Ludwig Tieck’s ‘Der gestiefelte Kater’ (1797) as ‘Theatricality’ Subordinated to the Theatre

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 13.40.22.pngTheatricality

As scholars of the avant-garde assert, a distinguishing countenance of post-neoclassical art theory is the contradiction of established and historical certainties. The sceptical visions present in Naturalism, Dadaism, Futurism, Surrealism, and Expressionism echo highly influential thoughts on philosophy, psychology and modernity. Often aligned with Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy (1886), Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) or the sprawl of Marxist ideology, the twentieth century visions of the world resonated with reform ideologies that were also prominent during the previous fins-de-siècles – particularly in the theatre industry. In this paper, I investigate debates on the ideas and forms of ‘theatricality’ during transitional periods of theatre history, the turn of the 18th- and 19th-centuries, through the philosophical, pragmatic and artistic works of two prominent dramaturges and play-writes during these epochs; respectively: Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853) and Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956). These two play-writes take on not only social and political reformative criticism, but also theatrical criticism. By looking through Tieckian and Brechtian satire, we see examples of theatrical and aesthetic debates surrounding the idea of the theatre itself.
This innate self-reflection has been referred to by scholars as: ‘Meta-drama’ (Abel, 1963), ‘meta-theater’ and ’play-within-the-play’ (Mehl, 1965; notably also Fischer & Grenier, 2007), a ‘Meta-theatricality’ (Nellhouse, 2000), and a ‘Critical Meta-theater’ (Dawood, 2014). These foci could be assumed to follow an interest trajectory similar to the decades of the terms they inhabit. The first term seems to from a more classical, Aristotelean focus, concerning the nature of seeing a drama within a drama, while the second encounters an ontological question about the nature of theatre in general. The third takes on a social concern about outward appearance, and then finally, currently, a political stance, implicating the structures of hegemony within and upon theatre. Though ‘theatricality’ is implied on the occasion of ‘meta-theatre’ and ‘play-within-a-play’, I choose to look through the lens of Meta-theatricality because I am interested in looking at the effect of Tieck’s audience involvement within the play Der gestiefelte Kater (1797). ‘Meta-theater’ and ‘play-within-a-play’ signify causal, not effectual relationships. To this this, I look to Brecht’s ‘anti-theatrical’ educational (Lehrstück) and alienating (Verfremdungseffect) approaches (Puchner, 2002), both of which highlight the play’s function as a play. I synthesise an idea of the effect meta-theatricality between the epochs of Romanticism and Modernity, displaying two major dramaturgical ideologies’ interplay with ideologies and the audience-distancing effect as necessary for ‘theatricality’.
Going back as far as Aristotle’s Poetics, the theory and the practice of the theatre have centred on the assumption of a “mythos,” a “plot”, to which the characteristics of the theatre are subordinated. This dominant narrative-aesthetic conception of staging gave way to the notion of “theatricality” – that which is different from the events in real life by being a preconceived and staged event. Sharing the root form thea, ‘theatricality’, the ‘theatre’ and ‘theory’ extend from the Greek notion of “a place from which to observe or see” (Weber, 2004). It is this notion of an exterior perspective validated by the sense of sight that renders the audience relationship to the stage as most important to the idea of ‘theatricality’. To this end, I analyse the integration of spectatorship in Tieck’s Der gestiefelte Kater (DgK) as meta-theatricality while comparing it with the Brechtian style of audience-integration as ‘anti-theatricality’. By framing theatricality via dramatic works that integrate it, I am able to outline pragmatic elements of theatricality as understood by Tieck and put them into conversation with the negative elements from Brecht.
Analysing Tieck’s conception of theatricality provides depth to the pre-modern condition of German drama. Written in 1797 and staged first in 1844, DgK umbrellas the take-off of the term “theatricality” in the early 1830s. Pre-dated only by the proper French noun “Théâtral” (1645: Aspects de théatre dan le théatre au XVIIe siècle, University of Toulouse-Mirail) and the adjective “théâtral” (1674: Chefs-d’oeuvre des lettres hispaniques, University of Paris), theatricality’s roots are situated in the French analysis of mostly Spanish and Italian dramas (Google Books, 2018). In the German language, “Theatralik”, a forerunner to the currently used term “Theatralität”, kicks off around 1870, with spikes in the early 1950s and 1990s (ibid.). “Theatralität”, as used today, sees soft undulations through the early 20th century and a continuous growth in use (ibid.). The late appearance of a German term for theatricality is notable because it suggests a subordinate, ancillary position to the French and English drama discourses, and also situates Tieck as a pioneer of the German concept. An analysis of Tieck’s “theatricality” allows a depiction of its meaning around and before the time of conception, effectively giving ground to an increasingly broadened and appropriated term (Fischer-Lichte, 1993; Davis and Postlewait, 2003).
Tieck’s DgK plays out from the standpoint of self-declared ‘enlightened’ male spectators, waiting to watch a play they viewed as beneath them; a child’s fairy tale play claimed to be “a whistle, ethos, an open hint to the masses,” (6):
Schlosser. Wenn ich meine rechte Meinung sagen soll, so halt’ ich das Ganze für ein Pfiff, Gesinnungen, Winke unter den Leute zu bringen. Ihr werdet sehn, ob ich nicht Recht habe. Ein Revolutionsstück, so viel ich begreife.

Schlosser. If I should really give my opinion,
I hold it all to be a whistle, ethos, an open hint to the masses. You’ll see if I’m not right. A ‘revolutionary piece’, of that much
I’m sure.
I have chosen to translate this passage myself, because other translations both add additional sentences and leave out some words in order to emphasise Schlosser’s meaning; I consider this unnecessary and bad practice, because in both other translations Schlosser is characterised as having stronger ideologies backing his criticisms. It is important to point out that Schlosser’s commentary doesn’t live up to its English-translated rendition, so we don’t assume Schlosser as authorial as the Playwright, which he is not. In fact, Schlosser was completely forgotten by Tieck in the original list of Dramatic Personae, so I have mitigated the impact of these poor translations. Though an uncommon translation of Gesinnungen, I use the word ‘ethos’ in English to imply that Schlosser was pointing out that the play would be persuasive. The construction of ethos in DgK becomes most important in distinguishing Tieck’s meta-theatricality.
Schlosser, aptly named to describe one who demands “Geschmack!”, “Taste!” (8), quite literally ‘he who lives in a castle,’ positions himself against the Playwright for presenting something overly childish and simple and also for being “naseweis”,“cheeky” (ibid.). Schlosser criticises the piece as both excessive in its artificiality and empty in its meaning, mirroring the framework for historical critique of the theatre as proposed by Davis and Postlewait in their book Theatricality (2003). They state: “This negative attitude, whether engaged or merely dismissive, has often placed theatre and performers at the edge of Western society,” (4). This harkens back to Grecian ideals of class hierarchy and ascribes the play-within-the-play a plebeian feel. As stated by Johannes Parvenus in Policraticus, 1159CE: “[saints] despise the theatre of this world from the heights of their virtue,” the omniscient perspective over a performative world is judgemental and critical. Wouldn’t this be anti-theatrical, considering the criticism is towards the theatre itself? By bringing the play-goer to a level omniscient of the fictive audience’s judgement, a meta-perspective, the play-goer’s direct involvement with the play as the audience themselves is removed.
As pointed out by Beus (2007), Schlegel would suggest that the comedy of watching the men as spectators “reveals the central, hidden truth” about the play. By contextualising opinions within the audience reactions to DgK, Tieck, “punctures its fictional illusion and exposes its process of composition as a matter of authorial whim,” and “strives to impart his awareness [of earlier models] to the recipient of his work,” effectively fulfilling the conditions of Romantic Irony laid out by Baldick (2018) and Immerwahr (1969) respectively. Like Postlewait and Davis, Schlegel used the example of Shakespeare’s Hamlet to explain how theatricality is inherently tied with irony involved in societal critique: there was this Elizabethan problem of a Protestant present with regard to a Catholic past. Hamlet is a useful adjunct to the notion of the ‘danger of a play’ because the religious concerns of societal deception via theatre are at issue between the Prince and the Players (‘Theatre and Metatheatre in Hamlet’, 2005). Benjamin takes up this meta-theatre Shakespeare conversation in Ursprung deutscher Trauerspiel / The Origin of German Tragic Drama (1925) as an issue of ‘melancholy’ (139) and ‘eschatological structures’ (139); “the entire course of world history as a story of redemption” (ibid., 78). In Benjamin’s sense, Shakespeare’s and Tieck’s theatricality would be inherently political, because it is redeeming itself over what was lost to the trend of the Victorian and neo-classical. The character Schlosser alludes to the critical reflection on society, calling Puss-in-Boots a “‘revolution piece’” (DgK, 6). At the heart of this criticism is Schlosser’s position as a progenitor of the bourgeois demand for realism against the Playwright’s advocation for theatre being theatre, not life. Bentley discusses realism and theatricality as two poles present in history (Theatricality, 13; The Playwright as Thinker, 1946). Benjamin describes this as a break with the mythic traditions of classical tragedy, claiming that Aristotle’s idea of “containment” no longer applies because the audience is reawakened to theatricality lost since the age of commedia dell’arte.
As seen on the very first page of DgK, the spectator called Fischer tells his fellow spectator Müller, “über solche Kindereien, über solchen Aberglauben sind wir weg, die Aufklärung hat hire gehörigen Früchte getragen”/ “We’re beyond such childish non-sense, such superstitions, the Enlightenment has borne its natural fruits,” but then on the next page, Müller and Leutner get giddy excitement with imagining just how the theatre would dress a live cat in boots. Using a semiotic coding system laid out by Fischer-Lichte (1992) for dramatic pieces, it is possible to look at the theatrical signs and processes that Tieck’s integrated audience reacts and doesn’t react to. Der gestiefelte Kater provides an unusual data source, the audience reactions, as a theatrical device that also acts as a socio-historical commentary on the relationship between the spectators and the stage. Fischer-Lichte reminds us that, “Die Konstituierung des “natürlichen” Schauspielstils des bürgerlichen Illusiontheaters,.. wird dabei als repräsentatives Sinnsystem der Aufklärung begriffen und entfaltet,” / “The constitution of the “natural” style of acting of the bourgeois illusion theater, .. is conceived and developed as a representative system of meaning of the Enlightenment,” (Volume 2, 212). By the end of the prologue, the spectator men are already singing the “Bravo!” of the theatre. This is a miniature commentary on the value of theatre as theatre. It is also evocative of theatre as inherently tied with epoch and ideas of matured taste versus childishness or heathenry.
This line is made ironic in the 2014 Heidelberg Theater Group Vogelfrei staging of DgK, when this spectator conversation between Fischer and Müller is set up within the audience itself. Sitting at four different locations amongst play-goers, the actors depicting the audience men use thick Swabian accents that convey their membership to the southern German middle class. Upon reflection, I realised that this Swabian staging was not a directorial choice per-say, but is in fact alluded to within the play itself. The names Fischer, Leutner and Müller all originate from the Swabian-Bavarian language area, as we can tell by the necessary Second Sound Shift in ‘Leutner’ (“Leuzner”), and the high-frequency of ‘Fischer’ and ‘Müller’ as family names for southern Germans. None of the names hold an aristocratic ‘von’ title, but still have enough money to attend the theatre. This denotes them as middle-class. Their southern Germanness is also notable because Tieck, who spent his life in Berlin and Saxony, opened this play in Berlin, effectively ‘othering’ these four southern bourgeois spectators from the Berlin play-going audience. While not actually capable of more than a colloquial German themselves, the four men beg play-goer criticism of the public’s seemingly genuine reactions to the theatre.
Schlosser, Müller, Fischer and Leutner, the ‘saints’ that grant us this meta-theatrical perspective, represent this conversation between ‘Western society’ (also referred to by Barish as “Christian thought”, Theatricality, 4), and “theatrical activity” (ibid.). They are staged as a bourgeois disjunction from the theatrical activity of a fairytale, allows the play-goer to watch the men watching the children’s play. This removes the romantic involvement with the play, a process known as “Verfremdungseffekt” / “estrangement”:
“This sort of self-conscious reflection, this playing with the boundaries between fiction and reality [suggested by Schlegel’s criticism and manifested within Tieck’s play] remains quite common in more recent theatre and film. The Verfremdungseffekt (device for making the familiar strange) through laying bare the play’s structure in Bertolt Brecht’s epic theatre does this, for example, as does the ‘anti-play’ of the theatre of the Absurd.” (Beus, 22)

Tieck’s ability to generate distance between the play-goers and the four men is an effect within the lineage of Romantic Irony and forward towards Brechtian theatre (ibid.). Using an analytical framework laid out by Burns (Theatricality, 1972), the integration of spectatorship in Tieck can be seen as ‘modes of perception’ that are historically defined. Tieck displays that the realist versus theatrical politics influenced him to this point of historicity. In his Kritische Schriften und dramaturgische Blatter / Critical Writings and Dramaturgical Papers (1848), he states: “The perception of such realism in the theatre (if ever it was real) is disgusting and contrary to the real purpose of the play,” (Hörmann, 1945). Tieck’s own positioning as an anti-realist is situated in his conversation about Victorian theatre with a “kind of protective self-mockery involving a playful attitude towards the conventions of the (normally narrative) genre,” (Baldick, 2018). Tieck’s particular relationship with irony is romantic, rather than Schlegel’s idea of arabescque irony, thanks to feeling “just a bit silly about it and… in jocular exaggeration,” (Immerwahr, 1969). When inspecting the comedy made of the audience within the play, the correlations between Brechtian and Tieckian “comicoheroic” drama and Shakespeare are clear; about Brechtian drama, but applicable also to Tieckian drama is Esslin’s analysis of a play’s fabular functions: “its use of fairytale elements, musical numbers, and broadly comical characters is a continuation of the old and once despised tradition and has been reestablished as a vehicle for the expression of ideas.” (174).
Romantic Irony such as in Tieck can be seen described by Brecht in his dramaturgical work, Little Organon for the Theatre (1948):
“Since the public is not invited to throw itself into the fable as though into a river, in order to let itself be tossed indeterminately back and forth, the individual events must be tied together in such a way that the knots are strikingly noticeable: the events must not follow upon one another imperceptibly, but rather one must be able to pass judgement in the midst of them… The parts of the fable, therefore, are to be carefully set off against one another by giving them their own structure, that of a play within the play,” (XYZ)

Like Aristotle, Brecht defined the essence of the theatre – theatricality – as production front of an audience; just as the pleasure of Aristotle’s “catharsis” is dependent on spectatorship, for Brecht, only when, “the individual events must be tied together in such a way that the knots are strikingly noticeable,” could the audience complete their, “purification through fear and pity, or from fear and pity,” (ibid. XYZ). By announcing an audience within the play and then following their reactions and interactions with the theatrical piece at hand (Puss-in-Boots), Tieck provides a parable of every-day characters perceiving a fable. He says about this technique, “In order that the play must be real, the imagination of the spectator must do half the playing.” Tieck is telling the tale of theatrical activity’s impression on the people – theatricality’s parable.
DgK does this by drawing attention to itself as a piece of theatre, where the action is continuously interrupted by comedy and the “theatrical illusion is again and again destroyed.” Just as the first scene begins, after the Prologue’s introduction of audience characters and one thinks they’ve settled in to a proper fairytale does Fischer announce: “Unmöglich kann ich da in eine vernünftige Illusion hineinkommen,” / “I simply can’t perceive any rational illusion in that” (11); or in the middle of a scene between two lovers, when the neighbouring audience member of Fischer helps the audience cast judgement on Fischer (29): “Das war doch etwas fürs Herz!” / “That was certainly something for the heart!” – “Sie wissen such in der Freude night zu mäßigen.” / “You don’t know how to contain your joy.”
Of course, there are other actors besides the audience members who break the illusion of the theatre. For example, in the third scene, when Gottlieb is concerned that kingly happiness won’t be enough for him because the “Komodie bald aus ist,” / “comedy is nearly over,” or when Hanswurst falls out of his roll as a “bloße Schauspieler”, and maybe most notably when the Hinze introduces the play within the play. These stock characters (i.e. the princess, the king, etc.) are used to “literalise and discuss” the issue at hand. In the commedia dell’arte, stock characters were used as abstractions of social groups or mythical characters put together in various different situations – comic, tragic and improvisational. DgK becomes a sort of meta-comedy by virtue of the stock characters within a comedy making fun of themselves. Their satirical carrying-on draws attention to themselves as elements of satire. Martin Esslin discusses this quality of broken illusion concerning stock ‘noble’ characters:
“The heroes are seen through the eyes of theirs valets and chambermaids. This produces a characteristic duality of language: the high-flown bombast of the “noble” characters stands against the homely, vigorous common sense of the people” (A Collection of Critical Essays, 174)

The play feels like a half-baked middle school drama gone awry, or maybe more aptly like a Jean Luc Godard film in which Ferdinand complains to the viewer about his Marianne before being swiftly pinched for doing so. These instances comprise another instance of Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt by “breaking the fourth wall”, that is, addressing the audience out of character or showing cognisance of the audience’s existence. Brecht first describes this estranging effect in a 1936 essay “Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting”:
“playing in such a way that the audience was hindered from simply identifying itself with the characters in the play. Acceptance or rejection of
their actions and utterances was meant to take place, instead of, hitherto, in the audience’s subconscious.”

The objective is for the actor to “appear strange and even surprising to the audience,” forcing the viewer into a pupil position (Willet, 92). For Brecht, the audience cannot achieve catharsis without this didactic and therefore self-reflexive method. Fried describes this method in Art and Objecthood as an object being positioned ‘in the way’ rather than alongside (127). This sort of unheimlich (unsettling) is described by Brecht: “At once, any sense of the familiar illusion is removed from the European stage,” (“Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting”, 201) and a sort of social political awareness emerges. In comparison to a Wagnerian unity, in which the theatricality isn’t turned inside out to face the audience, but rather relies on the illusion, Brecht uses a systematic auto-critique of the theatre itself. DgK also reacts against this neo-classical Enlightenment ideal. In the scene with two lovers, ‘He’ exclaims, “How my heart overflows with rapture when I see the whole of harmonious nature gathered thus about me, when every sound only repeats the confession of my love…” (28) and yet goes on to call the cat, Hinze, a barbarian for interrupting such a unity. Davis and Postlewait argue that ‘theatricality’ always carries a certain political and social implications via a dialectic between the natural and theatrical (37).
In DgK, most strongly annunciated as a break in the illusion are the various announcements of the Playwright. Occasionally appearing as a seemingly direct mouthpiece of Tieck, the Playwright speaks in the Prologue to the fictional audience about the value of fairytales: “Durch Laune, went sie mir gelungen its, durch Heiterkeit, durch wirkliche Possen zu belustigen, da uns unsre neuesten Stücke so sultan sum Lachen Gelegenheit geben,” / “Through hilarity, though genuine nonsense – I wanted to try my hand at amusing the public, since our newest plays so seldom give us an opportunity to laugh,” (9). The end of the third act also displays the connection between the Playwright and Tieck: “Ich hatte den Versuch gemacht, Sie alle in die entfernten Empfindungen Ihrer Kinderjahre zurückzusetzen,”/ “I made the attempt to transport you all back to the remote feelings of your childhood years,” (61); also, the Playwright very openly introduces Tieck’s contemporaries and friends’ new publication, Xenie by Goethe and Schiller (1797).
He is the only mitigator of the fictive audience’s applause, and also speaks only directly to the fictive audience. Though the internal play is self-referential and self-conscious, the Playwright doesn’t speak beyond the fictive audience members. This presentation style is reminiscent of Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt in as much as the Playwright provides an insightfulness to the piece of art. Brecht distinguishes the Verfremdungseffekt as an “attempt to make the spectator adopt an attitude of inquiry and criticism in his approach to the incident,” but also points to several elements of staging that are not included in Tieck’s DgK. These elements include stage lighting, signage, “fixed” opinions of the actors, involvement of the grotesque, “gest” – gesture with attitude, and montage of multi-media. Clearly Tieck’s late-18th century play would not have the technological advantages of Brechtian theatre, but Tieck advocated for a similar use of “unpretentious scenery, subservient to the playwright’s intentions” in his Kritische Schriften und dramaturgische Blätter / Critical Writings and Dramaturgical Papers (1852, qtd. Hörmann). Though both theatres were estranging the audiences, the Tieckian theatre’s political messaged circled around dramaturgical debate itself, while the Brechtian theatre took on larger issues of society and humanity. Though both authors sought for the audience to accept the artistic reality they conceived, the intonation of that reality causes a different experience for the play-goer.
In DgK, the “cheeky” Playwright aspires to fill in the gaps between art and reality for the middle-class, while Brechtian theatre aspires to educate about social injustice under the influence of external oppression and the human condition. Thinking back to Schlosser’s comment that the play would display ‘Gesinnungen’, ‘ethos’, we are hinted at that the internal play and the external play in DgK might both display some “characteristic spirit of a culture, era or community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations.” This understanding of Gesinnungen matches more closely with the word’s use at the time of Tieck’s 1797 publication of DgK. According to all of the books available to Google’s Library, which includes all the major scholarly search engines, at the height of its use between 1765-1795, ‘Gesinnungen’ was used mostly in combination with dogmatic Catholicism and political attitudes by publishers in the northern half of Germany. The appropriateness of this discovery provides a historical-social framework for considering the context of Tieck’s ethos in DgK.
Localizing Tieck’s critique points to the difference between Tieck’s meta-theatricality and Brecht’s anti-theatricality. Brecht’s seemingly Communist agenda, informed by Russian and Chinese theatres, seems drastically different than Tieck’s reliance on the Shakespearean and German stages. Brecht’s integration of various elements differs from Tieck’s adherence to lineally descendent stagings from Shakespeare. I position the effect of this difference on the audience as the difference defined by the Brechtian ‘Lehrstück’ / ‘teaching play’. Tieck’s dramaturgical writings castigate the British use of dramatic works as merely outlines for rendition. Distortions to original works were seen by Tieck as:
“that violent tearing asunder of emotions, thoughts and transitions, or the elimination of resting places, all of which have been introduced by a wise poet with deliberation, in order to give us the highest kind of delight.” (qtd. Hörmann, 1945)
In the most complete study of Tieck’s dramaturgical philosophy, Hörmann notes Tieck’s reluctance to “revive” Shakespeare within a “Frenchified” German stage (459). Reacting against the gaudy and “magical” set designs, Tieck advocated for maintaining the Shakespearean simplicity of three-part divided stage. Brecht wouldn’t agree with such a maintenance of conventions because of his purposed rejection of absolutest conventions for relativist conventions. Of course, Brecht was responding to the dominant “Frenchification” that took hold despite Tieck’s efforts. Brecht took what seemed static – the Wagnerian synthesis – and, “showed that it was capable of being changed”.
Like Brecht, Tieck prioritised the actors’ playing over elaborate staging: “no person covers the other, all are independently and equally set into frames,” (457). This type of staging is reminiscent of Brechtian ‘Gestus’ / ‘Gesture’ in which attitudes are revealed. For Tieck and for Brecht, each actor is meant to support their character’s ethos with bodily framing. Roland Barthes sites Brecht when discussing the relationship between consciousness and identity in Camera Lucida (13): “this headrest was the pedestal of the statue I would become, the corset of my imaginary essence.” Tieck portrays a similar aesthetic tone, both alluding to Grecian In a Lehrstück, though, the actors become teachers of social consciousness. The voice of the Brechtian author is not only available to the audience, like is the case with Tieck’s seemingly “protective self-mockery” as the voice of DgK’s Playwright, but actually present to the audience. This, I argue, it committed in Brechtian theatre by the presence of verbal signage, songs, and lengthy monologues by The Lehrstück is hinted at by DgK’s Playwright, but does not express itself directly to the audience, nor with peripatetic narrative-like disturbances in the action. Tieck’s auteurist tendency doesn’t stand in contrast to Brecht’s. However, Tieck assigns the actors to signify ethos, while Brecht assigns the actors to state it out loud.
The difference between Tieckian and Brechtian staging choices speaks to the difference between meta-theatricality and anti-theatricality. Tieck privileges the stage for the sake of ‘theatricality’, not education:
“ “The stage, in order not to contradict itself in the presentation of poetic drama, must clearly always be nothing more” than a stage. In the theatre of his day, the German discerned a disregard “of the most natural demand that in the theatre one really wants to see—and indeed see the human figures and what they are endeavoring to perform on the structure erected for them.”” (qtd. Hörmann, 456).

The set design is erected for actors to frame themselves and their ‘ethos’, in contrast to the more assertive Brechtian style of the actors being teachers – that is, literal exemplars. Tieck’s Playwright may be teaching a lesson to the audience within the play, but he hides it under a tone of “Respekt for den Leuten” / “respect for the people” (DgK, 8) and Tieck curtains this wall between the fictive audience and the play-goer. Instead of being directed ‘instructed’, the play-goer is left to be critical in their estrangement. The play-goer is enchanted by the meta-theatrical perspective regarding the theatre itself, rather than by an anti-theatrical, educational perspective.
By analysing Tieck’s Der gestiefelte Kater along the lines of meta-theatricality rather than just meta-theatre, it is possible to differentiate its potential separately from Brechtian theatre. A current example of this difference would be the genre gap between two recent examples of meta-cinema: Shia LeBeouf’s latest project Honey Boy (2019), in which LeBeouf plays both the narrator and the role of his father in his own autobiography, would be more like a Brechtian Lehrstück and is classified as “drama”, while the 2017 self-aware smash-hit La la Land, that oscillates between commentary on the theatre industry via a theatrical performance, is labeled “comedy”. By accessing the difference in subject of commentary, it is possible to position meta-theatricality as the critic of the theatre industry, while meta-theatre remains a broad critique of society itself. Tieck’s conception of ‘theatricality’ at the dawn of its usage in German literature shows at the same time a linguistic “Frenchification” of the German theatre and a push-back against its demands. Tieck invests in maintaining the theatre’s semiotic function with the audience, but also criticises a typified audience itself. Tieck is asking the play-goers to question their understandings of theatre, and a century later Brecht demands the play-goers to question their understanding of theatre on the world stage – the theatrum mundi. This discussion leaves open the possibility to discuss ‘theatricality’ with the theatre itself, rather than the normal everydayness of performative actions.


The Neo-Rubble Film?: The Significance of ‘Lore’ (2012)

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Reif with ideas about the German past, all clearly enunciated while wedged between storylines, Cate Shortland’s Lore (2012) is a coming-of-age fiction based on the novel The Dark Ship by Rachel Seiffert and set in the social, psychological and physical rubble of the Second World War. Hannelore, her pre-pubescent sister Liesel and their two younger brothers, Gunter und Jürgen, begin a journey from their family’s summer home in Bavaria up to Omi’s house in Hamburg. Directed by their Nazi mother in fairytale fashion to take the trains, go through the mud and find Omi’s house at the end, all while she is packing her Ehrenkreuz der Deutschen Mutter before her arrest, the children are left alone to face Germany at Stunde Null. On their way between survivor camps, trying to find a singular running train, Hannelore (Lore) meets Thomas, a Jewish boy going on 18. Between the developmental sexual tensions and starvation frustrations, Lore is an a-typical rubble film, but belongs in the category because of its dealing with the immediate post-war German psyche and environment. Using the framework of Professor Robert Shandley’s ‘Seven Rs of Rubble Film’ (Redemption, Reconciliation, Redefinition, Restabilization, Reintegration, Reconstruction, Reprivatization), this paper will position Lore within the genre, while complicating and delineating the genre paradigm with its inclusion; directed by an Austrailian of German heritage, produced with documentarian attention to realism and historical detail, set primarily in the American zone and Schwarzwald, Lore represents a neo-rubble hyperrealistic depiction of womanhood during occupation from the perspective of an adolescent’s journey through the rubble.

Thematic Placement of ‘Lore’ and Other Rubble Films

Essential to the rubble film is being among the rubble. Though this is the constant, the original genre of rubble film finds its departure into “The Lost Years” from 1949-1963, the post-Oberhausen Manifesto (OM) generation (Franklin, 1983) and finally, the neo-rubble generation (Moeller, 2014). Why are there only four years of original rubble, when it took 30 years to rebuild the Frankfurt Altstadt? Suggested by MUBI to occupy the postwar period of 1946-1949, “original” rubble films have a character deeper than authenticity of the rubble. Of course, this four-year time span does not represent the remaining rubble in both Germanys. It discounts the authenticity of the rubble used as the set for The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979). By virtue of ending in 1949, what the postwar period suggests about original rubble films is that they are pre-Konrad Adenauer and pre-68er student movements. Ideologically, “original” rubble films stand for a time when those producing the rubble films were the same people who had staffed the Nazi Dream Factory (Shandley: 181), those filmmakers who were “employed to deceive, distract and mold the German public” during the Third Reich (10). This generation of film has been criticized for not giving an honest depiction of the past. Shandley suggests that the second generation of rubble films “used this alleged failure on the part of their predecessors and parents as a rhetorical foil against which they posited their own cinematic project,” (181) alluding to the signatories of the Oberhausen Manifesto. This paper advances the genre towards a neo-rubble turn, meaning that the original rubble film is being revived after many years of its existence within a “cinema of confrontation” (181). Lore is notably absent of significant political ideological preoccupations, and rather sticks to a realistic depiction of rubble life.

Perhaps because director Cate Shortland is an Australian documentarian, but Lore doesn’t quite pass within the nostalgic lineage of post-OM generation rubble films like Deutschland Bleiche Mutter (1980) and Das Wunder von Bern (1994). Even though Lore “revisualizes and revises the past” (Frey, 2013) like any historical film, it doesn’t fall decisively within the heritage genre and stands out as an art-house film without post-OM qualities – a neo-rubble film. Lore does not satirize original rubble film like the fake bombings in Maria or the melodrama in Bleiche Mutter, but it still belongs alongside these films in the rubble category. In the book Postwall German Cinema, Matthias Frey cites Shandley’s 7Rs to contend that Das Wunder is indeed in the rubble category because it includes a restabilization of society and a restoration of “moral security” (27), and suggests that Das Wunder, like Maria, has a reconciliation at the end. Claiming that Das Wunder and other post-OM films used “tropes” (28) of postwar films, Frey might entice a Deleuzian reading of Das Wunder as a “monopoly of reproductions,” a “utilisation of the residue of conventions,” (Cinema 1: 26). Such artificiality is avoided in Lore by virtue of its unique placement outside the city rubble, in the Schwarzwald, its complication of art-house genre’s melodramatic nature, and its collective protagonist-viewer consciousness. Frey discusses how the reconciliation is actually a reaction of Das Wunder against original rubble films. Original rubble films often hinted towards reconciliation with the (former) enemy but never fully achieved it (Shandley: 184). What brings Lore forward as a neo-rubble film is its engagement with original rubble film metanarratives without a critical reaction to them.  Lore does not have a reconciliation with the enemy, though the opportunity arises during her journey with Thomas. Nothing between the Jew and the Hitler Mädel becomes resolved.

Considering Lore within the genre of “neo-rubble”, it is necessary to look into what makes a genre “neo”. Neo-noir is an applicable comparison by virtue of its cultural and historical proximity with rubble films. In The Philosophy of Neo-Noir, author Mark Conard implies the “neo” turn as a self-reflective genre that itself “functions as a kind of philosophy of noir”. If philosophy, particularly existentialist philosophy, defines the noir genre, Shandley would say that Vergangenheitsbewältigung defines the rubble genre (182). Lore stands out from the post-OM generation because it doesn’t mock original rubble films. Instead, I argue that Lore takes a reflexive turn, functioning itself as Vergangenheitsbewältigung – an ongoing process of coming to terms with the past. It does this through its unclosed endings and hyperrealistic aesthetic choices. In Theodor Adorno’s lecture “Was bedeutet: Aufarbeitung der Vergangenheit?” (1959), the continued process of reconciliation is positioned against the idea of guilt, much like Lore’s engagement with lived reality is positioned against post-OM critical realities. Adorno says:

Bei alldem jedoch hat die Rede vom Schuldkomplex etwas Unwahrhaftiges… Das zöge die Moral aus jenem >>Und ist so gut, als wär’ es nicht gewesen<<, das von Goethe stammt, aber an entscheidener Stelle des Faust, vom Teufel gesprochen wird, um dessen innerstes Prinzip zu enthüllen, die Zerstörung von Erinnerung.
In Sonja Boos’ introduction to Adorno’s lecture, she reminds us that the preoccupation with guilt is seen by Adorno as an “objective constellation… it is the destiny of political entanglements that constitutes the nexus of guilt.” This objective and political construal of society is notable in post-OM films; in both Das Wunder and Maria Braun, the camera views them from the outside. In Lore, the camera becomes one with Lore’s and with Thomas’s emotions, and, apart from the longshot cross-cuts of landscapes, occupies itself with nothing else – nature is the backdrop, instead of a berubbled Berlin. Adorno’s commentary about subjectivity engages the feelings the viewer has alongside Lore’s journey through a callous world:

“Nach der subjektiven Seite, in der Psyche der Menschen, steigerte der Nationalsozialismus den kollektiven Narzißmus, schlicht gesagt: die nationale Eitelkeit ins Ungemessene. Die narzißtischen Triebregungen der Einzelnen, denen die verhärtete Welt immer weniger Befriedigung verspricht und die doch ungemindert fortbestehen, solange die Zivilisation ihnen sonst so viel versagt, finden Ersatzbefriedigung in der Identifikation mit dem Ganzen.”
Lore’s dependence on her National Socialist identity, the world she was born into, carries her throughout the film. Her continued ideological battle with Thomas and her steadfast, in Ordnung character confirms this internal battle that has little to do with guilt or politics. It is in this sense that Lore is a reflexive and therefore neo-rubble film, because it doesn’t work on the project of Vergangenheitsbewältigung through objective criticisms like guilt, but rather, she experiences the process of coming to terms with the past.

