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  • Heilstheater. Figur des barocken Trauerspiels zwischen Gryphius und Kleist by Joachim Harst
  • Jason Kavett (bio)
Joachim Harst. Heilstheater. Figur des barocken Trauerspiels zwischen Gryphius und Kleist. Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2012. 216 pages.

The “between” in the title of Joachim Harst’s excellent study is to be taken seriously as marking the contours of a figure that emerges from a reading of ruptures and intersections in literary history. Harst’s study concerns itself with tracing the ways in which the literary forms and theological concepts fundamental to the baroque Trauerspiel interact, and in their interaction exceed and undermine the literary and religious thought at its core. Harst develops a highly nuanced argument for the Trauerspiel as a model of what the author terms “representation” that unsuccessfully attempts to suppress its extreme other, “theatricality.” Representation, as a model oriented toward security and stability of the sign, is opposed to theatricality, which is identified with proliferation and excess. Harst shows how the latter is latently at work in the former, while both Kleist’s and Gryphius’ texts mark an extreme limit where representation gives way to theatricality. Harst’s preferred verb for this transformation implied in the very differentiation between representation and theatricality, umschlagen, calls to mind—though Harst does not comment on this—Walter Benjamin’s use of this verb for the sudden change in affect of figures on the baroque stage, as though the moments of reversal operative for Benjamin on the stage make themselves felt in the movement of what Harst calls “extreme forms”, toward which each text orients itself “in the realization of its desire” (20).

In order to bring out the Trauerspiel’s suppressed other, Harst frames the historical Baroque and a literary history of the Trauerspiel with the work of Kleist, “who with enormous intensity writes the problematics of the baroque Trauerspiel to the end from within its theological disruption [Zerrissenheit]—and not from the exterior of enlightened thought” (196). Rather than proceeding in a chronological fashion, the book is organized under three main concepts, suggesting a “dialectical triad” (12): “Fall” (Part I), “Figur” (Part II), and “Erfüllung” (Part III). Part I traces the metaphorics and theatricality of the concept “Fall” in Kleist’s prose fiction in the context of criticism in the Berliner Abendblätter, while Part II turns back to the Trauerspiele and funeral sermons of Andreas Gryphius. Part III sketches a literary history of adaptations of the Oedipus tragedy in Latin, Italian, and French, before turning to Kleist’s Der zerbrochne Krug in order to point out the interdependence—and therefore the volatility—of the concepts of “fall” and “figure.” Harst is, of [End Page 667] course, aware that a book on the Trauerspiel and form must engage with the work that most decisively interrogated the Trauerspiel as a question of form, Walter Benjamin’s Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels (1928). A dense chapter at the end of Part II reflects on the book’s implications for an understanding of allegory in Benjamin’s Trauerspielbuch. Otherwise, Harst intentionally (and not naively) brackets Benjamin for most of the study in order to give priority to close readings of literary texts.

In Part I, Harst turns his attention to what he terms “Theaterkritik” in Kleist, by which Harst means both “critique of the theater and the theatricalization of criticism” (21). The connections to the concept of “Fall” become clear as one understands the theatricality of Kleist’s prose (and direct or implicit criticism of the theater) to undermine the differentiation between categories such as pure and dirty, grace and fallenness. On the one hand, the national theater, as the sacred institution for representing the nation and the monarch (and therefore as a late-baroque institution, one infers from its position in Harst’s study), can only remain a stable regime of representation as a result of censorship. On the other hand, in order to evade censorship, the Abendblätter introduce a highly ironic theatricality, which can tell the truth only in a disguised way. Harst’s reading of Kleist’s Marionettentheater, which emphasizes its insistence on undecidability between seeming opposites (body and spirit, soul and machine, God and puppet), presents this well-known...