restricted access Das Streben nach Erkenntnis als Weg zur Selbsterlösung in Hermann Brochs “Tierkreis-Erzählungen” by Pia Banzhaf (review)
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Reviewed by
Pia Banzhaf, Das Streben nach Erkenntnis als Weg zur Selbsterlösung in Hermann Brochs “Tierkreis-Erzählungen”. Frankfurt a.M.: Peter Lang, 2011. 138 pp.

This examination of the stories that make up Broch’s Tierkreis-Erzählungen is a standout in the recent flood of new work on Broch due to the trenchancy and brevity with which it handles pertinent general principles large enough to lead other authors astray. Chapters on “Die Gnosis als vorherrschende Denkfigur der Moderne” (21–29) and “Die Gnosis-Ursprung und Konsequenz” (31–35), for instance, might have resulted in vast abstractions that obstruct their intended purpose. While inviting further study by furnishing a full bibliography, Banzhaf commendably covers issues of gnosticism, Platonic metaphor, and the place of ethics in twentieth-century politics and psychology only insofar as they serve to illuminate the stories themselves. She is adept at stating broad generalities and indicating large areas of cultural study without getting bogged down. Accordingly, the sixth chapter, “Zu den einzelnen Erzählungen im Novellenzyklus” (43–108), rightly occupies more than half of this study, whose persuasiveness derives from a careful and conscientious close reading of the stories in light of the gnostic imperatives outlined in her earlier chapters.

Those imperatives are centered on the quest for salvation through self-knowledge, a theme not exactly unknown to the Greeks but restated in various forms by Rudolf Steiner, Carl Gustav Jung, Ernst Cassirer, and other twentieth-century philosophers, theologians, political analysts, and psychologists, all of whom were familiar to Broch, as is evidenced by the presence of annotated copies of their works in his library. The symbolism of the stories [End Page 135] mainly derives, then, from Platonic philosophy, especially the parable of the cave (“Eine leichte Enttäuschung,” “Ein Abend Angst”), Jungian psychology (“Vorüberziehende Wolke”), and the geometrical figure of the Golden Triangle, as Banzhaf explains with particular deftness in connection with “Die Heimkehr.” The four elements of earth, water, air and fire join with three forms of plant life—the olive, the fig, and the laurel—to reveal the integration of the self and a new baptism in “Der Meeresspiegel.” The handling of the separate details is very adept, and the closing chapter once again sums up the symbols and ideas of gnosticism as they are revealed in these “zodiac stories.” Overall, Broch’s work stresses the need for self-redemption, because gnosticism has no outside savior: “Da die Welt des Gnostikers ohne einen Messias und Erlöser auskommt, muss das eigene Handeln Schritt um Schritt zur Erlösung führen” (118).

This is the process Banzhaf traces with such efficiency. Quite typical of her practical sense is the single sentence (18–19) with which she justifies her exclusion of a sixth story, “Espérance,” putatively part of the Tierkreis-Erzählungen due to its inclusion in Lützeler’s commentated edition from 1975. Brisk, persuasive, and logical—the same traits that explain the exclusion of “Espérance” run throughout this fine study. It is important to stress once more what Banzhaf does not do; she does not get bogged down in extended abstractions but keeps the explicatory business at hand always in view. She relates the ascriptions of various body parts to the signs of the zodiac from relevant ancient and modern sources, mentioning them, showing how they function in the context of the story, and inviting (but not herself pursuing) exhaustive analysis.

Banzhaf’s book is structured such that it must stand or fall on the extended close readings of the individual stories—hence the assignment of half her study to those readings—and it stands, firmly and solidly. Every page reveals close correspondences between objects, thoughts, and actions of the story and the corresponding concepts from gnostic thought as captured by the various disciplines. To single out just two or three examples, the readers come to understand as never before the progression of Andreas’s quest in “Eine leichte Entt äuschung” and its ultimate failure in the scheme of Plato’s allegories (43–59), the Jungian integration of self in “Vorüberziehende Wolke” (59–71), and the complex spiritual journey of the protagonist made clear through a...


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