In the singular other article classifying a film as “neo-rubble”, Maria Moeller suggests that The Good German, directed by Steven Soderbergh in 2006, is “a film not made in the aftermath of WWII, but which revives and further develops some of the most distinctive narrative and visual patterns of the rubble films, with the technical possibilities of a modern Hollywood studio,” (98). We can immediately see a generational relationship between Soderbergh and Shortland’s films, though I find Moeller’s positioning of The Good German as a neo-rubble film to be as superficial as its Hollywood interpretation of Stunde Null. On a most basic level, the plot doesn’t enter German life – the film is about Americans visiting Berlin on a mission – it is inherently objective and political. Her commentary on neo-rubble echoes Conard’s cinematic evidence for neo-noir as an uptake of modern technology to depict themes enigmatic of film noir. She also cites Shandley’s thematic umbrella for rubble films as “‘good Germans’ during ‘bad times’” (87), which she claims is enigmatic of the “escapist attitude in dealing with the past and present period in the aftermath of the war and Nazism,” (ibid.). Moeller focuses on Shandley’s R for redefinition of the Germans as the guilt of The Good German’s leading characters, who actively try to “endanger their lives to serve justice” (92), which implies their reconciliation with the past. Unlike Das Wunder and The Good German, Lore maintains the original rubble film tendency to not have a full reconciliation, rather, it presents a new scope to the greater problem; in the end, Lore rebels against the conventions of her lineage and destroys the final porcelain figure of her mother’s. Unlike Das Wunder and The Good German, Lore maintains the original rubble film tendency to avoid a full reconciliation. Rather, Lore presents a new scope to the greater problem; in the end, Lore rebels against the conventions of her lineage and destroys the final porcelain figure of her mother’s.

NPR movie critic Ella Taylor suggests that the porcelain figure is a “sentimental symbol of her shattered harmony”. Lore’s rebellion against Omi and her mother reflects the generational conversation of Deutschland Bleiche Mutter as well. Unlike the observational standpoint in Lore, by which the audience is meant to know as little as Lore and yet know more from a historically omniscient perspective, Bleiche Mutter quite clearly depicts the Nazi as the rapist aggressors and makes use of more dramatic acting to convey trauma. Perhaps in reaction to this type of stereotypical realism of Maria and Bleiche Mutter, Shortland’s style relies heavily on ambiguity. Tight close-ups and shallow focus narrow viewer attention to the journey of Lore amidst the political tension, rather than actively involved in it. As well, the sexual tension between Lore and Thomas drives this rubble film forward towards reconciliation, not unlike Die Mörder Sind Unter Uns (1946), while romances in Maria, Bleiche Mutter, and Das Wunder were supplementary to this process.

Though Shortland maintained a strict historical hyperrealism which guides the viewer alongside the postwar rationality of a Hitler Youth, she thinks that Lore can address current ideological occupations by virtue of unsettling the audience (Filmmaker Magazine). Phoenix, directed in the same year as Lore by Christian Petzold, also takes this unsettling approach to retrospective. Instead of disturbing the viewer with graphic imagery, Phoenix maintains a constant psychological unease also on the basis of a romantic relationship between a Jew and a German. In both films, rubble was created for a set rather than in reality (Women and Hollywood). In the Evan Calder Williams tradition of salvage punk, this could be considered salvage rubble because it “returns to the repressed idiosyncrasy of outmoded things” (Socialism/Barbarism). Lore does not depict the landscapes of winding spires of rubble as in Murderers, but the rubble among the wider landscape of Germany. In an interview with Collider, Shortland says that the houses they used in the Black Forest were in fact remaining relics:

“The two houses we shot early in the film were Jewish houses that had been taken off the families in the 1930s.  When we found those houses, they were all boarded up.  They had been completely gutted and their fireplaces had been taken out and the windows were shattered.” (2012)

Shortland also emphasised that Lore was shot at a remaining armaments factory in Görlitz which had been a concentration camp. The importance of the factory to rubble film is echoed in Bleiche Mutter, as they journey through factory ruins. Phoenix, on the other hand, used artificial set design for all of its rubble scenes (Variety, 2015). Whether rubble restored from its current state to that of its past, or non-rubble with precise resemblance, they transform “rubble into representation” (von Moltke, 2010) giving them the genre description of ‘rubble film’. To ‘salvage’ the rubble, in Williams’ terms, would be to expose Walter Benjamin’s “residues of a dream world… the underground currents that actually expose the loops and fuses of repression and its expectations,” (ibid.) rather than abide by a “falseness… the wrong dream image, ideological blind that is the dream image proper to the liberal escape plan,” (ibid.). This differentiation recalls the suggested political/ideological departure from the post-Oberhausen Manifesto generation into the more personal neo-rubble film.

In the Senses of Cinema Petzold dossier, Jaimey Fisher also notes a Benjaminian turn in the rubble film Phoenix, he writes: “Phoenix marshals remnants and fragments of a particular historical moment,” using Denkbilder (thought-images) that “collide with the present moment to conjure moments of insight” (ibid.) in their filmic bricolage. He says that Petzold, like Benjamin, “investigates the very fantasy that private life of love and/or family can provide a hermetic space of resistance sealed off from public events,” (ibid.). Like Lore, Phoenix’s character Nelly (Nina Hoss) exists in a constellation of life forces that are always interacting with the postwar reconciliation. The personal life does not stop when the political life exerts itself into it. Like Lore, Phoenix deals with themes only implicated in original rubble films, such as the Jewish question, the female’s perspective in a world suddenly devoid of healthy male figures other than the occupying forces, and, perhaps most thanks to film technology and the possibility for historical research, an increasingly realistic retrospective about life in the rubble. Lore’s neo-rubble departure from Phoenix also has to do with the difference in resonance of these Denkbilder. In the sense of Rainier Maria Rilke’s interpretation of thought images, “The work of the eyes is done, tue nun Herzwerk an den Bildern in dir,” Lore’s aesthetic makeup focuses mostly on her journey rather than on stereotypical images from the post-war period. That is not to say that seeable, physical post-war images are absent, but rather, in the words of Shandley, “the rubble film project is the attempt to separate film discourse from political discourse by reprivatizing the narrative itself,” (187).

Other visual ‘fragments’ of rubble films which cue us to Lore’s postwar residue include trains, tonal relationships and a few direct references between Lore and Maria. Shortland uses fragments of historical research, authentic physical objects and intertextual reference to build a salvaged rubble film, a neo-rubble film. Though Shortland, Petzold and Fassbinder share striking tonal relationships, Shortland’s film stands out for its contrastive aesthetic and the commentary on children’s lives and the situation of rubble-life outside the cities. It balances out other films in the neo-rubble category like the soldier-focused A Good German (2004) and Phoenix. Trains are an element shared between Maria, Phoenix and Lore which spans across the original rubble films, too. In Lore, trains serve the elemental purpose of pushing her journey of redefinition forward. Maria uses trains to contrast her waiting for Hermann. In Phoenix,

she uses the train to imitate her recent return from Auschwitz and her reintegration to society. It is safe to say that trains are the first part of a reconstructed society and are as essential to the rubble film as the U-Bahn is to Berlin. Another rather significant visual callback exists between Lore

and Stunde Null film Der Untergang (2004). Both depict the shooting of


a German Shepard and the burning of Ordner in a pile during the onset of occupation.  According to Fisher in his comparison of rubble films with the Deleuzian idea of neo-realist films, another essential part is the

Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 10.04.15.png

instance and effect of occupation (1997). Maria merely makes fun of the occupying forces by depicting them diving for cigarettes and being duped by a German woman. This metaphor certainly doesn’t seem to apply in Lore and Phoenix, which both depict the perverse constraints of occupation upon German women.In both films, the subjection to soldiers is made clear, but this political tension doesn’t drive the plot. Lore reconciles the past with attention to the inward coming-of-age story as a “complex study of moral relativism” (Indiewire, 2012). Shandley would position Lore next to original rubble films, “including The Murderers Are Among Us and Love ’47 [which] dwell on personal rather than materialrehabilitation,” (187), Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 10.08.18.png

which also make the case for Lore’s neo-rubble classification. Compared to post-OM films, Lore comes aesthetically and thematically closer to original rubble films without making a satire of them. To that end, the is not fully reconciled and Lore’s redefinition remains still in process.
The (De)Nazification of Lore 

“The opening montage of Lore suggests a more complex image of childhood than that of pure innocence… images of Lore bathing, Liesel playing hopscotch, and a brief but sharply focused image of a swastika on a piece of her clothing… suggest a mutli-faceted construction of childhood as traditionally innocent and playful, but also eroticized and politicized” Debbie Pinfold, “The Sins of the Fathers” (2015)

From the outset, Lore represents childhood innocence of the Hitler Youth and the aggressive anti-Semitism they were indoctrinated into during upbringing. Reminding us immediately of Lars Von Treier’s Europa (1991), Lore’s beginning scenes use both montage and a non-diegetic countdown until Stunde Null and Lore’s transition from childhood. Pinfold’s analysis of this scene is that the sister’s “slap of the rope on the barn floor; the chink of the pebble on the hopscotch court,” emphasize that the sister is “standing on solid ground,” while Lore’s Nazism is about to be in question. Marked ‘Himmel’ and ‘Hölle’ at either end of the hopscotch track, the cross-cut to Lore exposing herself out of the window and the arrival of ‘Vati’ foreshadows the lightness and darkness of their family unit. Lit red internally by an outside bonfire of what seem to be Konzentrationslager Inhaftierungsunterlagen belonging to Vati, the feeling is that house, the Heim, of the family is burning into a rubble just like the documents they are trying to hide.

In preparation for their arrests, Mama and Vati tend to different affairs: he, burning the files and shooting the dog, and she, the packing. Shortland directed this scene “by asking all the actors to hurry” (Indiewire, 2013),but also with sight to the events as they would’ve happened. Shortland states that they did workshops with elderly Germans who were part of Bund Deutscher Mädel, watched a lot of documentaries, and “tried to build [the actors] up gradually from the skin instead of starting with the text, so that they already had an organic understanding of the world,” (Collider, 2012) before shooting. As the little boys are pulling their fathers’ files down the stairs to burn, you can see that the files are nearly as big as them. This is reminiscent of a Benjaminian perception in Berlin Childhood 1900, as he experiences the unheimlich world of adults. The sister, Liesel, is as well imbued in a shielded childhood perspective, as she stares at the designs on the china rather than packing it. All the while, Lore is helping her mother pack the silverware and learning commands she would use with her siblings in the coming journey. Mama instructs her to pull a dangling red thread out of her dress bosom, a notation to the viewer that her Ordnung is tied into feminine aspects.

Lore experiences the breakdown leading to the rubble of her mother’s female dignity. Notable early on that the mother’s smoking has become more fervent, Mama’s character seems no less ambivalent to the children than SS-Officer Vati. She emulates the strong Nazi woman, even quoting a soldier’s expression in Untergang  “Wir müssen Politik machen” when demanding that Vati turn himself in. Berating the father for being a Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 10.13.29.pngcoward, one of the most arresting traits of rubble film arises: the problematizing of the Nazi masculinity in the twilight of the regime. Not only does Lore witness Mama passively kick Vati in the shins when he forces them to move house, Lore also witnesses Mama’s denial of Vati as a sexual object. Montage cuts from Lore’s perception of Vati’s hand in Mama’s garter, to Mama’s hand meeting Papa’s cheek bring the viewer into the perception of Lore. The camera tends Mama specifically only through Lore’s perception; encounters with the mother are also always encounters with Lore.

In the rubble of Mama’s Nazism, Lore takes on the task of mothering herself (Pinfold, 52-52), while Mama takes on the role of a father. Once Vati is arrested, Mama fixes her hair (in the fashion of Maria Braun, “this is how Americans like it”) and leaves to sell china. Lore discovers Mama with ripped tights and bloodied thighs upon her return, crying hysterically, saying “Er ist tot, Lore! Tot!” Lore looks up from the blood to ask “Vati?!”, and is readily slapped by Mama’s cigarette hand and the response “Unser Führer!” Mama takes on the nationalistic obedience of Vati’s military character and is soon after arrested by American soldiers. The depiction of American soldiers is always brief, as Lore and the viewer only sees them in passing, but Lore’s fear of them is clear when she demands that her siblings obey or the Americans will put them in camps. Though we never see violence committed by the soldiers, Americans are the face of adversity. Pinfold notes the re-use of her mother’s statements when demanding that her siblings obey and suggests that Lore “uses her Nazism to stand tall in the face of adversity”. When the going gets tough, the reversion to recommended Nazi ideals is easy. Shandley’s R for Redefinition applies to Lore taking on the mother role. Her seemingly unwavering anti-semitism is challenged, but there is no reconciliation. Her denazification and coming-of-age constellations are indeed surrounded by political tensions and the possibility to reconcile with the enemy of the semite, but nothing is definite and it is always in process.

Exemplified by the scene of Lore wincing as her father shoots the dog and then learning that he had committed atrocities, Lore’s journey is an informal reeducation. The audience is educated alongside Lore, but with a better historical understanding of the likelihoods and context. Among the ‘educational’ images pasted on the wall by the American soldiers, Lore finds a man with Vati’s uniform and build. She touches the sticky wall, trying to clear away excess glue from the photo, only to cover her fingers in it.  While she lies down at night, playing with the glue’s residue between her fingers, she overhears two women discussing how Hitler would have never allowed them to endure the condition of hunger, and how they had to wait for bread in a line with Jews. They are a residue as well, still clinging to old ideas. The motion of her fingers pulling apart suggests the departure from the past. The children’s journey is the emblematic process of reconciling the reality of their parents’ crimes and their personal moral scope, but it is never resolved and never directly addressed. Rather, their journey is addressed under the scope of a non-political nature.
The Hyperrealism of Neo-Rubble

One thing separating Lore from other rubble films is its relationship with and location in nature. In an interview with Filmmaker Magazine, Shortland mentioned sticking close to depicting realistic detail from the time, the use of nature was also a conscious choice, as revealed in an interview with Collider:

“We were influenced by two things: documentary filmmaking, because we wanted the film to be fresh and immediate, and the whole aesthetics of National Socialism with nature. Nature became a character in the same was as it was mythologized within the Nazi party… then, as the film continues, all the color is leeched out of their clothes. The landscape becomes more and more desolate until they are standing on the mud and there’s almost nothing left.” (2012)

Shortland continues to discuss nature by citing the discussion of a survivor in Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, in which the interviewee says, “Look, Claude, look at the birds. Look at these beautiful trees. See the sun shining. This is what is was like when they were murdering us.” “Post-war films are made,” says Shortland, “really dark and they have this kind of sepia. I thought, that’s actually not the reality in a lot of cases.” Picking up on the southern German aesthetic choice by using feeble, misty fades, overly-saturated color forest tones, and bright reds and blues well known from propaganda material, Shortland establishes a layered visual field that challenges the sensibilities of previous rubble-films (Cook and Stone, 2014:26).

Cook and Stone comment on Lore’s aesthetic hyperrealism in their 2014 book “Screening European Heritage” by saying that the camera’s “self-conscious use of restraint and authenticity foreground a sense of performativity that invites us to distance ourselves from, and thus reflect upon, the world we are watching,” (xxiv). Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 10.16.43.pngThis is notable in the forest-play scene when the camera is handheld and shaky, so while the subjects are joyfully running and dancing through the forests, the viewer is given a voyeuristic foreshadowing that doesn’t allow one to forget the larger context. As it follows the boys running, and advances from outside the girls’ dance circle and down to their feet, the camera distances the viewer from the play. It is creepy not only because of the suddenly cheery Volksmusik and lighter, almost neon colors amid a sickness of Endkrieg worry, but also because of the notably märchenhaft ambience, which transports the viewer to an omniscient position of knowing that something more negative is on the horizon.

While director of The Good German treated filming as if it were on the black and white level of 1945 but with more CGI, Lore made use of its technical advantages to represent reality. The forest becomes an operable element of realism for Shortland. Using a 25mm and 35mm lens because they are “the closest to human eyes in the world,” lead camera operator Arkapaw had a sense for the reality he depicted. He told the American Cinematographer: “Amongst all the human angst and tragedy, nature has an enduring quality. Its lushness, beauty and survival instincts are a way of [suggesting] the future… using tungsten balanced negatives, it takes the warmth out of the skin tones, giving flesh a kind of purity.”

The forest is not part of the rubble, but contrasts it. Sensually depicted with long shots, non-diegetic bird chirping and still shots of changing tree colors, the psychological rubble is conflicting in comparison. Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 10.18.05.pngNature’s redemptive quality ties together aesthetic concerns with ideological assertions, moving beyond Shandley’s 2001 assertion that “rubble films are, on the whole, long on ideological assertions and short on aesthetic ingenuity,” (189) and supports the neo-rubble focus on a revival of reality.
Thomas’ Masculine and Jewish Character

Citing Lutx Koepnick and von Moltke, Fisher suggests that “tales of private friendship and even love between German gentiles and Jews foreground a Germany at stark odds with the Nazi regime and its racist, biopolitical, ultimately genocidal agenda.” (Senses of Cinema, 2017). Not only does Thomas provide ‘Lore’ with an extra layer of personal experience, which creates a sacred space of sexual satisfaction and friendship despite the rubble, but he also occupies a space of the ethnographic ‘Other’ in opposition to the family’s typically Aryan biology and disposition. Thomas’s ‘Otherness’ is established sooner than when we (and Lore) initially see his Judenstern – his ‘performative’ masculinity sets him apart: the first encounter with Thomas, he is judging Lore for her request of the Jewish woman to clean herself before feeding Lore’s baby brother. Thomas’s disapproving gaze makes her lower her eyes and forget the request. Their second encounter, in which he attacks her with the attempt of figuring out what she tore off the wall of pictures, symbolizes the aggressive blame and education of Germans. On their third and final encounter, before Thomas joins the family, he and Lore negotiate their perceived meanings of each other as “Nazi” and “Jew” by humming the same tune. Framed almost like a standoff, the two fixate on the other as both a threat and the problem. Lore is worried that he is a rapist and her humming while holding the baby is motherly, nurturing and based in values of decency and respect. She is holding on to meaning in a world where she has no control. His whistling is sinister because we are not yet aware of his intent, and it is at first non-diegetic, much like the whistling in Fritz Lang’s M (1931). She hums back at him and approaches him almost as a surrender to death in order to hold on to her old values, i.e. her mother telling her to “remember who she is” on a forested path not unlike this one. In this third meeting, the negotiation of meaning comes through the symbolic content of a shared song, and he becomes the redeemer of her Nazi habits. Thomas is integral in Lore’s educational process.

Thomas is notable because he occupies a masculine role – a role more masculine than Lore’s “coward” of a father. According to Fisher’s 2007 article, “On the Ruins of Masculinity”, rubble films emasculate the German man as a reaction to a world where the “Führer ist tot, Lore!”. They do so in such a way that “masculinity was implicated in the devastating destruction” (Hester, 2009). Lore’s Vati is emasculated by his unhealthy appearance, poor relationship with his family, passionate outbursts and also bluntly by his wife, which fulfils this rubble film’s attention to the downfall of the hegemonic Nazi male figure. The acne-faced soldier crying in the truck while the family is escaping to their summer home depicts the boyish image given to German men of a rubble film (Fisher, 2007).

The depiction of Thomas, on the other hand, as both a survivor and the masculine figure, is also the depiction of hope for a future Germany. Like Susan Jeffords portrays in her book The “Remasculization” of Germany in the 1950s, masculinity is not absent from Germany after the war, but rather occupied by outside males who assume the roles of protectors (164). Portraying this point is the scene when Lore decides to proposition a German man to use his boat and yet Thomas ends up rowing her and the family to safety. Lore stumbles upon this Kerl and his boat while he is listening to the radio, and with a heavy accent he implies that he is untergebildet. Next to him, the camera focuses in on a bucket of eels using the sharpness and precision of hyperrealism that Shortland and her production team are known for. Slithering and shiny, they look like a bunch of slimy dicks, which a bucket of fish or crabs wouldn’t have. This makes the scene eckliger, but Thomas killing the Kerl neutralizes the eels – the eels return to their symbolism as the nasty patriarchy of the past, less focused upon by the camera and castrated by the moral righteousness of the present. Despite the foreboding music, nobody is bitten once they take the boat and cross the water. This was a false foreshadowing, which keeps the viewer as naïve as Thomas about the upcoming scene after they are safely across. After Lore offers herself to the Kerl, which causes Thomas to strike him dead, she tries to kill herself, but instead is bathed of her sins in the river and carries on to another survivor camp.

Following Sigmund Freud’s coming-of-age theory known as the ‘Elektra Complex’, this scene can be interpreted as a transition from adolescence, loving the father(land), to adulthood, loving another. Lore’s act of offering herself could be seen as progeny – enacting the traditions of the mother, and perhaps her perceived-values of German women getting raped – and then transferring her trust of the father to a non-kin male in the same milieu – the Kerl. But the scene of Thomas killing the Kerl and her rebirth in the water is also about Lore giving up her ‘father figure’ Nazi ideals and realizing that her parents had been schuldig, and so was she, for doing something immoral to solve a perceived problem. Indignantly, Thomas saves her from suicide and the viewer is confronted by the reality of guilt that Germans were experiencing. He gains empathy for her, despite her continued anti-Semitism; this is enigmatic of a Nachkrieg reconciliation in Germany and throughout Europe. The racism was not gone, it was simply recognized. Complicating the image of Thomas is his habit of stealing and his false papers; though we have seen the tattoo on his arm, we and Lore both consider that he was just using the image of being Jewish to get past the Americans. It is possible that Thomas is a dangerous Kapo. His departure from the movie upon losing his stolen papers switches the role of ‘redeemer’ back to Lore. Her exposure to Thomas helped her reflect on Nazi ideology of good and bad and transition into womanhood, but there was no reconciliation of her sexual demands or her denazification.

Reception of Lore 

The reception of Lore confirms its belonging to a neo-rubble genre. As nem baj says on, “Lore is both ‘wartime’ and ‘post-war’, that’s a paradox the movie never solves.” Existing within a paradox of unfinished metanarrative Rs (reconciliation, restabilization, redefinition) and finished cinematic Rs (reprivatization), Lore fulfills “The tendency of all [rubble] films to bring the story to the point where the characters can return to ideally constructed private, apolitical lives,” (Shandley, 188). The neo-rubble character exists within its stylization; while post-OM films use politically critical tropes as aesthetic and “shut down discussion about the Nazi past” (ibid.), Lore continues the project of Vergangenheitsbewältigung through the hyperrealistic stylization and extending its storyline into the future. “Lore is an anti-Heimat film that explores the breakdown of such links and experiences of young characters brought up with a Nazi family,” says Roy Stafford of Global Film Studies, “Lore is kind of a modern version of a rural Trümmerfilme. The film narrative is not ‘resolved’ as such,” (2014). When Lore disobeys Omi and proceeds to smash the porcelain figures important to Mama, “The telling of this history is not a one-time project to be completed and left behind,” (ibid.) – cue German punk scene. One must imagine Lore protesting with the 68ers, rather than knowing that her character has been influenced by them via cinematic criticism of the post-OM generation. Shortland’s Lore sets the stage for the neo-rubble genre.


Written Narrative Discourse in Second Language Acquisition Studies


  1. Introduction

The purpose of this literary review is to learn as much as possible about written narrative student discourse (WND) in the second language (L2) classroom. In Winter of 2018, I will conduct my first student-based study on non-native (NNS) and heritage German language learners (HL) by asking them to engage in L2 WND. The impetus for this project is to research the development of possibilities for self-hood via discourse as inspired by Heidegger’s 1924 lecture on rhetoric as the hermeneutic of Being, and Foucault’s attention to discourse as epistemological (1972). I choose to look through the lens of subjective development during second language acquisition (SLA) (Kramsch, 2003; Pavlenko & Latolf, 2000). Unlike Pavlenko’s rich narratological study of texts (2001), I will investigate subjectivity through student WND because written narration has a “tangible contribution to the ‘reflexive project of the self’,” (Ivanic, 1998) and students exist at a particular conduit of identity development. This literary review investigates existing approaches to SLA WND and commences with a discussion of how the findings inform my project.


  1. Pragmatics of WND

Discourse Theory, much like the Latin term ‘discurs’, is interpreted as a complex linguistic phenomenon. Narrative is a mode of discourse while the student classroom narrative defines a domain of discourse. Narrative discourse is historically interpreted through Speech Act Theory in communication studies as a socio-pragmatic praxis of phronesis, or use of practical wisdom (Bühler, 1934; Fisher, 1985; Jakobson, 1960). In current SLA narrative discourse research, communicative wisdom is investigated as a variable linguistic skill, techne, which must be re-conceptualized in each new language. For example, If the student doesn’t know how to write a narrative following a Bildungsroman structure, how can she achieve native accuracy in German WND production? Approaching SLA WND as both a linguistic task and a genre task makes the classroom domain linguistically and contextually critical to SLA.

An analysis of WND’s development in SLA studies shows early attempts at correlation of grammar with functions of discourse (Halliday, 1978; Sinclair & Coulthard, 1975) and more recent attention to interpersonal meanings beyond lexicogrammatical analysis (Martin and White, 2005). Current methodology trends towards a corporeal discourse analysis of teacher contextualization, task assignment and perception, and finally, student response; “What kind of interaction may bring about what kind of affordances for language learning?” (Huth, 2011) My findings for WND in SLA address the roles of artefacts (multimodality, metaphor), code-switching, and cooperative learning (scripting, repair and feedback).


  • Cohesion and Coherence as Properties of WND

In this literature review, I outline theories and methods that play a part in analyses of WND in SLA. The majority of research done on narrative in SLA follows the development of speech acts “taking an extended turn to tell a story (narration)” (Burns, Champion, de Villies & Pearson, 2012). Throughout this review, some SLA oral narrative discourse studies will be used to delineate ideas about WND analysis, but no textual or naturalistic studies are included. Historical approaches to discursive narrative analysis include the advent of microstructures, the cohesive links between sentences, and macrostructures at the level of thematic coherence and organization (Halliday & Hasan, 1976). ‘Thematic coherence’ takes a more functional approach to meaning. ‘Cohesion’ implies a formal linguistic distinction of appropriate negotiation of meaning, it is a Generative Grammar that “provides texture” (Wang & Guo, 2014). For example, because German language lacks a continuous tense, an English learner of German might lack cohesion in their narrative if they have not acquired the use of German adverbs to assign the aspect of an event as ongoing. (Berman & Slobin, 1994).  Halliday and Hasan (1976) suggest different cohesive devices for analysis of ND which resemble SLA stages of acquisition.[i] In their model, interlanguage variability of aspectual items create breakdowns in cohesion.

Systemic-Functional Linguistics (SFL) takes into account the cohesion of lexical and aspectual functions of discourse (Simon-Vandenbergen, 2014, as cited in Martin, 2016). The difference between the lexical grammatical aspect and the aspectual grammatical distinction mark two different but complementary frameworks in SLA studies – the Aspect Hypothesis (Anderson, 1986 as cited in López-Ortega, 2000) and the Discourse Hypothesis (Bardovi-Harlig, 1994). Discourse systems of foregrounding and backgrounding are functional systems that don’t rely on grammar alone (Bardovi-Harlig, 1995; Hopper, 1982; López-Ortega, 2000). The relationship of discourse and aspect recurs back on Vendler’s ranking of aspectual classes as the red thread between language and philosophy through discourse (1957, 1967, as cited in Vendler, 1980).

Halliday uses Vendler in his 2004 study about “the linguistic system as a whole” (3) during spoken narrative discourse. Halliday cites his 1970 study about systems of transitivity and ergativity, explaining that speaker involvement in a narrative as either the “Affected” or the “Causer” shifts the tense and the aspect, particularly in relationship to verbal morphology. I will reflect on narrator subject position in section VI, but am using Halliday’s study to contend that cohesion is determined both formally and functionally. Vendler’s ranking suggests that the aspectual category of ‘telicity’ has the highest level of complexity in discourse – the notion of experienced time as a determinus for morphology. Anderson (1991) also determines that acquisition of telic morphology follows acquisition of lexical time phrases, which he called the “Lexical Aspect Hypothesis”. Researchers Bardovi-Harlig and Reynolds (1995, 1998), López-Ortega (2000), Potowski (2005), Ramsey (1990) Salaberry (1999) and Wulston-Christianson (2015) look at aspect in foreground and background clauses to determine that lexical cohesion increases with SLA, following the order of the Lexical Aspect Hypothesis.

Studies that have disproven the Lexical Aspect Hypothesis, most notably the European Science Foundation’s longitudinal corpus, are often function-based rather than form-based (Bardovi-Harlig, 2000: 269). Looking at lexical aspect and verb morphology in WND against a backdrop of functional concerns like foreground and background, Flashner (1989), Ellis (1986) Givón (1983), and Verónique (1987) have mixed results about whether foreground or background verbs typically carry morphology. Likewise, in Hatch, Shirai and Fantuzzi’s 1990 study of interlanguage variability in narrative discourse, the grounding aspects are weighed against the time distinctions, but they conclude: “Tense cannot be described without reference to narrative structure and the goal of the storyteller” (Cohen, Gass & Tarone, 2013). Grounding principles (the background and the foreground information), lexical aspect and subject position are interdependent properties of cohesion in SLA WND.

Breakdowns in cohesion do not completely undermine coherence of the WND, meaning that there is a way to analyse WND beyond cohesion. Privileging a thematic discourse analysis, Widdowson’s 1978 Illocutionary Act Theory states: “In the case of cohesion, we can infer the illocutionary acts from the prepositional connections which are overtly indicated: in the case of coherence, we infer the covert prepositional connections from an interpretation of the illocutionary acts,” (Wang & Guo, 2014). “Coherence” emerges as a metalinguistic analysis of meaning which looks at “underlying functional connectedness” (ibid.) of written or spoken language. WND can be coherent without cohesion, which represents the success of universal grammar communication within a basic variety of morphology (Klein & Perdue, 1997). Underlying structural relationships of narrative story telling can be contributed to our pragmatic communicative capability as humans.

Evaluating coherence in SLA is both a socio-pragmatic and pragmalinguistic concern because linguistic actors are negotiating conversational goals (Mitchell, Mylers and Marsden, 2013 (henceforth ‘MMM’: 210). MMM note that one main goal of L2 pragmatics research is determining how far L1 pragmatic knowledge transfers over: is politeness register the same between languages? A challenge to investigating L2 pragmatics is the attainability of L2 pragmatic data, in which learners react to different social situations. One method here is the Discourse Completion Task, which is a written task requiring learners to appropriately respond to a given situation. This method is criticized because it does not take place in real-time – it is inauthentic (ibid.) To this end, significant attention has been paid to conversation within L2 pragmatics studies (ibid.).

Coherence in WND is understudied in SLA outside of its relationship with tense and aspect because of a contention about the validity of delayed response communication (ibid.). Written narratives created outside of the classroom (and read in the classroom) can be seen as a text, while SLA WND remains a discourse by virtue of its statements made in conversation with the task (Foucault, 1969). Because classroom L2 WND requires a negotiation of meaning, the SLA written narrative remains in a discoursal form. The narrative line functions around the specific goals of the author, and in the context of SLA, the reader, too.

Leppänen and Kalaia (2002) assign this process of “story grammar” to linguistic autobiographies, examining them in the coherence schema of Propp’s Story Grammar Analysis (1968, as cited in Pavlenko, 2007): setting, initiating event, character’s internal response and plan, character’s attempts to solve the problem, consequences. Following this narratological line, Labov’s High Point Analysis is applied to SLA NWD by Rintell (1990): presence and non-presence (abstraction), orientation, complicating action, evaluation, and a resolution. Mann and Thompson (1987) also take a functional approach with Rhetorical Structure Theory, suggesting that narrative discourse can be simply divided into nuclei and statellite statements. Maeno (1995) uses stanza analysis on L2 narrative prose. These coherency studies account for the dialogical processes of positioning the self in an L2, though other frameworks of analysis also claim to do so.

Considering learners’ own positionality as a property of SLA NWD has inspired analysis of discourse to the extent of Subject Positionality, Life Reality Positionality and Text Reality Positionality (Pavlenko, 2007). In each of these three endeavours, emphasis is directed to either the subjective sphere, the socio-political sphere and the narrative value sphere. By thematically coding SLA narrative discourse, themes from each category are highlighted. Advantageous to this method is the thematization of SLA experiences and therefore themes that are important to learners. For example, Menard-Warwick (2009) points out the life reality and subjective experience of gender norms within SLA. These resources create visibility for key issues in learner experience. A textual reality example of this is Francheschini’s 2003 study of Turkish immigrants in Germany: their textual nuance and subtleties increased significantly when narrating about her adulthood in Germany, as opposed to the more basic textual form her narration of childhood took on.

SLA NWD has formative and functional aspects that are interwoven. Analytic approaches to SLA NWD take cohesive and coherence approaches, which are bound together by rhetorical, linguistic and contextual L2 knowledge. Purely formal considerations of SLA NWD are not enough to analyse discourse, while purely functional analyses are not enough to measure SLA. SLA NWD is special because it represents a crossroads of subjective and linguistic development into another system of expression.


  1. Genre and Critical Language Awareness in WND

In her 1992 study of SLA and narrative writing, Hatch agrees with Halliday (1976) that narrative coherence is transferred from the L1 and must be learned again for the L2. For example, the American positions their narrative orientation at the front of the discourse (in the form of a thesis) while the German positions their orientation at the end (the analysis). Trained in school to write in these specific academic styles, German learners of English struggle with narrative formation due to conflicting communicative competence (Bagarić, 2007).

For one or two days per semester, “English Academic Writing (C1)” students at the University of Münster would demand a discussion about how thesis-based “inductive” reasoning became prevalent in American academic writing. I would explain to them that the American thesis-based writing is a relic of oral, political argumentative tradition, while the German purpose-based introduction is a relic of the philosophical, written tradition (Dahl, 2004; Mauranen, 1993). While reading American narratives in the following lessons, students would complain that American authors “auspacken” (“to give it up” in a manner similarly annoying to conveying too much personal information to an acquaintance) too quickly, and they lose interest. This cultural variation between “inductive” and “deductive” discursive style was so strong, that some of my students refused to write thesis-based argumentative papers in their bilingual subject courses. Hinds’ 1987 contrastive rhetoric approach would suggest that English is a “writer-responsible” language while German (and most others) are “reader-responsible” because the purpose-based model requires readers to reach the end before making conclusions. Mauranen (1993) suggests that discourse acts performed in oral and written narrative are culturally informed.

SLA NWD is a learned genre. Features that differentiate it between languages require the L1 narrative style to be considered during analysis in order to find, particularly, the coda. Coda is the meaning statement, the moral statement, approached by Hatch as universal to all narrative stories (1992), but this universality is debated by researchers of Hopi and Japanese narratives (cited in Hatch, 1992: Shaul et al., 1987; Matsuyama, 1983). Would educating learners about rhetorical function of L2 narrative heighten their discursive potential, or would it distract students from freely expressing their lived realities by imposing a structure?

Critical Language Awareness (CLA) of writing as a complex social act shapes writer identity, granting the writer social control over their expression (Ivanic, 1998). For example, the students in Münster noticed the use of thesis statements in “personal history” narratives of American university applications, and questioned whether this is a requirement for admission. Developed by Hawkins in 1984 and further by Fairclough in 2003, this CLA hypothesis suggests that students should “discover language for themselves” (Bolitho et al, 2003) before producing language. In the case of WND, teacher input includes the designing, presentation of and potential involvement in the student writing task. CLA in SLA “empowers learners by providing them with a critical analytical framework to help them reflect on their own language experiences and practices,” (Ivanic, 1997), essentially placing narrative at the heart of WND.

