war der passive Held, der unentschlossene und schwankende charakter, der ‘halbe Held’. Das Natürliche trat auch auf dem Gebiet ds Gefühls- und Seelenlebens in den Vordergrund, die Liebe wurde in ihrer Abhängigkeit vom Trieb gezeigt, und die Wahrheit verlangte, daß auch das Perverse nicht ausgeschlossen blieb. Die Einbeziehung des nach alten Maßstäben Unschönen und Unsittlichen führte in oppositionellem Gegenschlag zu einer einseitigen Bevorzugung des Häßlichen und Niederen: Kranke, Geistesgestörte, Alkoholiker, die Dirne wurden beliebte Handlungsträger.” [DdD, p. 460]

Here, see Benjamin, “Der Autor als Produzent” on the commidification of the low and impoverished.

Naturalism also attempted to naturalize its form – authors made notes on their own experiences living in cities, searched the newspapers for material, the notion of Genius and Inspiration became suspicious. In Drama, especially, the form tried to reflect the content and considerations of the movement – “unnatural” gestures were rejected, including the aside and monologue, and verse as a form. Verse still appeared in some poetry, but was unrecognizable as such. Literary language became very colloquial.

Naturalism appeared first in the novel. Special influence: Zola’s Theory on the experimental novel. Most important forms: psychological novel, then other narrative forms. In Drama, a break with the French tradition and some aspects taken over from Ibsen (small number of characters, return to natural unity of time and place, slow revelation of a past crime, ineluctable approach of catastrophe). In lyric, pathos, beauty, and mysticism are banned. As in the Vormärz, lyric deals with themes of technology and begins to deal with the Großstadt, Großstadtmenschen. In form, stayed relatively traditional, very like the Vormärz. Arno Holz tried to develop a form that would combine form and content by “der innere Rhythmus des Auszusagenden zum Ausdruck gebracht wurde.” [DdD, p.462] He wanted to avoid rhyme, stanzas, and free rhythms. This developed further in expressionism.

Authors to consider here: Arno Holz, Gerhart Hauptmann.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Benjamin: Der Autor als Produzent

This essay was actually a lecture delivered at the Institute for the Study of Fascism in Paris. It is essentially a manifesto on the role of the (literary) writer in the Revolution (Communist/Socialist/anti-Fascist/anti-Bourgeoisie).

He opens with the question of the role of the poet in Plato’s ideal Republic (banished) and wonders what the role of the poet/writer will be in the new socialist order. He suggests that if the author is to avoid the platonic author’s fate, he has to see himself as a producer – not in the film-industry sense, but in the way that a farmer or industrial worker produces a product. The product the author needs to produce is not necessarily a simple text, but should be a text that recognizes and reflects the “correct” political direction and spurs others to do the same. As in all media of art, the method used in writing must by needs also reflect the goal the text (author) is trying to accomplish. Benjamin discusses many media – he touches on the use of photography to present the world as it is, politically articulate photomontages produced by John Heartfield (Helmut Herzfeld), and the Epic Theater developed by Brecht, among others.

A problem is the tendency of photography and literature to commodify poverty – to glorify and make beautiful the ugly and abject in the world as we know it. This is most commonly the work of Neue Sachlichkeit. Even this has its use, though. Literature is basically produced for the bourgeoisie by intellectuals that are a product of bourgeois education. Being in the privileged position of being able to reach the bourgeois public, they have a duty to stand up for the proletariat and fight for the revolution from within the bourgeoisie. This will make the revolution itself faster and less bloody.

His reading of Brecht’s mode is very interesting – he says that the beauty of the Epic Theater is that it exposes “situations” rather than developing and relying on plots. Brecht uncovers situations that are otherwise unseen by the observer by interrupting the action – especially often by inserting a song into the scene. This rupture also opens up the possibility of generating laughter, which, Benjamin suggests, is the fastest way to inspire thought.

The question here is how to repurpose the means of literary production while recognizing that the author is a product of bourgeoisie.

In considering photography, Benjamin insists that photography itself must be accompanied by the caption that makes the photo’s revolutionary motive clear. (This reminds me of something that Vaget once said about Wagner: (I paraphrase)”Music itself can’t be racist or anti-Semitic or political. Music is a pure artform until it is invested with meaning from an external source.” I think this is what Benjamin is driving at. Literary production cannot be rejected in the context of the revolution. Instead it needs to be recognized as the text that accompanies the images of the revolution.

Interesting meta-moment: Benjamin quotes himself without attributing the quote. He just quotes “a left-wing author.”

