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Figures of Simplicity

Sensation and Thinking in Kleist and Melville

Birgit Mara Kaiser

Publication Year: 2011

A fascinating comparison of the work of Heinrich von Kleist and Herman Melville. Figures of Simplicity explores a unique constellation of figures from philosophy and literature—Heinrich von Kleist, Herman Melville, G. W. Leibniz, and Alexander Baumgarten—in an attempt to recover alternative conceptions of aesthetics and dimensions of thinking lost in the disciplinary narration of aesthetics after Kant. This is done primarily by tracing a variety of “simpletons” that populate the writings of Kleist and Melville. These figures are not entirely ignorant, or stupid, but simple. Their simplicity is a way of thinking; one that author Birgit Mara Kaiser here suggests is affective thinking. Kaiser avers that Kleist and Melville are experimenting in their texts with an affective mode of thinking, and thereby continue, she argues, a key line within eighteenth-century aesthetics: the relation of rationality and sensibility. Through her analyses, she offers an outline of what thinking can look like if we take affectivity into account.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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p. i


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

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Introduction: On Subterranean Connections

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pp. xiii-xxii

We start here from a hunch, at a venture, so to speak. We start from the impression of a curious connection between Heinrich von Kleist’s and Herman Melville’s texts. It is definitely a curious connection, because at first both writers seem to have very little in common, and it has been scholarly impossible to establish their awareness of each other...

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Chapter 1. Aesthetics: Sensation and Thinking Reconsidered

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pp. 1-26

On March 22, 1801, Heinrich von Kleist wrote a famous letter to his fi ancée Wilhelmine von Zenge, telling her of his shocking encounter with Kantian philosophy: “I recently became familiar with the more recent so-called Kantian philosophy, and I may impart one...

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Chapter 2. Sentimentalities

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pp. 27-55

Coming out of these discontents with Kant, a name that for better or for worse came to stand in for philosophy’s striving for clarity of conceptual thinking, Kleist and Melville devised in their writings an approach to thinking and knowledge that takes the “complex web of life”—its contingencies and obscurities, the preliminarity...

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Chapter 3. Affectivity

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pp. 56-87

Much like Delano, Melville’s Billy Budd never quite knows who he is up against. And yet, he is an entirely different figure. To couple him with Kleist’s Michael Kohlhaas might seem surprising, as Kohlhaas, unlike Billy Budd, is fixed upon his opponent in obdurate pursuit. At first...

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Chapter 4. Insistence

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pp. 88-112

Bartleby, the scrivener, and sweet little K

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Chapter 5. Conclusion

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pp. 113-119

The preceding chapters have pursued a subterranean lineage between the texts of Heinrich von Kleist and Herman Melville. The hypothesis that a remarkable alliance exists between their texts is not only based upon the strikingly similar characters that both writers devised and that we have examined, but it also finds support in the repeated references...


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pp. 120-138


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pp. 139-145


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pp. 146-149

E-ISBN-13: 9781438432311
E-ISBN-10: 1438432313
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438432298
Print-ISBN-10: 1438432291

Page Count: 171
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 710993092
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Figures of Simplicity

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Comparative literature -- American and German.
  • Senses and sensation in literature.
  • Melville, Herman, -- 1819-1891 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Thought and thinking in literature.
  • Comparative literature -- German and American.
  • Kleist, Heinrich von, -- 1777-1811 -- Criticism and interpretation.
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