Janks discusses the implication of CLA on encouraging transformative action through student journals (1999). In her 2014 book Doing Critical Literacy Janks concludes that WND provides a platform for evaluating student awareness of socio-cultural orientation. Creating cultural contextual awareness proves to elevate the critical level of L2 narrative in English African American Vernacular (Dyson & Smitherman, 2009; Sweetland, 2006), heritage Spanish learners (Valdés, 2005; Leeman & Serafini, 2016; Parra, 2016; Reznicek-Parrado, 2014) and L2 learners (De Cock & Suñer, forthcoming; Campbell, 1990; Kramsch, 2009). During a seminar held between the UC Davis Department of German and Catholic University Louvain, Professor Suñer showed data suggesting that historical context facilitated the comprehension of metaphoric taboo expressions and increased depth of SLA NWD. Using contextual awareness to improve the level of ND is also accomplished by Professor Claire Kramsch.

Kramsch’s The Multilingual Subject (2009) uses studies of university student SLA narrative to discuss language learning and the development of subjectivity. At the end, there is a disclaimer that her students had been informed by a four-month term of multilingualism studies. Kramsch’s students’ awareness of potential SLA narrative depth and direction was culturally au courant, giving them a critical awareness of linguistic subjectivity. Even discourse analysts who have focused on subjectivity within SLA narrative (cited in Pavlenko, 2007: Granger 2004; Pavlenko 2003; Treichel, 2004; Yelenevskaya and Fialkova, 2003) had not exposed their classes to multilingual theory beforehand. My research group will, like Kramsch’s, come from a multilingual theory course, but my course will be taught in a common L2. I hope that their instruction in multilingual theory will allow them to narrow down, clarify and interpret linguistic experiences like in the case of Kramsch and Lam’s 1999 SLA diary narrators.

CLA provides a framework for implicit learning, which supports an input-based, emergentist cognitive model of SLA (MMM, 2013: 99). This contrasts conscious, elicit learning known in the Skill Acquisition Theory (ibid.: 139). CLA is particularly relevant to SLA NWD because it approaches language teaching as discourse teaching, rather than explicit grammar instruction. Kramsch and Suñer contribute NWD coherence and cohesion to conceptual systems previously engaged with during in-classroom context building. CLA underlines lexical, aspectual and discursive crossroads of WND to the extent that writing narrative is viable system for CLA (Svalberg, 2007). Svalberg cites that in preparation for L2 narrative writing, Jones (2001) exposed his Spanish learners to authentic and inauthentic oral narratives and asked them to notice differences. Likewise, this passive approach to teaching critical discourse was undertaken as an educational program in South African highschools, “in order to not agitate the already inflamed national psyche,” after the democratic revolution (Janks, 1996). Using Fairclough’s model of Dimensions of Discourse Analysis, CLA becomes a reciprocal process of ideological and social analysis unto narrative production that includes critical ideological and social discourse (Fairclough, 2003: 206). Task development in the framework of CLA uses and produces informed SLA WND.


  1. Code-switching and Conducting L2 WND

Targeted instruction towards narrative writing is one way to scaffold learners’ understanding of the task, but it does not represent the learner’s interpretation of the NWD task itself. This section looks to social-constructivist theories of SLA to understand the subjective experience of a NWD task; engaging the “reader-writer relationship rather than directly with the text” (Mauranen, 1993) Writers establish their identity by taking on a “stance” which is not encoded in language (Ochs, 1993). Negotiation of a social stance is particularly difficult for SLA NWD because they are presenting themselves in a context that is not their own. They may also lack awareness about how to position themselves in their desired manner. Addressing interlanguage phenomenon, like avoiding using a thesis statement, Hinkel (1997) shows that learners may choose to not accept the L2 culture because it threatens their reputation in the L1 culture. Rampton’s 2002 study of British learners of German suggests that ritualizing the contentious threat to face, in this case, the use of the imperative in casual speech, “bonds the class into a rite-like initiation,” (Kramsch, 2009). This transition between primary habitus and secondary habitus of a new language is applicable across educational settings. The question at the fore is: how can SLA NWD maintain personal integrity while abiding by new habitus?

Kramsch’s The Multilingual Subject draws on Kristevean notions of personal resignification in the L2. One could say that the Münster students who refused the thesis-based construction lacked the symbolic tactics to resignify, and were instead “hostage to an idealized cognitive model of the self” (ibid.: 117) based on the German language. Kramsch suggests that researchers have approached symbolic orientation in many different ways: attitude (Carroll, 1962; Spolsky, 2000), appraisal (Schumann, 1997), investment (Norton, 2000), enagagement (van Lier, 1996; Pennycook, 2001) and motivation (Dörnyei, 2001). The question of resymbolization and SLA NWD is posed most clearly by Kramsch: “How do they use the semiotic resources offered by their various symbolic systems? What intertextualities do they establish with their prioir discourses and how do they resignify or reaccentuate them?” (ibid.: 127)

The narrative is a conceptual map of our experience. In an SLA context, the SLA is inherently bilingual, with a chance and likelihood of multilinguality in a classroom. Because of this, there are various narrational positions available to the narrator, a circulation of cohabitating awarenesses. So, what happens to the learner when they are asked to narrate something in their L2 when they have experienced and remembered it in another language? This highlights the possibility of code-switching during NWD tasks as beneficial to the cohesion and coherence of NWD (Kramsch, 2009; Pavlenko, 2007).

Code-switching is an important linguistic resource with semantic and affective functions. Following the positive reasoning for task-based code-switching set out by Macaro’s 2001 article, using the L1 during complicated writing tasks accelerates their output process (Anton and DiCamilla, 1998; Kobayashi and Rinert, 1992; Friedlander, 1990), reduces memory constraints (Kern, 1994; Skinner, 1985), allows for contrastive analysis as a nuance within narrative recall (Butzkamm, 1998; Campbell, 1997), and contributes to the development of conceptual abilities and “encourages autonomy of expression” (Ministrè de L’Education Nationale, 1996). Codeswitching is a fundamental language skill (Hagen, 1992) that has been proven to benefit coherence and cohesion of SLA NWD.

The aforementioned studies record teacher’s intentional use of L1 with the learners, and also learners’ allowance of use of L1 with the teacher. A principle idea for L2 exclusivity, that is, that learners would have less exposure to target language (cited in Macaro, 2001: Cook, 1991; Harbord, 1992), is overcome by the idea that the L1 would trigger a deeper understanding of the task. The problem with looking at classrooms as divided into L1 and L2 is noted by Gramling as a “myth of monolingualism” (2016). If a teacher were to use the majority L1, this would still be imposing a framework of power on students’ whose L1 was not represented, while still depriving students of a lexical and syntactic framework for answering. In this heteroglossic context, the multilingual learner encounters the need to cohesively and coherently comprehend and create the NWD task.

As Odlin (1989) suggests, L1 forms used in L2 production may not meet the normative cohesion or coherence of narrative discourse. Odlin is cited in Kubota’s (1998) study of the transfer of L1 to L2 during writing tasks, finding that participants’ L1 and L2 morphological patterns were shared between languages. Using the L1 to scaffold production of L2 is investigated by Uzawa and Cumming (1982), also cited in Kubota, who claim that the L1 nuances were simply simplified to meet requirements of the L2 task. Beare (2000) and Carrington (2007) gave their students the allowance to use L1 in their narrative building, and then tracked student strategies. In both cases, students relied heavily on L1 during conceptual and rhetorical planning, but rearranged their rhetorical structures to create target-like L2 texts. Kobayashi and Rinnert (1992) and Cohen and Brooks-Carson (2001) discovered that early SLA made better use of direct translation, while more advanced students preferred ‘direct composition’ in the L2.

As concluded in Nassaji and Karim (2013), students’ success in L2 writing depends on their awareness of L2 rhetorical features, and the possibility to draft in L1 when they feel it is necessary because “learners need to be trained to discover strategies that work best for them.” Kramsch also suggests that “second language acquisition research strives to find ever better strategies for language learners to gain their own, autonomous space in the foreign language,” (119) and promotes students’ reflection on their own SLA NWD process.


  1. Corpus Linguistics, CMC and Potential of WND

Unlike the study of narrative as a text, SLA studies of WND see narrative writing by language learners as a discourse. Because the student is in constant communication with the teacher, NWD is a teacher-student discourse unlike spoken narrative discourse between students. Though significant research has been done on SLA oral narratives and SLA narratives as text, the contributions to SLA NWD are relatively slim. This is possibly due to more simplistic methods of testing rhetorical and linguistic accuracy, like with the Discourse Information Gap (DIG) and other shorter activities. Though oral narrative satiates the SLA desire to understand subjective experience of learners and allows conveyance of multimodal meaning, it is a less complex form of rhetorical and linguistic transfer than the written narrative. Attributes of NWD include greater deliberation and sophistication in nuance. NWD is, essentially, a greater body of knowledge about the language learner.

Coding narratives according to themes, rhetorical and linguistic trends, patterns and conceptual changes (Strauss & Corbin, 1990) allows the development of a functional corpus of SLA NWD. Corpus Linguistics as an analytical tool marks the arrival of competence-based performance data (MMM, 8). Jaworski and Coupland (1999) underline that a large corpus of WND qualitative, thematic research complements the quantitative corpus. Lee (2008), McEnery, Xiao and Tono (2006) call for corpus linguistics to augment their annotation systems to mark pragmatic features, which would allow function-based rather than form-based searches possible (Barron & Schneider, 2014). Function-based searches in NWD corpora would allow thematic subcategorization. This feature is used by corpora of spoken narratives, like in the USC Shoah Foundation’s tagging of themes within Holocaust (and other genocide) survivor narratives. Known as the “Visual History Archive”, the Shoah Foundation’s systematic classifications of multimodal discourse make it a significant project for oral narratives. NWD is included in the Narrative Corpus developed by the Heidelberg Corpus (Hendriks, 2005), the British National Corpus and the ICE-GB (cited in Rühlemann, 2015: Nelson, 2001; Rühlemann & O’Donnell, 2012). None of these include functional or thematic subcategories, but provide a database of research for further studies.

Likewise, CMC is a potential realm for gathering SLA NWD. This post-modern addition to the possibility of narrative discourse provides ample opportunity for collecting student-student samples. Garton (2012) suggests that teacher-fronted elicitation of NWD produces reactions of agency among learners, that they will purposefully reinterpret the project to match their own linguistic aspirations. Likewise, Hellermann and Doehler (2010) note the individual adaptation of tasks in student-student discourse pairs, suggesting that this type of co-construction produced more discourse than teacher-student interaction. Toth (2011) contends that student-student narrative discourse is better at solidifying known structures, while teacher-student discourse encourages students to grammaticalise. CMC also distorts the possibility of teacher-student NWD, because, in the case of blogs or Canvas chats, students are asked to engage in a public space, rather than personally. Kramsch (2009) suggests: “The displacement creates a physical space of disjunction that throws off his interlocuters.” (165)

Teacher-fronted SLA NWD exists in a unique realm of academic interaction with a focus on context, accuracy and reflection. By analysing SLA NWD, the context of a learner as a learner is forefronted in the narrative reflection, while the lexical-grammatical aspects are deemed important beyond merely the comprehension in student-student interaction. There is space in the SLA studies discourse for a corpus of NWD to be collected and marked according to cohesion and coherence, in order to balance attention between the subjective, socio-political and textual research being done.


  • Discussion of Findings

When taken together, this paper has provided an extended review of understanding how SLA narrative discourse works in the L2 classroom. These findings suggest that narratives represent a discursive practice between the learner, the target language, the target culture, their teacher and themselves. More specifically, the grammatical, lexical and other critical features of communicative competence have taken shape in the context of NWD. This paper has noted that teachers are an integral part to SLA NWD, but more important is student interpretation of the task. Thus, the structure of interaction between teachers and students via the task has been investigated. However, although a great deal of information has been learned about the nature of WND in the SLA context, more empirical research is needed. What follows are potential future research paths in this area as well as some sample research questions.

First, most of the research on SLA NWD has been carried out in L2 classrooms that focus on linguistic content. More research is needed to understand the nature of discourse patterns in content-based courses. Focusing on SLA NWD of advanced bi- and multilinguals could shed light on their process. Some research questions to be explored here include: How do high-proficiency learners participate in discourse with their teacher through narrative? What are the features of NWD in content-based courses as opposed to linguistic-based courses? Is this an argument in favour of CLIL?

Second, virtually none of the studies reported here have dealt with the question of how students’ ethnic backgrounds play in to their formation of foreground and background in NWD. Though alluded to by studies of Hopi and Japanese differences in narrative genre, the treatment of narrative as a universal reality seems problematic. The paucity of research regarding linguistic socialization into genre begs the question: How does the learner’s L1 factor in to narrative genre?

Third, there is a distinct poverty of discourse data for German learners. The PoLL and ESF longitudinal projects shed some light onto narrative progression in German, but these studies are not thematised for coherence. The abundance of literature on French, Spanish and English exists within the realm of romance languages, while other Latin-based languages with more complex casual forms are ignored. Given the relative difficulty of learning native-like German modality and mood, at what point in SLA does NWD become ‘advanced’? What marks an advanced German learner in NWD? Are there culturally specific writing conventions that should be taken into account?

Fourth, though CLA studies account for empirical investigation into in-class work and learner production of critically aware NWD, there is no work done about the contribution of whole-class discussions. Reserved primarily for smaller, seminar-style, content-based settings, CLA as a classroom discourse has room for exploration. A main question here is: do students gain more implicit information in whole-class or peer settings? How is multimodality advantageous to CLA? What is the best potential scaffolding for their abstract/symbolic competence?

Many studies engage how students perform narrative discourse in oral settings and

focus on specific patterns of interaction between discourse partners. They investigate the student’s positionality and acquisition level from a retrospective point of view. In my SLA NWD study, I want to focus on students as active reshapers/ resignifiers of their own language. I would like to use in-class experiences (in the L2) to facilitate NWD. To the end of CLA multimodality, I will look towards L2 cinematic expression as an authentic and affective way to deliver meaning.














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Departing from Nietzsche: The Breadth of Max Weber’s ‘Resentimment’


Max Weber’s secularization narrative of modern Europe has ramifications for the idea of salvation that was, until the pre-modern period of big governance, a specifically religious concern. His sociological insight allows him to grapple with Friedrich Nietzsche’s questions about salvation and oppression within a critique of modernity. In this paper, I outline how Weber’s departure from Nietzsche’s concept of ‘resentimment’ creates a framework for looking at Weber’s thought overall. There is surprisingly little literature which compiles Weber’s use of ‘resentimment’, and as such it is my intention to let this selection of Weber’s uses of this concept stand together with Weber’s ultimate attention to salvation ideas. Realizing different ‘life spheres’ were in conflict, and that the political sphere had taken the authority once held by the religious, Weber reacts to the change in self-reflexivity that must also occur when society’s hegemony is redirected.

Outlining the Weberian progression forward and what that means for understanding the individual in society, Weber scholar David Owen suggests:

“Nietzsche and Weber’s accounts deploy a principle of evaluation constituted by reference to a conception of the individual… [their] attempts to indicate those movements of modern culture which allow for the possibility of this type of individual.” (80)


I choose the concept of ‘resentimment’ because of its value to the “conception of the individual” as a political actor; I theorize that ‘resentimment’ plays a key role in the non-selection of powerful leadership, by way of its ability and inability to make political change. Weber emphasizes a great duality to this concept, which I seek to delineate. It is at once the defining element between social groups, and also their bonding agent. It is both a defining element of an individual unfit for leadership, and an integrated part of party politics.

It is first important to outline Weber’s departure from Nietzsche about the concept of ‘resentimment’, because he chooses this concept as the juncture at which to paint a societal picture of Nietzsche’s asceticism. Authors Gerth and Mills (1946) emphasize “In contrast to Nietzsche, Weber developed a sociology of utilitarian discipline and rationality as the origins of modernity.” (110) By reading Weber reading Nietzsche’s ‘resentimment’, the border of ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ privilege defines ‘resentimment’ among groups. Reading further, when Weber uses ‘resentimment’ without mentioning Nietzsche, Weber creates a spectrum of meaning for the word that extends from political parties to individual politics. He negotiates ‘resentimment’ within politics as a response to hierarchy, but dismisses Nietzsche’s notion that ‘resentimment’ can explain the entirety of these actions in the modern world.

Reading Weber Reading Nietzsche’s ‘Resentimment’

Only by marching through a dense and nearly untranslatable paragraph in Class, Status, Party (1922)[1] can one discover Weber’s most direct criticism of Nietzsche’s ‘resentimment’. Written with the intention to analyze the development of status groups from ethnic segregations, Weber differentiates the sense of dignity experienced by ‘positively privileged’ status groups from the ‘negatively privileged’; the ‘pariah’ – the outsiders, who are not subquotients of a monster group – are those ‘negatively privileged’, who challenge the “deportment” (191) of the ‘positively privileged’ main group by having a different social ethic, what Nietzsche called “a slave revolt of morals”[2]. Weber explains ‘pariah’ through European Jewry, which he says is “the most impressive historical example,” (ibid.); this suddenly calls forth both the European Jew’s transitory participation in society and their oppressed position under the monster group. The ‘pariah’ is a typology much larger than the European Jew, encompassing the greater meaning of ‘outsider’. Unlike the Lacanian ‘Other’ that focuses on individual ethics, the term ‘pariah’ is a metaphor for whole social groups who Weber delimits by ethic. ‘Pariah’ would be understood today as more polemical than analytic. Weber fastens the term ‘pariah’ to the presumptuously broad category of European Jewry and in so doing carries on a trope of early-modern rational analysis- the Jewish diasporal experience[3]. Professor Jeffrey S. Librett’s latest publication, Orientalism and the Figure of the Jew (2014), reminds us that Weber theorizes the Jews as outcasts in a world conceived in ‘pariah’s’ etymological meaning, “in terms of an ancient Indian- or Aryan- caste system. This strange structure inscribes Judaism as an internal exterior within Aryan culture.” (331) Weber’s discursive appropriation of Judaism allows him to exemplify the presence of ‘resentimment’ in a groups whose dignity is independent from the monster group’s political societalization:

“The ‘chosen people’s’ dignity is nurtured by a belief either that in the beyond ‘the last will be the first,’ or that in this life a Messiah will appear to bring forth into the light of the world which has cast them out the hidden honor of the pariah people. This simple state of affairs, and not the ‘resentimment’ which is so strongly emphasized in Nietzsche’s much admired construction in Geneaology of Morals, is the source of the religiosity cultivated by pariah status groups.” (Class, 190)


Citing the “simple state of affairs” one might recognize as Hegel’s dialectic[4], Weber suggests that the creation of identity by ‘pariah’ groups is made possible by its difference to the main group, and vice versa. He continues, “Very frequently a status group is instrumental in the production of a thoroughbred anthropological type.” (190) Weber thickened the conversation about ‘resentimment’ by finding the tension between dignity and identity creation. His analysis of dignity as an element of differentiation between Christians and Jews rests on lifestyle purportments, and he compares monster groups with interior-exterior ‘pariah’ on the basis of economic predominance:

“Political membership or class situation has at all times been at least as frequently decisive. And today the class situation is by far the predominant factor, for of course the possibility of a style of life expected for members of a status group is usually conditioned economically.” (190)


By suggesting that class situation is decisive and life-style based, he signals us to think of the ‘positively privileged’ whose, “kingdom is ‘of this world’. They live for the present and by exploiting their great past”; Weber parallels pre-modern German political membership with the ‘positively privileged’ by using a commonality of frequent decisiveness, conditioned economically. In this construction, membership of both a political party and the ‘positively privileged’ group is both lifestyle and class status determined. This claim enfeebles Weber’s prior example of European Jewry, who represented over half of Hamburg’s wealth at the time, but also highlights the angle of difference from Nietzsche’s understanding of ‘resentimment’; Weber intersects the concept of ‘resentimment’ with economic mobility. Gerth and Mills say that Weber’s difference from Nietzsche concerning ‘resentimment’ is constitutive of Weber’s sociology of religion and, “within a broader canvas, this theme determined Weber’s attitude towards morality and modernity.” (4) By maintaining an ancient difference between Christian and Jewish communities and signaling that their lifestyles are now socio-economically class-determined, Weber problematizes the discourse of Nietzsche by antagonizing socio-historical certainties[5].

Class, Status, Party has the most direct criticism of Nietzsche’s ‘resentimment’, but a descriptive insight into Weber’s account of Nietzsche’s ‘resentimment’ can be found in “The Social Psychology of World Religions” (1915):

“As is known, this theory [‘resentimment’] regards the moral glorification of mercy and brotherliness as a ‘slave revolt in morals’ among those who are disadvantaged, either in their natural endowments or their opportunities as determined by life-fate. The ethic of ‘duty’ is thus considered a product of ‘represented’ sentiments for vengeance on the part of banausic men who ‘displace’ their sentiments because they are powerless, and condemned to work and money-making.” (270)
Reading Weber reading Nietzsche will guide our understanding of their ultimate differences, but first we need to unpack what he means by “mercy and brotherliness”, consider the phrases ’represented’ and ‘displaced’ sentiments”. Weber’s Vocation Lectures hint at ‘brotherliness’, which is a que for understanding the role of ‘resentimment’ within political structures[6], but here “mercy and brotherliness” alludes to Nietzsche’s use of Judeo-Christian tradition as an example of “repressed” vengeance on the part of the oppressed[7], a process which he describes later in (The Sociology of Religion, 1965:110) as “the moralistic quest serves as a device for compensating a conscious or unconscious desire for vengeance.” This ‘compensation’ is the ‘representation’ and ‘displacement’ phenomenon mentioned as a “on the part of the banaustic men”. What’s important to understand here is the way Weber marks a difference in the sentiments held by to parts of society. Weber thinks that for Nietzsche, the “banaustic” men (who are mundanely working and making money) have vengeful sentiments against those who don’t prescribe to the same ‘duty’. They ‘displace’ this sentiment through a glorification of their own morale[8], which is the ‘resentimment’.

Continuing to dissect the phenomena of “replacement” and “displacement” as reactions to ‘resentimment’, Weber goes on to emphasize an element of rationalization within the act of sentimental displacement:

“In treating suffering as a symptom of odiousness in the eyes of the gods as a sign of secret guilt, religion has psychologically met a very general need. The fortunate are seldom satisfied with the fact of being fortunate. Beyond this, he needs to know that he has a right to his good fortune.” (271)


Posturing Nietzsche’s ‘resentimment’ as a need for legitimacy of perceived ‘fortune’ over others in society, Weber’s attention to human inequality is addressed as “suffering” which compounds into a social ethic that supports this need for legitimacy. This becomes a delayed reward: “…the sense of honor of disprivileged classes rests in some concealed promise for the future… What they cannot claim to be, they replace by the worth of that which they will one day become, to which they will be called in some future life here or hereafter… by their sense of what they signify and achieve in the world as seen from the point of view of providence” (ibid.) There is a righteous indignation at oppressors to compensate for disprivilege. Professor Jeffrey K. Olick develops the idea of theodicy’s compensations further in his book The Politics of Regret (2007):

“Though tempered by confidence in redemption of suffering; worthiness of this redemption is thus demonstrated, as Nietzsche made clear in book three of Geneaology of Morals, by asceticism, the international exacerbation of one’s own suffering and hence the ultimate preservation of Will.” (157)


Professor Olick’s contribution is important because it frames the theodicy of suffering in terms of asceticism. It is at the juncture of asceticism that Weber departs from Nietzsche in his understanding of ‘resentimment’. He divides religion and psychology at the juncture of guilt. By ‘deserving’ one’s fortune there is ‘ethical meaning’ assigned to it, making it valuable. The principled nature of ‘deserving’ is asceticism, which for Weber must be framed by the “increasingly rational” world in its progress towards ‘resentimment’:

“The need for an ethical interpretation of the “meaning” of the distribution of fortunes among men increased with the growing rationality of conceptions of the world… as magical notions were eliminated, the theodicy of suffering encountered increasing difficulties. Not ‘good’ but ‘bad’ men succeed-even when ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are measured by the yardstick of the master stratum and not by that of a ‘slave morality’.” (275)


Weber is still citing Nietzsche when he says that ‘resentimment’ is acquired from the ‘theodicy of suffering’, but here we see that Weber pivots at the point of “growing rationality”; the measurements of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ had become an issue of the ‘master stratum’ during the disenchantment of the world. Weber suggests that this politicization of society (away from religion) refigured the value judgements, though they remain in essence “legitimation of the religiously determined rationalism of the disadvantaged strata,” (276) in line with Nietzsche.  He is not disagreeing with Nietzsche’s assertion that the theodicy of suffering is “colored by resentimment” (277). Weber is trying to say that suffering is influenced by but not contrived from ‘resentimment’, creating a possibility of interpreting its “yardstick measurement”. The positive notion of asceticism is notable in Weber’s reading of Nietzsche’s ‘resentimment’ by Weber’s idea of it as a “theodicy of disprivilege”[9] alongside measurements of salvation.

‘Resentimment’ and ‘Privilege’

Legitimation of vengeance through social ethic depended, for Weber, on their class status. Now that we have an idea about Weber’s reading of Nietzsche with sight to his positive ascetic idea, it is possible to outline Weber’s differentiation between theodicies of suffering between the ‘positively privileged’ and the ‘negatively privileged’. Weber’s positivist conception of ‘resentimment’ implies a change in social ethics that shape the dominant group’s praxis in relation to the ‘pariah’ group’s non-praxis. His differentiation between ‘positively privileged’ and ‘negatively privileged’ social ethic is noticeable immediately after his definition of Nietzschean ‘resentimment’ in “The Social Psychology of World Religions”. He notes ‘resentimment’s’ “bearing (mindern[10]) on social ethics” (270), and warns his reader about the fatal consequences of ‘resentimment’, as a sentiment that has resulted in ancient sacrificial feasts. Little did Weber know (but likely did he suspect) that an expulsion and sacrifice of the ‘pariah’ group would be committed by his not-so-ancient milieu shortly after his death! Weber continues,

“All that can be said is that resentment could be, and often and everywhere has been, significant as one factor among others in influencing the religiously determined rationalism of socially disadvantaged strata. It has gained significance… in accordance with the nature of the promises held out by different religions.” (276)


The “religiously determined rationalism” of the socially disadvantaged – the ‘negatively privileged’ – is influenced in part by ‘resentimment’. This rationalism is for Weber the change in dominance from the religious sphere of life to political sphere of life, which is still rooted in the concepts of salvation provided by that religion. His main example of this history is the popularization of different social ethics with the introduction of Calvinism and Protestantism, and on the ‘negatively privileged’ level, the difference in salvation between Christians and Jews[11]. Within the modern age of ‘master strata’ uniformity in the ‘iron cage’ of economic development, Authors Gerth and Mills remind us that “the utilitarianism aspect of economic ethics and actions was transformed into the positive notion of inner-worldly asceticism and it was this notion which became the basis of Weber’s whole sociology.” (111-12)

The entanglement between inner-worldly asceticism and ‘resenntiment’ is outlined most clearly in “Economy and Society” (1922, post-humous), when Weber suggested the intellectual salvation of Christianity as opposed to the outer-worldly salvation principles of the Jews. Authors Stauth and Turner (1988) agree, suggesting, “Weber separates this intellectual form of rational control – those maintained by Priests, Monks – from the discipline characteristic in Judaism.” (115) Beginning his discussion by reminding the reader of the necessity of meaning derived from salvation, Weber says,

“The meta-physical needs of the human mind as it is driven to reflect on ethical and religious questions, driven not by material need but by an inner compulsion to understand the world as a meaningful cosmos and to take up a position towards it.” (Economy and Society 499)
Stauth and Turner turn to Economy and Society to address Weber’s differentiation from Nietzsche’s concern with the material base of the everyday world, and that ‘resentimment’ was not exclusively explained the deprivation of material needs, but also the internal compulsion to understand the world[12]. Stauth and Turner say about ‘resentimment’, “In Econonmy and Society he connects it [‘resentimment’] to social revolutionary ethics and proletarian instincts of the subordinate working classes,” (115). Weber takes a rational disposition towards social ethic’s basis in salvation and describes the positive inner-worldly ascetic of ‘resentimment’ at its dislocating juncture with intellectualism of religious doctrine:

“The limited significance of the factor of resentimment and the dubiousness of applying the conceptual system of ‘repression’ almost universally, appear most clearly when Nietzsche mistakenly applies his scheme to the altogether inappropriate example of Buddhism. Constituting the most radical antithesis to every type of resentimment morality, Buddhism clearly arose as the salvation doctrine of an intellectual stratum, originally recruited almost entirely from the privileged castes, especially the warrior caste, which proudly and aristocratically rejected the illusions of life both here and hereafter.” (ibid.)


While thematising Buddhist ‘intellectualisation’ of salvation opposite ‘resentimment’, Weber also equivocates Buddhism with the ‘master strata’, and parallels intellectualism with inner-worldly salvation. He separates Buddhism’s type of rational control over salvation – as maintained by Priests and Monks, who found salvation through lifetime duties – from the ascetic characteristic (which he later says is present in Judaism), whose salvation is other-worldly. Weber suggests that intellectuals did not develop a social ethic because of repression, but rather because of the desire to rationalize the world in itself.  Judaism, which “preached immediate revenge” in the context of Judaism’s revengeful God during the first struggle against Romans and later against Gentile subordination (ibid., 112) is different than Christianity or Buddhism, which “developed a more subtle, higher a more indirect and culturally more productive form of revenge in the doctrine of spiritual love.”

Stauth and Turner say, “his idea for salvation in Christianity became associated with intellectualism, which he called ‘another source besides the social condition of the disprivileged’,” (113) reminding us again that ‘resentimment’ is only one factor of the social ethic produced by theodicy. Strauth and Turner continue, “Weber, therefore, implicitly protected Christianity and its drive for salvation against the argument in Nietzsche that the highest religious ethic is the outcome of resentment in morals,” (115) leaving the “burden on social ethic” (207) of ‘resentimment’ to the European Jews. This does not mean that Weber denies the existence of ‘resentimment’ within Christianity, as we will see in his analysis of its place in politics. But rather, this difference in salvation argument foregrounds his understanding of ‘resentimment’ as merely an option in the creation of social ethic, not the cause of all social ethic.

‘Resentimment’s’ Place in Politics

Weber’s citation of Nietzsche’s ‘resentimment’ serves the purpose of describing ‘brotherliness’ and vengeance sentiments in not only society, but in politics. In “Suffrage and Democracy in Germany” (1917) Weber clearly delineates the existence of ‘resentimment’ even in the political literati, the littérateurs:

“The ignorance of the litterateurs who do not recognize the difference between the unearned fortune of the coupon-cutting investor and the productive capital of the entrepreneur, and who show as much ressentiment towards the latter as they do covetous benevolence towards the former, have heard something of the ‘finance capital’, both in regulations of a material kind (taxes) and in the selection of ministers, and they think of course that this is a consequence of the ‘parliamentarism’ they fear.” (Political Writings, 86)


Weber again brings up the idea of ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ within the salvational idea of success; The ‘finance capital’ inspires the ‘resentimment’ of the literati, the class exemplified by Weber as potential demagogues and charismatic political leaders such as the Socialist, Kurt Eisner (“Economy and Society”, 1978:242), which in turn implies Weber’s interest in the struggle between financiers and the political literati. The dominance of ‘parliamentarianism’ on the effect of finance capital’s influence in the market triggers the literati’s ‘resentimment’, because their truth-concept of the ‘good’ coupon-clipper winning over ‘bad’ risky investor is challenged, and they are instead dominated by an outside force – “the ‘parliamentarianism’ they fear”. What this tells us is: there are two levels of regulation, the material and the political, which are both controlled by policy. The polity making the policy is the parliament, whose ‘master’ status gives the literati ‘resentimment’ against success they can’t explain with their salvational scheme. What Weber doesn’t tell us is how this ‘resentimment’ plays out; what are the ascetic consequences? Or, does the ‘negatively privileged’ social ethic permit the literati to seek vengeance and a revolution?

He doesn’t give the answer directly, but points in the same direction when discussing balances within parliament. He seems to support the effect of ‘resentimment’s’ inner-worldly influence by saying: “On the other hand, the resentimment of party and co-operative offialdom is ideally suited as a counterbalance to any danger of the parties coming under plutocratic leadership,” (Political Writings, 113). Assigning ‘resentimment’ with the task of counterbalancing the danger of plutocracy, Weber also tells us that he believes in its primacy within political systems. In “Suffrage and Democracy in Germany”, Weber uses ‘resentimment’ as an essential concept for understanding political struggle within the literati and the parties, reflecting his discussion on Nietzsche’s ‘resentimment’ as adaptable by way of salvation theory and therefore operating in modern identity politics.

It is not until Weber’s essay “Parliament and Government in Germany” (1917) that he reveals the way ‘resentimment’ works within the political struggle. Addressing ‘resentimment’ as both possibly feeble (135) and as a “will to powerlessness” (158), Weber tells us that ‘resentimment’ is not always an effective force of balance, leaving us to wonder how it is otherwise expressed; in to which social ethic does it go? In this essay, Weber describes ‘resentimment’ as a “congealed Spirit” (158); a concept introduced by Georg Simmel as the potentiality of use. Weber highlights the minority of German literati, and therefore also the gap between political actors and citizens. To this end, Weber suggested an “occupation based model” with law governing the formation of trade unions, like in America (150), but not dissolving them because of their oppositional Weltanschauung, like under Bismarck who “excluded all other political minds besides his own” (161) to the effect of a “night-watchman state” (165). Bismarck’s followers, mere officers (Untertan) and not politicians themselves, did not have the political prowess to challenge him, and those with such leadership capacity were demobilized under Article 9.

Resentimment’ extends for Weber beyond the Nietzschean conception of a reactive “slave morality”, though he does address it as the reactive force exerted by the Untertan. Situating the literati’s “raging against the idea of a patronage of office [as] an open responsibility of the parties” (194), he signifies the reactionism of ‘resentimment’ against that which is “un-German” (ibid.), that which is outside the Prussian hegemony. Weber’s concern with the literati, the leading statesmen of the Reich, is that “political honour” is only a pretext to stay in power, in office, and harms Germany’s foreign affairs through “politically quite useless” publications[13], which sever “any possibility of substantive understanding” with England and France on mutual interests (203). He suggests that publication of beliefs be left to politicians who can “weigh the potential significance of public statements,” for which “everything depends on” (207). In this construction, he has exposed the tool of the literati is not their publications, but the political honour they uphold as a “pretext to stay in power”. Weber would describe this social ethic of political honour as the path to salvation of the ‘negatively privileged’ literati.

