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On the night of September 22, 1912, Franz Kafka wrote his story "The Judgment," which came out of him "like a regular birth." This act of creation struck him as an unmistakable sign of his literary destiny. Thereafter, the search of many of his characters for the Law, for a home, for artistic fulfillment can be understood as a figure for Kafka's own search to reproduce the ecstasy of a single night.
In Lambent Traces: Franz Kafka, the preeminent American critic and translator of Franz Kafka traces the implications of Kafka's literary breakthrough. Kafka's first concern was not his responsibility to his culture but to his fate as literature, which he pursued by exploring "the limits of the human." At the same time, he kept his transcendental longings sober by noting--with incomparable irony--their virtual impossibility.
At times Kafka's passion for personal transcendence as a writer entered into a torturous and witty conflict with his desire for another sort of transcendence, one driven by a modern Gnosticism. This struggle prompted him continually to scrutinize different kinds of mediation, such as confessional writing, the dream, the media, the idea of marriage, skepticism, asceticism, and the imitation of death. Lambent Traces: Franz Kafka concludes with a reconstruction and critique of the approaches to Kafka by such major critics as Adorno, Gilman, and Deleuze and Guattari..
Love and Legitimacy in the East German Cultural Imagination
At first glance, romance seems an improbable angle from which to write a cultural history of the German Democratic Republic. By most accounts the GDR was among the most dour and disciplined of socialist states, so devoted to the rigors of Stalinist aesthetics that the notion of an East German romantic comedy was more likely to generate punch lines than lines at the box office.
But in fact, as John Urang shows in Legal Tender, love was freighted as a privileged site for the negotiation and reorganization of a surprising array of issues in East German public culture between 1949 and 1989. Through close readings of a diverse selection of films and novels from the former GDR, Urang offers an eye-opening account of the ideological stakes of love stories in East German culture. Throughout its forty-year existence the East German state was plagued with an ongoing problem of legitimacy. The love story's unique and unpredictable mix of stabilizing and subversive effects gave it a peculiar status in the cultural sphere.
Urang shows how love stories could mediate the problem of social stratification, providing a language with which to discuss the experience of class antagonism without undermining the Party's legitimacy. But for the Party there was danger in borrowing legitimacy from the romantic plot: the love story's destabilizing influences of desire and drive could just as easily disrupt as reconcile. A unique contribution to German studies, Legal Tender offers remarkable insights into the uses and capacities of romance in modern Western culture.
On Classic German Rogues
In The Making of a Terrorist, Jeffrey Champlin examines key figures from three canonical texts from the German-language literature of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries: Goethe’s Gotz von Berlichingen, Schiller’s Die Rauber, and Kleist’s Michael Kohlhaas. Champlin situates these readings within a larger theoretical and historical context, exploring the mechanics, aesthetics, and poetics of terror while explicating the emergence of the terrorist personality in modernity. In engaging and accessible prose, Champlin explores the ethical dimensions of violence and interrogates an ethics of textual violence.
Why do humans get angry with objects? Why is it that a malfunctioning computer, a broken tool, or a fallen glass causes an outbreak of fury? How is it possible to speak of an inanimate object's recalcitrance, obstinacy, or even malice? When things assume a will of their own and seem to act out against human desires and wishes rather than disappear into automatic, unconscious functionality, the breakdown is experienced not as something neutral but affectively--as rage or as outbursts of laughter. Such emotions are always psychosocial: public, rhetorically performed, and therefore irreducible to a "private" feeling. By investigating the minutest details of life among dysfunctional household items through the discourses of philosophy and science, as well as in literary works by Laurence Sterne, Jean Paul, Friedrich Theodor Vischer, and Heimito von Doderer, Kreienbrock reconsiders the modern bourgeois poetics that render things the way we know and suffer them.
Eberhard Werner Happel, 1647-1690
Eberhard Happel, German Baroque author of an extensive body of work of fiction and nonfiction, has for many years been categorized as a “courtly-gallant” novelist. In Mediating Culture in the Seventeenth-Century German Novel, author Gerhild Scholz Williams argues that categorizing him thus is to seriously misread him and to miss out on a fascinating perspective on this dynamic period in German history.Happel primarily lived and worked in the vigorous port city of Hamburg, which was a “media center” in terms of the access it offered to a wide library of books in public and private collections. Hamburg’s port status meant it buzzed with news and information, and Happel drew on this flow of data in his novels. His books deal with many topics of current interest—national identity formation, gender and sexualities, Western European encounters with neighbors to the East, confrontations with non-European and non-Western powers and cultures—and they feature multiple media, including news reports, news collections, and travel writings. As a result, Happel’s use of contemporary source material in his novels feeds our current interest in the impact of the production of knowledge on seventeenth-century narrative. Mediating Culture in the Seventeenth-Century German Novel explores the narrative wealth and multiversity of Happel’s work, examines Happel’s novels as illustrative of seventeenth-century novel writing in Germany, and investigates the synergistic relationship in Happel’s writings between the booming print media industry and the evolution of the German novel.
