- Gestörte Ordnung: Erzählungen vom Verbrechen in der deutschen Literatur by Ulrich Kittstein
With its broad focus on crime and narration in post-Enlightenment German literature Gestörte Ordnung joins a recent surge in academic interest in German-language contributions to the crime genre. Ulrich Kittstein’s study focuses in particular on fifteen texts that use innovative narrative techniques to highlight the social and cultural disruption introduced by crime. Beginning with Friedrich Schiller’s 1792 Der Verbrecher aus verlorener Ehre and ending with Friedrich Christian Delius’s 1992 Himmelfahrt eines Staatsfeindes, Kittstein shows how the authors use a poetics of crime to undermine a rational worldview. In these texts, he suggests, crime narration becomes a means to expose and test the seemingly incontrovertible truths held by a society. In Kittstein’s words, “Das erzählte Verbrechen [wird] zum Prüfstein für vermeintliche Selbstverständlichkeiten einer Gesellschaft, die [End Page 143] sonst meist dem Nachdenken entzogen bleiben, und zum Schlüssel für eine implizite oder explizite Poetik des Erzählens” (14).
The scope of Kittstein’s study is ambitious. Gestörte Ordnung covers two hundred years of literary history in a limited space. An informative introduction and brief conclusion provide the framework for the study’s primary emphasis on crime as a mirror of social, cultural, and narrative disruption. This concept is then explored in fifteen chapters that are arranged chronologically according to the texts’ publication and that each attend to one crime narrative. As he explains in the introduction, Kittstein purposely chose works in which the juridical implications of crime play a minimal role but poetics are key to a narrative understanding. To emphasize the narratives themselves, each chapter describes the social, historical, and political context of the respective literary work followed by a detailed reading of the central themes, poetic strategies, and targeted effects. From the fifteen texts, many are those typically found in studies on German-language crime and detective fiction, such as Schiller’s Der Verbrecher aus verlorener Ehre, Kleist’s Michael Kohlhaas, Hoffmann’s Das Fräulein von Scuderi, von Droste-Hülshoff’s Die Judenbuche, and Süskind’s Das Parfum. While Kittstein carefully recapitulates familiar themes and structures, his reading regrettably does little to provide new perspectives on the texts or the authors’ innovations. The same applies to his examination of works that feature crime but are less frequently associated with the crime genre, such as Hauptmann’s Bahnwärter Thiel, Brecht’s Dreigroschenroman, Dürrenmatt’s Die Panne, and Bernhard’s Das Kalkwerk. Kittstein carefully describes the respective historical context, plot, and narrative techniques but neglects in-depth theoretical considerations. Linking the readings to a theoretical approach or including references to other analyses would have enhanced the central claims and offered new insights to those readers already familiar with these works or the crime genre.
The most insightful chapters in Gestörte Ordnung are those that look at less familiar texts that engage in poetic play with the effects of crime on social and narrative order. Kittstein’s readings of Storm’s Ein Doppelgänger, Perutz’s Der Meister des Jüngsten Tages, Frank’s Die Ursache, Bergengruen’s Der Großtyrann und das Gericht, and Delius’s Himmelfahrt eines Staatsfeindes bring a new appreciation of these often underrepresented works. Indeed, the greatest strength of Gestörte Ordnung is the unique pairing of standard and less standard texts under the heading of innovative crime narration. The often [End Page 144] surprising combinations encourage readers to rethink generic definitions and the ways that texts are assigned to specific genres. The one possible outlier in the otherwise cohesive selection is Stifter’s Der beschriebene Tännling, in which no crime occurs. While Kittstein suggests that the novella’s main theme is precisely the threat of the unrealized crime to social order, this text’s inclusion is still questionable in a volume subtitled “Erzählen vom Verbrechen in der deutschen Literatur.”
As a whole, the concept behind Gestörte Ordnung is sound. The...