Weber moves on to discuss ‘resentimment’ as dependent also upon the individual, not only their class status, by drawing a line of difference between powerful leaders and those who involve themselves with ‘resentimment’:

“a man with a strong instinct for power and all the qualities that go with it would have to be a fool to let himself be drawn into the pitiful business of resentimment amongst colleagues when there is a field of activity waiting to welcome his abilities and desires… Men of that type prefer to finance pan-German newspaper and to allow the littérateurs to churn out their nonsense in them. All the men of this nation with any talent for leadership have been diverted down this path, into the service of private capitalist interests as a consequence of negative selection, which is what our so-called ‘monarchic government’ boils down to, once one has stripped away all hypocritical verbiage.” (172)


Extending beyond slandering those “fools” who allow themselves to participate in the “pitiful” business of ‘resentimment’, Weber also suggests that no powerful leader belongs to the class of those with ‘resentimment’. Considering Weber’s importance to the collection and analysis of Jewish history, he is probably not singling out European Jewry’s ‘resentimment’ as disabling their powerful leadership. Rather, it must become apparent that Weber is pointing towards interpersonal resentimment’ “amongst colleagues”. The spectrum of ‘resentimment’ extends from individual all the way to religion, with political parties in between. Weber insists that men with leadership power are driven away from political office by “negative selection”, a phrase that annihilates the humanity of employment into efficiency ratios; the monarchic government doesn’t facilitate the recruitment of powerful leaders, those unfazed by ‘resentimment’, which is “directed against anyone who strives for and achieves power by any route other than the legitimation bestowed by examination diplomas.” (173) Clearly Weber perceives the monarchic government’s social ethic as regulated by standardized testing.

Continuing to dissect ‘resentimment’ within party politics, the verbiage of ‘resentimment’s’ “harmonization” with bureaucracy sheds further light on his opinion about its governmental involvement:

“The resentimment which men who are party officials by nature feel towards the genuine political leadership is a powerful element in the attitude of some parties… Of course, their resentimment harmonizes perfectly with the like-minded interests of the bureaucracy.” (191)


Allowing resentimment to be natural for powerless officials to feel against the “genuine” leadership, he also “harmonizes” ‘resentimment’ with party bureaucracy, again indicating that the social ethic falls in line with their process of legitimation – bureacracy. The party performs their internal duties as an ascetic praxis under the same ‘slave morality’ as political honor while oppressed by a ruling order. By equivocating the need for legitimation with bureaucracy, Weber is also giving an ontological evaluation of legitimate existence as a harmonious praxis, apparently assuming that all parties experience ‘resentimment’ if they are to be legitimated. The powerful leader would be able to survive this ‘negatively privileged’ environment as long as he doesn’t deal with ‘resentimment’ “amongst colleagues”.

Weber’s “Politics as a Vocation” (1917) discusses the operational background of ‘resentimment’ in politics, putting the “modern” class-warfare at issue, and eventually warning that ‘resentimment’ in politics is not an effective means of achieving salvation and agreeing with himself about powerful leadership staying away from it:

“Under the modern class-warfare, the inner rewards are the satisfaction of hatred and revenge, of resentimment and the need for a pseudo-ethical feeling of being in the right, the desire to slander one’s opponents and make heretics of them.” (364-5)


Weber positioned modern ‘resentimment’ as a desire to slander opponents, furthering his insistence of ‘resentimment’ as a driving force of the literati, those oppositional charismatic leaders like Kurt Eisner. He reminds the reader that the fervor of ‘resentimment’ has the potential of being useless rhetoric, or the future of oppressing others:

“the emotionalism of the revolution is then followed by a return to traditional, everyday existence, the hero of the faith disappears and so, above all, does the faith itself, or it becomes (even more effectively) a part of the conventional rhetoric used by political philistines.” (365)


Then, he continues to align the hopes of ‘resentimment’ with its task of salvation, but in a


negative way:


“The ‘salvation of the soul’ is endangered by each of these [hopes for the future of the Fatherland] whenever men strive to attain them by political activity, employing the means of violence and acting on the basis of an ethic of responsibility… People aren’t responsible for the success of their belief.” (366)


Weber’s picture of ‘resentimment’ in politics is on one hand effective, because of the balancing effect bureaucracy has against plutocracy, and on the other hand quite modern, because the “ethic of responsibility” is always involved. By this, I mean that the “ethic of conviction” is, for Weber, a-political, because the rationality of politics insists that there are inner-worldly convictions. The “ethic of responsibility”, appropriated from the Torah as a description of Judaism’s most distinctive idea, emplies a causal relationship between actions and the world we live in, the inner-world. Weber’s forewarning about “political” ‘resentimment’ in the context of violence brings us back to his warning about its “bearing on social ethics”, including a value-judgement that one’s soul couldn’t be saved if you act violently in hopes of salvation. His argument against violent political ‘resentimment’ rests on the lack of agency one person or one political group has, because revolt depends on more things than just them. His warning to this end both diminishes the reputation of those revolutionary literati and reprimands the “ethic of responsibility” in its potentially violent shortcomings. Weber’s political ‘resentimment’ exists within the modernity of ‘monarchic government’ embodied by bureaucracy, peer ‘resentimment’, and most dangerously, revolutionary tendencies. The powerful political leader does not act with ‘resentimment’, but his followers (Untertan) and supporting party structure do. This makes ‘resentimment’ a functional force within social order but not the only force.


Resentimment’ creates a framework for understanding Weber’s nuanced depiction of society and polity. In this essay, I have selected every descriptive use of ‘resentimment’ by Weber, allowing this concept to stand outside of the Nietzschean discourse. The ultimate difference is the negotiation of ‘resentimment’ within politics as a response to hierarchy, but without Nietzsche’s notion that ‘resentimment’ can explain the entirety of these actions in the modern world. This difference from Nietzsche doesn’t give ‘resentimment’ a back-seat to political action, though. Quite on the contrary, Weber continues to use the concept as a mechanism to determine sources of violence by the polity on society, the potential of leaders, the legitimation of a regime. It is integral to Weber’s understanding about evolving concepts of salvation within the increasingly ‘disenchanted’ world, and yet ‘resentimment’ also represents an enchantment by ideology. It is a concept that contributes to the sociology of politics and religion by virtue of its breadth and prominence.

[1] The title of this translation changed to “The distribution of power in the community: Classes, Stände, Parties” in 2010 by New Zepplin University Waters, Tony, and Dagmar Waters (2015)

[2] Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Geneology of Morals. 1887.

[3] Just two years before Weber published this essay, Martin Buber’s study “The Spirit of Judaism” followed up on the success of Édouard Dumont’s study La France juive (1886).

[4] “Although the earth forms a sphere, history performs no circle around it, but has on the contrary a determinate East. Here rises the outward physical sun, and in the West sinks down: here rises the sun of self-consciousness, which diffuses a nobler brilliance.” The light cast on the West by its origination in the East allows the West to be reflective and aware of its own identity. George Fredrick Hegel. Lectures on the History of Philosophy. 1805-6, trans. E S Haldane, 1892-6.

[5] Gerth and Mills. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Oxford University. 1946. (62)

[6] This is addressed by an analysis of “Politics as a Vocation” and will be addressed briefly.

[7] Morris, Brian. Anthropological Studies of Religion. Cambridge University. 1987.

[8]  The song “Minority” (Green Day, 2000) offers a compelling elucidation of this effect.

[9] Orlick, J. The Politics of Regret. 2007 (157)

[10] In German, the word ‘mindern’ means ‘to minimize’, the illusion of which is lost in a translation that emphasizes the characteristic of oppression.

[11] As discussed in Weber’s Sociology of Religion.

[12] Stauth and Turner. Nietzsche’s Dance. Basil Blackwell. 1988. (114)

[13] The German word for publication, Veröffentlichung, is much more compelling because it expresses an element of timing and exertion, closer in meaning to the word “release” [of thoughts unto the world]. Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time discusses this.

Aetiology of Hysteria in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Das Buch Franza



The plot unfolds as Martin Renner receives a confusing telegram from his sister Franza, who begs him to help her. She has been married to an aged psychiatrist, her “großartiges Fossil” of a husband who has begun to psychologically torture her, like a subject in one of his experiments. Martin finds her in their hometown, Galicia, a former Austro-Hungarian empire now known only as a border-region, and attempts to help his tormented sister by inviting her on his vacation to Egypt. On the way to Egypt, first on a boat to Alexandria, and then by bus, Martin and Franza discuss the origins of her perceived illness. Suddenly, Franza begins a hysteria that leads to her death. The first chapter provides background for Franza’s ultimate death, with a retrospective on her youth during the Austrian Anschluß, the Nazi annexation of Vienna in 1938. The second part is a collection of fragmentary (but chronological) thoughts that are analytical of the world but introspective at the same time.

With two distinct genders, a polarization between families and lovers, set in the first generation post-War era, with a travelling period between the northern and southern hemispheres, and ending in death, the dualities of Ingeborg Bachmann’s Das Buch Franza are many. Criticized and analyzed in the discourses of colonialism, feminism and identity politics, Bachmann’s post-mortem publication has received critical attention that is often related to its position as the second part of her unfinished novel series Todesarten. Bachmann’s unexpected death by apartment fire did not prevent Das Buch Franza from being completed, rather, as she notes in a letter to Klaus Piper in November, 1970, she shelfed (or rather, drawerd) the transcript for “different reasons”:

Das Buch Franza ist zudem in einer Schublade verschwunden und wird von mir, aus verschiedenen Gründen, noch lange  nicht oder überhaupt night veröffentlicht werden, ich weiß es selber noch nicht,” (Women Writers, 13)


From a letter written to Bachmann from Giséle Celan, Bachmann’s close friend and ex-wife

to her extra-marital lover, Paul Celan, it is possible to see that content of Das Buch Franza

was likely not the only thing troubling Bachmann. On May 13th, 1970, Giséle Celan states,

“Paul threw himself into the Seine. He chose the most anonymous, lonely death.”[1] Between

these letters in 1970 and Bachmann’s early death in Rome, 1973, Das Buch Franza was never

published, but its narrative predecessor (though written as a successor to Das Buch Franza) in

the Todesarten series was – Malina (1971).

Das Buch Franza was written around 1966[2], almost 15 years after Paul Celan dedicates his poem “In Egypt” (In Ägypten) to Bachmann[3], and only one year after Paul Celan attempted to murder his wife, Giséle[4]. In the ‘Poetological Afterward’ of Hans Höller and Andrea Stoll’s compilation of Bachmann’s Correspondence (2008) they note, “Bachmann views the title character’s journey to Egypt in Der Fall Franza (TA II: Das Buch Franza ) as a “journey through an illness,”” citing her Büchner Prize acceptance speech for Todesarten, “[…] she uses it [the word illness] in a sense invoked by Paul Celan in order to render visible the word’s implicit dialectic between the outer and inner situations of a first person.” (335) Because of these close connections between Bachmann and Celan’s verbiage and orientation towards Egypt, and because Das Buch Franza is the earliest finished transcript in the Todesarten Projekt, this research will focus exclusively on Das Buch Franza without relation to reoccurring themes throughout Todesarten.

In light of the connection between Celan’s poem In Ägypten, one of his earliest pieces of correspondence with Bachmann, and Das Buch Franza’s plot crescendo at her hysterical episode in Egypt, as well as Bachmann’s own commentary that the book is about illness, this research will focus on the duality of sickness and health, concluding that Bachmann situates Egypt in its duality as Franza’s wellness vacation and her cause of death. I analyze the aetiology of Franza’s death, maintaining the importance of Austrian historical background in as much as Bachmann insists upon it in her unpublished introduction to Das Buch Franza:

“I come from a country, without showing off about its geniuses, which has always concerned itself with those unknown beings, human beings their unfathomability, profundity. I also don’t have any explanation for why a number of revolutionary discoveries have taken place in my country. I’m just acknowledging it. From the undiscovered Sacher Masoch to the greatest pioneer, Sigmund Freud, however historical he may also have been, this line has never broken off, this recherche.” (TP 2:16)


Following the line of Austrian authors, I insist that Das Buch Franza follows the paradigm of hysteria in Sigmund Freud’s Seduction Theory, as outlined in “The Aetiology of Hysteria” (1896) by three groups of hysterics: 1. assaults by adults, concerning Franza’s infatuation with “Sire” in “der schönste Frühling” during the first chapter; 2. relationships between an adult and child, concerning Franza’s marriage to her “großartiges Fossil” Leo Jordan in the second section, “Jordanische Zeit”; and 3. Relationships between two children, usually brother and sister, presuming that one child has already had a relationship with an adult, like Franza and Martin in Egypt.[5] Bachmann’s Das Buch Franza is a piece of literature produced in the wake of Freud’s theories and the death of her own love affair at the hands of Celan’s mental illness.

In the published introduction, Bachmann writes that “This book, however, is not simply about a journey though illness. Ways of death also include crimes. This book is about a crime.”[6] She then suggests that it is the virus of the crime remains even after the end of the Second World War. Bachmann scholar Sara Lennox says, “Instead, in our society, the attitudes of the mind which produced National Socialism now exercise their brutality in the realm of consciousness,” (Murdered Daughters, 162), she quotes Das Buch Franza, “the slaughter is granted a place within the morals and customs of society,” (Franza, 4). The aetiology of the hysteria that caused Franza’s death is, for Bachmann, a crime that manifests in “morals and customs of society”; this situates Todesarten in its literary importance as a psychological case-study, and more importantly, sheds light on Bachmann’s configuration of narrators. Killing one off at a time, Das Buch Franza begins in the first chapter with three narrators: Franza, Martin, and the omniscient narrator, who is intermixed between the two. Martin’s narration drops off in the second chapter, likely because it is a reflection on her time with Jordan. She answers questions from Martin, but it is her and the narrator’s perspective. In the first two chapters, the narrator recounts the “schönsten Frühling” and her marriage to Jordan, about which Sabine Grimkowski suggests that the narrator is in fact another voice of Franza herself. This unity-yet division becomes increasingly noticeable throughout the novel, as the distance between I-narration and omniscient narration becomes unclear. When considering this in a Freudian context, we can relate the birth of the narrator to the initiation of latent hysterical systems, “triggered” by the psychoanalysis of her psychiatrist husband’s experiment. This unconscious memory begins to narrate, ending in Franza’s narration dissolved into the fragmented omniscient narrator.

The narration of Martin’s thoughts aside the hysterical Franza set the scene. His thoughts are narrated as reflections on life situations, “thinking about warts as a reason for marriage” (22), chewing some bread, and reflecting on the value of his parents’ old house, and the type of fossil the professor would be. Suggesting his training as a geologist, the narrator hints at memories “traces” through feldspar fossils, then immediately saying: “his sister was cut through by pain and by something he was unable to explore, given his specialty, for he had no desire to identify or describe his sister’s dissected soul, which was from the Modern Era and not form the Mesozoic.” (29) Immediately we are aware of the tension between the dawn of the Modern Era, and a conflict happening within Franza; Bachmann asks us to think of themes of the Modern Era surrounding Franza’s erratic return to Galicia.

How does Galicia relate to the theme of Egypt, or to hysteria? In both cases, Galicia was during the time before the traumatic event that caused or triggered the hysteria and the dying in Egypt. The narrator establishes spatial information that relate to Franza’s aetiology of hysteria: “The point where three countries converge. Three languages. From here we can retrace our steps backward…” (21); “she had married her father, or at least that’s how he thought of it on first impression, reducing things to the lowest denominator, though later he revised it to “father figure”,” (22). Suddenly Franza’s world is apparent to us, her hometown of Galicia is a retraced step, and her marriage to someone older is referred to by the Freudian Father Complex. Martin even notices the mirrored image of warts on the father’s face and wart on Jordan’s face, a mark of repetition compulsion at the hands of Franza (22). This opens up two possible avenues towards hysteria, both not exclusive of the other: 1. Galicia no longer exists as a city, removing her from her identity and producing a mourning that could end up as melancholy, one form of which would be the Father Complex and ultimately hysteria[7]; 2. she was sexually abused by her father, or perhaps he was absent, hence her attraction to Jordan as Father Complex. The first, suggesting her object-cathexis, is alluded to as both caused by the loss of her Galician culture due to war, and her need to acquire that of the victor: “He was then eighteen and she was twenty-three, about to give up her studies, allegedly having fainted in a hall of anatomy, or in an equally romantic tale she fell into the Fossil’s arms,” (7)  and later, after narrating that there are things in her “tyrannical brain” that she cannot fully uncover, she reverts to solace in her marriage to Jordan, “he’s more contemporary than I am, for I, I, I am from a lower race, and I have known it since it began that it’s one that has wiped itself out. That’s what I am, and he is the type that rules today,” (79). Her distrust of herself as a result of the Father Complex is later alluded to in the novel, when she knows for the first time why she feels “such angst”:

“I saw a graveyard at sunset, and the dream told me: That is the Graveyard of Daughters. And I looked down at my own grave, for I was one of the daughters, and my father was not there. But because of him I was dead and buried there. Maybe in your waking life you know something about a graveyard of children and who is guilty of your death. You’ll never know for sure, but you think about it, as hard as you can, though it will never come to you,” (78)


It is clear in this paragraph that Bachmann has situated fathers in opposition to daughters and responsible for the deaths of some, encouraging a reflection about the real world by using “you” to address the reader, and the ultimately fictive, that of dreams. This passage is ultimately striking because of its attention to patriarchal structures as potential causes for her “angst” and “death”, but also in its allusion to a daughter’s latent memory of fatherly abuse or fatherly neglect.

Franza’s “sickness of the past” (34) is another que to an aetiology of hysteria, placing Franza’s illness (and “destruction”) distinctly on the possibilities of trauma and identity politics:

“She still insisted on keeping hold of Galicia, despite so much having been taken from her, an inclination that was revealed by her forged passport… [he] promised himself to acknowledge who she was, even her faults, because she was being destroyed, yet he hoped she would discover just what had caused her destruction.” (35)


Just as Freud’s subject Dora tells stories in order to “excavate” her hysterical symptoms, so does Franza as they walk in the graveyard, where their father’s grave is absent. After noting that this spring was not the nicest, “but the second nicest,” (34) Franza collapses in a way Martin regards as symptomatic of the past. She is unable to walk, a cue of the expression of a repressed memory, and a textbook hysterical symptom for the traumatic eroticization of the foot, with the dormancy period called the “condition of suitability”. This instance, coupled with the baths she received from her brother, just like the one’s she used to give him, suggest that her repression is triggered towards hysteria. Freud notes that baths from already-sexualized children can also be considered sexual experiences. The brother-sister relationship as the third type of hysteria is assigned here. After the graveyard and her leg paralysis, her “dreamlike trance” changes the narration to be omniscient and retrospective, reflecting on when she met “Sire”. Here, Bachmann adds greater spatial dimension to the narrated past, giving more evidence that Franza is experiencing hysteria.

“Sire”, a British soldier that secured the area of Galicia, was the “first time in her life, [that she] demonstrated her instinctive discernment, a quality that later would help her make her way outside of Galicia… she said to him with confidence and for the third time: Sire!” (41) Her confidence and her pubescent romance come at the same time. “Sire” was the “first man in her life” (42), “who didn’t want her, or to rape her, there was no thought of that” (ibid.), though he did “violently” kiss her mouth before leaving back to England. After Franza sees “Sire” again at a conference in London, the narrator adds:

“And no one stood anymore at the edge of a road, somewhere in Europe, feeling as if she would collapse while trembling, or simply stand there forever in a cloud of dust, as the four tanks rolled on – which could no longer be seen” (48)


Here we can read the encounter between “Sire” and Franza as one of the childhood memories that is related to hysterical symptoms later in life. Could she no longer remember the sexual abuse, or was she experiencing object-cathexis because “Sire” didn’t remember her? Franza’s retrospective narration about eventual sexual approval by an older man is opposite Dora’s Case; Franza is aware that she desired the kisses, awarding her more cognitive agency than Freud allowed Dora, though she, like Dora, still experienced the kissing passively, a requirement for the Freudian idea of hysteria.

The case of Franza and “Sire” could be read as a polemic against Freud’s abandonment of the Seduction Theory in 1897. After protests from his colleagues and the general populace at the idea that childhood sexual experiences with adults were so widespread, Freud dropped the theory by suggesting that the pathological effects from sexual trauma can also be products of imagined encounters. In the Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis Freud says, “The phantasies possess psychical as contrasted with material reality, and we gradually learn to understand that in the world of neuroses it is psychical reality which is the decisive kind.” In the book Assault on Truth (1984) Jeffrey Masson suggests that Freud’s abandonment of the theory also “abandoned the scientific basis of his own work”[8]. In my opinion, Bachmann’s Das Buch Franza also presents a non-definitive answer to the question of rape and by leaving this question open within the context of Modernity, she references the patriarchal demand for Seduction Theory to be silenced.

After the ambiguous attempt to drown herself, from which she was saved (unlike Paul Celan), Franza exhibits another sign of Freudian hysteria, promiscuity, by leaving with the man on a motorcycle for the night. This counts for Freud as a “trigger”; Franza’s condition worsens considerably after that night. In chapter two, “Jordanian Time”, Martin’s narration drops out and Franza’s becomes deeply introspective, and wound together with the omniscient narrator: “Why was I hated so much? No, not me, the other within me. There are many possible explanations, and you’ll have them as soon as I tell you three stories, but as yet I don’t have them myself.” (62) In this instance, the omniscient narrator’s voice takes over for Franza’s self-talk. This shift in narration is particularly striking because it comes right after another “talking cure” narration episode, in which she thinks critically about Jordan’s ex-wives for the first time:

“Only now do I wonder about the other women and why all of them disappeared without a sound, why one no longer left the house, why another turned on the gas, while I myself am the third who amended herself with this name, becoming the third Frau Jordan. It’s as if over the entire time that lies sunken in the darkness a spotlight now shines… full of evidence that can’t be overlooked, and yet how willing I was to believe them dumb, ignorant, at fault-” (62)


Bachmann’s subject Franza cites Jordan as the cause of her breakdown, with evidence that victimizes herself and other women, effectively making Jorden the perpetrator. She describes her condition, with choke marks and peeling skin, claiming to not know where it is coming from except the, “result of a diabolical experiment. Oh, why didn’t he simply kill me. It’s just so unjust.” (63)

The second chapter draws out Bachmann’s attention to historical trauma, particularly the problem of patriarchy. Her explanations of in-house trauma depend on her husband’s mistreatment and because of her own latent condition of “suitability” as a “lesser race”. She says to him, “I think completely differently than you do.” To which he replies, “Ah an enemy in my own house.” (65) Polarizing the high-class Viennese man, to whom Martin describes by his “haughty tone” (18), ascribing the responsibility for Franza’s “changed hairstyle, dropped Galician accent, exchanging it for a different accent in Vienna.” (20) Jordan’s apparent insufferability alongside his cultural superiority forced Franza to conform. This still conforms with a traumatic latency, until her ego is shaken by her perceived erasure from the work she had been helping him with. Would this mean that he was going to divorce her, like the others?  In her article “Female Subjectivity”, author Ingrid Stipa adds to the discourse on Franza experiencing object-cathexis. She says:

“Franza’s psychic destruction in The Franza Case, her social exclusion, begins with the elimination of her name from the manuscript on which she and her psychiatrist husband has been working on together. In addition, Jordan begins to take notes on Franza’s behavior. With these two gestures, he effectively reduces Franza from the status of an autonomous individual participating in public-discourse, to an object of scientific observation or to a psychoanalytic case-study” (Tracing Bachmann, 164)


Even Franza herself notices that her ego is in trouble, she narrates, “my own zeal and sense of conviction had given meaning to my life” (64). By addressing Franza’s status within the public-discourse, Stipa suggests that the loss of perceived “place” in the world objectifies Franza as a case-study. After her husband’s questioning, she stood up and noticed her teeth chattering, and knew she had to leave because she would not get human sympathy from him. This is also a hysterical event listed in Aetiology of Hysteria that is symptomatic of unwanted oral stimulation, and brought up in Das Buch Franza as a conversation and glass of whiskey, then a bout of him screaming at her, all of which she took passively.

Her objectification in this chapter carries on through an invitation to the movies with Prohaska, Jordan’s colleague, which she declines but then accepts after he says it would bring him pleasure. Bachmann’s discussion of Franza’s loneliness is quickly evident of her hysterical condition going untreated. About her husband’s negative treatment of her, she says:

“The wolf doesn’t kill a humiliated opponent, for he simply can’t kill him. Did you know that? He’s simply incapable of biting the throat when it’s held up to him. How wise, how lovely. Yet mankind, possessing the strongest weapons, the strongest beast of prey, has no such qualms.” (70)


Her depiction of the wolf opposite mankind harkens back to Bachmann’s introductory remarks for Das Buch Franza, when she says that these crimes are so subtle that we can hardly perceive them, but we can certainly feel them[9]. Aligning Franza’s dehumanization with death in a gas chamber, Bachmann writes of Franza dreaming Jordan is turning on the gas. In this way, she is exploring female narrative within the context of the Holocaust. Jordan has deemed Franza unfit, no matter what she does, and for this reason he is terminating her, potentially from their marriage. On this topic, author Kirsten Kirk approaches Bachmann’s Todesarten with an idea that Franza’s psychiatric case is here more important than the male-female discourse. She says, “It becomes evident that Bachmann’s primary concern was not only the plight of those murdered in war, but the situation of psychiatric cases, as well as the mentally ill and the insane.” (Bachmann’s Death Styles, 117) The motif of fascism within interpersonal relationships, the husband divorcing the wife for her societal inadequacies and deeming her as “insane” reminds us of the history of hysteria as a disease. Franza herself references the female nature of hysteria: “The flight from reality, female behavior, typical woman.” (The Book of Franza, 69)

Franza herself admits to having “post-traumatic stress” (70) and that her memory is like a bumpy, scratched record – that is, unable to reveal the real music. But, Franza also thinks that her trauma began with Jordan, she says: “I wasn’t sick at all, I didn’t come to him as a patient.” (ibid.) Bachmann scholar Stephanie Bird argues that it is in the second chapter that the narrator invites the reader to adopt a critical position in relation to Franza questioning the validity of her values (Women Writers, 18), which I argue ultimately reflects on Franza’s need to idealize and project a higher moral authority than her perceived own. She recognizes the “norm” that everyone, even those with eczema, are pressed into (73) and says, “I tried to do it, I tried to understand it all, though such attempts were bound up with pain.” (ibid.) Her attempts to be what he wants are futile because he has already planned her destruction: “F.’s self-confidence, something that still needs to be shaken.” (77)

After finding the Fossil’s notes about her, Franza’s narrated sentences become more hectic, and more often in the form of questions. The omniscient narrator suddenly comes in, revealing that she’s talking to Martin. She is telling stories of coughing and choking, two more signs of latent oral trauma, and taking pills to negate the hysterical symptoms. Despite Martin’s self-proclaimed inability to think of things in the Modern Era, he is in the position of her psychologist, letting her talk through the trauma she has experienced. She asks Martin to forgive her for crying, relating it to the forgiveness requested at the Nuremberg Trails in their “disgusting banality” (86). Should Martin be compared to the men who are violent to Franza? I don’t think so, because although he is skeptical about taking Franza with him to Egypt, he still does, and has also promised to take her for who she is. He is also not indoctrinated into the patriarchal ring of psychology that Franza is now afraid of. Egypt is positioned as an offering by her brother in order to leave the fascist society for a while, a sort of cleansing.

In the first two chapters of Das Buch Franza, Bachmann checks off every symptom of hysteria mentioned by Freud in Aetiology of Hysteria, every possible source of the traumatic memory or cathexis, and even veils it under the sub-conscious, the omniscient narrator, as latent and death-causing. Psychoanalysis for Bachmann marks not only traumatic memory, but also the psychological terror that comes from Jordan’s will to power over his object of study, Franza. The motif of a “cure” is also at the same time wrapped up with an institutionalization of her ailment, which Franza reflects on as the displacement of fascism into personal relationships (The Book of Franza, 75). Franza’s panic attacks continue in the third chapter, characterized by trembling, difficulty breathing, moving, and speaking: “The Nile rose and sank quickly, the entire length of it. Franza leanes hard against the small table, her knees feeling weak, and then sat herself down on the stool that Martin shoved beneath her.” (122)

Discussing the way fear operates within her fragile state, scholar Simone Klapper addresses Franza’s inability to “name or judge” her illness symptoms, because she is afraid of conforming to features that would make her abnormal[10]. Lennox also describes the fact that both Franza and the narrator avoid diagnosing the protagonist, making them “unable to transcend racist discourses” (Murdered Daughters, 51). On the other hand, Klapper suggests that the aesthetic experience of Bachmann’s reflexive writing crosses the border of the symbolical order (Aesthetics, 10).  She also points out that the third chapter, “The Egyptian Darkness” alludes to Frued’s statement of the ‘woman as dark as the continent’. She cites Derrida, “Indeed, the desert resembles the characterization of the female (poststructuralist) theory as the open, structureless and indescribable”. It does seem that the desert allows Franza some control over her hysteria: “There was no doubt that her skin had begun to heal as a result of experiencing real necessity. Something (what?) was helping her to gain control over herself, for she no longer trembled for hours on end and was becoming brown and fit.” (103) And: “everything is empty and yet more immediate than anything that claims to exist. Not simply nothingness speculated on by the holders of endowed professorships. It escapes definition.” (89) The desert is not long her cure, but exists in its “otherness” as a safe place for her for some time. Franza is momentarily able to free herself from the experience of the professor, until she encounters the “crimes” she had experienced also in Vienna. Many texts try to localize her psychoanalytic condition in this change, concerning Franza as anorexic, hysterical, neurotic and suicidal[11]. Other texts accuse Bachmann as “othering” Egypt as a cure for the European banality of evil; Monika Albrecht argues that she is pre-destined to die, and the trip to Egypt evokes her lethal spirit[12]; Hermann Weber call her trip to Egypt “Überhöhung und Zelebration der Krankengeschichte einer Europäerin[13] ; Professor Sabine Wilke writes:

diese Genre stelle sich nähmlich heraus, dass es für die (allein oder auch mit Begleitung) reisende weiße Frau nur eine Stellung gibt, die beiderseits (von den weißen Reisenden wie auch vonden afrikanischen Eingeboren) als akzeptable empfunden wird,” (“Wenn Du nach Afrika gehst, vergiss die Peitsche nicht”, 58)


and even criticizes Bachmann’s allusions to colonialism in the context of feminism:

wenn sich der gebildete Wiener, Martin, über die ungebildete, laute, penetrante, rosa Hüte tragende amerikanische Kolonie in Kairo mokiert, ohne auf die europäische Verwicklung mit der kolonialen Geschichte diese Landes zu reflektieren. Que Opferidentifikation wird Franza zu einer Kolonisierten, ihr Mann Jordan zum Kolonisator – ein position, die in der feministischen Kritik der achtziger Jahre noch vollkommen unproblematisch als Beschreibung einer patriarchalischen Prealität rezipiert wurde.” (ibid., 60)


I agree with the critiques of Albrecht, Weber and Wilke about the overuse of Egypt to serve a Western plot, especially concerning the appropriation of Egyptian burial as a metaphor for self-reflection of the white woman’s experience of being judged. When she approaches the “scratched-out symbols of Deir al-Bahari within the temple of Queen Hatshepsut” it dawns upon her that “though [the pharaoh] had deleted her, she was still there. It [the hieroglyph] can still be read, because nothing is there where in fact something should be” (109), that is, by being erased she has already earned her place there. The tombs provoke her as a relatable act of violence, of being read and dissected to the point of destruction just for the idea of science, and for the pleasure of the scientist.

The third chapter’s archeological metaphors of expeditions, ruins, artifacts, ancient signs and digging all relate to the book’s commentary on psychoanalysis. They also express a shift from her foreign privilege of interest in the culture, until the Nile mud bath, during which she was reminded of some rules to prevent her skin from burning and suddenly had an attack. At this point in the book, the reader is invited to question Franza’s status as a victim; is she unable to live in a world with rules? Freud would notice here that Martin had been rubbing the mud on her body, an indication of sexual contact that would result in Franza’s complete paralysis. Author Shanmuganathan draws attention to this episode in the mud as Freud’s consideration of people being buried alive to be the most “uncanny” (unheimlich), because it is a transformation of the fantasy to live in the womb.[14] After participating in the womb with her, the symbolism expressing the brother-sister relationship that occurs in the latter third of hysteria patients in Aetiology of Hysteria just as it occurs in the latter third of this novel, Martin considers either himself or another having sex with her as the cure: “He had to get rid of the Fossil” (108) Her body, fossilized in mud, is undergoing narrative dissociating the body from Franza’s mind. The eroding structures of her mind during the reiteration of birth in the mud suggest that in Egypt she no longer lives under the pressure of memory, or her identity or otherwise, but now under the pressure of her status to Martin as a fossil that needs to be gotten rid of, rather than helped.

“This urge to destroy, carried out with great chisels, this desire to erase a great figure. […] She only said, he was not able to destroy her.” (110) After Martin’s assumption that Franza needed sex, the patriarchal nature of the story becomes vivid; the theme of death among ruins and among weddings both mirrors and perpetuates the theme of scientific maintenance of ruins. The narrator has taken over for both Martin and Franza, expressing details about their surroundings’ hopelessness against the “whites” (112), referring to a building project that was occurring along the Nile at the time. These dualities of death and life are more predominant in the third chapter, and between the two so is blame. As Franza charges the “whites” as the cause of suffering, she is also referring to the “white” of a fossil, the intricate past structures that make up its sturdy core, and if broken, cannot be reassembled.[15]

While Martin is partying with his friends instead of concerning himself with Franza, he becomes a violent actor. By allowing her to be raped by the beach cretin, and insisting that she smoke hash, he negates her needs and instead imposes his ideas upon her. “She began again to smoke, obedient, sensing nothing,” (115) “the hemp had taken them to different places.” (117) The world of patriarchal dominance existed in Cairo, too, and without Martin’s help, he was effectively participating. This resonates as a conversation about guilt during National Fascism. In this particular wave of hysterics, the narrator begins to focus not on the Egyptians, but on the Europeans around Franza. As her subconscious, the narrator exposes Franza’s distance from the world and her seeking to understand it. Wilke writes:

“Die Erzählerin fantisiert sich in eine Welt hinein, in der die Ich-Grenzen verschwimmen und stattdessen eine Verschmelzung der einzelnen Körper im sexuellen Akt stattfindet, als die Heilung von der individualisierten europäischen Kultur empfunden wird.” (64)


This particular distortion, of finding one’s self in a stranger as a process towards healing is significant by way of Franza’s recognition of the Egyptian woman who is seemingly enslaved by the man, and also in its Freudian context, as a “healing” from the iron cage of individualized European culture through the dissolution of her own body. Her attention to the strange woman and the narrator’s attention to the flooding and the “whites” coming cannot be discussed without the contribution of Paul Celan’s poem In Ägypten. He writes:

‘In Egypt’
For Ingeborg

June, 1948

Thou shalt say to the eye of the woman stranger: Be the water!
Thou shalt seek in the stranger’s eye those whom thou knowest are in the water.
Thou shalt summon them from the water: Ruth! Naomi! Miriam!
Thou shalt adorn them when thou liest with the stranger.
Thou shalt adorn them with the stranger’s cloud-hair.
Thou shalt say to Ruth and Miriam and Naomi:
Behold, I sleep next to her!
Thou shalt most beautifully adorn the woman stranger near thee.
Thou shalt adorn her with the pain for Ruth, for Miriam and Naomi.
Thou shalt say to the stranger:
Behold, I slept next to these!