Monday, September 29, 2008

Georg Simmel – Bridge and Door

In his essay "Bridge and Door," Georg Simmel looks at a seemingly very simple object from everyday life and invests it with symbolic meaning in a manner that is enviable to anyone who wants to look at the symbolic heft of spatial phenomena. He obviously approaches the spatial problem with a sociological eye – he looks at the human experience of and impact on space more than he looks at the “natural” occurrence of space itself. The space that interests him is a human phenomenon and not an inorganic one.

Simmel acknowledges the bridge’s typical function of connecting two otherwise separate and diverse things. However, he prods this understanding a bit further to suggest that the real appeal of the bridge and the connectedness that it provides is that the presence of the bridge underlines the its own necessity. Seeing a bridge calls to mind the division that it bridges, for lack of a better word, while giving the viewer the sense that the two halves are connected. With the bridge, unity or connectedness is always eventually emphasized.

With a door, however, the emphasis falls on the division or differentiation of things rather than their unity. The door embodies both unity and division and is the ultimate expression of the human capability to determine how one’s space is configured. The human decides where to place a door and when to open or close it. The door emphasizes both human isolation (positive and negative) and confrontation with what lies outside the door (both positive and negative, again). The door empowers the human to take control of when the human is isolated.

Nice quote: “The human being who first erected a hut, like the first road-builder, revealed the specifically human capacity over against nature, insofar as he or she cut a portion out of the continuity and infinity of space and arranged this into a particular unity in accordance with a single meaning. A piece of space was thereby brought together and separated from the whole remaining world. By virtue of the fact that the door forms, as it were, a linkage between the space of human beings and everything that remains outside it, it transcends the separation between the inner and the outer. Precisely because it can also be opened, its closure provides the feeling of a stronger isolation against everything outside this space than the mere unstructured wall. The latter is mute, but the door speaks. It is absolutely essential for humanity that it set itself a boundary, but with freedom, that is, in such a way that it can also remove this boundary again, that it can place itself outside it.”

Related: the window does not provide the same satisfaction. The window emphasizes connectivity with the outside world, but is intended solely for looking from the inside out, and NOT the other way around (CONNECTION: think about Appleton – Prospect-Refuge theory… we feel vaguely unsafe in a dark house at night, lights on but curtains open. Why? Because we can’t clearly see what is outside, but the outside can see clearly in.)

Summary quote: “Because the human being is the connecting creature who must always separate and cannot connect without separating – that is why we must first conceive intellectually of the merely indifferent existence of two river banks as something separated in order to connect them by means of a bridge. And the human being is likewise the bordering creature who has no border. The enclosure of his or her domestic being by the door means, to be sure, that they have separated out a piece from the uninterrupted unity of natural being. But just as the formless limitation takes on a shape, its limitedness finds its significance and dignity only in that which the mobility of the door illustrates: in the possibility at any moment of stepping out of this limitation into freedom.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Trying to wrap my mind around teaching Intensive Beginning German to more than 15 people at 9 AM. Oy.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

In response to domestic sexism

My loyal reader wjh linked to this article in Die Zeit, which is kind of maddening... Here's what we had to say about it, briefly. (This is my version of Crappy Hour.)

[3:08:49 PM] wjh says: did you read the article i posted in the comments? other blog, but egal [3:09:03 PM] Eej says: yes.
[3:09:06 PM] Eej says: MADDENING
[3:09:30 PM] wjh says: what exactly do you mean?
[3:09:43 PM] Eej says: oh, i don't know.
[3:09:46 PM] Eej says: let me read it again.
[3:09:53 PM] Eej says: i was generally frustrated when i read it
[3:09:54 PM] Eej says: :)
[3:09:57 PM] wjh says: yes, me too
[3:10:01 PM] wjh says: that's why i ask
[3:10:01 PM] wjh says: ;)
[3:19:31 PM] Eej says: and i don't know why the zeit article pisses me off so much...
[3:19:50 PM] Eej says: maybe because i feel like the obsession with american intellectuals at the moment is part of the problem.
[3:19:58 PM] wjh says: exactly!!!
[3:20:08 PM] Eej says: they have their german men and the american women take up the women's slot, so of course there can't be any german women.
[3:20:19 PM] wjh says: that's exactly what i was thinking.
[3:20:23 PM] Eej says: yeah
[3:20:45 PM] Eej says: it's also a great way for them to preserve domestic sexism while appearing progressive.
[3:20:54 PM] Eej says: "see, we like women... there just aren't any good ones here"
[3:20:57 PM] wjh says: also, i was kind of pissed off by the glorification of american intellectual women (while not wanting to disregard the achievements of sontag etc, but still)
[3:21:13 PM] Eej says: yeah.
[3:21:17 PM] Eej says: totally.
[3:22:20 PM] Eej says: also, i like how they discount hannah arendt as a german intellectual just because she buggered off to the US in the 30s
[3:22:23 PM] wjh says: (uh oh, tatort is getting gruselig!!)
[3:22:33 PM] Eej says: but they still lay claim to thomas mann, et al
[3:22:57 PM] wjh says: yes!
[3:23:23 PM] Eej says: yes. good. we are on the same page.
[3:23:28 PM] wjh says: :)
[3:23:29 PM] Eej says: i think i need to go back to smith.
[3:23:38 PM] Eej says: semester hasn't even started yet and i'm getting all angry.
[3:24:12 PM] wjh says: don't get angry. getting angry was for the 70s ;)
[3:24:22 PM] Eej says: i think getting angry is still good.

