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.”