The poem sets up the feminine, Torah- abiding heroines of Jewish literature, Ruth and Naomi. Ruth, who inspires us to transcend the negativity in life after losing her husband, represents feminine grace[16]. Naomi, her friend, seeks to marry Ruth to her brother, a similar story to Martin’s desire to find someone to sleep with Franza. And Miriam, a separate story, is the sister of Moses who is “associated with bringing husband and wife back together again” through the ritual of Mitveh, which purifies the body[17]. Her name, as well, means “bitter sea”, connected with the bitter salt water that killed the traveling Israelites and drowned the Egyptians. This resonates with us as the conversation about water and flooding, which I will address briefly.

The beloved Jewish figures are set against the “stranger” who saves as vessel for them. There is no point of recognition of the stranger except through the identification of these three – even the acknowledgment “Behold, I sleep next to her” of the stranger is made directly to the three spirits. The poem is a process of conjuring – it is not the stranger who is talked to, but the “strange woman’s eye” which is commanded to be the water. It is this water, perhaps the water of the unconscious given that the eye reflects us back to ourselves, which allows for the interaction to take place. The poem moves from the command to acts – seeking, calling forth, adorning… it is in lying with the stranger that the three spirits are adorned, which reads as both a ceremonial and an act of love. They are adorned with the “cloud-hair” moving from the eyes in which they are to the frame, making the stranger an instrument to them and incidental in herself. “Behold I sleep next to her” follows – an act of giving, of conquering, for the sake of the spirits. But the poem ends with a focus turned back on the stranger, as she is beautified more with the presence of the pain over Ruth, Miriam and Noemi than her hair could provide for them. The importance is in the memories, in the subconscious the speaker is bringing to sleeping with this strange woman, and she is lit up in the beauty of his own imaginings. The poem ends on a declaration made to the stranger – still a stranger – after having lain with her. “Behold, I slept next to these.” The spirits have left, the moment is gone, but there is beauty in what has happened and the revelation is able to take place now that the spell is broken.

Coming across Dr. Körner, a man who ascribes to the Western treatment of illness and wears a white coat like her husband, Franza participates in her own subjugation by asking him to complete her process of death. Martin symbolically facilitates this process because she stels $300 from him to bribe the doctor with. Dr. Körner didn’t know her husband in the tight Viennese circles after having fled before denazification, so Franza began to feel agency due to her knowledge from her husband’s work, but her independence without his reputation. She already had the notes on Dr. Köner, but he did not have them on her; she knew that he had murdered sick women in the camps, “the immediate eradication of the unwanted sick, the assisted deaths, the mercy killings.” (The Book of Franza, 129) Rambling on to him only facilitates his aggression towards her, as he shirks off responsibility by saying, “I was never that high up” (ibid.). Demanding her to specify her illness, she instead demands a lethal injection. He denies her and escapes. She has been rejected by both her brother and the Dr. Kröner while in a hysterical state. The sadism of the oppressive males, and those who traumatize her through rape, cause the masochism of Franza’s suicide. Freud would suggest that we interpret this as an exaggerated and self-brutalizing ego. As readers, we are left only with Franza’s reconstruction of the story, the same as Martin.

Without a discussed incest-taboo, Martin is a figure not unlike Robert Musil’s Mann Ohne Eigenschaften, Man Without Qualities (1948) or his Ises and Osiris (1923), in which the sister rebuilds her brother’s body[18]. After killing herself, the narrator tells us of Martin: “He hoped that she had not resented staying in the room at the Semiramis or his lack of concern about her condition, and that she did not die conscious of any of these,” (144) proving his guilty feelings, and also reflecting on the intimacy that they maintained. Her relationship with Martin is the only love-relationship in the story with the exception of “Sire”; like Naomi, Martin wants to help Franza find “feminine grace” in her separation from Jordan, potentially through the cleansing effect of going somewhere else, but unlike Ruth and Miriam, the beautiful figures of myth, Franza exists in the Modern Era, fossilized as a victim of trauma.

His further conundrums about lying her back to Galicia speak to the meaning of Egypt as a place for hope but eventual death. He thought that “Wadi Halfa would soon be flooded. That’s where she should lie, because that was where she had been the happiest.” (ibid.) And yet, he says that Egypt would have been a mistake for him, because it is “so similar to the present.” (145) He is rejecting the romanticization of Egypt for himself, but would like her to be in the flood there. Bachmann situates Egypt in its duality as Franza’s wellness vacation and her solidification of death. The narrator continues and ends:

“It wouldn’t be swept away, for nothing can be swept away. It couldn’t be dragged under, for there was no current. Instead, a great flood. Rising.

The Egyptian darkness, after all, is absolute.” (146)


Coming back to Paul Celan’s poem on Ingeborg, the realization of what has happened and what could have been is only apparent once the spirits of Ruth, Naomi and Miriam are gone; once Franza has died, the narration of Egypt’s flood by way of “the whites” who built a canal there is symbolic of the Modern Era’s negation of those who are different. Situating Franza as the fallen hero of this flood myth, Bachmann puts her in conversation with the Jews enslaved in Egypt and achieving Exodus. By recognizing Bachmann’s influence from Paul Celan’s poem, and from his suicidal illness, we are given the framework for understanding Franza’s Aetiology of Hysteria, and also her reflection on fascism and human negation. Bachmann’s illusion to the Jewish heroines written about by Paul Celan is a framework in itself, set within the larger discourse of the crimes of fascism and the illness of hysteria caused from it.


[1] Höller, Hans. Stöll.  Correspondence. Seagull Books. 2010. (295)

[2] Lennox, Sara. Cemetery of the Murdered Daughters. University of Massachusetts. 2006.

[3] Höller, Hans. Stöll.  Correspondence. Seagull Books. 2010. (324)

[4] Timeline. Höller, Hans. Stöll.  Correspondence. Seagull Books. 2010. (351)

[5] Gray, Richard. Lecture Notes. University of Washington. GER 390. Winter 2016.

[6] The Book of Franza and Requiem for Fanny Goldman. 1999. (3)

[7] “Object-cathexis”. Freud, Sigmund, “Mourning and Melancholia”. Pg. 245.

[8] Gray, Richard. Lecture Notes. University of Washington. GER 390. Winter 2016.

[9] Filkins, Peter. Introdcution: “Darkness Spoken”. The Book of Franza and Requiem for Fanny Goldman. ix. January, 1999.

[10] Klapper, Simone. “The Aesthetics of Fear in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Novel Fragment Das Buch Franza” 2000.

[11] C.F. Kunz. Postmoderne Literatur in deutscher Sprache. (142)

[12] Albrecht, Monika. “Esmuss geschrieben werden” Kolonisation und magische Welt-sicht in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Romanfragment Das Buch Franza. Würzburg, 1998. (68)

[13] “Zerbrochene Gottesvorstellungen: Orient und Religion in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Romanfragment Der Fall Franza.” Ingeborg Bachmann – Neue Beitrage zu ihrem Werk. Internationales Symposium Münster. 1991.

[14] Shanmuganathan, V. “Time, pain and myth in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Das Buch Franza and Anne Duden’s Übergang.”

[15] Klapper, Simone. “The Aesthetics of Fear in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Novel Fragment Das Buch Franza” 2000.

[16] Kohn, Leah. “The Book of Ruth: An Exploration of Jewish Femininity” Women in Judaism. ProjectGenesis, Inc. 2000.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Lecture Notes. Professor Henrietta Herwig. GER 297. UC Davis. 23. May 2017.

Arrested Narrative in Pierrot Le Fou; The Fine Line Between Reality and Absurdity


We leave him on the beach. One must imagine Ferdinand happy. Also known to his femme-fatale as “Pierrot” and maybe to the viewer as “le Fou”, Jean-Luc Godard’s Ferdinand rejects the disillusionment of Parisian society and embraces life on the run as he searches for meaning in the countryside. The realistic cinematography and escape of the absurd in Pierrot Le Fou (1965) involves intellectual, moral and narrative ambiguities[1] emblematic of the ethos belonging to French New Wave auteurs like Godard[2]. About Pierrot Le Fou, Godard remarked, “One should not describe people, but what lies between them and the world”[3]; our melancholic hero’s struggle with inauthenticity results in his disassociation with Parisian society and ultimately his mélange with death. In this account of Pierrot Le Fou, I argue that cinematic realism is asserted briefly through the cinematic landscape’s spatial unity and mise-en-scène, while Godard asserts realism through Ferdinand’s battle to find authenticity. Preempted by asocial feelings, Godard’s fragmented narrative of Ferdinand’s melancholy sees some progression, but results in self-murder.

The Unheimlich Party

“We’re living in an age of rump,” suggests Ferdinand in preparation for the evening cocktail party, mocking the banalities of his wife’s preparations. Very tightly scripted, which is perhaps why the absurd portion of Pierrot Le Fou is so fascinating, the cocktail party’s technicolor and staged theatricality show an inventiveness that breaks boldly from straight-laced historical dramas or melodramatic adaptations of literature. The women inside the party, however seemingly liberated by their bare breasts and partner-switching, resonate no differently than a traditional advertisement. Unimpressed by the rump-shaping fascination of his wife or the aqua-net commerciality of the nameless party-goer, Ferdinand can only blow smoke at the shallow discussions until his entrance into the room without a color filter, with an American film director.  I think that Godard’s use of hypercolorful filters suggests the commodity culture of pop art of the 1960s, moreover, blue and red, the primary colors of Godard’s attention, assert themselves as an extension of the French flag that encompasses Ferdinand from the beginning of the film, in his comfortable blue and red striped robe, to the end, when he wrapped his blue-painted face in red dynamite. This attention to color as a social commentary is addressed by Edgar Morin in his book The Cinema, Or The Imaginary Man (1978):

“Color is only a luxury of perception but any luxury, taking root, becomes a need. It does not have the powers of black and white, but it develops others. Color goes hand in hand with sobriety and splendour[…]

So, if color is on the way to becoming necessary to film, it needed twenty years of perfecting and insistence to begin to devitalize black and white, which had not waited for its arrival to institute a total universe.” (The Cinema, 138)


Morin insists that film aesthetics are a “history of perpetual adaptation… always adjusting itself to the ebbs and flows of spectatorial expectation and subjective needs,”[4] and suggests that color can be attributed to both technology and social desire, revealing the historical significance of uses in cinema which “have today become needs,” (The Cinema, 142).

This aestheticization of Godard’s attention to then-contemporary French society through Pierrot Le Fou’s existential journey could potentially answer Ferdinand’s question, “What exactly is cinema?” To which Godard would answer about Pierrot Le Fou in particular: “It is a film about painting, well not really painting, but a film that resembles a work of art.”[5]  Posed to the American director filming an adaptation of Baudelaire’s attestation to the decadent plague of Parisian society, Le Fleurs Du Mal (1857), the response “like a battleground,” full of blood, violence and love, doesn’t fulfill Ferdinand’s query, prompting his exit to the party. Should André Bazin have been cast as the director, rather than Samuel Fuller, perhaps the answer would have pleased conflicted Ferdinand: “[Cinema is] to reveal the hidden meaning of being and things without breaking up their continuity,” (What is Cinema?, 104). Like Godard, Bazin is inscribing himself into a debate about cinematic form that is ontologically valenced. This makes Ferdinand’s comment, “A person ought to feel unity… They [the party attendees] are like separate machines, there is no unity,” applicable within the scene of the party, staged without realistic character movement and exclusively scripted, mechanical interaction, but compliant with a photographic unity of space by way of full shots and logical montage. The realistic cinematography of Ferdinand walking from room to room is offset by the absurdist conversation.

The cocktail party is the only sequence in Pierrot Le Fou that proceeds with a realistic temporal slowness and logic inherent to Bazin’s idea that cinema should substitute for what is real, which “must have spatial density on the screen… or you run the risk of threatening the very ontology of the cinematographic tale,” (What is Cinema?, 47). The single event of the party is presented fragmentarily, with scrolling shots that maintain Ferdinand as the only moving referent among people sitting and smoking in what is a believably suffocating Parisian atmosphere. Godard’s manipulation of Bazinean realism is clear; the full-shots and logical montage maintain a verisimilitude to realistic movements throughout a party, but the content of the attendees’ interactions is inane, banal and therefore, absurd.

Godard’s juxtaposition of realism and absurdity extends throughout Pierrot Le Fou, but the party scene heightens and elicits Ferdinand’s existential angst that spurs the rest of his journey and eventual death. In my opinion, the disjointedness of his experience culminates in the snap change to green in a previously blue room, at which point Ferdinand mutters through his gros bédo, “Olympio’s melancholy” – no doubt an allusion to Victor Hugo’s “Melancholy of Olympio” (Beams and Shadows, 1840). In this poem, Hugo’s realization is that nature’s endless beauty is cruel to human beings, whose happiness is unsustainable: “How little time it takes for you, Nature, with your unwrinkled brow, to change everything, disregardingly, and, in your acts of transformation, to snap the mysterious threads that bind our hearts.”[6] This bit of foreshadowing before Pierrot Le Fou’s transcendence of the absurd Parisian lifestyle to his death in the countryside is another gesture towards the social as an unheimlich space.

To address the party as unheimlich is to give Ferdinand the hero’s role, apart from the others, including even his wife. Ferdinand confirms this distance and estrangement from society when he says “A man alone always talks too much,” and, with a jump-cut change, he throws cake in his wife’s face and retrospectively narrates the plot change as “Next chapter, despair”. What is important about his admittance that the next chapter is despair, is that we can differentiate the first chapter as something other than melancholia; the omniscient viewer and the perturbed Ferdinand are the only privy to the strangeness and absurdity of Parisian society, privileging the viewer’s empathy with Ferdinand’s existential angst, that ultimately leads to his following melancholia, or sense of loss[7]. Heidegger says that while experiencing angst, it “does not signify that the world is absent, but tells us that the innerworldly entities are of so little importance in themselves that on the basis of this insignificance of what is innerworldly, the world in all its worldhood is all that still obtrudes itself,” (187) that is, being in the world is all that is left, and everything else becomes the unheimlich[8], the strange. This angst leads Ferdinand to search for meaning in the world, a sense of comfort that something is still left: “Some days are like that. You meet nothing but squares. So you start to look in the mirror and have doubts about yourself. Come on. I’ll take you home.” At this point, Ferdinand and his former lover Marianne embark on his journey to find a heim, a comfortable home, his unity, transcending the absurdity of Parisian society from which he feels estranged.

Ferdinand’s search for unity, he says, “between his eyes and ears” is also his search for belief in the world. In Cinema 2, Deleuze comments, “Only belief in the world can reconnect man to what he sees and hears. The cinema must film, not the world, but the belief in this world, our only link.”[9] This resonates with Godard’s suggestion of cinema as the relationship between man and the world, rather than the focus on man as the subject. Thereby, Godard departs from Bazin’s necessary verisimilitude for the remaining Pierrot Le Fou by juxtaposing the real and the absurd through the relationship between Ferdinand and the world, rather than focusing on Ferdinand as a subject in a linear narrative. After the escape from Paris under Bastille Day fireworks, concrete scenes are no longer synthesized into a temporal logic, but move as a “disjointed synthesis”[10] no longer subsumed under the imposition of innerworldly entities. Instead of the linear melancholic psychoanalysis we might expect in “Next chapter, despair,” Pierrot Le Fou’s narrative is arrested by a chain of signifiers relating to the engendered diametric opposition of Ferdinand and Marianne, and of filmic illusion and actuality.

Engendered Opposition

Ferdinand and Marianne were lovers, confirmed by the singular intimate contact between them while Ferdinand drives her home after he leaves the “boring” cocktail party. Placing his hand lightly on her shoulder, the viewer’s expectations become that of a typical romance – let their love cure his angst! Instead, Godard continues the unheimlich eeriness for the viewer (but not for Ferdinand): a strangely silent, unrealistic, diegetic sound of car movement; swirling iridescent colors unlike any street lamps I have ever seen; the unembodied but spoken sexual encounters, “I put my hand on your knee.” “Moi aussi, Marianne,” while leaving both hands on the wheel. It is important to note here, that his promise “I’ll do whatever you want, Marianne,” foreshadows Marianne as the force that propels the narrative forward. It is her desire for freedom, both with and from Ferdinand, that promotes his interaction with the world. Without her, would he embark on his journey to transcend the absurd? Had she survived at the end, would he have killed himself? The passive-active opposition of Marianne and Ferdinand display Godard’s penchant for the existential-ontological cinema, while their fragmented adventures resist a Bazinean condition of realistic cinematic spectacle.

Though driving the car, Ferdinand’s passivity is initially expressed by his conversation with Marianne about life’s difference than books. Marianne suggests that she wishes life were easier to understand – like books – “clear, logical, organized,” to which Ferdinand says life is. She responds, “Non, Pierrot.” This is the first of many moments of disagreement between the two, and the instance of naming Ferdinand “Pierrot”, which refers to the Commedia dell Arte clown-figure who imitates the absurdity of others[11], but also to the adventurous nature that Marianne loves about Pierrot-Ferdinand. The initial car scene is significant, because in Ferdinand’s attempt to escape the absurdity of Parisian life, he clarifies that he believes in the “clear” authenticity of the world he wishes to find, a desire seen as foolish, “le fou”, by active Marianne.

Laura Mulvey, author of Visual Pleasures and Narrative Cinema (1975), would reject the understanding of Marianne as active, saying: “Presence of woman is an indispensable element of spectacle in the normal narrative film, yet her visual presence tends to work against the development of a storyline, to freeze the flow of action in moments of erotic contemplation,” (Visual Pleasures, 84). Considering Marianne as the passive figure in this narrative about Ferdinand’s quest for authenticity is possible by considering that she punctuates his intellectual progress by her capricious governance. Increasingly throughout the film, Ferdinand attempts to propound his ideas in his journal, embellishing the static nature of his physicality and yet asserting the forward-moving linearity of his intellectual journey.

Ferdinand’s journaling serves as fragmented intertitles to the otherwise questionably linear plot development. I assert here that Godard expresses realism through Ferdinand’s existential-ontological journey through long-shots during Ferdinand’s leadership in the relationship with Marianne, much like Ferdinand values his intellectual pursuits until she interrupts them, at which point Godard fragments the verisimilitude to innerworldly activity through abstracted montage and action. Take, for example, the chunk of discussion beside the bridge with no beginning, where they intend to burn their car after an escape from the gas station brawl. Marianne, directing Ferdinand’s driving to make their death from a car crash “look real, this isn’t a movie!”[12], is still infatuated with her obliging Pierrot, though he is clearly in disagreement with their activities. He states, “Always fire, blood, and war,” alluding to Samuel Fuller’s description of cinema at the cocktail party, to which she responds by exploding the car with a shotgun and saying, “Pretty, isn’t it?” This scene is not only a source of disagreement, but important to the development of the plot: Ferdinand has purposefully left Marianne’s gun-running money inside the car, an attest to his disavowal of society and a separation between Marianne and Ferdinand’s ideas about progress. Ferdinand says, “Travel broadens the mind, let’s go,” taking the active role during the middle section of the film, in which Godard’s cinematography changes from fast jump-cuts of action, to long-shots through rivers and forests, and voice-over narrative.

Leaving the absurd piece of bridge behind in a long-shot of a them walking through a field, “like shadows,” “through a mirror,” Godard’s auteurism shows itself. The theme of the mirror can be addressed as a cinematic reflection back to the viewer of what they already know[13]. Godard’s framing of Ferdinand and Marianne during their traversal of France is distinct from the distracting jump-cuts of their criminal life, which, according to Jean Mitry in The Aesthetics and Psychology of the Cinema (1963), “produces a sort of preoccupying fascination which confines the impressions of consciousness within a frame”[14] and eliminates the viewer’s ability to contextualize that the film isn’t reality. Godard’s assertion of narrative linearity in this middle portion allows the viewer to relax from the anxiety of trying to piece together suggestive montage, and allows us to participate in Ferdinand’s voice-over narrative realization of his impulses[15]. Their captivating, romantic journey is cut off by Marianne calling Ferdinand a “liar”, and a non-linear jump to the pair in a city, discussing the make of a car while Ferdinand reads a children’s book. I argue that Marianne is the active character because the film does not end with Ferdinand’s discovery of authenticity, rather, Marianne wins the struggle against him by throwing his books into the ocean and asking herself “What am I going to do?”, a precursor of her leaving Ferdinand and forcing his attention to divert from static writing (but active thinking) to actively finding her (and ceasing his quest for authenticity). This cessation of Ferdinand’s journey and ultimately his death could allude to Marianne as a femme-fatale.

In the next scene, Marianne says, “show me you’re a man,” to which Ferdinand responds, “let me read this.” Unlike the Mulveynean assertion of the masculine gaze making a female character passive, their engendered difference exists only in the world of Marianne as the leader. The dialogical difference between the two is engendered, notable in Marianne’s statement, “You talk to me with words, and I look at you with feelings,” and the sexualized appropriation of Marianne’s “ejaculatory force of the eyes”[16] with which she lies to Ferdinand with words “I won’t leave you” but looks directly into the camera. Looking at the viewer, she reveals that she is lying, breaking the fourth wall without addressing the camera with words. Marianne’s presence takes up more time than Ferdinand’s journaling, possibly to his dismay, and their dialogue with the viewer about the other arrests the narrative through this fourth wall’s break. Scenes in which Marianne is the active character comprise the majority of the film and cut off Ferdinand’s quest for authenticity, resulting in his suicide.



Illusion and Actuality

On the drive away from Paris, Marianne comments on the radio’s announcement of the deaths in Vietnam, an awkward intrusion of then-contemporary news media into their romance’s revival. She says: “115 killed. Yet each one is a man, and we don’t even know who he is.” She connects the unheimlich feeling of the Barthean “blind field” of the photograph, which captures its referent but leaves out the activity of the referent’s life[17], with contemporary events that affect society but take place outside of her experiential world. This intrusion of actuality[18] arrests the opposing narrative of their romance and receives a response from angsty Ferdinand, “Oui, c’est la vie.” Life, for Ferdinand, and cinematic realism for Godard, is interrupted by society’s absurdity of external actions taking precedence in an otherwise linear narrative. Godard’s existential-ontological cinema includes the intrusion of external matters (Marianne’s gun running business) on the consciousness (Ferdinand’s quest for authenticity).

The next morning, inside Marianne’s apartment, the montage of art takes visual precedence over the murdered man, continuing to skew the conventions of linear narrative and verisimilitude in film. The attention to art is Ferdinand’s, as we can tell by his commitment to Elie Faure’s Histoire de l’Art (1921), but also Godard’s, he says: “It’s a film about painting, well not really painting, but a film that resembles a work of art, a landscape, like the painters do in both a portrait and a landscape. At the beginning my goal was the same as that of a painter”[19]. I think that Godard meant to express that his film has a chain of signifiers, a representation of both society and the self. Author Robert Kinsman suggests that painting in Pierrot Le Fou has political intention, the same as Godard’s “counter-cinema”[20], by virtue of art’s ability to prescribe actuality within the illusion of the cinema. Kinsman cites Barthes’ discussion of Brechtian theatre, that “techniques of the stage,” in this case, the montage of art, “are themselves committed to history” (Radical Form, 25). I agree with this, and suggest that the chain of signifiers between socio-historical actuality and cinematic fiction arrests the narrative by way of breaks in the film’s intention and suggestive montage.

Each time Vietnam is thematized, through the radio, the movies discussion and their impromptu skit, actuality crops up and there is a fissure in the otherwise existential mood. Unlike the wholly postwar concern of Alain Renais in Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), Godard evokes a Deleuzian concept of the “world-memory” of wartime suffering. Deleuze would recognize the shoreline relation between dissociated Ferdinand and the American soldiers as, “quite different characters and unconnected places which make up a world-memory,”[21] a memory which is addressed through the asocial position of Ferdinand and Marianne, and Ferdinand’s chosen reality. Like Godard, Deleuze incorporates the importance of consciousness into the globally-shifted postwar world, “the world has become memory… but the brain itself has become consciousness,” (Cinema 2, 121).

Shifting focus from the streets of Paris to the shorelines of soldier presence, Pierrot Le Fou doesn’t make banal the international influence of war, but shows its externality to the “real” quest of Ferdinand’s authenticity. Likewise, attending to the imposition of real feelings on Ferdinand, Godard demands his progression from angst- to mourning- to melancholy with the loss of his objet-petit-a, Marianne, when she runs off. Though alone, without Marianne’s distraction, Ferdinand’s melancholic disposition fragments his efforts in his quest for authenticity, resulting in non-linear narrative throughout the remainder of the film. Sigmund Freud discusses how mourning can lead to fragmentation and melancholy in his seminal article on the progressive stages of angst, Mourning and Melancholia (1917). He says, “Mourning is regularly the loss of a loved person, or to the loss of some abstraction which has taken the place of one, such as one’s country, liberty, an ideal and so on” (243). I add emphasis to abstraction as the fragmentary work of mourning.

“So what is the work that mourning performs? I do not think I am stretching the point is I present it in the following manner: reality testing has revealed that the beloved object no longer exists, and demands that the libido as a whole sever its bonds with that object… Each memory and expectation in which the libido was connected to the object is adjusted and hyperinvested, leading to its detachment from the libido.” (Mourning and Melancholia, 204)


Ferdinand’s hyperinvestment in finding Marianne leads to his murder of her and her lover, which affirms the loss and drives him to suicide. The use of art and Vietnam as social illusions also fragment, or “abstract”, the narrative linearity because they represent a loss of the conscious ego to the imposing socio-historical memory, the concept which Ferdinand attempts to transcend in its absurdity.


Pierrot Le Fou is an excellent example of cinematic realism taking a different shape in the Nouvelle Vague. Godard’s attention to his referent’s consciousness and fragmentation of the narrative linearity provokes the viewer’s involvement with the film, to which Godard has said, “Yeah, well, sometimes in life if children are asleep and you make a noise they wake up, but if they’re already awake it doesn’t do anything at all,”[22] emblematizing his “countercinema” positionality. Pierrot Le Fou maintains an adventurous chain of signifiers between conscious discovery of one’s self and the arrest of consciousness to society. He problematizes Ferdinand’s relationship with his worldliness is provoked by his necessary entrapment within an unheimlich society, the love for Marianne, and socio-historical details that make up his surroundings, making Godardean cinema that of existential-ontological value.


[1] “Interview “Pierrot Le Fou”. Cahiers Du Cinema Oct. 1965: “Godard: The film, alas, is banned to children under eighteen. Reason? Intellectual and moral anarchy.”


[2] “French New Wave – Cahiers Du Cinema.” Review. Audio blog post. Fuds on Film. (2016)


[3] “Interview “Pierrot Le Fou”. Cahiers Du Cinema Oct. 1965

[4] Schoonover, Karl. “The Cinema, or The Imaginary Man and The Stars by Edgar Morin.”

Senses of Cinema. (2010)


[5] “Jean-Luc Godard Raconte “Pierrot Le Fou” – Archive INA.” YouTube. Inaculture. (2012)

[6] “Olympio’s Sadness – Summary” Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition Ed. Steven G. Kellman., Inc. 2009
[7] Freud, Sigmund, Mourning and Melancholia. (1917). I will discuss this point under the section “Illusion and Actuality”.

[8] Heidegger, Martin. Sein Und Zeit. Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1979. Pg. 188.


[9] Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time Image, trans. Hugh T. and Robert Galtea (London and New York: Continuum, 2005) Pg. 172.


[10] Ibid.

[11] Wills, David. Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge UP, 2000. Pg. 101.


[12] The irony of this scene is a source of humor, given the artificial-looking crash alongside the chunk of bridge, which inspired me to use Pierrot Le Fou for this paper.


[13] Mitry, Jean. The Aesthetics and Psychology of the Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana U, 1968.


[14] Ibid. Pg. 82.


[15] Ibid. Pg. 84.

[16] Bresson, Robert. Notes on Cinematography. Copenhagen: Green Integer, 1997. Print.

[17] Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York: Noonday, 1988. Pg. 57.


[18] I use “actuality” instead of “reality” in order to maintain the differentiation between the absurdity of society and Ferdinand’s perceived reality of the mind.

[19] “Jean-Luc Godard Raconte “Pierrot Le Fou” – Archive INA.” YouTube. Inaculture. (2012)


[20] Kinsman, Robert Patrick. “Radical Form, Political Intent: Delineating Countercinemas beyond Godard.” ProQuest Document View. University of Michigan Press, 2007. Pg. 25.


[21] Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time Image, trans. Hugh T. and Robert Galtea (London and New York: Continuum, 2005), 113.

[22] “Jean-Luc Godard Raconte “Pierrot Le Fou” – Archive INA.” YouTube. Inaculture. (2012)

Documentary Value and Aesthetics in ‘Erinnerungsliteratur’



Twenty-eight years after the end of the Second World War, in 1973, literary use of the German word “Erinnerung” erupted, and now, fourty-four years later, Erinnerung has yet to find its crescendo[1]. During the years 1918 and 1947, marking the end of World War One and Two, Erinnerung peaked in literary mention, and shortly after, in 1932 and 1960, Erinnerung’s usage dipped into troughs lower than ever before. The concurrence of Erinnerungsliteratur with post-War dialogue is clear, but what does this tell us about memory as a discourse? Why has German literature’s attention to memory expanded exponentially with each generation, and when will it flatten? To answer these questions, this paper will turn to author Marianne Hirsch’s conception of “post-memory” to conceptualize the generational trickle-down of memory that inspires Erinnerungsliteratur, while also considering the symbolic and fetishized nexus of traumatic memory’s inscription into German history through Walter Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood around 1900 (1950) and Jennifer Teege’s My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me (2015). I argue that these two works exemplify individual memory’s abstraction of the historical index and post-memory’s plasticization of it[2]. In an “effort to distinguish between the documentary and the aesthetic”[3], I look to chronologic and stylistic variation of these texts, that is, their allusions to time and space, in order to delineate their narrative approaches to memory as separated by generation and fidelity to recollection.

Indexicality of the Documentary

Author G. Thomas Couser writes in Memoir, An Introduction (2012) that “memoir now rivals fiction in popularity and critical esteem and it exceeds it in cultural currency” (3). What does it mean to be in the age of memoir, and what can the difference between Benjamin and Teege’s works tell us about the peaks and troughs of Erinnerungsliteratur? Couser focuses on the form of memoir as inherently less complex than other kinds of life-writing due to the absolute requirement of verisimilitude; he notes that the differences between these can be detected by the use of dialogue and ‘scene’ within the literary fiction, and ‘summary’ within the memoir: “In a scene, we look at events as they unfold, usually verbally, while in a summary we adhere to the retrospective” (70). This distinction in form is important to our textual comparison of Benjamin and Teege because it differentiates their entrances into memory: Benjamin, writing what would be defined by Couser as “life narrative”[4], animates his childhood through aesthetic scenery, while Teege’s memoir defines the past through factual summaries.

Berlin Childhood explores individual nostalgia and its relationship with collective memory through a child’s recollection of a home that Walter Benjamin cannot return to because of his displacement and the city’s destruction during war. My Grandfather functions as an act of reclamation after Teege’s discovery of her Nazi heritage by “put[ting] the pieces into a frame, and they make a clear picture”[5]. Though sharing a similar purpose in creating an identity narrative of their past[6], Benjamin and Teege depart stylistically. Benjamin readily admits that the necessity of retrieving his experiential memory lies outside factuality:

“This has meant that certain biographical features, which stand out more readily in the continuity of experience than in its depths, altogether recede in the present undertaking. And with them go the physiognomies- those of my family and comrades alike.” (37-38)
This is in stark contrast to Teege’s inclusion of family members as the names of chapters! Teege’s matrilineal approach, including biographical information, photos, and recorded conversation with family members and acquaintances, is also factually substantiated by the presence of a secondary author, external to the narrative – Nikola Sellmair. Quoting Ben Yagoda’s Memoir: A History (2009), Couser would agree with Teege’s approach to factual presentation because “narrative demands a degree of specificity that memory cannot supply” (78). It is this difference, between the documentary value of Teege’s work and the aesthetic value of Benjamin’s, that intrigues me: How does the aesthetic contribute to the historical index of Erinnerungsliteratur? Do their differing styles have to do with their generational differences?

Indexicality of the Aesthetic

In his book Cultural Memory and Early Civilization: Writing, Remembrance and Political Imagination (2011), author Jan Assmann reminds us that Romans paraded their ancestors by way of portraits and masks, “a conscious reference to the past that overcomes the rupture between life and death” (20), a ritual tradition that reinforced the historical index of cultural memory through object association and bodily experience. Assmann’s consideration of a balance between “repetition” of history, the documentary function of the photo, and “interpretation” of history, the aesthetic of the mask, “are functionally equivalent processes in the production of cultural continuity” (72). As Teege documents history through biography, so must Benjamin through a narrative of aesthetics. By means of material culture, Benjamin approaches Berlin Childhood: “I have made an effort to get hold of the images in which the experience of the big city is precipitated in a child of the middle class… the images of my metropolitan childhood perhaps are capable, at their core, of performing later historical experience.” (38). Benjamin declares his intention to preserve a series of vignettes for future generations; the narrative of the aesthetic provides a conceptual understanding and perceptual encounter, rather than the overt, which acts as a mnemonic device[7].