Conference Papers

I'm trying to come up with abstracts (by tomorrow!) for the following panels:

Transforming Spaces: The Manipulation of Public and Private Spaces in 19th c. Women's Literature
Many nineteenth-century domestic theories contend that women controlled society, but such theories also assert that women wielded power indirectly. By alleging that women influenced society obliquely, domestic ideologies reiterated rather than questioned the separate spheres. Many women writers, however, used domesticity to question their own second-class status. Such writers manipulate public and private spaces into sites of resistance by resisting the limitations of domesticity. They also revise domesticity and transform public and private spaces.

Jewish-German Dialogue Reconsidered Jewish-German Dialogue Reconsidered This panel seeks to explore how German and Israeli literature and film present the Jewish-German relationship in the post-wall period. Papers should address the connections between the failure of the "German-Jewish symbiosis" of the nineteenth century and the revival of Jewish-German-Dialogues today.

Text and Image in German Literature In response to the 'iconic turn' in cultural studies this panel seeks to examine text-image relations as a textual phenomenon in literature: Why do texts invite an "intrusion" of images and how does a visual aesthetics contribute to a rethinking of subjectivity, nature, and language? How does literature interact with the sister arts in a shared history (and critique) of the cultural image? Contributions might explore actual media change (images in the text; montage, cartoons, photo essays) as well as description of artifacts (ekphrasis) and production of visual spaces in language.

I'm really excited about the first one, but a little bit puzzled about what I should write about. The first authors that come to mind are all from the turn of the century (Elizabeth von Arnim, Edith Wharton) and I can't think of ANY German authors to use (see my previous post). Maybe I could go out on a limb and try my hand at Little Women? Or similar... This topic is SO what I'm interested... I need to come up with something good.

The second panel I'm less interested in, but it seems like I should be able to come up with something easily, given my past work on German/Jewish stuff. Could try to connect it to Sebald (not hard, but also not that interesting) or try to revive some portion of the research I allegedly did in Cologne or revisit some of my Senior Thesis authors (Biller, Behrens, Schlink). But I'm not sure I really care.

The third panel is being run by one of my former colleagues and, as such, should be relatively unintimidating to apply to, but my only idea for it is REALLY REALLY obvious, so I'd be kind of embarassed about that.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Since I left Smith and since I stopped dictating my own reading, I've moved away from reading women's writing. I'm looking for some potential conference paper topics and am absolutely appalled by my lack of knowledge of German women authors. What the fuck is up with that?

So, as soon as I can, I'm going to undertake a thorough independent study of German women's literature.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Reading Notes: Kracauer - On Employment Agencies: The Construction of a Space

Social strata are reflected in the spaces that the members of different strata occupy. Suburbs are a result of the growing middle class. Employment agency is the space assigned to the unemployed – opposite of a home.

He sees the Employment agency as a physical manifestation of an economic reality. Employment agencies are necessary as places for the unemployed to go instead of work or home – a kind of anti-home. He mulls their locations at length, describing the locations of a number of different specialized employment agencies, finally settling on the metal workers’ employment agency, which is situated in a back courtyard (two layers deep into the heart of the building), behind the offices where work is contracted and the areas in which the work is done. In this world, the power, economic and social, of a person is measured by his distance from the street. The powerful are at the front of the building and the abject are in the guts of the building, waiting for the job-makers to give them some work. Kracauer maps the economic reality of the workers’ situations onto the physical layout of the building.

Also, lengthy discussion of the irony/suckiness of how work is distributed. Some professions prefer to hire those who have been unemployed the longest, others prefer to hire those most recently unemployed.

Spatial Authority also enters in the form of signs governing the use of the space: “Protect the common property” and “In the interest of a smooth flow of persons, the orders of the hall porter must be unquestioningly followed.” Though he is, you could say, only barely more employed that the unemployed around him, and though they share the same space, the hall porter gains a great deal of authority over those waiting around him.

