- Eine Poetik der Moderne. Zu den Strukturen modernen Erzählens
A contribution to the continuing resurgence of interest in literary modernism, Sabine Kyora's comprehensive study centers on questions of how modern narration is possible in the face of the "insubstantiality of cultural patterns of order and categories of perception" (292). While much attention has been paid to matters of self-reflexivity and the questioning of all forms of meaning-creating systems ("Sinngebung"), Kyora focuses specifically on poetic processes. At the end of her insightful book, she likens modernist poetics to the curved archway that Heinrich von Kleist famously described and sketched in two letters to Wilhelmine von Zenge in 1800. Without any supporting pillar, Kleist muses, the archway assembled of stones stands because all the stones want to fall at the same time. Similarly, Kyora argues, modern texts can emerge even when lacking any sense-creating supports. They attain aesthetic coherence because all the structural components are about to give way. Lacking the firm ground of familiar categories that maintained narrative coherence in [End Page 763] nineteenth-century literature, the individual building blocks—concepts from literature and philosophy, as well as forms of genre and discourse—may be held together by modern combinations and their mimetic processes.
Since it "might initially appear presumptuous to write a Poetics of Modernism" (7), Kyora appropriately limits the scope of her study. She concentrates on narrative prose works clustered around two temporal nodes: the year 1910 for short narratives and the period between 1925 and 1940 for novels. Moreover, she bases her analysis on the shattering of the three fundamental coordinates for prose narratives: the loss of teleological concepts of history and causality (time), the disruption of clearly definable models of identity (subjectivity), and the problematic relation between the abstract linguistic sign and reality (language). These three coordinates also determine the overall organization of Kyora's work: framed by a brief introduction and epilogue, it is divided into three major parts—beginnings, aesthetic figures and narrative structures—each with three subsections on aspects of time, subjectivity and language. Although such a rigid structure might seem overly confining, it is necessary for organizing the large body of texts the study draws from.
The first part, titled The Beginning of Modernism—Modern Beginnings ("Der Anfang der Moderne—Moderne Anfänge"), introduces "beginning" as both a reworking of the old at the threshold of high modernism around 1910 and as a narratological problem. Kyora employs Friedrich Nietzsche's concept of a dialectical beginning and Julia Kristeva's reformulation of the term "mimesis" to argue that several modern short texts utilize preexisting notions of what constitutes history, language and subjectivity in relation to the beginning, only to undermine these concepts in the process of narration. Gottfried Benn's novella Der Geburtstag—the source for Kyora's discussion of origin and history—mimetically traces the motif of the beginning by presenting multiple starts: the protagonist Rönne's subjective appropriation of the world, as well as repeated transcendental beginnings. The overall instability of causal and chronological order results in alternations between lyrical moments and more traditionally narrated parts. Carl Einstein's short novel Bebuquin, inspired by Stefan George's and Stéphane Mallarmé's poetic symbolism, is central to Kyora's argument on originality and language. She helpfully highlights the indistinguishability of metaphorical and literal meaning, which is due to the blending of "realistic" elements in a fashion that disrupts and undermines any "realistic" conception. The representation of subjectivity in conjunction with the beginning, she finds, is modeled in Franz Kafka's Verwandlung. Gregor Samsa's transformation while fully conscious is not a specifically modern(ist) motif; it is traceable to Ovid's Metamorphoses and it is structurally influenced by romanticism. However, in Kafka's 1912 narrative this change occurs in the process of awakening. It forms the story's premise and beginning, and marks a "cut through the subject and also through the cause-and-effect-chain" from the outset (33).
Aesthetic Figures of Modernism ("Ästhetische Figuren der Moderne"), the second part...