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Ethics and the Dynamic Observer Narrator

Reckoning with Past and Present in German Literature

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In Ethics and the Dynamic Observer Narrator: Reckoning with Past and Present in German Literature, Katra A. Byram proposes a new category—the dynamic observer form—to describe a narrative situation that emerges when stories about others become an avenue to negotiate a narrator’s own identity across past and present. Focusing on German-language fiction from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Byram demonstrates how the dynamic observer form highlights historical tensions and explores the nexus of history, identity, narrative, and ethics in the modern moment. Ethics and the Dynamic Observer Narrator contributes to scholarship on both narrative theory and the historical and cultural context of German and Austrian literary studies. Narrative theory, according to Byram, should understand this form to register complex interactions between history and narrative form. Byram also juxtaposes new readings of works by Textor, Storm, and Raabe from the nineteenth century with analyses of twentieth-century works by Grass, Handke, and Sebald, ultimately reframing our understanding of literary Vergangenheitsbewältigung, or the struggle to come to terms with the past. Overall, Byram shows that neither the problem of reckoning with the past nor the dynamic observer form is unique to Germany’s post-WWII era. Both are products of the dynamics of modern identity, surfacing whenever critical change separates what was from what is.

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The Fleeting Promise of Art

Adorno's Aesthetic Theory Revisited

by Peter Uwe Hohendahl

A discussion of Theodor Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory is bound to look significantly different today than it would have looked when the book was first published in 1970, or when it first appeared in English translation in the 1980s. In The Fleeting Promise of Art, Peter Uwe Hohendahl reexamines Aesthetic Theory along with Adorno’s other writings on aesthetics in light of the unexpected return of the aesthetic to today’s cultural debates.

Is Adorno’s aesthetic theory still relevant today? Hohendahl answers this question with an emphatic yes. As he shows, a careful reading of the work exposes different questions and arguments today than it did in the past. Over the years Adorno’s concern over the fate of art in a late capitalist society has met with everything from suspicion to indifference. In part this could be explained by relative unfamiliarity with the German dialectical tradition in North America. Today’s debate is better informed, more multifaceted, and further removed from the immediate aftermath of the Cold War and of the shadow of postmodernism.

Adorno’s insistence on the radical autonomy of the artwork has much to offer contemporary discussions of art and the aesthetic in search of new responses to the pervasive effects of a neoliberal art market and culture industry. Focusing specifically on Adorno’s engagement with literary works, Hohendahl shows how radically transformative Adorno’s ideas have been and how thoroughly they have shaped current discussions in aesthetics. Among the topics he considers are the role of art in modernism and postmodernism, the truth claims of artworks, the function of the ugly in modern artworks, the precarious value of the literary tradition, and the surprising significance of realism for Adorno.

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Foreign Words

Translator-Authors in the Age of Goethe

Susan Bernofsky

The turn of the nineteenth century was a particularly fertile period in the history of translation theory and practice. With an unprecedented number of works being carefully translated and scrutinized, this era saw a definite shift in the dominant mode of translation. Many translators began attempting, for the first time, to communicate the formal characteristics, linguistic features, and cultural contexts of the original text while minimizing the paraphrasing that distorted most eighteenth-century translations. As soon as these new rules became the norm, authorial translators—defined not by virtue of being authors in their own right but by the liberties they took in their translations—emerged to challenge them, altering translated texts in such a way as to bring them into line with the artistic and thematic concerns displayed in the translators’ own “original” work. In the process, authorial translators implicitly declared translation an art form and explicitly incorporated it into their theoretical programs for the poetic arts. Foreign Words provides a detailed account of translation practice and theory throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, linking the work of actual translators to the theories of translation articulated by Goethe, Wilhelm von Humboldt, and, above all, Friedrich Schleiermacher. Employing a variety of critical approaches, author Susan Bernofsky discusses in depth the work of Kleist, Hölderlin, and Goethe, whose virtuoso translations raise issues that serve to delineate a theory of translation that has relevance at the turn of the twenty-first century as well. Combining a broad historical approach with individual readings of the work of several different translators, Foreign Words paints a full picture of translation during the Age of Goethe and provides all scholars of translation theory with an important new perspective.