Also, some discussion of decoration: “Ostensibly out of the need to brighten up the place a little, the walls have from time to time been adorned with coloured prints. Do landscapes interrupt the misery or artistic portraits? Not at all. Rather, pictures that are dedicated to the prevention of accidents. ‘Think of your mother’, stands under one of them that, like the rest, warns of the dangers to which the worker is subjected when working with machines. Astonishingly enough, the couple of illustrations of gloomy happenings shimmer in a friendly manner above the heads. Yet nothing typifies the character of this space more than the fact that in them even pictures of accidents become picture postcard greetings from the happy upper world. If the unemployed could be immediately transferred there from the employment agency, then the poster announcing ‘Unnecessary waiting on the steps is not permitted’, that adorns many staircase walls, would not be required. It sounds like an afterword to the collection of texts that is prefaced by the door plate at the entrance to the courtyard.”

Kracauer sees the economic/social reality of the workers’ existence exemplified by the space they have to inhabit while waiting for a job. This space is further governed not only by its situation in relation to the spaces occupied by those that have the power to give jobs, but also by the disembodied authority of the posted signs warning of the dangers of work as well as the admonishments not to loiter. All in all, rather bleak.

Reading notes: Siegfried Kracauer – The Hotel Lobby

Kracauer - primarily known for film theory – Theory of Film and From Caligari to Hitler. This essay is an extract from Mass Ornament. He fled Germany under the Nazis and worked afterward in America. He was a student of Simmel and was influenced by him. Early in his career looked and daily phenomena and their impact on and significance in human life.

In the Hotel Lobby, he sees the lobby as an “inverted image” of the House of God – any house of worship. These spaces, he says, are both specifically equipped by their function to create equals of the people that inhabit them, despite their divergent functions. In a religious congregation, the differences between them disappear because of their united focus on god – they see their lives as serving the same destiny. Equality in the hotel lobby is instead established by a relationship to nothing. The sitters in a hotel lobby are, in the act of sitting in the lobby, focusing their energy on nothing at all, whereas in the church, the congregation’s members focus their energy entirely on the same object. The House of God is a place where people congregate to encounter a certain unknown Someone, whereas the Hotel Lobby is a place where people congregate to become anonymous and encounter no one. He emphasizes the importance of Silence as it is observed in those places (example from Der Tod in Venedig), and the aims of those specific silences – in the lobby, it underscores the anonymity of the people occupying the space and acts almost as a barrier between the individuals, whereas in the house of god, silent prayer unites the anonymous worshipers in their attempt to find god. Both spaces also allow for a detachment from daily life – one with meaning in the case of the church and one entirely without meaning in the hotel lobby. Silence underlines the sense that the people in those spaces regard one another as equals.

The hotel lobby has no specific purpose “dictated by Ratio,” but does accord a certain distance from the everyday – a kind of perspective that allows the inhabitant to regard daily life from afar. Kracauer is fascinated by the recurrent role of the hotel lobby in detective novels and seems to imply that the hotel lobby is the ideal setting for action performed by the detective novel’s “emptied-out individuals” (“who, as rationally constructed complexes, are comparable to the transcendental subject”). The congregation emerges, seeing itself as having a purpose, while the individuals in the hotel lobby are stripped of a purpose. Thus, the lobby-sitters approach a kind of existential nothing. The house of god creates a community where there had been none before.

Beautiful passage:

“But if the meaning of this anonymity becomes nothing more than the representation of the insignificance of this beginning, the depiction of formal regularities, then it does not foster the solidarity of those liberated from the constraints of the name; instead, it deprives those encountering one another of the possibility of association that the name could have offered them. Remnants of individuals slip into the nirvana of relaxation, faces disappear behind newspapers, and the artificial continuous light illuminates nothing but mannequins. It is the coming and going of unfamiliar people who have become empty forms because they have lost their password, and who now file by as ungraspable flat ghosts. If the possessed an interior, it would have no windows at all, and they would perish aware of their endless abandonment, instead of knowing of their homeland as the congregation does. But as pure exterior, they escape themselves and express their non-being through the false aesthetic affirmation of the estrangement that has been installed between them. The presentation of the surface strikes them as an attraction; the tinge of exoticism gives them a pleasurable shudder.”