The work of German cultural theorist and art historian Aby Warburg (1866-1929) has had a lasting effect on how we think about images. This book is the first in English to focus on his last project, the encyclopedic Atlas of Images: Mnemosyne. Begun in earnest in 1927, and left unfinished at the time of Warburg's death in 1929, the Atlas consisted of sixty-three large wooden panels covered with black cloth. On these panels Warburg carefully, intuitively arranged some thousand black-and-white photographs of classical and Renaissance art objects, as well as of astrological and astronomical images ranging from ancient Babylon to Weimar Germany. Here and there, he also included maps, manuscript pages, and contemporary images taken from newspapers. Trying through these constellations of images to make visible the many polarities that fueled antiquity's afterlife, Warburg envisioned the Atlas as a vital form of metaphoric thought.
While the nondiscursive, frequently digressive character of the Atlas complicates any linear narrative of its themes and contents, Christopher D. Johnson traces several thematic sequences in the panels. By drawing on Warburg's published and unpublished writings and by attending to Warburg's cardinal idea that "pathos formulas" structure the West's cultural memory, Johnson maps numerous tensions between word and image in the Atlas. In addition to examining the work itself, he considers the literary, philosophical, and intellectual-historical implications of the Atlas. As Johnson demonstrates, the Atlas is not simply the culmination of Warburg's lifelong study of Renaissance culture but the ultimate expression of his now literal, now metaphoric search for syncretic solutions to the urgent problems posed by the history of art and culture.
Why were modernist works of art, literature, and music that were neither by nor about Jews nevertheless interpreted as Jewish? In this book, Neil Levi explores how the antisemitic fantasy of a mobile, dangerous, contagious Jewish spirit unfolds in the antimodernist polemics of Richard Wagner, Max Nordau, Wyndham Lewis, and Louis-Ferdinand Celine, reaching its apotheosis in the notorious 1937 Nazi exhibition "Degenerate Art." Levi then turns to James Joyce, Theodor W. Adorno, and Samuel Beckett, offering radical new interpretations of these modernist authors to show how each presents his own poetics as a self-conscious departure from the modern antisemitic imaginary. Levi claims that, just as antisemites once feared their own contamination by a mobile, polluting Jewish spirit, so too much of postwar thought remains governed by the fear that it might be contaminated by the spirit of antisemitism. Thus he argues for the need to confront and work through our own fantasies and projections not only about the figure of the Jew but also about that of the antisemite.
Vol. 99 (2007) through current issue
Founded in 1899, Monatshefte is the oldest continuing journal of German studies in the U.S. It offers scholarly articles dealing with the language and literature of German-speaking countries and with cultural matter which has literary or linguistic significance. Issues contain extensive book reviews of current scholarship in German Studies. Every Winter issue features Personalia, a listing of college and university German Department personnel from across the U.S. and Canada, and special surveys and articles dealing with professional concerns.
Gunter Grass's Tin Drum
Although The Tin Drum has often been called one of the great novels of the 20th century, most critics have been baffled in attempting to draw its apparent chaos into a single literary framework. Here is the full-length study to penetrate the brilliance of Gunter Grass's style and uncover the novel's mythopoetic core. In A Mythic Journey: Gunter Grass's Tin Drum, author Edward Diller convincingly demonstrates the still valid relationship between modern and classical literary criticism. By reading The Tin Drum as both modern myth and historical epic, he provides a profound and sensitive interpretation of one of the masterpieces of 20th century literature.
Books, Literature, and the Culture of Consumption in Germany, 1770–1815
The consumer revolution of the eighteenth century brought new and exotic commodities to Europe from abroad—coffee, tea, spices, and new textiles to name a few. Yet one of the most widely distributed luxury commodities in the period was not new at all, and was produced locally: the book. In Necessary Luxuries, Matt Erlin considers books and the culture around books during this period, focusing specifically on Germany where literature, and the fine arts in general, were the subject of soul-searching debates over the legitimacy of luxury in the modern world.
Building on recent work done in the fields of consumption studies as well as the New Economic Criticism, Erlin combines intellectual-historical chapters (on luxury as a concept, luxury editions, and concerns about addictive reading) with contextualized close readings of novels by Campe, Wieland, Moritz, Novalis, and Goethe. As he demonstrates, artists in this period were deeply concerned with their status as luxury producers. The rhetorical strategies they developed to justify their activities evolved in dialogue with more general discussions regarding new forms of discretionary consumption. By emphasizing the fragile legitimacy of the fine arts in the period, Necessary Luxuries offers a fresh perspective on the broader trajectory of German literature in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, recasting the entire period in terms of a dynamic unity, rather than simply as a series of literary trends and countertrends.