A prime example of this symbol-creation is the “mimetic exchange”[8] between Benjamin and the butterfly. In this chapter, Benjamin’s butterfly hunt is accompanied by his reflections on the butterfly’s terror – he knows this terror of being hunted because he is a hunted man himself![9] Likewise, he relates to the butterfly (mimetically) through some stanzas that deserve unpacking:

“Between us, now, the old law of the hunt took hold: the more I strove to conform, in all the fibers of my being, to the animal – the more butterfly-like I became in my heart and soul – the more this butterfly itself, in everything it did, took on the color of human volition and in the end, it was as if its capture was the price I had to pay to regain my human existence” (51)


“The Butterfly Hunt” adheres to a mimetic routine of the hunter and the hunted, one that spans Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood and through his death in exile. J. Assmann’s contribution of “mimetic memory” (Cultural Memory, 5-6) surfaces here, allowing Benjamin’s personal and aesthetic contribution enter into the greater cultural memory, the historical index. Assmann says, “Action can never be completely codified. Other areas such as everyday manners, customs, and ethics still depend on mimetic tradition” (6). By shifting the meaning of Benjamin’s butterfly hunt to a greater mimetic tradition of human hunting, Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood enters the historical index of humankind through an abstracted depiction of “the old law of the hunt” (Berlin, 51).


The purpose of aestheticizing the human will to hunt is, for Benjamin, determined by his “inoculation” desire, to infect himself (and the reader) with just enough memory (of the terror of hunting) that he would be free of “homesickness” (nostalgia) for time in the future. As I mentioned before, the desire to write is not entirely different between Teege and Benjamin, but their relationship to time is linear and non-linear respectively. Their level of removal from their origins defines their differing approaches to time, and therefore also speaks to their distinct documentary and aesthetic modes during different periods of Erinnerungsliteratur. This section seeks to underline the importance of generationality and distance, allowing the indexical value of the aesthetic to play a different generational role than the indexical value of the documentary.

Both Teege and Benjamin suffered from depression and, in Benjamin’s case, eventual suicide. Sigmund Freud’s Mourning and Melancholia (1917) investigates the psychological underpinnings of their respective melancholia as a sense of loss, a mourning: “Mourning is regularly the loss of a loved person, or to the loss of some abstraction which has taken the place of one, such as one’s country, liberty, an ideal and so on” (243). I suggest that both Benjamin and Teege suffered the melancholic stage of loss for different reasons. Teege underlines Freud’s concept of prolonged object-cathexis creating a forgetting of the loss in the subject, and resulting in an indefinable depression[10]:

“For my whole life I had felt that there was something wrong with me: behind my sadness, my depression. But I could never quite put my finger on what was so fundamentally wrong […] Is the depression that has plagued me for so long connected to my origins?” (My Grandfather, 6-10)


Her secondary author, Sellmair, tells us that depression in adopted children has been dealt with at the scale of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, stating that all children have a right to know their origins (129). By explaining this to the reader, Sellmair takes the trustworthy authorial role, in place of Teege’s authority that the reader is doubting because of her melancholic disturbances. Benjamin’s melancholy isn’t stated as a depression in Berlin Childhood, but manifests later in his life upon suicide. His mourning, on the other hand, is entrapped in the non-linearity and fragmentary nature of Berlin Childhood. Freud says:

“So what is the work that mourning performs? I do not think I am stretching the point is I present it in the following manner: reality testing has revealed that the beloved object no longer exists, and demands that the libido as a whole sever its bonds with that object… Each memory and expectation in which the libido was connected to the object is adjusted and hyperinvested, leading to its detachment from the libido.” (204)


Benjamin’s method of writing is wholly hyperinvested in the object of Berlin, and his perception of the objects of his childhood are adjusted as well. While Teege seeks to overcome her melancholia by redeeming her “missing object” of origination, Benjamin relies on “physiognomies” to corroborate the continuous influence of Berlin as homesickness; Benjamin can never be “free and uninhibited” (Mourning, 205). His acknowledgement of his mind’s fragmented entombment between past and present is also related to origin, as he reflects on his mother’s family narrative in “The Fever”: “Pain was a dike that only finally withstood the narration but that later, as the narration gained strength, was undermined and swept into the sea of oblivion… thanks to my origins” (74). Peter Szondi’s introduction to Berlin Childhood corroborates my placement of origin within Benjamin’s focus on time: “Benjamin’s new conception of history is rooted in the dialectic of future and past, of messianic expectation and remembrance. “The origin is the goal”,” (28). By compiling moving portraits of his childhood through past-present relationships, “palimpsest” in nature[11], Benjamin’s dialectical relationship with his origin narrative structures his relationship with time. Benjamin’s “precipitates” of experience are aesthetics that define his childhood in Berlin without linearity or biological value, unlike Teege’s which hold exclusively biological value and linearity due to her adoption (and therefore experiential distance from her origins) and linear narrative of discovering her family history.

Marianne Hirsch’s account of ‘postmemory’ conceptualizes Teege’s relationship with memory as the “generation after”, the generation which bears tertiary witness to “the traumatic fragments of events that defy narrative reconstruction and exceed comprehension”[12]. Though Hirsch does not explicitly say so, the second generation becomes the space of history-making. Hirsch states that first there is an event, and finally there is memory. Postmemory allows for the indexicality to break down – first there is a memory, like Benjamin’s childhood, then there is a physical manifestation of the memory as an event (a retelling, like Berlin Childhood) and then there is a space for the myopia – this space is the indexical break. Putting Hirsch into conversation with J. Assmann becomes necessary here, as we trace memory as a cultural construct, always flowing through different mimetic rituals like retelling or tradition into a space for collection that is available to extended generations for treatment and analysis (like My Grandfather). Postmemory becomes the affect of transmitted, indexical memory. The second generation does not have an associated experienced event to feel for, therefore, they must create one for themselves – a recreation of the index, filling the myopia.

There could be a danger here, as Svetlana Boym argues in her book The Future of Nostalgia (2001): “The nostalgic desires to obliterate history and turn it into private or collective mythology, to revisit time like space, refusing to surrender to the irreversibility of time that plagues the human condition.” (22) Intrinsic to nostalgia is a sentimentality that Teege explores but is not subsumed under, thanks to her second narrator’s story. Without him, her memoir may receive an accusation from Couser as “at best glorified gossip, at worst naked narcissism,” (Memoir, 47).  According to J. Assmann, doesn’t cultural memory become myth anyway, so how does this “obliterate history”? According to Boym, the mythic arrives from retrospective nostalgia, which takes on a “utopian dimension” and, “unlike melancholia, which confines itself to planes of individual consciousness, nostalgia is about the relationship between the individual biography and the biography of groups or nations” (23). J. Assmann would agree with Boym that the mythic inhabits cultural groups instead of individuals, but would protest that “Through memory, history becomes myth. This does not make it unreal – on the contrary, this is what makes it real, in the sense that it becomes a lasting, normative and formative power.” (Cultural Memory, 38) Boym’s conception of nostalgia cedes to the formative power of historical myth, but proposes that “It is up to us to take responsibility of our nostalgia and not let others “prefabricate” it for us. The prepackaged “usable past” may be of no use to us if we want to cocreate our future.” (45)

Teege’s work is an example of the “usable past” inasmuch as Benjamin’s is a “creation of the future”. Teege’s reliance on documentary sources and adherence to the Holocaust narrative of her origin could be perceived as her addition to the “prefabricated” index of Erinnergunsliteratur. Benjamin, on the other hand, does not have a canon of Holocaust Erinnerungsliteratur to work with, so he looks to the aesthetic recollections of his personal past as a testament for the creation of the historical index. His nostalgia doesn’t mythicize the past because it isn’t dependent on a pre-existing canon.

Because Benjamin’s piece is both nostalgic and encounters the first stage of melancholia, mourning, we must critically analyze the way his photographic seeing into the “then and there”[13] of childhood by using the “here and now” of adult perception actually leaves a myopia. Keeping in mind his mimesis with the butterfly, perhaps Benjamin is using his aesthetic juxtapositions of time to prescribe a break in the mimetic cycle, particularly in this case of human hunting. Benjamin’s response resists appropriative empathy for the mimetic tradition and preserves a boundary, however tenuous, between the future and the past, the individual memory of Berlin and the collective, and, at the same time is open to perceiving divergent connections through his use of childlike curiosity.


Both Teege and Benjamin visit spaces of their origin story, using the images, both documentary or allegorical, to reconstruct and present their origin-loss. These spaces are engaging on the level of being shown and being already known; who hasn’t gone for walks in Berlin’s Tierpark or Munich’s Schwabing? Berlin Childhood aestheticizes the cityscapes individual from each other and My Grandfather defines them in relation to each other, but both texts imbue spaces with the historical index of their origin stories and document them through pictures. In this section, I want to analyze why Benjamin didn’t abstract his spaces and how Teege’s geography “cocreates” a historical index of past and present.

By capturing the way in which a child perceives the image-world, whether that means hearing the wrong things – a “Näh-Frau” (Needlework woman) instead of “Gnädige Frau” (Madame) – or remembering the smell of the loggias of his birthplace, and the childlike gaze upon the cityscapes he inhabits, Berlin Childhood “memorializes a world that was about to disappear, not without marking its complicity with the unending brutality of the “victor”,”[14] writes translator Howard Eiland. Elaborating on this point, Eiland describes that Benjamin’s thought desired to reveal that seemingly obvious things, such as the Gnädige Frau and the logicality of the cityscape, are concealed from us as children but told to us as we become educated by society. Using “a cunning dissociation of consciousness from identity”[15] Benjamin is trying to describe an interiority and singularity of these spaces in Berlin, 1900, from which he, as an adult, and the 20th century seems to be drawing away from. Unlike his mimetic disclosures about humankind, Benjamin’s specific spatiality provides the aesthetic conditions from which the child “falls” into adulthood.

One of Berlin Childhood’s closest disclosures of this antecedent reality, Benjamin describes the Narnia of rolled-up socks within the wardrobe:

“Nothing surpassed the pleasure of thrusting my hand as deeply as possible into its interior… When I had closed my fist around it and, so far as I was able, made certain that I possessed the stretchable woolen mass, there began the second phase of the game… For now I proceeded to tease it out of its woolen pocket. I drew it ever nearer to me, until something rather disconcerting would happen… It taught me that form and content, veil and what is veiled, are the same.” (The Sock, 96)


As Benjamin would pull the sock’s interior, the sock would spring to recognizable form – a game that Benjamin attributes to his earliest awareness of enigma. This pattern of conversion narrative, the then-I versus the now-I[16], is already imbued in Benjamin’s perspective of a loss of childhood understanding, “the fall from grace”[17]. Benjamin’s childhood home is full of enigmatic objects, “an arsenal of masks” (16), on which he focuses and idealizes in favor of the “uncanny” (unheimlich) spaces that adults inhabit (17). Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida (1980) positions Benjamin’s enigmatic image-space as a space of fantasmatic desire, that is, between documentary and dream-space (Camera, 16). This correlates with Benjamin’s nostalgic response to memory, his childhood aesthetic, for which he “allows the detail to arise from its own accord into affective consciousness” (55), and from which there is what Barthes would call a “blind field”, in which something beyond his view is occurring – the unheimlich. For both Barthes and Benjamin, that “blind field” has a “Victorian Nature” (Camera, 57), a “societal” and matured character that is inaccessible to a child.

Author Dora Osbourne makes an important contribution to the study of Benjamin’s spatiality in her book, Traces of Trauma (2013), by suggesting that Benjamin’s hunchback figure is an “embodiment of ruptured history and distorted memory” (41). His ‘embodiment’ is a space itself, but he also exists among documentary-value spaces like the Brauhausberg and Benjamin’s cellar, not only distracting him but making him clumsy (Berlin, 122). Osbourne says: “The hunchback is an embodiment of a failed genealogy which serves to remind us of the rupture in any notion of historical continuity” (42). Thus, the hunchback inhabits the space of Benjamin’s “belated memory”[18], like the next generation’s experience of the Holocaust, explained by Osbourne using Freud’s theory of Nachträglichkeit. Freudian Nachträglichkeit violates the empirical principles of linear space and time (much like Berlin Childhood) assumed under the positivist notion of causality.

Barthes would call this quality of the unknown the “erotic” which leads to aesthetic abandonment that cannot universalize itself except through particularity of documentation (59). Though Benjamin relies on specific, documented spaces when reflecting on his childhood, he is trapped in the paradox of being specific of place but not of linear time; as a child, Benjamin is not yet involved in “positive formulas” of time, but sees “the shoreline of adult life” (Berlin Childhood, 68) when he is encountered by objects that show duration, like adults:

“A paradox: the same century invented History and Photography. But History is a memory fabricated according to positive formulas, a pure intellectual discourse which abolishes mythic Time; and the Photograph is a certain but fugitive testimony; so that everything, today, prepares our race for this impotence: to be no longer able to conceive duration affectively or symbolically.” (Camera, 93)


Benjamin’s use of photography and specific places ushers in an intractable reality that is otherwise questionable through his aesthetic recollections. Berlin Childhood’s documentary value exists only in its necessary relationship to the aesthetic; by recognizing that some image-spaces are enigmatic and others unheimlich, Benjamin substantiates his critique of the “The Society”, the maturation and adulthood, into which the child “falls” by way of being unable to see the enigmatic truths of spaces that gives one their origin (for Barthes, the “genius”, 77) and sees only the documentary truth of what-has-been.

In Teege’s story, there is no “fall from grace”. Her story’s focus is not on the discovery of her matured nature’s origin, or of society’s, but rather on the discovery of her origin myth – is she hunting the hunchback? Teege’s story is already cast, a pre-figured inheritance that she is uncovering, rather than the childhood “becoming” or societal “developing”[19] in Benjamin’s Berlin. Teege questions, “On the matter of blood: What did I inherit from him? Does his violent temper manifest itself in me and my children?… I no longer trust myself: Am I going mad, too? Am I already mad? At night I am plagued by terrible nightmares.” (15) Teege’s body is a physical space inasmuch as the city of Munich, or the camps in Poland. The way she expresses the past living within her own physicality is where she bridges the gap between documentary value and abstraction; she attempts to recover this gap and document her “madness” through visitations to the psychologist. Like the second author, the psychologist’s role in telling Teege about her condition (in relation to case studies about others) maintains the documentary possibility of Teege’s body as a space. In Teege’s memoire, the historical index of those who “died from their fathers” (My Grandfather, 140), as if genetics were an affliction, is cast within the postmemory of the Holocaust specifically.

Teege’s body-space is inhabited by two cultural memories: the Holocaust, and her “skinny legs and long black hair” (14). She inherited her black skin from her father, but “Where was he now?” (184) The space she gives to her father’s biography and her Nigerian heritage are limited; she mentions him on only five pages throughout the memoire, never including his name, and only sacrificing half a paragraph to his religious temperament (“the chi” of the Igbo people, 185) that may or may not inhabit her body, too. Teege doesn’t discuss much about the Nigerian half of her genetic inheritance, but situates her blackness using space:

“In Germany, black people are a minority. When we run into each other on the street, we nod and say “hello” even if we don’t know one another. Our skin color creates an affinity.
In the African quarter of Paris, the color of my skin was nothing out of the ordinary. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was among my own kind.” (185)


By documenting her change of feelings with a change of space, Teege reminds us that Germany, the nation with borders and its own historical index, is her point of reference. This is important for Teege’s contribution to Erinnerungsliteratur, because she adds to a specific canon of Holocaust memory studies. Though her placement in the canon is indeed fragmented by her blackness in a then-predominantly white Germany, the melancholic focus of the documentation attends to postmemory of the Holocaust without deviation.

Unlike Benjamin, Teege’s special references don’t draw attention to the development within one specific place, but stretch the narrative of Holocaust memory across borders. She maps Amon Goeth’s, her grandmother’s and her mother’s lives from Poland, within Munich and to Israel, while also providing her travelogue between Germany, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. By tracing the footsteps of her heritage, she “cocreates” history by filling the myopic gap with what inhabits those spaces now: “Without the informational displays, one would never guess at the atrocities that were committed here all those years ago.” (56) Spaces also provide the impetus for her photographic inclusion, without the stigmatic value or ambivalence of Benjamin’s “Victory Column” or “Typical Middle-Class German Home” photos. Teege’s photos document her personal visitation of the spaces, and gives a face to the names of Amon and Irene Goeth; “it compels me to believe its referent existed.”[20]

Space encounters a documentary value for both Teege and Benjamin, but diverges at the site of meaning. Teege’s spaces bring the past forward, allowing the reader to gain a deeper geographical understanding of her own bodily inheritance, and the memorial inheritance of spaces outside her body. Benjamin’s spaces reflect not on physicalities of memory, but the development of memory. His documentation of spaces serves as a ground for his abstraction of their meaning; Berlin Childhood focuses on the change in meaning and what is lost in “the fall”, or, the forgetting.

The Holocaust as Creation Myth of Erinnerungsliteratur





Assigning human experience the task of making peace with death, the authors of The Worm at the Core reflect on literal and symbolic immortality as a process of “biosocial transcendence, derived from the literal and symbolic connection to future generations” (The Worm, 221). This division between literal and symbolic inheritance embraces postmemory through its embeddedness in culture, the genetic expression of DNA, the repisodic nature of memories, and the transience of trauma. The latter is what gives Erinnerungsliteratur its postmemory character, but is also what limits its interpretation. Given that humans are mobile in a world that is “all too often unpredictable, tragic and grotesque,”[21] post-traumatic consciousness transcends national and linguistic borders. Would it therefore be reductionist to consider Erinnerungsliteratur, a language-based category, from only the standpoint of the Holocaust as we have done thus far?

Let us consider Teege’s power narrative, which focuses seamlessly on the Holocaust despite her Nigerian roots, as a starting point for this discussion of mobility of   Erinnerungsliteratur. In Unclaimed Experience, Cathy Caruth famously asks, “What does it mean for history to be a history of trauma?” (185) and goes on to explain that history arises where understanding may not. In the case of Erinnerungsliteratur, German history is at stake, with a Svetlana Boymian “prefabricated” myth about what-has-been. Though the relationship between peaks and troughs of ‘Erinnerung’ in German literature correspond with the Holocaust, the upward trend in ‘Erinnerung’ continues even after the second-generation of postmemory begins to age and die. One could argue that the myopic latency of Holocaust history continually inspires writers, or, one could look to Michael Rothberg’s description of memory as “multidirectional”[22]. Unlike the right-wing intellectual position in the Historikerstreit of the 1980s, Rothberg demonstrates that the Holocaust has “enabled the articulation of other histories of victimization”[23]. Rothberg’s emphasis is that Erinnerungsliteratur can be connected to the Holocaust, whether historically, politically or structurally, but in the neo-liberal politics of the twenty-first century, the legacies of violence perpetrated on diverse populations have occurred alongside and in connection with each other. The resonances and entanglements between them, much like the fragmentary nature of Benjamin’s childhood memories, create a broader narrative than can be addressed by looking at Erinnerungsliteratur through only the frame of the Holocaust.

To this end, I take issue with Aleida Assmann’s approach in On the (In)Compatibility of Guilt and Suffering in German Memory (2006). According to A. Assmann, the “various levels of heterogeneous memory can exist side by side if they are contained within a normative frame of generally accepted validity” (2). A. Assmann’s goal is to compile generational memory into a German frame in order to overcome the cognitive dissonance between narratives of the past. Her attention to Väterliteratur and Familienliteratur proves a reductionist gap, a blind spot, of multicultural history in Germany[24]. She chooses to normalize interpretation of memory under the validity of Germany’s historical narrative, effectively affirming a creation myth of the Holocaust from which future analysis of Erinnerungsliteratur must escape. In my opinion, her analysis of postmemory would have been made stronger if she addressed the argument in Freud’s Moses and Monotheism, that if we forget about the past, the second generation will atone for the guilt of the father by imposing the laws of the father, perpetuating a cycle that could have ended with a stronger historical index.

By eliciting elements of time and space under aesthetic and documentary values within Berlin Childhood and My Grandfather, I have attempted to subvert the understanding of Erinnerungsliteratur from the orientation of exclusively the Holocaust to broader categories of literary theory, psychoanalysis, aesthetic theory and memory theory. It is my conclusion that the aesthetic scenery of Berlin Childhood beckons for the myopic space to be filled with indexical information, while the documentary summarization of My Grandfather reaffirms a German cultural memory. I hope my reader has gained a broader understanding of memory’s character and generationality within these two texts and begins to ask themselves about German Erinnnerungsliteratur in a Germany with open borders. Would we suffer  “forgetting” the Holocaust, or would it remain as a piece of the historical index among others? By corroborating literary technique and theory, the aesthetic and documentary natures of Erinnnerungsliteratur come to light as both the opening and distilling of Germany’s historical index.

[1] “Google Ngram Viewer.” Google Books. “Erinnerung” Web. Mar. 2017.

[2] I am referring here to the ‘plasticization of the historical index’ as presented in Jan Assman’s Cultural Memory and Early Civilization Writing, Remembrance, and Political Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. Print.
[3]Hirsch, Marianne. “The Generation of Postmemory: After Auschwitz.” Columbia University Press. Pg. 23
[4] I am referring here to the ‘life narrative’ in Couser’s Memoir: An Introduction. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. Print

[5] Teege, Jennifer, Nikola Sellmair, and Carolin Sommer. Interviews. My Grandfather Would

Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi past. New York: Experiment,

  1. Print.


[6] Benjamin famously notes that he intends to “inoculate” himself against the homesickness of

exile. Berlin Childhood around 1900. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 2006. Print.


[7] Goebel, Rolf J., and Gerhard Richter. “Benjamin’s “Ghosts”: Interventions in Contemporary Literary and Cultural Theory.” The German Quarterly 76.3 (2003)


[8] Jennings, Michael W. “The Mausoleum of Youth: Between Experience and Nihilism in Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood 1.” Paragraph 32.3 (2009): 313-30.
[9] Benjamin wrote this book while he was in exile. Berlin Childhood around 1900. Pg. vii.

[10] Drawing from “Mourning and Melancholia” Freud, Sigmund, and Peter Gay. The Freud Reader. New York: W.W. Norton, 1989. Print. Pg. 256.

[11] Eil Berlin Childhood around 1900. Pg. xii
[12] Biography: “Marianne Hirsch”. Web:

[13] Jennings, Michael W. “The Mausoleum of Youth: Between Experience and Nihilism in Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood”. 2009. Pg. 315.

[14] Berlin Childhood around 1900. Pg. xiii.
[15] Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York: Noonday, 1988.

Print. Pg. 12.
[16] Couser, G. Thomas. Memoir: An Introduction. Pg. 38.

[17] Rugg, Linda Haverty. “Picturing Ourselves.” (1997) Web. Pg. 146.


[18] Osborne, Dora. “Traces of Trauma in W. G. Sebald and Christoph Ransmayr.” Alibris. (2013)

[19] Here I’m alluding to the French etymology of développer, the “unfolding” of centralized cities and expansion of state power.

[20] Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Pg. 77.

[21] Solomon, Sheldon, Jeff Greenberg, and Thomas A. Pyszczynski. The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life., 2015. Print. Pg. 225.

[22] Rothberg, Michael. Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2009. Print.

[23] MR Book cover

[24] This gap was the inspiration for my project.

Kafka and Modernity: A Chinese Intellectual Approach

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In Franz Kafka’s Beim Bau des Chinesischen Mauer, there is a silence and juxtaposition between the official justification of the building of the Great Wall and the hidden knowledge of the Chinese. The lack of opposing rationales or reflection on opposition makes it impossible for the subjects of China to gain freedom. The narrator, on the other hand, does not look to the Emperor and his classical teachings, but looks to the characteristics of the world around him – the people, the construction of the wall – to investigate the situation. This type of rationale is akin to modernism, a subject prominent in Chinese intellectual thought of Lu Xun, Kang Youwei and Liang Shuming. These thinkers, as well as Walter Benjamin, give us insight to the expression of modernism in terms of worldliness. The ultimate goal of this study is to provide a case for the worldliness presented in Mauer by highlighting themes of Chinese modern thought.

The Case of China and Kafka

It wasn’t only Kafka who likened himself, im Grunde, to the Chinese[1]. For Kafka’s tenth Todestag memorial, Walter Benjamin contextualized Kafka’s mythic spirit in Chinese genealogy, “Unter den Ahnen, die Kafka in der Antike hat, den jüdischen und den chinesischen, auf die wir noch stoßen werden, ist dieser griechische nicht zu vergessen.” (Benjamin, 5) At once Benjamin invokes Kafka’s worldliness, grounding him in the primordial cornerstones of the early modern world. What makes Kafka particularly Chinese is essentially what makes him non-European: “Die natürliche Auslegung ist der eine, die übernatürliche ist der andere; am Wesentlichen gehen beide – die psychoanalytische wie die theologische – in gleicher Weise vorbei.” (ibid., 16) Unanswering to the investigations of European modernity, Benjamin uses the Zeitgeist to organize Kafka under the utter difference ascribed to the Chinese:

“»Ihm gilt grade die Fülle der Welt als das allein Wirkliche. Aller Geist muß dinglich, besondert sein, um hier Platz und Daseinsrecht zu bekommen« Das Geistige, insofern es noch eine Rolle spielt, wird zu Geistern. Die Geister werden zu ganz individuellen Individuen, selber benannt und dem Namen des Verehrers aufs besonderste verbunden.« […] Es ist nun freilich nicht Kafka, von dem hier die Rede ist – es ist China.” (ibid., 20)


What is most important about Benjamin referencing China is not what he suggests about Kafka’s work in its “inexhaustible intermediate world”[2], rather that Kafka’s Chinabild is canonized alongside him, confirming a cross-cultural process of modernity. Though Benjamin quotes Franz Rosenzweig’s Stern der Erlösung, a piece in which China is placed opposite the West, he is not polemicizing Kafka nor China, but emphasizing the unorthodoxy of Kafka’s contribution “um die Frage der Organisation des Lebens und der Arbeit in der menschlichen Gemeinschaft.” (ibid., 11)

In binding the Chinabild with Kafka’s fictional oeuvre, Benjamin posits that Western culture is “haunted by its own structural obverse”[3]. That is, the West is comprised of systems of binaries: the subjective vs. the collective, and the material vs. the spiritual. “In seiner Tiefe berührt Kafka den Grund, den weder das »mythische Ahnungswissen« noch die »existenzielle Theologie« ihm gibt.” (ibid., 22) Kafka doesn’t ground himself in mythical divination or existential theologies that his Western upbringing supplied him with, but adds to the constitution of the West by exemplifying a critical antithesis. Benjamin positioned “Beim Bau des Chinesischen Mauer” in its profound contrariety to Western dualities, “eine Erfahrung, die tiefer geht als die des Durchschnittsbürgers, trifft auf sie auf,” (ibid., 19) and through this, brought forth the worldliness of his work. In this essay, I will respond to Benjamin’s assertion of Kafka’s worldliness in Mauer, looking not to Western dualities from which it differs, but to conception of worldliness that offers a framework for how we might understand Kafka. By analysing Kafka’s canonical European literature through the works of Kang Youwei, Liang Schuming and Lu Xun, his worldliness becomes an alternative dialectic of modernity.

 Fragmentation in Beim Bau des Chinesischen Mauer

Kafka’s testament to the Great Wall of China is not a parable of reason or of God, but as the title infers, a parable beim Bau. Alluding to the Great Wall’s fragmented and episodic construction, Kafka’s title also requires his reader to consider its emblematic status in the development of China. Built across 6,259 kilometres of China’s northern border, the disjointed assembly of the Great Wall submits to its representation of cultural, geographic and historical continuity. Kafka’s German title already suggests an architectural and epochal fragmentation of the wall, while it’s English title, “The Great Wall of China”, misses this allusion.

Paradoxically, Kafka’s fragmentation became a prominent example for the construction of Europe’s “dominant literary tradition”[4]. Advancing Benjamin’s conviction that Kafka cannot be “oedipalized by a mother narrative”[5], that is, categorized in European terms, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari allow Kafka a canonical exegesis as a “minor literature” in which “there is insurmountable discontinuity… in his mode of expression through fragments” (Deleuze, 72). Deleuze and Guattari distinguish three categories of “minor literature”, which have influenced my coming reflection on Kafka’s fragmentation: collectivity, politics as “neither imaginary or symbolic” (ibid., 7), and deterritorialization. They address Beim Bau der chinesischen Mauer specifically: “the fragments refer so much to the imperial transcendence and a hidden unity that certain persons will feel that the discontinuous wall will find its only finality in a tower.” (ibid., 72) By this they mean that the signification of a unified China relies on the gaps in the Great Wall’s construction, which still represent a border to the north. These gaps concurrently enfeeble and uphold the unity of China.

The idea of “minor literature” is precisely that discontinuities are the basis for an understanding of any literary Zeitgeist. The categorization of “major literature” necessitates the opposition of “minor literature” to reify its existence. Carlos Rojas situates “minor literature” in a socio-cultural context as “the extent to which even a putatively unitary sociocultural space or tradition may contain radically incommensurate languages or semiotic systems” (Rojas, 78). Creating a category for Kafka’s early modernity literature as inherently non-European emboldens the understanding of modernity by challenging the laurels of a northern hemisphere development narrative. As Benjamin insisted, depicting Kafka’s Mauer as a fragmentation requires an analysis outside of historiographical time, outside the Western prescriptions of modernity, but nonetheless with an eye to intermediary of societal development:

Das Vergessene – mit dieser Erkenntnis stehen wir vor einer weiteren Schwelle von Kafkas Werk – ist niemals ein nur individuelles. Jedes Vergessene mischt sich mit dem Vergessenen der Vorwelt, geht mit ihm zahllose, ungewisse, wechselnde Verbindungen zu immer wieder neuen Ausgeburten ein. Vergessenheit ist das Behältnis, aus dem die unerschöpfliche Zwischenwelt in Kafkas Geschichten ans Licht drängt.” (Benjamin, 20)


In this essay, I propose that we cannot address Kafka’s “ungewisse” in terms of Benjamin’s, Deleuze’s or Guattari’s European dualities, rather, we must look to authorship that upholds Kafka’s “ancient genealogy”; Chinese author Lu Xun’s history asserts an understanding of Kafka’s narrator in relationship to the state, Liang Shuming prioritizes ‘unscientific’ development as a basis for modernity, and Kang Youwei’s ‘One World’ philosophy emphasizes Kafka’s state critique as non-utopian. These three themes, the individual, science and the idyll, fill the ‘gaps’ of major literature in the time of European modernity.

Historiography as Worldliness in Beim Bau des Chinesischen Mauer

Benjamin formulated the most engaging analysis of Kafka’s work in relation to the fragmentary evolution of the state: “Er hat nur in dem Spiegel, den die Vorwelt ihm in Gestalt der Schuld entgegenhielt, die Zukunft in Gestalt des Gerichtes erscheinen sehen.” (63) This guilt assigned to Kafka could be interpreted as the weight of modern structures of judgement, which forces man to look within himself and acknowledge his ancestral development. There is no “answer” to be drawn from this reflection, but rather a concession to the various historical stratum that project into reality. Mauer has two examples of this problematized history: first, the Tower of Babel and the Great Wall, and second, the emperor and the directorate I mean that the Tower of Babel and the Emperor represent a divine shadow implicit to the modern rulers – the Great Wall and Kafka’s directorate. Considering the historiographic contest these dualities provide to the “master narrative” of development, author Sebastian Veg highlights that Kafka’s Mauer delimits the concept of time in history:

“On a reflexive level, this sets aside from the linear conception of time often criticized as the implicit subtext of modernity: on the contrary, they underline that democratization is bound up with an “open” view of history that allows the readers to forge their own understanding and define their place in it.” (Veg)


Ritchie Robertson recognized this particular privileging of bygone modes of bureaucracy as well. He postures Kafka in relation to Eastern European Jewry, wherein the “nostalgia for the belief in the sacred nature of political organization, are seen as obstacles to the full empowerment or liberation of the individual.” (Veg) Of course, both Veg and Robertson are drawing from the entirety of Kafka’s canon, and yet this historiographic problematic also rings true in Mauer and with the views of Chinese literary intellectual, Lu Xun.

Already alluding to his worldliness by contemplating the Nietzschean understanding of history, that is, that world literatures should be brought forward to promote societal evolution, Lu suggests that the “savage forces of history are irrefutable,” (Lu, 98) and suggests that civilization buds from the “flower of savagery” (ibid.). Though speaking of Mara poetry, Lu’s intention to reflect on the “savage” in order to find “Nature” resonates as the Dionysian dithyramb Nietzsche borrowed from the Greeks in The Birth of Tragedy.  Promoting the “incomparably wise and mighty ancestors” (ibid.) of past civilizations, Lu encourages the nation to remain faithful to its “illustrious past”: “As a nation grows, concern for the past has merit that lies in clarity […] So I say that taking a nation’s spirit forward depends on how much one knows of the world.” (ibid. 98-99) Suddenly we must recall the situation of Kafka’s narrator: a young man, who knows details only about the directorate to build the wall, but has passed only the lowest exams in school. He is feeling lucky to be enlisted among “die arbeitenden Massen” to work on a project that holds meaning in its antiquated spirit as the new Tower of Babel, and in its practical contribution “zum Schützen gegen die Nordvölker gedacht,”. Kafka expresses a natural unity of the workers (their blood) with China at the site of the Great Wall:

“Jeder Landmann war ein Bruder, für den man eine Schutzmauer baute, und der mit allem, was er hatte und war, sein Leben lang dafür dankte. Einheit! Einheit! Brust an Brust, ein Reigen des Volkes, Blut, nicht mehr eingesperrt im kärglichen Kreislauf des Körpers, sondern süß rollend und doch wiederkehrend durch das unendliche China.”


Though entirely “das System des Teilbaues”, a paradox in itself which will be covered in the next section, the workers feel unified. Here we see that modernity, as represented by the Great Wall, does not gain legitimacy through its non-linear trajectory, but rather through the funnelling of energy toward a singular task, rooted in the ideological program of the Babelian fairytale. This fragmented project of the Great Wall echoes Lu’s citation of Carlyle:

“The Czar of great Russia, with soldiers, bayonets, and cannon, does a great feat in ruling a great tract of land… When soldiers, bayonets and cannon are corroded, Dante’s voice will be as before. With Dante, united, but the voiceless Russian remains mere fragments” (Lu, 4)
By using only the semblance of the Tower of Babel, the workers and work of the Great Wall are voiceless. Referencing Kafka’s story “The Tower of Babel”, Veg considers that the building of the Great Wall is “essentially a pretext” (53) to convey the manipulation of nation’s subject. What he means here is exactly the voicelessness expressed by Lu Xun; when the individual lacks attuned historical knowledge, he is unable to free his voice from the “subtext of modernity”, that is, the national imagination.