Kracauer uses a SPATIAL model to explain the effect of a space on the people who occupy it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Reading Notes - Die Leiden des jungen Werther


Wilhelm – addressee of all the letters

Spatial analysis

Many different aspects of human interaction with landscape: impulse to control the landscape through gardening, desire to reproduce nature in all its glory through painting or writing – compare to Wackenroder’s letter where he despairs of being able to describe the landscape – the insufficiency of human art to do justice to nature. Also, there is a major rift between “culture” and “nature”. This is especially evidenced in the ball scene when Werther and Lotte go onto the balcony to watch the storm. They leave “culture” behind them in the house and enter a kind of liminal space between “tamed” culture and “wild” nature, whose power is represented by the storm’s intensity. However, their understanding of the natural is mediated by their cultural associations. Klopstock is the (human) filter through which they observe and understand nature. Klopstock = Claude glass

Also, this "flight from society" is symptomatic of the larger context of the novel. Werther's entire experience in Wahlheim (hello, placelessness!) is the result of his inability to function in society. Much of his movement is outward - going out to Wahlheim, going out of the ballroom, going out into the woods - and away from civilization. The problem with his experiences in nature, though, is that his experiences are always mediated through someone else's experiences and ideas - first Plato, then Klopstock, then Ossian (whose own writings were fictional, it turned out). There are layers of artificiality in Werther's behavior that make any kind of authentic experience impossible.

Also, Werther’s experience of landscape is marked by his own moods – or his moods are marked by what nature is doing around him. In the letter of 10. Mai, he feels at peace with nature – its peacefulness and happiness mirrors his own. At other points in the novel, though, nature takes on a dangerous, violent force that mirrors changes in his own attitude/experience. Landscapes are specifically created in Werther to mirror and echo his attitudes. Floods –Abgründe, etc.

Formal/stylistic notes

Epistolary Novel – however, also framed by the fictional editor. The reader almost takes the place of Wilhelm, the friend to whom Werther addresses his letters. We only get half of the correspondence which also reflects the entirely self-absorbed nature of the protagonist.

Frequent allusions to other writers assume a reader that is educated and informed in a similar way as Werther and Lotte are. The references don’t mean anything without their context intact in the reader.

Reading Notes - Goethe - Die Wahlverwandtschaften



Spatial analysis

Here the emphasis is almost exclusively on cultivation of nature. There is very little of “wild” nature to be seen, though the castle is situated in a very natural setting. Hills, gardens, surround the castle and there are bits of water here and there, some of which are naturally occurring, but some of which are man-made or manipulated. Created lake eventually causes death of the (UNNATURAL) child. There is much talk of the natural order The cultivation projects undertaken by the Charlotte and her husband are seen as the epitome of the unity of cultivation and nature. Charlotte builds a garden house in just the spot that suits it – there is almost a sense of spatial predetermination in their landscaping projects. They plant/create things just where they ought naturally to have been. Introduction of the notion of elective affinities in Chemistry reflects interest in scientific pursuits, but also seems to predestine the couples to reconfigure themselves. The explanation of the chemical property of elective affinity introduces a geometrical configuration into the non-scientific/mathematical sphere of personal relationships. The scientific principle is explained geometrically, but the geometry (the square with diagonals cutting across it) is superimposed upon the personal relationships at stake.

Also, the interior space is very interesting. The castle itself seems to be partitioned off with feminine and masculine spaces. The unnatural child is conceived when Charlotte’s husband first transgresses those boundaries and enters her (feminine) space. Then there’s the renovation project that Ottilie undertakes with the tutor. They undertake to restore and redecorate the church and churchyard. Ottilie paints a lot of new paintings for the church which clearly weren’t original to the space but seem as if they belonged there – parallel to the gardening pursuits.

Unity between cultivation and nature is introduced right from the start with Wilhelm’s comment that some of his happiest hours were/are spent in his Baumschule. The cultivation of trees has a natural effect but is, in itself not a natural act. He talks about propfen – forced propagation of trees. The word Baumschule itself contains both the height of natural expression – Baum – and the height of sophisticated civilization – schule.

Formal/stylistic notes

Narrated in the 3rd person omniscient.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Die Alte
Der Vogel

Plot points

First of all, I will never understand why this story is called Der Blonde Eckbert. He seems to be definitely a secondary figure to Bertha. We don’t know his back story and we don’t really care. He does spend the last part of the story as the protagonist, but the action of the story is motivated solely by Bertha’s actions as a child. Very strange.