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Formative Fictions

Nationalism, Cosmopolitanism, and the "Bildungsroman"

by Tobias Boes

The Bildungsroman, or "novel of formation," has long led a paradoxical life within literary studies, having been construed both as a peculiarly German genre, a marker of that country's cultural difference from Western Europe, and as a universal expression of modernity. In Formative Fictions, Tobias Boes argues that the dual status of the Bildungsroman renders this novelistic form an elegant way to negotiate the diverging critical discourses surrounding national and world literature.

Since the late eighteenth century, authors have employed the story of a protagonist's journey into maturity as a powerful tool with which to facilitate the creation of national communities among their readers. Such attempts always stumble over what Boes calls "cosmopolitan remainders," identity claims that resist nationalism's aim for closure in the normative regime of the nation-state. These cosmopolitan remainders are responsible for the curiously hesitant endings of so many novels of formation.

In Formative Fictions, Boes presents readings of a number of novels-Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, Karl Leberecht Immermann's The Epigones, Gustav Freytag's Debit and Credit, Alfred Döblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz, and Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus among them-that have always been felt to be particularly "German" and compares them with novels by such authors as George Eliot and James Joyce to show that what seem to be markers of national particularity can productively be read as topics of world literature.

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Fragile Minds and Vulnerable Souls

The Matter of Obscenity in Nineteenth-Century Germany

By Sarah L. Leonard

Fragile Minds and Vulnerable Souls investigates the creation of "obscene writings and images" as a category of print in nineteenth-century Germany. Sarah L. Leonard charts the process through which texts of many kinds—from popular medical works to stereoscope cards—were deemed dangerous to the intellectual and emotional lives of vulnerable consumers. She shows that these definitions often hinged as much on the content of texts as on their perceived capacity to distort the intellect and inflame the imagination.

Leonard tracks the legal and mercantile channels through which sexually explicit material traveled as Prussian expansion opened new routes for the movement of culture and ideas. Official conceptions of obscenity were forged through a heterogeneous body of laws, police ordinances, and expert commentary. Many texts acquired the stigma of immorality because they served nonelite readers and passed through suspect spaces; books and pamphlets sold by peddlers or borrowed from fly-by-night lending libraries were deemed particularly dangerous. Early on, teachers and theologians warned against the effects of these materials on the mind and soul; in the latter half of the century, as the study of inner life was increasingly medicalized, physicians became the leading experts on the detrimental side effects of the obscene. In Fragile Minds and Vulnerable Souls, Leonard shows how distinctly German legal and medical traditions of theorizing obscenity gave rise to a new understanding about the mind and soul that endured into the next century.

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Franz Kafka (1883-1983)

His Craft and Thought

Edited by Roman Struc and John Yardley

The eight papers in this volume were originally presented at the centennial conference on Franz Kafka held at the University of Calgary in October 1983. As diverse in approach and methodology as these papers are “the general drift of the volume is away from Germanistik towards ‘state-of-the-art’ methods.”

The opening articles by Charles Bernheimer and James Rolleston both deal with the similarities and contrasts between Kafka and Flaubert, with Bernheimer focusing on the “I” and the dilemma of narration in Kafka’s early story, “Wedding Preparation in the Country,” and Rolleston on the time-dimensions in the Kafka’s work that link him to the Romantics. Other articles in the volume deal with the complex interrelationships between author and narrator, and implied author and implied reader; with Kafka’s place in the European fable tradition and in classic and Romantic religious traditions; with Kafka’s diaries; and with his female protagonists.

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Franz Kafka

Narration, Rhetoric, and Reading

Edited by Jakob Lothe, Beatrice Sandberg, and Ronald Speirs

Franz Kafka: Narration, Rhetoric, and Reading presents essays by noted Kafka critics and by leading narratologists who explore Kafka’s original and innovative uses of narrative throughout his career. Collectively, these essays by Stanley Corngold, Anniken Greve, Gerhard Kurz, Jakob Lothe, J. Hillis Miller, Gerhard Neumann, James Phelan, Beatrice Sandberg, Ronald Speirs, and Benno Wagner examine a number of provocative questions that arise in narration and narratives in Kafka’s fiction. The arguments of the essays relate both to the peculiarities of Kafka’s story-telling and to general issues in narrative theory. They reflect, for example, the complexity of the issues surrounding the “somebody” doing the telling, the attitude of the narrator to what is told, the perceived purpose(s) of the telling, the implied or actual reader, the progression of events, and the progression of the telling. As the essays also demonstrate, Kafka’s narratives still present a considerable challenge to, as well as a great resource for, narrative theory and analysis.