For Lu Xun, a Chinese literary renaissance is required to emancipate the voices under the shadow of a national imagination. His strategy commits to worldliness when he says, “fortune lies in being Western Europe’s antithesis,” (107). Reflecting on the “desolate” and “stagnant” history of China, Lu sees progress through influence from the outside. Mauer is of the same mind; as Veg contends, the construction of the Great Wall is positioned as an oppressive institutionalization of subjects, who “hatten alles Vertrauen zu sich, zum Bau, zur Welt verloren,” (X), whose faith in the world had been lost due to the project of closing themselves off to it: “Durch das Fenster aber fiel der Abglanz der göttlichen Welten auf die Pläne zeichnenden Hände der Führerschaft.” (X) Kafka argues for worldliness in his argument against the oppression incurred by borders.

Veg considers about this oppressive silence of the leadership as a “blurred border between the legitimate and the illegitimate” (Veg, 65) which calls to mind Mauer’s scene in the directorate (Führerschaft) and Lu Xun’s ideal of Chinese polity: “Don’t disturb” (Lu, 101). When inside the polity, there is still an “Abglanz der göttlichen Welten”, that is, the polity takes a cosmopolitan stance by considering itself divine, and inside it there’s still a semblance of the mythical, which has human voices trapped inside: “in dieser Stube kreisten wohl alle menschlichen Gedanken und Wünsche und in Gegenkreisen alle menschlichen Ziele und Erfüllungen.” (X) One might recall here the River Styx, where the soul revolves in an infinity of wishes with constant disappointment[8], which you cannot cross without an emblem of the gods. Wearing an emblem also is Kafka’s messenger of the Emperor, who is unable to pass through the bureaucracy of the empire while trying to deliver a message to the people.[9] At this point, Kafka begins to delimit the understanding of the people to simply “dunst und nebel” (X), and his narrator sets himself a mission of tracking down how the wall is “von diesen Fragen wesentlich betroffen.” He discovers that his singular curiosity about the Emperor is answered only by obscured meanings from different portions of the huge country: “So groß ist unser Land, kein Märchen reicht an seine Größe” The country itself cannot educate the people, so they understand the Emperor merely as the empire itself, as a fairytale: “Das Kaisertum ist unsterblich, aber der einzelne Kaiser fällt und stürzt ab,” Lu agrees that communication between the polity and the public must remain open, or “new voices cannot be raised in China” (Lu, 108) and things will not progress “since the old taint is deep” (ibid.). Lu and Kafka recognize that the worldliness of understanding as communication beyond the bureaucratic borders, allowing the population new information beyond mere reflections of the past. Kafka juxtaposes fragments associated with various times, suggesting that linear, contemporary history is not understandable except in its “autoreferentiality”[10], its ability to obscure meaning; the farcical unity of humanity with “den Geist der Zeit”.

Non-Utopianism in Beim Bau des Chinesischen Mauer

Though Mauer’s narrator states that the present conditions are not acceptable, “So bereit ist man bei uns, die Gegenwart auszulöschen,” and the government is to blame, “zwar ist sie in der Hauptsache von der Regierung verschuldet,” Kafka’s text cannot be understood as the European idea of a “dystopia” because not everything is unpleasant or bad, and his consideration of a better world- one with freer communication and less imaginative oppression- is inherently not “utopian” because he doesn’t discuss any type of pre-determined idyll. The civil society parable is a condition for reflection, not for prescription. The narrator does, though, consider the cultivation of knowledge being insufficient and the borders totalitarian. He describes that the borders create a weakness in people’s imaginative power and faith: “eine Schwäche der Vorstellungs- oder Glaubenskraft beim Volke”.

Understanding worldliness through the abolition of borders is a fairly easy task, but the process by which this is conceived is not so clear. Rojas contemplates that Kafka’s narrator’s destructive and creative considerations as a dialectic of inclusion and exclusion, “upon which modern culture is conceived” (Rojas, 80). Likening Kafka’s discussion on the Tower of Babel’s “weak foundation” to the gaps in the Great Wall so far, Rojas suggests that it is exactly the Great Wall’s construction of an artificial unity that “offers a structural foundation for the inverse project,” (79). He argues that without the project of the Great Wall, the narrator would not understand the “weak foundation” of the empire’s people. In this sense, the opportunity to create worldliness lies in the civilization’s lack thereof.

Kafka’s recognition of imperialism by way of the northern, walled border calls to mind Chinese intellectual Kang Youwei’s “One World” philosophy. In his magnum opus, The Grand Commonality, Kang observes worldly suffering, not unlike Kafka’s narrator in Mauer. Neither Commonality nor Mauer observes teleological doctrine as a source for information, rather, they both highlight a reform for the betterment of human nature. To the extent of Kang’s vision on language does Kafka’s narrator agree. Depicting a scene of near violence due to linguistic differences of a dialect from the neighbouring province, Mauer problematizes antiquated language. It is in this passage that the villagers would wish to obliterate the present, making room for new dialogue in advanced and intelligent tongues.  Kang approaches the site of language in Part II of The Grand Commonality, suggesting that an entirely new language should form with a Peking dialect. They both appropriate Peking as the imagined empire, but why? And, does Kafka’s narrator also wish to create an entirely new language for all subjects of neighbouring villages?

According to Ban Wang, Kang Youwei’s aspiration toward worldliness “has to work through a specific culture in order to access a common ground,” (Wang) which explains the appropriation of Peking. Wang continues to suggest that the path to worldliness is attained from “engaging one’s native culture reflectively and creatively.”[11] I added emphasis to the “and” in order to highlight the virtue of new language expressed by Kafka’s narrator. Though Mauer asks for an evolution in language, it also envisions a dream world in the heavenly clouds of Peking. Wang cites Kang’s reinvention of a “language of Heaven” as “endowing humanity with universal reason”, much like Kafka’s narrator aspires for reason and understanding beyond simply sitting at the window, dreaming.

In opposition to Kang, Kafka’s intention is not aimed at the destruction of the old language, but rather the aspiration of an understanding beyond the realm of dreams. Attaching “dreams” to the “imagination” of Peking, the subjects of China in Mauer envision the state as a heaven, through which they could achieve a great understanding. Mauer’s worldliness would compose once the retrospective, traditional knowledges are transcended by the knowledge they desire, from Peking. In building the wall, there is a transcendence of scientific knowledge and a re-development of the educational system, but it is the ‘gap’ of knowledge about the empire (and the Emperor, and Peking) that is a unifying force, “gerade diese Schwäche eines der wichtigsten Einigungsmittel unseres Volkes zu sein scheint.” Kafka’s narrator stops at that point, leaving the reader to wonder: What can a unity of those dispossessed of rational knowledge accomplish? Kang Youwei and Lu Xun both suggest that the way towards worldliness is through the borderless expansion of knowledge – but how does a unified people achieve this?

We must remind ourselves that the civil society depicted in Mauer is a parable for reflection; the narrator has devoted himself to the histories of different people, “fast ausschließlich mit vergleichender Völkergeschichte beschäftigt”, much like Kang and Lu Xun devoted themselves to the understanding and critical assessment of other nations. Kang says, “It is as if we were all parts of an electrical force, which interconnects all things, or partook of the pure essence that encompasses all things.” (Kang, 3-4) Wang ascribes this passage as taking “a vignette of long-distance learning and interaction by way of far-reaching sense and sensibility” (Wang, 7) and, in the style of Kant, Wang applies this to the “international arena composed of mutually opposed, self-serving states” (ibid.) He sees that in order to maintain interstate relations, the “parochial agendas” of each state must be antagonized; education must evolve beyond simply traditional matters, “by rising over and above the interests of self-preservation and pressure of survival” (ibid.).

In this same way, Mauer’s narrator’s intention is to bring about a worldly understanding of the situation in China as the only path to understanding the Empire, the holders of the divine, outside their superficial education: “Halbbildung wogt bergehoch um wenige seit Jahrhunderten eingerammte Lehrsätze, die zwar nichts an ewiger Wahrheit verloren haben,” Kafka’s narrator emphasizes a brilliant paradox that, although education exists, and it supplies the population with eternal truths, it is still “Halbbildung”. By unpacking what the other half of this education could be, we can understand the worldliness that Beim Bau des Chinesischen Mauer aspires towards.

Unscientific Development in Beim Bau des Chinesischen Mauer

            Worldliness is, for Kafka, a process towards the understanding of needs, which for Lu Xun and Kang Youwei becomes the overcoming of an oppressive institution through knowledge that expands beyond it[12]. Kafka sets the condition for discussing worldliness by problematizing the borders between the nation and the people, the people and knowledge, and, in this section I will show his link between knowledge and the fulfilment of a worldly humanity. Worldliness as humanity, gained through knowledge, can be traced back as far as Plato: His consideration about poetic art as essentially imitative in the Republic, when Plato suggests that, “all imitative poetry would seem to maim the reasoning of those hearers who do not possess an antidote in the knowledge of its real nature,” (Aesthetics, 24). This projection of reasoning is banished by the divinity of beauty in Plato’s Symposium: “Beauty, however, is in harmony with the divine.” (Aesthetics, 37d) Two distinct elements from Mauer are depicted: reasoning and knowledge of the Empire’s real nature, and the aspiration for understanding of the divine Peking. The “eternal truths” in Mauer are those imitations, the retrospective that maims the full education. Kafka’s narrator imagines Peking as representative of the “divine”, which the leadership holds apart from the subjects, and suggests that the subject’s education has been deprived from understanding it. The eternal half of the education is superficial, it is the retrospective, while the missing half of the Halbbildung is the divine.

Wang suggests that Kang Youwei’s “One World” philosophy echoes the ethical aesthetic consummated by Kant, especially by virtue of the attention to education: A narrative of human progress is posited: cross-cultural learning is an educational as well as maturing project, a process akin to the program of rationally and aesthetically inspired Bildung in German Modernism.” (Wang, 8) Likewise, I have argued that Mauer’s depiction of modernity is essentially worldly, and will use its theme of education to emphasize this further.

Looking to Chinese intellectual Liang Shuming will assist in beginning a conversation about the education in Mauer, because his philosophy emphasizes the “spirit” and “distinctive characteristics” of a culture as necessary for the reform of education (Shuming, 109). For Schuming, cultural identification and the “perennial problem of the meaning of human existence” was necessary to participate in a global pattern of modernity[13]. He, like Kafka’s narrator, did not necessarily reinforce the Western hegemony of an idyll education[14], but both placed the “arcane” institutions of China in dialogue with the scientific notions of the West[15]. The piecemeal construction of the Great Wall as an effort to protect the Chinese subjects from “die ungläublichen Völker…. Unter ihnen… Dämonen” of the north calls into question the logic of the Chinese authorities, and the knowledge of the people of the outside world[16]. Do they really believe the people there to be demons?

The naivety of the Chinese subjects to both historical knowledge and scientific knowledge is moreover exposed by the appropriation of the Tower of Babel. Author Robert Lemon provides an explanation of this theme as a “Biblical exegesis” wherein the fall of the Tower of Babel requires the building of a new one, rather than the challenging of God’s (the Empire’s) supremacy. Schuming would consider the appropriation of the Tower of Babel and the fragmentation of the Great Wall as essentially Chinese: “To completely ignore objective standards and regulations, and focusing on revering the gifted- this is the spirit of [of China]” he continues, “one needs to examine in them the earliest and see in them China’s tendency to “return to the past” […] For as long as a person has read the Four Books and the Five Classics, he or she will be able to take care of everything.” (Shuming, 111-112) Through Lemon and Shuming, it becomes again clear that the Chinese Führerschaft in Mauer passes only unscientific education to their subjects, and demands from them trust in the institution.

Kafka’s narrator says: “Damals war es geheimer Grundsatz Vieler, und sogar der Besten: Suche mit allen deinen Kräften die Anordnungen der Führerschaft zu verstehen, aber nur bis zu einer bestimmten Grenze, dann höre mit dem Nachdenken auf.” Here he is reverberating the issue that knowledge and truth lies within the government itself. Liang agrees: “In China, governing depends on respect for a singular ruler […] What kind of habit is it to confirm what has not been examined? An unscientific habit.” (113-116) He problematizes the role of Chinese people as scienceless subjects, “If their own ideas are not their own, how can there be any freedom to speak of?” (121)

Emphasizing freedom as a matter of education outside of the Empire’s traditional style, Liang and Kafka’s narrator also constitute the issue of freedom. Kafka’s narrator is in fact trying to understand the science of the Great Wall’s fragmentation, in order to bring the people closer to the Emperor- closer to freedom through the divine. The narrator stumbles upon a problem, though, that the fragmentation of the Great Wall must always be referred back to the Empire, constituting the “autoreferentiality” observed by Veg. According to Shuming, China cannot accomplish its worldliness if the subjects are not free to think for themselves, which aligns with the dilemma of Kafka’s narrator. Though the narrator uses worldliness as a method, that is, gaining insight from all the Chinese subjects rather than simply the Emperor, worldliness cannot be achieved because of the Empire’s totality.

Genau so, so hoffnungslos und hoffnungsvoll, sieht unser Volk den Kaiser.” This duality considers the struggle of the people to both rely on the Empire for knowledge, but receive nothing in return. Beim Bau der chinesischen Mauer, the people are only further inaugurating the acceptance of sciencelessness by bordering themselves from the outside. This inverse of this is worldliness, in which each subject can think beyond the borders of the Empire.

The Importance of Worldliness

In this introduction to the worldliness conferred by Franz Kafka in Beim Bau des Chinesischen Mauer, the topics of historiography, non-utopianism and sciencelessness have allowed us to access the concept of knowledge as an institutional development and freedom as a divine concept. Author Walter Benjamin offered us insight to the worldliness of Kafka himself, while Gilles Delueze and Félix Gattauri expanded upon the significance of “minor literature” to the overall concept of modernity. Through these ideas, the significance of fragmentation as elemental to a whole concept became evident. Lu Xun provided an expansion of the idea of fragmentation in Kafka, showing us that overlapped histories cannot be treated as myths, as they were in Mauer, if we want to attain knowledge. Moreover, Kang Youwei emphasized the condition for knowledge as the breaking of boundaries, particularly the wall, allowing access to a divine knowledge. Liang Shuming took us one step further and emphasized freedom of thought as impossible in the Chinese Empire, allowing us to dissect Kafka’s heavy paradox of sciencelessness. This analysis of Kafka’s Mauer aims to emphasize the “minor literature” claim that European modernism is in fact built upon differences within the canon. Much like the fragments of the Great Wall are still a part of its massive length, so are the narratives of literary and intellectual development substantiated by their differences.





















Works Cited

Alitto, Guy. The Last Confucian: Liang Shu-ming and the Chinese Dilemma of Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979).

Benjamin, Walter. “Zur Zehnten Wiederkehr Seines Todestages.” Gesammelte Schriften. Suhrkamp Verlag Frankfurt am Main. 1977.

Bensmaïa, Raya. Deleuze. Gattauri. “Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature”, “Foreword”. Theory and History of Literature, Volume 30. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. 1986.

Davies, Gloria. “High Culture Fever: Politics, Aesthetics, and Ideology in Deng’s China . Jing Wang.” The China Journal 41 (1999): 209-11. Web.

Engel, Manfred, and Dieter Lamping. Franz Kafka Und Die Weltliteratur. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006. Print.

Kafka, Franz. “Projekt Gutenberg-DE.” Beim Bau Des Chinesischen Mauer.

Kang, Youwei. “Sources of Chinese Tradition | Books | Columbia University

Press.” Columbia University Press. Web. Oct. 2016.

Keller, Karin. Gesellschaft in Mythischem Bann: Studien Zum Roman “Das Schloss” Und Anderen Werken Franz Kafkas. Wiesbaden: Akad. Verl.-Ges. Athenaion, 1977. Print.

Lemon, Robert. “The Contingent Continent: Kafka’s China.” Imperial Messages: Orientalism as Self-critique in the Habsburg Fin De Siecle. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2011. Print.

Lu, Xun. “On the Power of Mara Poetry.” Modern Chinese Literary Thought: Writings on

Literature, 1893-1945. By Kirk A. Denton. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1996. 97-109.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. The Birth of Tragedy, Ecce Homo, The Case of Wagner and Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1967. Print.

Rojas, Carlos. “Writing on the Wall.” Journal of Literary Theory and Comparative Literature. 17 Feb. 2015. Web.

Shuming, Liang. “The Cultures of East and West and Their Philosophies.” Tao: A Journal of

Comparative Philosophy. Web. Oct. 2016.

Veg, Sebastian. “Democratic Modernism: Rethinking the politics of early 20th-Century Fiction in China and Europe”. Boundary 2; Volume 38, Issue 3. (2011) Web.

Wang, Ban. “Aesthetic Humanity and the Great World Community: Kant and Kang Youwei.” State of the Discipline Report. Web.





[1] In a 1916 postcard to Felicia Bauer, his ewige Verlobte, Kafka wrote “im Grunde bin ich ja Chinese”. Meng. Kafka und China. 30.

[2] Rojas, Carlos. “Writing on the Wall: Kafka, Bourges and the Chinese Imaginary.” 425F 1.13 (2015): 71-81. Duke University, 2015. Web.

[3] Ibid. 74.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Bensmaïa, Raya. “Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature”, “Foreword”. Theory and History of Literature, Volume 30. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. 1986. ix.

[6] Veg, Sebastian. “Democratic Modernism: Rethinking the politics of early 20th-Century Fiction in China and Europe”. Boundary 2; Volume 38, Issue 3. (2011) Web.

[7] Veg, Sebastian. “Democratic Modernism: Rethinking the politics of early 20th-Century Fiction in China and Europe”. Boundary 2; Volume 38, Issue 3. (2011) 56.

[8] Here I’m referencing Lord Byron’s “Don Juan” (1819), in which he laments that his thoughts are both free and restricted by the “liberal age” and references the god Apollo as the keeper of the instruments that would allow him access to his free thoughts in the River Styx.

[9] Veg, Sebastian. “Democratic Modernism: Rethinking the politics of early 20th-Century Fiction in China and Europe”. Boundary 2; Volume 38, Issue 3. (2011) 52.

[10] Ibid. X

[11] Wang, Ban. “Aesthetic Humanity and the Great World Community: Kant and Kang Youwei” Web, no pages.

[12] It is worth recalling the earlier discussion of histories “overlapping” towards the knowledge about our place in time.

[13] Guy Alitto, The Last Confucian: Liang Shu-ming and the Chinese Dilemma of Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979).

[14] As Edward Said’s notion of “Orientalism” would suggest.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Lemon, Robert. Imperial Messages. “The Contingent Continent: Kafka’s China” (2011) 125.


Melancholy, Dandyism and the Death Drive in Thomas Mann’s The Blood of the Walsungs (Wälsungenblut)



Problematized as an essential discontinuity with the past, the fin-de-siècle is haunted by the critique of the decadent; the ostentatious, self-conscious aesthete manifests as the plague of decadence. Decadence proves to be a-temporal, fragmented by meaning and by its dialectic as a ‘necessary sickness’ to society. To the western ear, decadence reserves a hyperbolic meaning, often correlated with sweet deserts: ‘sinful’ amounts of hot fudge may produce a ‘death by chocolate’. But outside the sphere of contemporary advertisement, the indulgent perception of decadence remains closer with its Latin roots, decadere, “to decay” and “to fall”, allowing the concept to maintain a privileged appropriation as an essential discontinuity with the past. These two examples highlight the paths taken to analyse decadence as a concept: the first is apathetic to the socialized path of decadence, and the second is a source of its destruction. Aligned with the Zeitgeist, decadence becomes a direct product of development, but also holds meaning as a pejorative qualifier for individual actions and lifestyles within a socialized civilization.

Reflecting on “decay” of individual actions, decadence as a social critique emerges throughout history, but distinctively at the fin-de-siècle; a literary trope of decadence manifests as an ostentatious, self-serving male aesthete – the “Dandy” – an avatar of post-Enlightenment class-consciousness, whose delight in elegance is meant as a symbol of the “aristocratic superiority of mind.”[1] It is this particular embodiment of decadence in Thomas Mann’s Blood of the Walsungs that I investigate. I propose the dandy’s decadence as the collapse of an equal relationship to society, physicalized in the experience of melancholia as it’s defining element.

Literature Review

The feigned refinement of decadence is the point of departure for Nietzsche’s considerations of the fin-de-siècle aesthete. Though the meaning of decadence was lacking in German-French dictionaries by 1879[2] but had entered in to them as “Verfall… heruntergekommen,” and “Dekadenz(epoch)”[3] by 1969, Nietzsche’s purpose was not to advance a definition of decadence, but rather to problematize it from a French origin. Author Charles Bernheimer discusses Nietzsche’s relationship with decadence by highlighting his use of the French word décadence[4] as a “poorly informed” cultural allusion, though it could also be attributed to its formal lack of German equivalent. Like I am not discussing definitions, Nietzsche did not dwell on decadence in The Birth of Tragedy (1876), but suggested it as an outcropping of madness and a “symptom of the failing power” of morality in the “developing hegemony of reasonableness, practical and theoretical utilitarianism, as well as democracy itself.” (§4) Here we can see that decadence is in relationship to society. This set the tone for Nietzsche’s departure from the Dionysian for a depiction of decadence in The Case of Wagner in 1888[5].

Like Nietzsche’s response to the Zeitgeist of decadence manifests as his own bodily illness in Wagner, author Charles Bernheimer reacts to Nietzsche’s relationship to decadence as an “agent provocateur”. That is, he localizes Nietzsche as a decadent himself; decadence becomes a descriptor for the ails Nietzsche suffers: “his susceptibility to horrible migraines, gastric ailments, and eye troubles are all symptoms, he tells us, of his décadence.” Choosing Nietzsche as both a heretic of decadence[6], and a decadent himself[7], Bernheimer appropriates nine points of Nietzsche’s reflection that offer insight to decadence. These nine points will help me signify decadence in Walsungs as a “waste”, a “fragmentation”, an “expression of condemnation”, “modernity”, suffering through rather than escaping, “the body”, which I will treat as all physicality, “the illness”, “a woman”, and “superficiality”[8].

Agreeing with the idea that decadence leads to healthier value systems through a “natural excretory function,” (9) Bernheimer ascribes decadence, “a necessary and beneficial place in the economy of life.” (10) As in The Case of Wagner, Decadent Subjects treats decadence as “a disease that must be resisted for the sake of healthy and ascending vitality” (21) and yet it is “involved in an ongoing struggle that requires that the limits of power be constantly reassessed.” (17) These two examples of the duplicities of decadence in relationship to the body and to the body of society represent those “two paths” of decadence, and the anthropomorphic attention to decadence, making analysis of the Dandy figure a relevant contribution to this Fin-de-Siecle dialogue.

“These beings have no other status, but that of cultivating the idea of beauty in their own persons, of satisfying their passions, of feeling and thinking…. Contrary to what many thoughtless people seem to believe, dandyism is not even an excessive delight in clothes and material elegance. For the perfect dandy, these things are no more than the symbol of the aristocratic superiority of his mind.” (Painter)

Charles Baudelaire, an eminent French Dandy himself[9], postures the Dandy as much more than a narcissist, but rather a “signifier which seeks, through his melancholia, the return of the masculine self.”[10] Siegmund of the Walsungs embodies the melancholic sickness of Dandyismus, as did Nietzsche, both of whom have a problematic relationship with normality. For the modern reader, this metaphor of melancholy should resonate as a subtype of depression, a psychiatric disorder for which the origins remain so multi-faceted that an express diagnosis is convoluted. So how could this act as a metaphor for the Dandy?  When we are talking about ailments at the fin-de-siècle, the psychoanalytic work of Sigmund Freud, particularly for this discussion “Mourning and Melancholia” (1917) is essential. Freud investigates the psychological underpinnings of the physicalized melancholy:

“[Melancholy is] a cessation of interest in the outside world, loss of capacity to love, inhibition of all activity, and a lowering of the self-regarding feelings to a degree that finds utterance in self-reproaches and self-revilings, and culminates in a delusional expectation of punishment.” (Mourning, 244)


It is clear that melancholy stands outside the realm of physical investigation, in fact, it is just the opposite; much like the concept of decadence, melancholia is signified by an inward-turning and self-hatred. Siegmund embodies these aspects of both melancholia and decadence. Though melancholy can be seen, as a Dandy can be seen, neither decadence or melancholia can be traced to its origins. Nietzsche and Bernheimer imply decadence as an extra-physical ailment in a similar way to Freud. Nietzsche claims, “And here my seriousness begins. I am far from looking on guilelessly while this décadent corrupts our health-” (Wagner, §5) Bernheimer responds, “Mining his illness as a resources for adventurous, original speculation, the (decadent/hysterical) philosopher transposes the body’s nonknowing into written “symbolism for the eye.”” (DS, 18) That is, Nietzsche uses bodily illness to embody decadence – a hysteria – which comes from the body’s “nonknowing”, its extra-physical state.

This epistemological aspect of decadence reveals its dynamic spirit, which Bernheimer tries to restore from its “previous reduction that substitutes a pattern of human growth” (4) by analysing several decadent works, or works about decadence, which present “unexpected avatars of the death drive” (Todestrieb) (6). By reading Bernheimer’s Decadent Subjects with attention to decadence as a reaction to the death drive, we can see that he implies hysteria as a reaction to the death drive, too. Therefore, I consider that the melancholia expressed by the most decadent character in Thomas Mann’s Blood of the Walsungs, Siegmund, as also representative of the death drive.

In order to understand Siegmund as the most decadent character, we must recognize his essential disengagement with society. Much like Carl Emil Schorske’s “aestheticist hypothesis”, which dissects Viennese culture as “aesthetic modernism emerging in opposition to historical consciousness and political engagement”[11], Bernhnheimer’s “avatars” of the death drive are disengaged with the socio-economic sphere, but react to it. Siegmund, likewise, reacts to his division from society in the way of hysterical decadence[12]. Nietzsche, though fragmented in his own writing, emphasizes the fragmented socio-political character of decadence as a struggle towards freedom, with its effects increased by the scope of organization:

“But this is the simile of every style of décadence: every time, the anarchy of atoms, disintegration of the will, “freedom of the individual,” to use moral terms,—expanded into a political theory, “equal rights for all.” Life, equal vitality, the vibration and exuberance of life pushed back into the smallest forms, the rest poor in life. Everywhere paralysis, arduousness, torpidity or hostility and chaos: both more and more obvious the higher one ascends in forms of organization.” (Wagner, §7)


This notion of fragmentation is better described by Bernheimer, using Nietzsche’s work as a body for example: “separate units are animated at the expense of coherent argument, historionic exaggeration undermines serious conviction” (18) Decadence is seen as a multi-faceted rotting of coherence, and a melodramatic hysteria that erodes the possibility of “serious conviction”, which for Nietzsche would be the struggle towards freedom. Considering Siegmund of the Walsungs, we see his melancholia as a reaction to his oppressed and removed relationship to society as both a Jew and a Dandy. Siegmund’s perspectivism distinguishes decadence from realism, signalling to us that we are not reading about an oppressed group’s Kampf. Decadence becomes a dialectic of necessity and plague to society, a reflection of society but also a turn towards the self, a repeating phenomenon of personal origin and yet, for Schorske, “a political surrogate for a marginalized liberal bourgeoisie” [13]. Schorske’s attention to decadence as a cultural phenomenon is problematic[14], but suggesting decadence as an effect of marginalization echoes the distance between Siegmund and ‘normality’. I will show that Dandyism is a symbol of decadence and an “avatar” of the death drive through the marginalization and resulting melancholia experienced by Siegmund.

The Blood of the Walsungs

We see a manifestation of marginalization in Thomas Mann’s The Blood of the Walsungs (1905), which was “nur ganz diskret nur ein paar mal angedeutet”[15] according to a letter Thomas wrote to his brother, Heinrich Mann, concerning the anti-semitic, stereotypical picture produced in Walsungs, “es war konsequent und obsessiv”[16]. According to Décadence in Deutschland, Walsungs follows three categories of stereotyping: bodily characterizations, mental qualities and social identity. It is within these three categories that we find the “drooping nosed” “loquacity” of family Aarenhold, a merchant family of Ashkenazi decent living in Germany. Though published in 1905, a quarter-century before the Shoah, Mann shades the decadence of the German Jahrhundertwende with the rise of antisemitism. In doing this, Mann sheds light on the subjects’ motivations for aesthetic superiority; Family Aarenhold is foremost ruled by their reputation as a “lesser organism”[17] within German society. Nietzsche also acknowledges decadence to occur as, “instincts of the weak… the exceptions… the abandoned, the abortus,” (DS, 14) Mann situates his main character of decadence, Siegmund, as both socially weaker with Jewish blood, and also abandoned by his twin sister for her non-Jewish marriage.

Siegmund is initially characterized by his conscious attempt to withhold his Jewish features: “He had a strong growth of black beard but kept it so close-shaven that his sallow face with the heavy gathered brows looked no less boyish than his figure.” (290) In the face of anti-Semitic marginalization, Siegmund’s outward appearance is of primary importance. He focuses himself on maintaining appearances and due respect: Mann writes, “The blond-haired citizenry of the land might go about in elastic-sided boots and turn-over collars, heedless of the effect. But he –  and most explicitly he [Siegmund] – must be unassailable and blameless of exterior from head to foot.” (300) Focusing in on the cause of his desire to be “blameless”, we must also interrogate why he feels guilty. First assuming that Siegmund has not suffered the baptismal waters, we can consider that his inward transfixion is a consequence of solipsism[18]. Author Rhonda Garelick addresses the “self-containment”[19] of the Dandy figure: “a self-created, carefully controlled man…the suppression of the “natural”.” (Dandyism, 1).

“He had so abnormal and constant a need for purification” (298) that he stood for an hour or more in front of his mirror, an object that Baudelaire describes as a necessary accoutrement to the Dandy[20]. Garelick evokes Barbey d’Aurevilley’s definition of Dandyism, “A Dandy can spend… ten hours at his toilette, but once it is done, he forgets it” (83) This brings to mind Siegmund’s constantly reddened hands from washing them[21], or his tendency to change ties multiple times a day. Garelick continues that fundamental idea of the dandy as concerned with “his object-like identity” (39), adding a physical object scope to the category of “bodily characteristics”. Siegmund’s image is decadently fragmented into his multiplicity of luxuries, excess and ornamentation. The bearskin rug and the mother-of-pearl box (full of brandy chocolates and maraschino cherries) act as mnemonic devices of their wealth, a wa(h)re Liebe[22] that serves as an abstraction of their relationship to society. Associating themselves with fine things, the Aarenhold family expresses a decadence, but Mann places Siegmund often on the receiving end of these things. Siegmund is the one who is offered the treats, who lies on the chaise lounge for hours, and who adorns himself with powders of the toilette. This immediate link between the social constructions of wealth and consumption problematizes Siegmund’s distance from society; they are the empty signifiers, the meaningless objects, of the Aarenhold family’s attempt to assimilate. Like Siegmund rejects the leather-bound books with his family stamp, he also does not participate in the assimilation process. Here we see the inward-turning decadence that allows for dandyism.

Physical characterizations go even deeper than the accoutrements of the Aarenholds, down to the quality of their blood: “He [Herr Aarenhold] knew that they were united against him, that they despised him: for his origins, for the blood which flowed through his veins and through him in theirs;” (293) The father, whose Jewish blood he has given to his children, is evoked in the title Wälsungensblut: “Wälse” is the father of Siegmund and Sieglinde in Die Walküre. It is important to note here, that the mother’s blood is not mentioned, instead she is “short, ugly, and prematurely aged” (289), who does not heed the hairstyle advice of her family (290) and “hated” by Siegmund when von Beckerath, the fiancé of Sieglinde, comes around (294). Mrs. Aarenhold’s contribution to the family’s half-Jewishness beckons a Nietzschean analysis of literary decadence, that in it “life no longer dwells in the whole. The word becomes sovereign and leaps out of the sentence, the sentence reaches out and obscures the meaning of the page, the page gains life at expense of the whole.” (Wagner, §

7) Bernheimer reminds us that the obscured whole represents the fragmentation of decadence itself (DS, 9). Although the family Aarenhold is genetically Jewish, they have a “composite, calculated, artificial, artefact”[23] half, a projection of decadence that demands its subject to “parish!” (DS, 11) The death drive, manifested in the essential genetic division of mother and father, the oedipal law, is aligned with the decadence, the decay of unity. The Aarenhold family’s decadence evokes Siegmund’s aggression towards his mother, an early-emerging symptom of his melancholy.

Siegmund’s melancholic tones resonate as the secondary category of mental characterization. His Jewish self-hatred cannot go unnoticed, “Long he looked at each mark of his race: the slightly drooping nose… those large black eyes that glowed like fire and had an expression of weary sufferance” (314).  This trait of suffering clearly comes from his father, who “had been a worm, a louse if you like. But just his empty capacity to realize it so fully, with such vivid self-contempt, had become the ground of that persistent, painful, never-satisfied striving that made him great.” (293) Why does the suffering make his father “great” and Siegmund “weary”? Freud’s depiction of melancholia as “constitutional ambivalence”, helps us frame the difference between Siegmund and his father.

His father, though clearly also afflicted with Aarenhold familial decadence, takes great care to remain determined in life. He advises Sieglinde’s fiancé, “if you want to enjoy your new life, really enjoy it, consciously and artistically, you must take care to never get used to your situation. Getting used to things is death. It is ennui” (293). Siegmund, on the other hand, “passes his days vacantly and swiftly” (299) as a dilettante of drawing and painting. “He was too shrewd not to know that the conditions of his existence were not the most favourable in the world for the development of a creative gift” (ibid.). His shrewdness, his judgement, had such “glowing expectations” that although “Siegmund had been born into superfluity, he was perfectly adjusted to it” (ibid.). Though Siegmund was thrilled and occupied by his superfluous objects and maintained a “shrewd enterprise”, same as his father, “he had no time for a resolve” (300). Instead of marrying in to a non-Jewish family, like his sister and his father both, Siegmund remains preoccupied with “preparation” and “lavish equipment” of his decadence:

“How much mental effort had to be expended simply in making a proper toilette! How much time and attention went in to his supplies… how much occasion for making up his mind lay in that moment, recurring two or three times daily, when he had to select his cravat!” (300)


Invoking the objects which preoccupy him as signifiers of his attachment to society, Bernheimer would describe Siegmund’s energy expenditure as “a pleasurably perverse relation to the world” (DS, 182). Freud would draw a difference between Siegmund’s expense of energy, compared to that of his sister and his father who interact with society, if only with a “benevolent neutrality” (301) to their own mourning of social oppression:  “Mourning is regularly the loss of a loved person, or to the loss of some abstraction which has taken the place of one, such as one’s country, liberty, an ideal and so on” (243) but because “the disturbance of self-regard is absent in mourning” (244) Siegmund’s detachment with society is positioned as melancholy. Just as the Aarenhold family experiences decadence, they are also mourning the loss of their relationship to society as Jews. But, it is only Siegmund who suffers dandyism and melancholy.