Frame story: Bertha and Eckbert living in bliss, but without children. Walther is the only person who regularly visits them. Eckbert tells Bertha to tell Walther her story one night. Story: Bertha leaves abusive family with the fantasy of returning one day to give them riches. She wanders for a few days, then finds the old woman, who takes her home to her small house in the middle of the woods. Bertha is supposed to feed the bird (which lays eggs with jewels and sings the song Waldseinsamkeit), and the dog as well as spin. She stays there for four years and the old woman leaves her to look after things for weeks at a time. Finally, Bertha steals some of the jewels the old woman had stockpiled over time, takes the bird, leaves the dog, whose name she can never remember, to starve to death, and runs away. She wanders for a while, the bird stops singing, she eventually comes to her hometown, but learns that her parents are dead. She moves on, rents a house, the bird starts singing a new song about missing the woods, Bertha kills it and buries it in the garden. Eventually she meets and marries Eckbert. After hearing the story, Walther mentions the dog’s name which Bertha could never remember. She falls into hysterical breakdown. She tells Eckbert what it’s about and he goes on a ride to clear his head. On the ride he sees Walther and kills him. When he gets back to their castle, Bertha is dead. Eckbert moves to a new town, befriends Hugo, who he eventually confesses his murder to. Hugo seems to suddenly look just like Walther. Eckbert rides all night to get home and meets the old woman after his horse dies. She confesses that she was Walther and Hugo all along. She says that she had warned Bertha all along that she’d be punished for her bad deeds and tells Eckbert that he and Bertha are actually siblings. Random ending.

Spatial analysis

Similar to the Runenberg, the woods function as a kind of adolescent testing ground. They are still associated with threatening, magical powers and mystery. Bertha only gains awareness at the expense of her innocence. Definitely an allegory of adolescence. There is also a lot of emphasis on Einsamkeit as a positive experience. Waldeinsamkeit, obviously, but also the Einsamkeit in which Bertha and Eckbert live together. There is also value placed on the idea of living in harmony with nature, but this isn’t entirely borne out. This story is less interesting landscape-wise, than the Runenberg, for sure.

Formal/stylistic notes

Narrated in the 3rd person, omniscient. Preterite. Also, in many places, subjunctive is used to cause uncertainty in the reader about the reality of what’s happening.

Reading Notes - Tieck: Der Runenberg

Christian’s father
Der Fremde (Wald)
Der Fremde (Dorf)
Die Frau im Berg/die Schöne/das Waldweib

Plot points

Christian leaves home (doesn’t want to be a gardener like his father), planning to be a hunter. Meets der Fremde who tells Christian of treasure to be found in the mountains (in a kind of mine). (Much talk of Bergwerke – technical things, unnatural space, magical potential, downward motion.) He goes into the cave/mine and sees the beautiful woman (she undresses in front of him), singing her song about precious stones and power. He awakes as if from a dream, outside the mine, remembers the Tafel he left behind and begins to wander. Comes to the Dorf where Elisabeth lives, goes into church (holy space, opposite to mine, heavenward motion). He has a spiritual awakening and eventually settles in the village, working as a gardener (taming, organizing nature), marries Elisabeth and establishes a successful life. At some point, he goes on a journey in search of his father, who he meets not far into the forest. He had set out shortly before in search of his son and on the way found a sign of his son’s approach in a flower that he had only seen once before and had always searched for. The two return to the village and continue living peacefully. A stranger comes and stays with them for long enough to be counted as one of the family, then leaves his riches, saying he was going in search of something in the mountains, and if he did not return in a year, then Christian, et al should keep the money. This happens, but Christian becomes obsessed with the money, counting it and worrying about whether he will get to keep it. Onset of sleepwalking, disturbed sleep, dreams, but wild happiness during the days. Elisabeth is freaked out and we learn from Christian’s father that he had always been obsessed with metal (read money?) as a child. More talk of Bergwerke. (opposition of metal and earth, money and nature) Finally, Christian sees an old woman (identified with the beautiful woman from the Bergwerk), who tells him to come back to the woods. He finds the Tafel. He wanders off into the woods in search of the riches promised him by the Waldweib (kind of Gaia/Mother Earth/pagan figure). Father tries to stop him, but fails. Family falls apart, Elisabeth marries a cruel drunk, their money disappears. Father dies. After a few years, Christian comes back, but is not recognized. Reveals himself to Elisabeth and tries to get a kiss from his daughter, who is afraid of him. Leaves them and returns to the Waldweib.

Spatial analysis

The most important contrast here is between the Mountains/Woods and the plain. Christian grew up in the plain and found it unbearable, felt a compulsion to go into the woods (repeatedly). Contrast between relationships to nature: gardener/miner/hunter. There is a push-pull between taming nature and being drawn into its wildness. Seems to be overtones of Christianity vs. paganism (hence also the name Runenberg – Runes being aligned with pagans). Christian descends (down/hell) to meet the Waldweib and be seduced by the riches buried in the earth, but has a spiritual awakening in the Church, which is associated with upward verticality, heavenward motion.

