- The Erotics of War in German Romanticism
Patricia Anne Simpson's excellent study The Erotics of War in German Romanticism explores the nexus between cultures of war, female desire, concepts of gender, and national identity. Her primary sources range from contemporary military journals and historical artifacts, such as the infamous iron crosses and iron jewelry of the Wars of Liberation, to philosophical texts, from painting and architecture to literature. Simpson shows that the relegation of women to the domestic sphere is inextricably linked with the new concept of soldierly masculinity that emerges during the Wars of Liberation. She contends that both erotic desire and gender roles are inflected by a culture of war and by concepts of nation: "gendered identity is at the center, not the margin, of the culture of war," and "the question of erotic desire complicates not only gendered, but national identity" (20).
Simpson's first chapter focuses on representations of war in philosophical discourse, in particular works by Kant, Fichte, and Hegel. Simpson argues convincingly that Kant's concept of the sublime provided a vocabulary for articulating the experience of war. She shows that Fichte's Reden an die Nation link paternity, soldierly masculinity, and the German nation, whereas the feminine is erased from the public sphere and the discourse on nation. Similarly, Hegel casts war as an institution that masculinizes the nation and, in doing so, elevates it to a higher ethical plane.
While Simpson's first chapter is alive to the discourse of war as a social and political institution, her interpretations of literary texts deal primarily with the role of soldierly masculinity and the nation. Chapter 2 focuses on Hölderlin's Hyperion and reads the soldierly bond of brothers-in-arms as a homosocial, potentially even homoerotic, relationship. In Hölderlin's novel the heat of battle gives birth to masculine maturity, but this dynamic is disrupted by a commitment to the feminine realm of beauty. Whereas Hölderlin depicts a war of independence, the works of Karoline von Günderrode, the subject of chapter 3, deal with war on a smaller scale, namely the duel, which, according to Clausewitz, comprises the essence of war. In Simpson's study, Günderrode's works explore the possibility of female heroism and female participation in the emerging national community.
Simpson's analysis of Kleist's Penthesilea focuses on the play's suspension of the dichotomy of public and private and the collapse of desire and violence. She claims that Kleist's play temporarily uncouples femininity from its ethical obligations but ultimately upholds bourgeois concepts of gender. Her next chapter links Goethe's Epimenides' Awakening and Campaign in France with Karl Friedrich Schinkel's portrait of his pregnant wife, Susanne, and Ernst Moritz Arndt's poem "The German Fatherland." Whereas Schinkel's portrait opens the private realm onto the public sphere by associating paternity and fatherland, Arndt severs all ties between the familial and political realm and celebrates the Teutonic warrior as a model of German masculinity. In contrast, Goethe's account of war praises the pleasures of domesticity and remains at a distance from the contemporary celebration of the nation. Finally, Bettina Brentano-von Arnim's political interventions rely on and draw strength from the author's constructs of feminine subjectivity.
Simpson's readings are insightful, important, and innovative, and her language is lucid and elegant, but also very compact. Although the overall argument [End Page 127] is consistent and convincing, the book challenges its readers with a wealth of detail and the complexity of her individual readings. All in all, Simpson's committed, informed, and inspired book—her interrogation of how gender roles are stabilized through reference to national identity, how cultures of war regulate the erotic, and how national feelings are coded as forms of love—constitutes a significant contribution to the study of gender, literature, and warfare in German Romanticism.