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The renewed and burgeoning interest in the era loosely termed German modernism is well served by three of the books considered here. Huyssen and Bathrick, Sandbank, and Koelb are all engaged primarily in rereading—in revising and expanding our perceptions and understanding of authors and works from the early twentieth century; the questions and scholarship are, in each case, prompted and guided by theoretical approaches generally associated with poststructuralism, and the results are unusually fruitful. For not only do they hold up new lenses to important writers, they also reevaluate and revalue the position of German letters within the modern period. We can and should be grateful for this revisionary recuperation; among other things, it recalls the German writers to their German (language) context (what was "modernism" in the German-speaking world cannot be equated with Bloomsbury, as Huyssen and Bathrick so eloquently argue). At the same time, it predictably calls into question the entire wealth of notions that allow construction of homogenizing terms like "modernism."
In a thoroughly "postmodern" way, then, the articles assembled by Huyssen and Bathrick, most of which emerged from a lively conference held at Milwaukee in 1986, aim, as the editors put it, to "challenge the confining Anglo-American canonization of high modernism into which most of German and Austrian modernism simply does not fit." They are keen to demonstrate that the postmodern, "rather than being a totally new departure . . . is in many ways involved in renegotiations of the constitutive terms of the modern, a rewriting of the problematics of modernism itself." In this light we read the several excellent contributions to this volume—and it incidentally illuminates our understanding of Sandbank and Koelb as well. What we may witness repeatedly in these studies is the apprehension by a postmodern sensibility—that is, an intellect versed in recent critical theories—of some of modernism's textual manifestations. One might sense, in the assertion regarding the "constitutive terms of the modern," an imbalance of sorts between the modernist text (the artistic creation) and the postmodernist critical theory: do these terms reside in the texts themselves, for instance, or are they constituted by an earlier interpretive-theoretical gesture—what, in other words, is the oppositional pattern implied here in order to be undone, and how does this modern-postmodern juxtaposition (that is not one) avoid the anathematic trap of binarism against which the postmodern so valiantly struggles? Shimon Sandbank subverts this problematic by inserting his interpretative voice as a third term between the master text of Kafka and the several authors he sees as misreaders of that text. Such a strategy is not available to the contributors to the Huyssen-Bathrick volume, or to Koelb (although he employs a similar tactic in writing the space between Kafka's life and his texts).
But this problematic is the stuff of theory, and my skepticism should not imply negative reception. On the contrary, each of these three books deserves [End Page 642] abundant praise and attention and a fuller commentary than I can give it here. The fourth, Lesér's study of Thomas Mann, does not fit the frame suggested by the others, for reasons to be addressed below.
Modernity and the Text contains twelve essays divided into three unequal groups. Part One, "The Avant-Garde: Politics and the Text," includes Bathrick on Franz Jung; Joachim Schulte-Sasse on Carl Einstein; Russell Berman on Ernst Jünger; Peter Uwe Hohendahl on Gottfried Benn; and Judith Ryan on Gertrude Stein, Robert Musil, and André Breton (or rather, on "Melanctha, Tonka, Nadja"). Part Two, "Modernist Cities: Paris—New York—Berlin" offers Huyssen's reading of Rilke's (Brigge's...