One could also read this in a Freudian manner – Christian goes into the mountain through a tunnel at the end of which he has his first sexual awakening – seeing the Waldweib as a highly sexualized figure. His attempt at becoming a sexual being is aborted, however, and he finds himself back outside and quite disoriented. Also, his leaving the mine through the tunnel, with a powerful female force behind him, could be a scene of rebirth. All in all, the journey into the woods and mountains and exit to the other side seems to be a coming of age allegory. The mountains and his experiences there are meant to stand in for adolescence and sexual maturation.

This is another story that deals with the technical in conjunction with the supernatural. Could be interesting for the potential dissertation project. It doesn’t dwell on the technical, but does mention it enough that it’s noticeable.

Wild nature in general is associated with riches, mystery, and vaguely threatening forces. Ordnung and cultivated nature/civilization is definitely preferred over venturing into the unknown and the wilderness is seen as forbidden to humans. The woods/mountains and Christian’s journey through them are taboo.

Formal/stylistic notes

Narrated in the 3rd person, omniscient. Preterite. Also, in many places, subjunctive is used to cause uncertainty in the reader about the reality of what’s happening. Tieck also does this in Der Blonde Eckbert.

Author notes

Tieck was leader of Romanticism – one of first to show romantic enthusiasm for old german art. Assoc. with Wackenroder, others. Wrote Märchen, poems, dramas, and a few novels.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Googlebooks to read

Hirschfeld, CCL: Theorie der Gartenkunst,M1

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Chicken or egg?

I was searching today for blogs similar to mine... i.e. other blogs where people work out their academic ideas and interests, but it seems that there are only a very few.

Granted, I didn't do an exhaustive search, but all the candidates I ran across seemed to have either given up blogging (ran out of things to say, got jobs and were now too important) or left academia altogether.

So, my question is whether the blogging-inclined among us tend to leave academia or if the field itself makes it less productive/enticing to blog? Is there something incompatible about the worlds of grad school and blogging?

I do know of one academic blogger who does what I want to do in this space, but better. But, she's very deeply ensconced in History, which is not at ALL where my interests lie (yes, yes, important, etc., but it doesn't ring my bell), so I'm still looking for other literature nuts. Any tips? Anyone? Does anyone even read this?

Where are all the bloggers?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Reading Notes - Storm: Immensee

  • Reinhard – best friend of Elisabeth, five years her senior. The novella is centered on his character and narrated as a flashback to several points in his life. He is already an old man at the beginning of the narrative, and returns to old age at the end, in the quasi-frame story. He is described as a Wanderer and his main physical characteristics are his hat and walking stick, markers of his migrant character. He has a very authoritative tone even as a child talking to Elisabeth. He presumes that one day they will be married and travel together to India (Orientalist fantasy). Their relationship is predicated on this assumption and hope. Reinhard has a taxonomical interest. It is unclear what his specific field of study is, but he dabbles in Botany (and teaches it to Elisabeth), and undertakes a Grimm-style task of collecting Märchen and other linguistic Merkmale of the regions through which he travels. Oddly, as a child and young man, he wrote his own Märchen, though some of them are very reminiscent of other stories (Biblical reference: story of Daniel in the Lion’s den, Classical reference: die drei Spinnerinnen – the fates). Ends up writing verse and his gift of a volume of poems to Elisabeth after his first year of study seems to mark the end of their relationship, although the poems are all clearly dedicated to her. He seems very tuned in to his surroundings, but often finds himself going awry and having surreal, Märchenhafte experiences in nature. He seems placeless, but simultaneously at home everywhere. A typical wanderer figure
  • Elisabeth – best friend, worshiper of Reinhard. Clearly still a child for the first parts of the story, but acts and is portrayed as strangely mature for her age. She also has a very strong attachment to her mother and relies heavily on her mother’s input for decisions – she claims that she will not be allowed to travel to India (Reinhard assures her that by that time they will be married and no one will be able to tell her what to do, although by positioning himself as the authority at that point, he assumes the same power that he begrudges her mother), and it is implied that her mother convinced her to marry Erich instead. While she is not entirely without free will, Elisabeth’s life seems to be largely the result of other people’s actions. Platially, Elisabeth seems very much to rely on others’ directions. The one time that she does wander into nature on her own (as a five year old), Reinhard calls her back into the house (domesticity) that he has finished building for them. She allows herself to be steered spatially and directionally just as much as she allows herself to be steered in her life decisions. Here, her spatial helplessness seems to be a symptom or symbol of her willingness to surrender her own agency.
  • Erich – very much a supporting actor. He assumes the position that Reinhard leaves vacant when he leaves to study. After his third proposal, he convinces (with the help of her mother) Elisabeth to marry him. He notably replaces the bird that Reinhard had given Elisabeth with a more stylish, less wild bird in a golden cage. He brings Elisabeth out of her rustic surroundings into a much more manicured, wealthier lifestyle. He seems to represent civilization/Bourgeoisie/manicured life, whereas Reinhard seems more to represent the wilder, less constrained life they had had as children.
  • Elisabeth’s mother – she only speaks a couple of times, but is a constant presence. She seems to have steered Elisabeth away from Reinhard and toward Erich. However, at a crucial moment (after Reinhard’s recitation of a song about a mother steering her daughter away from the man she loved), she keeps Erich from following the visibly upset Elisabeth into the garden saying “she has things to do in the garden” or similar. She acts as a foil to Reinhard’s mother, whom Elisabeth gives a portrait of herself for Christmas, and who facilitates Elisabeth’s sending letters and gifts to Reinhard, as if she couldn’t send them on her own (was her mother forbidding it?).
  • Die Zigeuner – they appear twice in the novella. Once, when Reinhard is away studying, at Christmas. He sees the woman singing a song about a love affair gone awry, which ends “allein soll ich sterben” or similar. She seems to try to seduce Reinhard, who is, at that moment, told that a Christmas package has arrived from his home. The smell of the Christmas cakes that his mother and Elisabeth have baked him fill his room (she seems to fill the room, in a way) and spill into the hall. The cakes have the letters of his name put on them with sugar – by Elisabeth, who seems to be affirming Reinhard’s identity in lieu of her own – and he gives half of them to a beggar. The second appearance of the Zigeuner is at the very end of his visit to Immensee, when they appear begging at the house as Reinhard and Elisabeth return from rowing on the lake. Elisabeth gives them all her money and Reinhard asks what else they could want. The woman answers that they could want nothing else and then repeats the last line of her song about dying alone. At this, he recognizes the woman (unheimlich) and seems also to realize that he has to leave Immensee.

