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Reviewed by:
  • Foreign Encounters: Case Studies in German Literature before 1700
  • Helga Meise
Mara R. Wade and Glenn Ehrstine , eds. Foreign Encounters: Case Studies in German Literature before 1700. Daphnis 33:1-2. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2005. 378 pp. illus. $108. ISBN: 90-420-1686-8.

Foreign Encounters: Case Studies in German Literature before 1700, a volume edited by Mara R. Wade and Glenn Ehrstine within Daphnis — the well-known and important review of German literature covering the late Middle Ages to the Enlightenment — offers not only a fascinating overview of encounters with "all things foreign," but also marks a new course in the "discourses of foreignness" (6). These discourses remain, despite discussions in other disciplines, rather unexplored for German literature before 1700, with only one exception, travel accounts, especially those of the sixteenth century. Studying mythic monsters appearing in the Heliand (mid-ninth century), the crane beaks in Herzog Ernst B (ca. 1200), or the mermaid Melusine (1456) in Thüring von Ringoltingen's eponymously-named narrative, who seems to be human but has to change into a snake once a week, the [End Page 1242] functions of the "Other" become clear: It shows the limitations of one's own identity, "be it cultural, religious, or political" (11).

Meeting aliens abroad as experienced in the prose novel Fortunatus (1509) by the eponymous protagonist, in reality by Hans Staden on his journeys (Wahrhafftige Historia, 1557), or by Albrecht Dürer, who, on a visit to Brussels in 1520, saw the famous Aztec treasures given to Hernán Cortés by the Aztec ruler Moctezuma, could nonetheless provoke very different reactions: the "reassessment of the physical world . . . the socio-economic reality and the emergence in literature of the individual, experiencing self" (123) in the novel; but also the "complete lack of a vocabulary" (17) that determined the encounter with the Aztec gifts and, thus, resulted in no appreciable impact on Dürer's further artistic activities. Hans Staden's text reveals the "trans-cultural conditions of the traveler's experience among the Tupinamba Indians in Colonial Brazil" (187) as well as his aim to interpret his captivity within the "frame of the discourse of martyrdom [and] binary oppositions between self and Other," thus exaggerating alterity (213). While these encounters mean a confrontation with regions and continents unknown up to then, others are preoccupied with inner aliens. For Valentin Weigel (1533-88), the "dissenting Lutheran pastor and author" (257), "terrestrial monsters and cosmic creatures" (255), not human and of otherworldly origin, occasioned each religious and speculative reflection on the relationship between the human and the divine.

But the encounter with the foreign occurred under realistic conditions, too. Incorporated as enemy in a war, Clara Staiger, prioress of the Maria Stein convent in Eichstädt, Germany, during the Thirty Years' War (1618-48), tried to withstand the Swedish soldiers menacing the monastic community. Maria Braun, an eleven-year-old girl born in 1614 into a very poor Catholic family in Augsburg, Germany, was confronted with the "ultimate foreigner, the devil" (27) when she learned "needlepoint and other basic skills" at the house of her aunt (270). After a falling out between the aunt and Maria's mother, the father accused his sister of being a witch. While Clara Staiger resisted the enemy by writing a diary, Maria Braun accepted the pact with the devil, her testimony (1625) giving a detailed description of her mother's and her own implication in the activities of witchcraft. In comparison to these cases which provide a woman's voice that otherwise would have been silent, Georg Philipp Harsdörffer's Frauenzimmer Gesprächsspiele (1641-48) can be taken as an example of the importance of "foreign cultural models" cultivating German culture and literature. "The enhanced civility and socialization of Germans within the Europaen context which Harsdörffer promoted in his multi-volume work suggest a new configuration of Self and Other in the waning years after the Thirty Years' War and provide models for social interaction in the postbellum period" (29).

Helga Meise
Université de Provence (Aix-Marseille I)


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pp. 1242-1243
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Archived 2009
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