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Reviewed by:
Russell A. Berman. The Rise of the Modern German Novel: Crisis and Charisma. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1986. 311 pp. $29.50.
Bruce M. Broerman. The German Historical Novel in Exile after 1933: Calliope Contra Clio. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1986. 128 pp. $18.50.

Taken together, these two books span the period from the Wilhelmine Empire through the Third Reich—a period critical both to literary and to social history in Germany. Each author is intent on placing the texts under consideration within the sociopolitical context from which they emerge; each is eager to show how ideological structures and historical realities function, implicitly or explicitly, to inform content and style of the novels and to intervene in the development of their aesthetic. Finally, each employs an embracing figure as the recurring point of reference in the discussion of several works.

But here the similarities end, and the chronology suggested by the two volumes becomes deceptive. For Berman, whose historical frame is temporally earlier, concerns himself ultimately with questions pertaining to the aesthetics of modernism that are by no means confined by specific dates, whereas Broerman returns to a familiar if elusive genre, the historical novel, and investigates its necessary attraction to writers exiled from Hitler's Germany. The critical tools and methods at the disposal of each author are, moreover, bound to lead their investigations in different directions. [End Page 750]

Russell Berman's remarkably learned, ingeniously structured, and most compelling book employs as a central point of reference Max Weber's metaphor of the iron cage: "the fully rationalized world imprisons the individual within the confinement of solely instrumental labor, leaving no room for either sensuous pleasure or authentic creativity." Abjuring timeworn and often abstract idealistic explanations that would derive the disintegration of bourgeois society from the loss of an absolute center and encroaching relativistic thinking, Berman insists on the politics of literature and analyzes its discursive functions always in relationship to the reader. He seeks and finds in literature explicit confirmation of, or prescription for, the reader-recipients' ideological worldview.

Weber's metaphor, so useful in delineating the movement from one stage to the next in the progression from crisis to charisma, also marks the center of a concentrically-developed argument. For as the metaphor may have been central to Weber's own perception, so his life becomes a paradigm for Berman's investigation of sociological and aesthetic developments. In devoting his lengthy second chapter to Weber's life and thought, Berman not only establishes the methodological underpinning of his study but also suggests the palimpsest that guides his analysis of discourse.

Beginning with the proposition that literature "has its geography" as well as its audience, Berman demonstrates the coincidence of aesthetic and sociopolitical structures in the Wilhelmine Empire, arguing that the culture industry's focus on material acquisition finds its literary expression in a reification of the text that dissolves meaning and imprisons the realist novel in the iron cage: "the realist reader, who began as the hermeneutically competent consciousness able to recognize the dialectic of the particular and the general in the precision of the novelistic detail, ends as the prisoner of a text which the dynamic of society in a late stage of cultural modernization has transformed into Weber's iron cage." The process of dissolution of meaning and reification of text is traced through Freytag, Stifter, and Fontane to Georg Hermann; of Berman's many references to the changing function of commodities and the breakdown of exchange, perhaps the most trenchant—and one that links the several discussions—is his treatment of the private library and the role it serves in the social and individual mentality.

The age of realism is followed by the age of charismatic modernism, which seeks to destroy the iron cage: "while the culture industry constantly cheats the reader and leaves him isolated and powerless, modernism in its various versions attempts to break the bonds and emancipate the reader by structuring a new social relationship in the act of literary communication, and therefore, a new social community." Charisma is generated by a leap of faith and a refocusing from commodity to community: "In the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 750-753
Launched on MUSE
2009-01-01
Open Access
No
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