Plot points

His visit to Immensee to see Elisabeth and Erich is punctuated by a number of experiences in the landscape. He is caught in a rainstorm on his way back to the house and sees a seeming apparition of Elisabeth and is infuriated by her turning her back and going ahead of him back to the house. He goes walking along the banks of the See in the evening and swims out to see a Wasserlilie that seems to recede further away from him as he swims toward it. This results in a terrifying spatial confusion. The combination of his confusion and the belief that he is being pulled under by the water plants around him cause him to panic and head back for the shore, at which point he sees that the flower is exactly as far away as he originally thought it to be. This is a surreal almost Märchenhaft moment in the story. Finally, Elisabeth has been charged by Erich, with the task of showing Reinhard all the most beautiful places on their estate, while Erich and Elisabeth’s mother are mysteriously away on business. On their way back (with him steering, but Elisabeth still in charge of showing him the way – perhaps the only time they’re on equal footing, really), Reinhard has insights into Elisabeth’s character just from looking at her hand resting on the edge of the boat. When she realizes he’s staring at her hand, she lets it trail in the water. Later that night, he retraces their steps and ponders whether or not to leave.

Spatial analysis

Here, the question seems to be not where people are at home or what places seem to have the most importance or symbolic weight, but instead a question of who has authority in space. Reinhard is certainly the most authoritative when it comes to navigating space, doing most of the leading and almost never following. When he is following direction (given by Elisabeth at Immensee), he is still in physical control of their movements, piloting the boat. He also underscores his authority over natural space by undertaking natural historical/botanical categorization. This organizing impulse is carried over and he seems also to take control of language by trying to organize and categorize linguistic patterns and stories. His creative impulse seems to decrease after Elisabeth marries Erich – in the beginning, he composes his own Märchen and verses and clears new paths down which to guide Elisabeth (while they’re looking for strawberries, for instance – in that particular instance, however, his urge to move forward results in him leaving her behind.), whereas he ends by only categorizing others’ Märchen, sayings, and songs, and asks directions while on his approach to Immensee.

Formal/stylistic notes

Narrated in the 3rd person, omniscient, although this seems illogical with the story playing out, as it does, in the context of Reinhard’s memories. He couldn’t know all he seems to remember. The novella is largely realistic, but has some romantic overtones, with a number of unheimlich moments and apparitions. There are many moments where one expects a magical occurrence, but Reinhard always seems to shake off any romantic/magical action.

Temporal tension. Frame narrative takes place in the Present, where Reinhard is an old man. In the space of a few moments, perhaps, of real time, he revisits his ten year old self, his seventeen year old self, and himself as a young-middle-aged man before returning to his present self in old age.

Mix of genres - Lyric moments are very important and take the place of narration for major moments in the story.