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  • Forging Feeling:Kleist's Theatrical Theory of Re-layed Emotionality
  • Katrin Pahl (bio)

The chapter on the war machine in A Thousand Plateaus reads like an encomium to Kleist as the inventor of the exteriority of feelings—even though his texts are mentioned only sporadically.1 Deleuze and Guattari observe that in Kleist's work "feelings become uprooted from the interiority of a 'subject,' to be projected violently outward into a milieu of pure exteriority that lends them an incredible velocity, a catapulting force." They call this "Kleist's personal formula: a succession of flights of madness and catatonic freezes in which no subjective interiority remains" (356).2

I share Deleuze and Guattari's assessment that Kleist was one of the forerunners of an endeavor we are still engaged in today, namely of deconstructing the bourgeois ideology of feeling and instead cultivating (again) the exteriority of feelings. The ideological afterlife of the bourgeois culture of sensibility is based on the twofold presumption [End Page 666] that the true feeling is the internal property of a subject (which thus remains unknowable from the outside), and that the inner world is richer, truer, and more powerful than the outer world. One of the problems of thus idealizing authentic feelings and intact yet hermetic selves is that it renders feelings ineffable. The culture of sensibility has created a double and mutually exclusive imperative. To communicate feelings one must press them out of their interiority: feelings must be ex-pressed. At the same time, language must be unable to express feelings since the superficiality of languages (the dilemma was initially confined to language in the narrow sense, but it quickly spread to all forms of expression, like body language, actions, etc.) is deemed to do injustice to the true depth of feeling. Kleist has struggled intensely with a culture of authenticity and intactness that during his time was still relatively new but already firmly established and largely naturalized.3 With his theater, in particular, he addresses and manages to escape the fascination of authenticity while finding a solution to the aporia of ineffability that lies in affirming disintegration.

Kleist's plays show us characters in the process of actively losing their integrity. And as they are becoming assemblages of material and mental components rather than unified selves, these characters are able to spot feelings outside the subject, 'in' or rather as things, words, bodies. While Kleist's work thus provides welcome support for the concerns of Deleuze and Guattari, I find that they reproduce the desire for authenticity that Kleist abandons—only that they search for authenticity not in sensitive interiority, but in the exteriority of bodies and vectors of movement oscillating between flash and freeze. Even though I am sympathetic to the idea of desubjectivizing emotionality, I am less interested in affects that appear with the force of nature so fascinating to Deleuze and Guattari. [End Page 667]

Therefore, I want to stress that Kleist cultivates the ability not only to spot feelings outside the subject, but also to forge them. Forging is here primarily meant literally, as hammering and working to shape, bit by bit, the matter of feeling. Certainly, the sense of feigning is mixed in to temper the drama, yet without belittling the way such forged feelings are felt. In German, my neologism Gefühlsschmied (emotionsmith) echoes the phrase Reimschmied (wordsmith, verse mongerer) that Kleist uses in Das Käthchen von Heilbronn. While Reimschmied might emphasize craft, it certainly does so at the expense of originality. I will argue that, by fanning out what is seen as self-identical or punctual and by bringing to the fore the different temporality of re-layed feelings, Kleist undoes the notion of originality. And when we do not have a concept of the original, the meaning of 'feigning' certainly changes.

Focusing on three of his plays—Amphitryon, Penthesilea, and Käthchen von Heilbronn—I will analyze Kleist's poetics of doubling and disintegrating, relaying and layering events, selves, and the feelings that pass through them. While attending to the physical qualities of feelings, I will also highlight their self-reflective and linguistic or rather textual characteristics. To the antagonism of (body-bound) emotionality...


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