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Franz Kafka

Subversive Dreamer

Franz Kafka: Subversive Dreamer is an attempt to identify and properly contextualize the social critique in Kafka’s biography and work that links father-son antagonisms, heterodox Jewish religious thinking, and anti-authoritarian or anarchist protest against the rising power of bureaucratic modernity. The book proceeds chronologically, starting with biographical facts often neglected or denied relating to Kafka’s relations with the Anarchist circles in Prague, followed by an analysis of the three great unfinished novels—Amerika, The Trial, The Castle—as well as some of his most important short stories. Fragments, parables, correspondence, and his diaries are also used in order to better understand the major literary works. Löwy’s book grapples with the critical and subversive dimension of Kafka’s writings, which is often hidden or masked by the fabulistic character of the work. Löwy’s reading has already generated controversy because of its distance from the usual canon of literary criticism about the Prague writer, but the book has been well received in its original French edition and has been translated into Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Greek, and Turkish.

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The Genocidal Gaze

From German Southwest Africa to the Third Reich

Elizabeth R. Baer

The first genocide of the twentieth century, though not well known, was committed by Germans between 1904-1907 in the country we know today as Namibia, where they exterminated thousands of Herero and Nama people and subjected the surviving indigenous men, women, and children to forced labor. The perception of Africans as subhuman-lacking any kind of civilization, history, or meaningful religion-and the resulting justification for the violence against them is what author Elizabeth R. Baer refers to as the "genocidal gaze," an attitude that was later perpetuated by the Nazis. In The Genocidal Gaze: From German Southwest Africa to the Third Reich, Baer uses the trope of the gaze to trace linkages between the genocide of the Herero and Nama and that of the victims of the Holocaust. Significantly, Baer also considers the African gaze of resistance returned by the indigenous people and their leaders upon the German imperialists. Baer explores the threads of shared ideology in the Herero and Nama genocide and the Holocaust-concepts such as racial hierarchies, lebensraum (living space), rassenschande (racial shame), and endlösung (final solution) that were deployed by German authorities in 1904 and again in the 1930s and 1940s to justify genocide. She also notes the use of shared methodology-concentration camps, death camps, intentional starvation, rape, indiscriminate killing of women and children-in both instances. While previous scholars have made these links between the Herero and Nama genocide and that of the Holocaust, Baer's book is the first to examine literary texts that demonstrate this connection. Texts under consideration include the archive of Nama revolutionary Hendrik Witbooi; a colonial novel by German Gustav Frenssen (1906), in which the genocidal gaze conveyed an acceptance of racial annihilation; and three post-Holocaust texts-by German Uwe Timm, Ghanaian Ama Ata Aidoo, and installation artist William Kentridge of South Africa-that critique the genocidal gaze. Baer posits that writing and reading about the gaze is an act of mediation, a power dynamic that calls those who commit genocide to account for their crimes and discloses their malignant convictions. Careful reading of texts and attention to the narrative deployment of the genocidal gaze-or the resistance to it-establishes discursive similarities in books written both during colonialism and in the post-Holocaust era. The Genocidal Gaze is an original and challenging discussion of such contemporary issues as colonial practices, the Nazi concentration camp state, European and African race relations, definitions of genocide, and postcolonial theory. Moreover, Baer demonstrates the power of literary and artistic works to condone, or even promote, genocide or to soundly condemn it. Her transnational analysis provides the groundwork for future studies of links between imperialism and genocide, links among genocides, and the devastating impact of the genocidal gaze.

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German-Jewish Thought and Its Afterlife

A Tenuous Legacy

Vivian Liska

InGerman-Jewish Thought and Its Afterlife,Vivian Liska innovatively focuses on the changing form, fate and function of messianism, law, exile, election, remembrance, and the transmission of tradition itself in three different temporal and intellectual frameworks: German-Jewish modernism, postmodernism, and the current period. Highlighting these elements of theJewish tradition in the works of Franz Kafka, Walter Benjamin, Gershom Scholem, Hannah Arendt, and Paul Celan, Liska reflects on dialogues and conversations between themandonthereception of their work.She shows how this Jewish dimension of their writings is transformed, but remains significant in the theories of Maurice Blanchot and Jacques Derrida and how it is appropriated, dismissed or denied by some of the most acclaimed thinkers at the turn of the twenty-first century such as Giorgio Agamben, Slavoj Žižek, and Alain Badiou.

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