Sieglinde, undeniably the effigy of Siegmund’s, as she “suffers the same as he” (Walsungs, 308) is also his object of desire, his objet petit-a. Mann writes, “Sometimes their gaze sought each other’s, a melting together in an understanding” (290), positioning the gaze as a site of construction of identity in each other. This echoes Siegmund’s “gazing” into mirrors, as well. They share common examples of decadent behaviour when speaking aggressively at the dinner table is framed as “their habitual posture of self-defence” (291), “their words rang sharp as though sharpness, hardness… were demanded of them as survival values” (296). Recalling Nietzsche’s proclamation that a decadent cannot necessarily fight for his freedom, relevancy of their Jewishness comes to a disturbing caprice. Though necessarily decadent in the eyes of German society by virtue of half-Jewishness, Siegmund is the singular family member who has not involved himself in German society. Just as the dandy is inward-turning, His melancholic and hysteric decadence make him an “anti-natural” part of society, “to be forcibly removed from the infected organism” (DS, 14). The German-Jewish question is brought forth by their attempts at survival through sharp-tongues and consumerist signifiers while within the greater society, and through Nietzsche’s hint at necessary “Ausrottung”[24]. Considering that they “love each other alone” (290), could it be racial narcissism that promotes their “survival values”?

When investigating Siegmund’s possible narcissism, we much reflect on Baudelaire’s assertion that the dandy is more of a neurotic than a narcissist. Freud would agree that dandyism, in its inherently decadent fragmentation, is not narcissistic:

“The difference, however, between narcissism and hysterical identification may be seen in this: that, whereas in the former the object-cathexis is abandoned, in the latter it persists and manifests its influence, though is usually confined to isolated actions and innervations” (Melancholy, 250)
Here, Freud suggests that when the internal project of object-loss is negated, the subject then experiences narcissism, which is different than hysteria. So, the dandy’s separation from society, and his assertion to achieve a feigned superiority in this light, is not a narcissistic act, but rather a melancholic, or hysteric one. Again placing melancholia within the diagnosis of decadence, the death-drive emerges at the site of memorializing the loss of ego status with the prolonged object-cathexis[25].

Rather than narcissism, I think Siegmund sees himself in Sieglinde, because as a dandy he “is a woman in certain aspects” (Dandyism, 25). Bernheimer recognizes and discusses the feminization of decadence, in his closing chapter on Freud: “Masculine speculation [about the self] is replaced by the girl by unmediated desire, the premise of that desire being the female lack. Here, in ovo, is the rapacious drive motivating the decadent femme fatale.” (DS, 176) That is not to say that Siegmund actually envisions himself as castrated, but rather that he views Sieglinde as a cultural continuation of himself. “He has no friends, never had had one but this, his exquisitely groomed, darkly beautiful counterpart,” (Walsungs, 301). Bernheimer discusses that this “greater imaginative mobility released by the decadent fantasy” (183), that is, his solipsist fantasy, allows the object of affection to be seen as a muse. Sieglinde is, in fact, one of Siegmund’s few social stimulations, whose decadence he values. By alluding to Sieglinde as his Apollonian muse, she also is illuminated as his “missing half” in the course of unity. She is an identical fragmentation, who regards formal society when he does not, giving them an Einheit if merged together that would otherwise be a Zweiheit der Geschlechter (Tragedy, §1).

The implied incestual relationship between the two can also be seen as decadence, fitting with the Nietzschean poisoning of decadence as “sterile, unproductive and destructive,” (DS, 10), Mann writes, “they doffed aside the evil-smelling world and loved each other alone.” (Walsungs, 301). Mann’s Walsungs ultimately positions the decadence of the Aarenheld twins as unproductive, “like self-centered invalids” (315), Siegmund and Sieglinde are together “a suppression of anteriority”[26] they experience in relation to society. Particularly for Siegmund, who is further removed from society than Sieglinda, we see that without her, in the absence of his twinning unity with her, his indolent dandyism is indeed an “avatar” of Freudian death-drive.

Her purpose for him is more than as an incestual fetish. Recalling Baudelaire’s assertion that a dandy is attempting to regain his own masculinity, Sieglinde becomes both the object his is losing, and the mirror through which he can establish himself as a man while immersed in an effeminate world. His removal from the world exists alongside Sieglinde, as cast by their carriage ride together. ““Shall I shut us in?” asked Siegmund. She nodded and he drew the brown silk curtains across the polished panes.” (304) Upon arriving at the theatre, the melodies of Die Walküre “voiced their eternal yearning” (305), of whom we are unsure because of the mixed narratives between the Die Walküre and the Walsungs. Foreshadowing their own relations later in the evening and also highlighting Siegmund’s object-cathexis of Sieglinde, she whispers to him, “She will come back to him at once.” (307) After the opera, Siegmund went to lie on his bearskin rug, “and there was tragic meaning in the dragging step that bore him towards it” (314) His suffering in this final scene must also be interpreted as his last night together with Sieglinde, whom he is pre-emptily mourning the loss of as a “libidinal cathexis”[27].

Though it goes unstated, I believe that Siegmund’s loss of Sieglinde is unlike his loss of attachment to society because he is able to consciously conceive of what he has lost, and this is what gives rise to his hysterical melancholia, not narcissism. After the play, Siegmund’s “complaints are really ‘plaints’ in the old sense of the word. They are not ashamed and they do not hide themselves.” (Mourning, 248) Staring into the mirror yet again, showing us that he is aware of the object-cathexis of his love Sieglinde, Siegmund gives in to a full melancholic illness, “[he] moved as though to get up-but sank back again, his head against his outstretched arm, and stopped there, silent” (314). Saving him from a possible plunge into a manic sadism, Sieglinde returns to Siegmund.[28].

Thus does Siegmund’s life replicate the Dionysian tragedy of Die Wälkure. Greek tragedy, however, is an especially beautiful art form because it is made up simultaneously of intoxication and dreams[29]. “To understand the tragic myth we must see it as Dionysian wisdom made concrete through Apollonian artifice” (Tragedy, §6). In a dreamlike state, Siegmund “was seeking to clothe in reason what he was trying to say” (315) to Sieglinde, giving way to the peak of their tension that had been “carried tither in expectant dreams” (ibid.). This moment in which they “forgot themselves in caresses” (ibid.) creates a resolution – a dimension of the aesthetic “primordial oneness”, the point when decadence resolves its hybridity and becomes a unified whole. Mann’s Walsungs represent the Wagnerian opera, which weaves together the Dionysian and Apollonian at the climax of their incest (it had never before been committed: “the borders of a kingdom she had never entered” (315)) as the “perpetuum vestigum [the eternal mark] of a union between the Apollonian and Dionysian… a magical mirror of the world, as the primordial melody… [which] gives birth to poetry from itself.” (Tragedy, §6) This primordial melody, the child birthed, “grew and waxed the seed of that hated, unprized race” (311) in Die Walküre, and for Siegmund and Siedlinde Aarenhold, so grew and waxed the unity of their race in the face of societal exigency.

Siegmund’s achievement of unity cannot be aligned with the death drive. In this scene, he has transcended both melancholia and decadence, he has overcome the Nietzschean fragmentation, and evokes his life-drive. As an opposition to the events so far, this culmination adds to the assertion that Siegmund, until this point, has been involved in a melancholia of the death-drive. Though his marginalization by society remains unchanged, and we do not know of his future mourning once he loses Sieglinde to marriage, he reaches a unity that will forever change his ethical dimensions[30], and perhaps relieve him of dandyism.


Siegmund Aarenhold is shaped by melancholia, decadence and dandyism in The Blood of the Walsungs, His departure from other characters emphasizes the melancholy particular to a dandy, whom, according to Charles Bernheimer, represents the Freudian death-drive in its decadence. Using authors Rhonda Garelick and Charles Bernheimer, dandyism is treated through the analysis of its particular decadence, and reveals the melancholic separation of Siegmund from society and his family members. Decadence is prescribed to the family Aarenhold as well: Sieglinde, as the mirror and libidinal attachment of Siegmund, and Mr. Aarenhold, the figure of Jewish self-hatred, are decadent in their fragmented relationships to German society, but refrain from becoming dandies because of their involvement in the socio-political sphere. In this diagnosis of melancholia, the subject of decadence is also treated in its fundamental relationship to the Dionysian impulse. Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy proves useful in shedding light on the problematic illness of decadence in The Case of Wagner, and also helps the reader focus on the shift from melancholic death-drive to passionate life-drive at the end of the story.

Looking Ahead

There was a certain problematic that emerged when using Nietzsche’s and Bernheimer’s texts to dissect the decadence of Walsungs. The decadence considered by Nietzsche relies primarily on French authorship to describe German decadence, and Bernheimer, likewise limits his notion of “Decadent Subjects” to the particular place of Western Europe. The Aarenhold family’s decadence, though, cannot be separated from their Ashkenazi narrative; though they are living in (but not integrated into) German society, their decadence has meaning beyond the aestheticist center of Western Europe. Though their relationship to the centre of society produces Siegmund’s need for an “unassailable appearance”, it also disregards their movement from the periphery.

Nietzsche, Bernheimer and Schorske rely on a common canon of turn-of-the-century authors to paint a picture of fin-de-siècle decadence, yet maintain a Nietzschean assumption of decadence as inherent to any time[31]. Seeing decadence beyond this set of binary oppositions, author Scott Spector investigates the “third figure… that is, the self-conscious figure of the historian himself” which suggests that the aesthetic project of investigating decadence is “fragmented” moreover by the lens through which we investigate it. Spector’s article, “Marginalizations”, interrogates the paradigm of the fin-de-siècle as a political reaction by suggesting texts from Central Europe at the turn of the century, effectively producing an “interlocking dialectic… which was meant to contain a revolutionary force…- in the inclusive sense of embrace, rather than the exclusive sense of closing off” (150).

Spector’s investigation broadens the scope of future investigation into decadence. It is in this vein of borderlessness that I envision the widening and deepening of the project of decadence. Canonizing The Blood of the Walsungs alongside Jewish immigrant and third-culture literary theories could offer a productive insight to the decadence experienced by Siegmund and his family, beyond that which I have drawn out in relation to the Western European circumscription of decadence. The Blood of the Walsungs is a broadly enlightening text concerning Jewish decadence, which I have treated in its psychoanalytic posture among the fin-de-siècle thinkers.












Works Cited

Baudelaire, Charles, and Jonathan Mayne. The Painter of Modern Life, and Other Essays. London: Phaidon, 1964. Print.

Dr. Friedrich Köhlers Französich-deutsch Taschen Wöterbuch. Leipzig: Leipzig Verlag, 1879. Print.

Erlich, Gloria Chasson (1978) “Race and Incest in Mann’s “Blood of the Walsungs”,

Studies in 20th Century Literature: Vol. 2: Iss. 2, Article 3.

Freud, Sigmund. “Mourning and Melancholia.” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Vintage, 2001. N. pag. Print.

Garelick, Rhonda K. Rising Star: Dandyism, Gender, and Performance in the Fin De Siècle. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1998. Print.

Hadlock, Philip G. “The Other Other: Baudelaire, Melancholia, and the Dandy.”

Nineteenth-Century French Studies, vol. 30, no. 1/2, 2001, pp. 58–67.

Langenscheidt Worterbuch – FranzösischDeutsch. Völlige Neubearbeitung. Berlin, München, Zürich: Langenscheidt. (1969)

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. The Birth of Tragedy, the Case of Wagner. New York: Vintage, 1967. Print.

Spector, Scott. “Marginalizations: Politics and Culture beyond fin-de-siècle Vienna.”

Rethinking Vienna 1900. By Steven Beller. New York: Berghahn, 2001. 132. Print.





[1] Baudelaire, Charles. “The Painter of Modern Life” (1863)

[2] Dr. Friedrich Köhlers französich-deutsch Taschen Wöterbuch. (1879)

[3] Langenscheidt Worterbuch – FranzösischDeutsch. Völlige Neubearbeitung. Berlin, München, Zürich: Langenscheidt (1969)

[4] He uses the French rather than the German Dekadenz.

[5] Recognizing the hedonistic Dionysian impulse in relation to dandyism sets the stage for discussing the climax of The Blood of the Walsungs.

[6] Nietzsche published an excess of literature focusing on the ethical dimensions of tragedy and Wagner. His works both slant and promote the Dionysian impulses of Wagnerian opera.

[7] Bernheimer cites Max Nordau’s Degeneration as “exemplary of the fin-de-siecle degenerate”. 19.

[8] Bernheimer. Decadent Subjects. 26-27.

[9] Hadlock, Philip. “The Other Other: Baudelaire, Melancholia, and the Dandy.” (2001) 58–67

[10] Ibid.

[11] Spector, Scott. “Marginalizations: Politics and Culture beyond fin-de-siècle Vienna.”

Rethinking Vienna 1900. (2001) 132.

[12] Evidence for this is provided in the section “The Blood of the Walsungs”.

[13] Ibid.

[14] I will discuss this more in the section “Looking Ahead”.

[15] Décadence in Deutschland. 407.

[16] Ibid.

[17] I’m referring here to page 10 of Decadent Subjects, “A society… should be thought of as an organism that is made up of a federation of lesser organisms.”

[18] Garelick says there is a “required solipsism of dandies”. Dandyism. 29.

[19] Garelick. Dandyism. 84.

[20] “The dandy must aspire to be sublime without interruption; he must live and sleep before a mirror.” Baudelaire, Painter.

[21] Ehrlich, Gloria. “Race and Incest in Mann’s “Blood of the Walsungs”. 1978.

[22] “Wa(h)re Liebe” is a pun: true love and commodity love.

[23]Nietzsche. The Case of Wagner. 170.

[24] Drawn from Decadent Subjects. 14 : My word choice is considering Hitler’s speeches about the extermination of European Jewry as an allusion to the fascist appropriation of Nietzsche’s work.

[25] Drawing from Mourning and Melancholia. 256.

[26] Garelick. Dandyism. 28.

[27] Freud. “Mourning and Melancholia”. 245.

[28] I’m alluding to the next step after melancholy according to Freud.

[29] The art is beautiful precisely because it is a harmonious combination of Apollo and Dionysus.

[30] Together the Apollonian and Dionysian create an ethical evolution of the self, which is Nietzsche’s point of departure for the ethical aesthetic in The Birth of Tragedy.

[31] Nietzsche. The Birth of Tragedy. §2.

Ethical Aesthetics in Nietzsche and Schiller: Connected Duplicities


Revisiting the ethical aesthetic seems like a time-worn lecture- even the jokes have to be cited! The historical relevancy, increasingly less intriguing as society parts from old doctrines, falls on the ears of students as if they are suffering a nun through Confirmation. What then, is a teacher to do?

Friedrich Schiller and Friedrich Nietzsche employ the method of idolizing their subjects in Greek history, making them relevant again as the ideal destination of society. Just as they, compiling subjects of Grecian antiquity, provide you with a picture of them, I will compile Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man (1795) and The Birth of Tragedy (1872) as subjects of early modern ethical aesthetic philosophy, in order to paint a picture of it as common sets of duplicities concerned with freedom. It is ironic that both these authors were idolized by the fascist regime, which, in my opinion, is due to a misreading. I posit that their historicization of Grecian culture, their similar understanding of the ‘idyll’ and their ideas about harmony and unity are intended to restore their milieus’ understanding of specific topics: for Schiller, education; for Nietzsche, decadence. Both authors search for the free will in human nature at the crescendo of beauty, an inherently ethical treatment of aesthetics. As do their intended topics, Nietzsche and Schiller’s ethical meditations diverge concerning the ‘idyll’.

Literature Review

Rather surprisingly, considering the innumerable amount of secondary literature concerning Schiller and Nietzsche individually, studies highlighting their connections and divergences are sparse. Research published in the early 20th century tends to deny Nietzsche’s claims at originality by comparing his philosophical reasoning with Schiller’s[1], a trait characteristic to the emergence of critical writing, with a polemic treatment of Nietzsche in line with the “canonization of Schiller as a national saint”[2]. Contemporary publications on Nietzsche’s “productive engagement”[3] with Schiller provide a more holistic approach, by investigating the entire Nietzsche criterion in order to summate a Nietzschean depiction of Schiller (Schillerbild). Nicholas Martin’s two-fold account, Nietzsche’s Schillerbild: A Re-evalutation (1995) and Untimely Aesthetics (1996) takes issue with the tendency to indebt Nietzschean philosophies to Schiller, claiming:

“To talk of influences on Nietzsche is profoundly to misunderstand his eclectic and experimental method of thinking and writing… Accordingly, Nietzsche uses Schiller, as he does so many other historical figures, as both a sounding-board and a whipping-boy.” (Schillerbild, 23)


Martin’s contribution is clearly indebted to scholars Charles Andler and Herbert Cysarz, to whom he attributes his argument that Nietzsche’s aesthetic treatment in The Birth of Tragedy articulates Schiller’s Letters through the “reinvention of the Greeks”[4], the “creative” appropriations of history[5] and the aesthetic process. Martin, a Nietzschean[6], uses mostly Nietzsche’s direct evaluation of Schiller to connect the two as “inadequate for the needs of their times,”[7] but provides important insights to Tragedy, which I will address in this paper.

Author Martin Prange also investigates common philosophical underpinnings in his work Valuation and Revaluation of the Idyll: Schillerian Traces in Nietzsche’s Early Musical Aesthetics (2006). Prange’s essay addresses the influence of Schiller’s Naïve and Sentimental Poetry, while Martin’s focus remains on Nietzsche’s idea of Schiller. As I will also insist, Prange labels Schiller’s essay “On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry” as having a decisive influence on his Letters and Nietzsche’s Tragedy, as mediated by Immanuel Kant’s moral philosophy. Both Prange and Martin’s books forego a conversation on the ethical aesthetic, which seems to me Nietzsche and Schiller’s common point of departure and the pinnacle of divergence after significant parallel in terms and processes. To this end, I endeavour to follow the Apollonian-Dionysian depiction in Tragedy, while highlighting the ethical aesthetic of the Graecization of German culture, the creation of aesthetic duplicities using Schiller’s Poetry and finally, Nietzsche’s shift from Schiller’s concept of harmony and unity.


Kant’s assertion that experiencing beauty necessitates disinterested contemplation and, therefore, the separation of aesthetics from ethics[8], laid the theoretical framework for the replacement of aristocratic morality during the shift from oligarchic rule in early-modern Europe. Though, the red thread of the aesthetic problematic can be traced all the way back to Plato’s consideration about poetic art as essentially imitative in the Republic, when Plato suggests that, “all imitative poetry would seem to maim the reasoning of those hearers who do not possess an antidote in the knowledge of its real nature,” (Aesthetics, 24). This projection of reasoning is banished by the divinity of beauty in Plato’s Symposium: “Beauty, however, is in harmony with the divine.” (Aesthetics, 37d) Aristotle continues the project of researching the intuitive absolute totality in the face of beauty by allowing artful imitation a more privileged meaning. Poetry, he argues, allows a window to the “probable impossibilities,” tragedies that are not directly experienced, but still allow you to ratchet up pity and fear: “If you see a lion, you run; poetry lets you think.”[9] Kant returns to the emotional transport[10] of art, removing it from the logical, deductive, political processes, allowing beauty to fall under the category of ethical freedom: “To deem something good, I must always know what sort of a thing the object is intended to be, i.e. I must have a concept of it. That is not necessary to enable me to see beauty in a thing.” (Aesthetics, 45) Throughout the analysis of Tragedy in Schillerian terms, these ideas of poetry and tragedy as the vehicles for transport to other times, beauty as harmony of human with the divine, and the element of ethical freedom achieved in this state are the main tenants of my attention.

Schiller’s Letters respond to Kant’s antinomies of beauty as a matter of “arbitrary taste”[11] by looking at the purpose of beauty to the nature of man. Schiller suggests that in art and in play, we live in the imagination, a world of our own composition that is not bound to the limited possibilities of reality. Here, we maintain the “active” psyche, not passively reacting to stimuli, not “determined” by social externalities. We do not use our energy as utility requires, nor do we lack opportunities to use it as we desire.

“By means of aesthetic culture, therefore, the personal worth of a man, or his dignity, inasmuch as this can depend solely on himself remains completely indeterminate; and nothing is achieved by it than that he is henceforth enabled by the grace of Nature to make himself what he will.” (Letters, §21)

Disturbed by the lack of freedom in human condition, Schiller wrote his Letters On the Aesthetic Education of Man (1795) in response to his surprise at the self-serving ideals of civilized circles during the Enlightenment and after observing the regression to violence among lower classes[12]. Schiller suggested that “aesthetic education” would better mature the consciousness of mankind. Grounded in three drives, play, form and sense, Schiller suggested systems of experience that, when poorly balanced, caused a regression in humanity. His Letters are useful as a distinguishing framework for Friedrich Nietzsche’s aesthetic considerations in The Birth of Tragedy (1897) thanks to the common perceptual lens of the ‘idyll’ of aesthetic balance; Schiller and Nietzsche require the arts at their climax, before the realization of the moment of beauty, to reveal the most primal delight – not as individuals in a world of judgement and pity, but as pure beings. This would be authenticated by a singular, homogenizing past. Both authors employ Greek classicism to disembark from the lopsided coordination of 18th and 19th century public values, realizing that only through the cultivation, dynamic contradiction and synthesis of two opposing aesthetic drives, for Schiller form and sense, and for Nietzsche Apollonian and Dionysian, can we achieve a dialectic between the modes of feeling and thinking, which Kant treats as an unresolvable paradox: “the essential point, to which the question of beauty finally leads.” (Letters, §2) Schiller seeks to expose the benefits of aesthetic education in the face of rationalism and Nietzsche seeks to reveal rationalism’s product – the aesthetic “plague” of decadence[13].

Author Charles Bernheimer reacts to Nietzsche’s relationship to decadence as an “agent provocateur”, that is, he localizes Nietzsche as a decadent himself; Bernheimer highlights Nietzsche’s use of the French word decadence[14], which “would then imply a connection between his philosophy, which he calls “filigree art” full of “nuances”, (EH 223)…, an avant-garde French aestheticism.” I interpret this chosen French aesthetic theory to be indicative of his attention to primarily his milieu, the fin-de-siecle[15], but also to a societal ‘idyll’ for the world’s advancement beyond the Enlightenment, much like Schiller. Though Nietzsche is not responding to the upheaval and “barbarism” that Schiller depicted in Letters, he is still taking issue with a society in ruins.

Because Nietzsche published an excess of literature focusing on the ethical dimensions of Wagner[16] in a time of decadence, he has been promoted as a “heretic” of the ethical aesthetic. Decadence proves to be a-temporal and fragmented by meaning and by its dialectic as a ‘necessary sickness’[17] to society. To the western ear, decadence serves a hyperbolic purpose, often heard in relation to dessert; with a ‘sinful’ amount of hot fudge, you may experience ‘death by chocolate’. But outside the sphere of contemporary advertisements, the indulgent perception of decadence remains closer with its Latin roots, “to decay” and “to fall”, allowing the concept to maintain a privileged appropriation as an essential discontinuity with the past. Decadence then becomes a direct product of development, and holds meaning as a pejorative qualifier for individual actions and lifestyles within a socialized civilization. Reflecting on “decay” of individual actions, decadence as a social critique emerges throughout history, but distinctively at the Fin-de-siecle; a literary trope of decadence manifests as an ostentatious, self-serving male aesthete – the “Dandy” – an avatar of post-Enlightenment class-consciousness, whose delight in elegance is meant as a symbol of the “aristocratic superiority of mind.”[18] The feigned refinement of decadence is the point of departure for Nietzsche’s considerations of aesthetic judgement. His purpose was not to advance a new definition of decadence, more general or more precise, but to review the positive and negative cultivations of aestheticism. Like I am not discussing Dandyism, Nietzsche did not dwell on decadence in The Birth of Tragedy, but illuminated it as an outcropping of madness and a “symptom of the failing power” of morality in the “developing hegemony of reasonableness, practical and theoretical utilitarianism, as well as democracy itself.” (§4) Nietzsche’s response to the Zeitgeist of decadence is cast as a bodily illness in The Case of Wagner (1888), but is grounded in the universal subjectivity expressed by the aesthetic notion of human nature in Tragedy.    

According to Nietzsche and Schiller, the aesthetic fulfilment of human nature transcends the Zeitgeist[19]. Though the authors focus attention on criticisms of their respective milieus, Schiller gives up the “alluring temptation” to comprise his freedom from, “the political theatre of action,” and he aims to, “place himself in the center of the whole, and to raise his individuality to that of the species.” (Letters, §2) According to Denker und Dichter scholar Nicholas Boyle, Schiller’s state of dignity is separate from the (non-polar) binary of regulative normalcy and “wild ochlocracy”[20], and frees human nature from the “depravity of character” tolerated by barbaric bourgeois and aristocracy, and the “brutal, lawless drives” (Letters, §4) of those proletariat[21], who fought savagely during the French Revolution. In his book Goethe: Revolution and Renunciation[22], Boyle suggests a Schillerian “duality in which sense rules reason,” which, “may harmonize in the production of behaviour which is both morally free and physically attractive- beautiful movement” (Goethe, 63).  Though I agree that Schiller was indeed searching for the outward manifestation of humanity’s “beautiful soul”, I think the use of the word “duplicity” (Duplicität) would better serve the relationship of form and sensuous drives in society. Unlike a duality, they are never completely separate from each other. I believe that Boyle is not to blame for this mistake, because he continues on to understand form and sense in correlation with the “duality of the sexes” (Zweiheit der Geschlechter) (Tragedy, §1), which is wrongly translated by Walter Kaufmann, the translator of Boyle’s edition of Tragedy. Here, the word Zweiheit actually means a “two-ness”. If Nietzsche had intended a duality, he would have written Dualität. Boyle compares these duplicities because of their relationship together; they are woven in to each other[23]. Though the two drives are never completely separate, Nietzsche denotes that they are still in constant tension with one another except in moments of unity, with periodic reconciliation (Versöhnung). As Schiller brings forward Plato’s Philebus, “things are a mixture of one and many” (Letters, §6), form and sense have an inexorable nature, giving them a character not unlike Nietzsche’s discussion of Apollonian and Dionysian drives as irreconcilably connected windows to human nature[24]. In the following, I will consider Schiller’s conception of drives of aesthetic freedom as duplicities, then organize them in conversation in Tragedy under the Apollonian and Dionysian drives, tracing the duplicity of these drives and posing questions that can be answered by Schiller’s discussion of form and sensuous drives.

Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man/ Greacization

In finding a solution to the Kantian paradox of the subjective universal, Schiller categorizes aesthetic production as, “[to] appear determined through the nature of the thing, which one could call the voluntary assent of the thing to its technique” (Letters, §1).  Boyle suggests that although Schiller does not accept Kant’s negative view of man’s natural being[25], he does not return to an “illusory primitive state” (68), that is, Schiller doesn’t seek to overcome the duplicity of form and sense, nor establish a unity from them. According to Schiller, man cannot be reduced to a unity, but are always existing in duplicities: “Person and Condition… are in the finite being eternally two” (Letters, §4) Disagreeing with Kant’s assumption that the subject (man) is noumenon, Schiller’s Letters show man as an understanding of phenomenon:

“To say that man has first to become, is no objection; for man is not just Person pure and simple, but Person situated in a particular Condition. Every Condition, however, every determinate existence, has its origin in time; and so man, as a phenomenal being, must also have a beginning, although the pure intelligence within him is eternal. Without time, that is to say, without becoming, he would never be a determinate being; his Personality would indeed exist potentially, but not in fact.” (Letters, §11)
Schiller’s change of perspective from Kant’s categorical imperative allows the consideration of alternative routes to the nature of man, of which he is primarily concerned with the moral destination as an answer for happiness- namely the socio-political problems exaggerated by Robespierre’s Reign of Terror (the French Revolution) (Letters, §3) and the consequences of sciences and industry in the modern era (Letters, §1). His conception of what man is supposed to become show that beauty is necessary in the destination of man, that is, “beauty is a necessary condition of Human Being,” (Letters, §10) which is situated between formal and sensuous drives, that is, the barbaric and the savage.

Schiller claims that these two fundamental drives in man are reductionist, and they, “exhaust our concept of humanity, [we must] make a third fundamental drive which might possibly reconcile the two, a completely unthinkable concept.” (Letters, §13) In disavowing the “radical opposition” of the two drives, Schiller develops a drive out of them – the play drive – which does not unify the other two, because then it would negate its necessity to exist[26]. Nurtured by an aesthetic education, the play drive allows man to overcome the duplicity between personal (savage, sensuous) and social (barbaric, form) freedom through the framework of the mind, instigating a long revolution of political change instead of a creative destruction[27] of societal order. Author Emiliano Acosta suggests that Schiller’s “parallel reality [the play drive]… does not lead to an effective real overcoming of the real situation, but to the idea of an emancipating praxis of man in the element of the art and the semblance.” (“Schiller’s Concept of Recognition”, 127) This brings Schiller’s aesthetic idea to the realm of the ‘idyll’, which he recognizes as the institution of moral law on earth (§25)

By establishing Schiller’s concept of recognition in society as one of utopian aspirations, Acosta anticipated Martin’s conversation on the “untimeliness” of Schiller and Nietzsche’s work. Martin says,

“Any attempt to construct a state according to moral principles will be untimely (unzeitig), and any hopes for it chimerical “until the separation of the inner man is again abolished, and his nature is fully developed enough to be the artist herself, and to assert her reality to the political creation of reason. (AE VII)…

It is not least this need to break the vicious cycle which leads him [Schiller] to the Greeks. The Greek example is removed in time and space.” (Untimely Aesthetics, 69)
What Martin is exposing is Schiller’s use of the Attic world, in its “unconscious harmony” (ibid., 70) as a contrast to the disjointed junctures of the Enlightenment. Schiller draws a positive historical lineage from the Greeks, whose poetics should be studied by the individual in hopes of restoring mankind.

Tragedy benefits from Schiller’s appropriation of the Greek model as the base example for the ‘idyll’, even the divine (Letters, §6), as a quintessential looking glass to view the shortcomings of Germany’s decadence. Unlike Martin, I am not suggesting this Graecization of aesthetic theory as an intertextual relationship belonging to Schiller and Nietzsche alone. According to Boyle, creating a bond between Greek and German cultures can be seen as a wider trend of poets and thinkers in Germany’s Culture Struggle (Kulturkampf[28]) to employ a singular, homogenizing past (Goethe, 19). On the other hand, Martin considers the “re-evaluation of the Greeks” to be a central aim in the project of “rebirthing” aesthetic culture: “This very tactic, though, of employing models and exemplars from the past, because he feels his own are is too corrupt to regenerate itself from within, is one Nietzsche shares with Schiller.” (Untimely Aesthetics, 28) I tend to agree more with Byron’s holistic conception of the Greacization of Germany because of the authoritarian personality of the era[29]. Though Martin points out that Nietzsche adapted the ‘tragic’ Greece, whereas Schiller used the Golden Age, I would like to emphasize this as a divergence in their treatment of the ethical aesthetic.

Both Schiller and Nietzsche take issue with the Greek divergence towards political societies – for Nietzsche much earlier, with Socrates, and for Schiller the ironic “Building of Political Freedom” (Letters, §2). For Schiller, the problem of political freedom is that it is experienced under the charge of truth. The French Revolution marks a failure of the political, while the ending of the Golden Age marks a stagnation the project of politics. He projects this turn Nietzsche understands the Socratic era as ushering in a mission to consider existence apprehensible, as “the turning point and vortex of the so-called world history” (Tragedy, §14) which transcended the tragic era.

I believe that an ethical aesthetic difference highlights the gap between Nietzsche and Schiller’s appropriation of the Greeks, that is, Schiller is concerned with the loss of political truth while Nietzsche focuses on a loss of “tragic insight”. These aims diverge at the subject; Schiller is concerned with the project of development, while Nietzsche is concerned about decay. Their appropriations of Greek culture both insist that a once-‘idyll’ society, gifted with arts that bettered mankind, had turned toward a deluded denial of progress. Though Martin chooses not to historicize these ethical parameters of Hellenization, he hints beyond his Schillerbild, and momentarily considers The Birth of Tragedy’s celebration in Hellenic culture under a Schillerian categorical authority, “for his [Nietzsche’s] radical reformations of the creative process, the function of the tragic chorus, and the traditional aesthetic antithesis” (30). That is, Nietzsche held a ternary purpose of Grecian culture, not unlike Schiller’s consideration of play, form and sense.

Mapping Duplicities

Nietzsche describes the Apollonian: “In the dream, the great sculptor saw the delightful structure of a superhuman” (Tragedy, §1) He uses the noun “superhuman” (Übermensch) in association with the structure of Apollo[30], but does not discuss “superhuman” – the best possible person – as the balance between both Dionysian and Apollonian. This constant division echoes Schiller’s realization that unity cannot be attained from form and sense, made only more clear through the application of aesthetics later on. Apollo is the god of light, and Nietzsche explains that the god’s connection to appearance also links him to the concept of the prophecy of a higher truth. It is through this higher truth, moreover, that “life is made possible and worth living” (Tragedy, §1). It is paradoxical, then, that Nietzsche refers continuously to the Dionysian as “life affirming” when here he is ascribing this same thing to the Apollonian. However, the Apollonian is an appearance, and thus we are examining the beautiful appearance, or semblance, of the dream worlds. By recalling Schiller’s appropriation of ‘form’ to the world of thought and dreams, we can begin already in the first section to draw a parallel between Schiller’s ‘beautiful semblance’ (der schöne Schein) of the play drive and Nietzsche’s higher truth from the Apollonian Schein. This also brings to mind Schiller’s idea that the form drive leads to the “greatest enlargement of being” (§13), meaning that form drive moves us out of the individual realm to that of something greater- like the Apollonian higher truth.

When one finally doubts the dreamy illusion of Apollo, the Dionysian is quick to emerge:

“If we add to this awe the ecstatic rapture, which rises up out of the same collapse of the principium individuationis from the innermost depths of a human being, indeed, from the innermost depths of nature, then we have a glimpse into the essence of the Dionysian, which is presented to us most closely through the analogy to intoxication” (Tragedy, §1).
By designating the Apollonian to the principium individuationis, Nietzsche further parallels Apollonian drive to Schiller’s ‘form’; sculpture, he declares, is the most Apollonian of arts, which relies entirely on its form. For Schiller, when sense drive rules over form, it reduces man’s ability to unify his nature: “As long as he merely feels, merely desires and acts upon desire, he is as yet nothing but the world, if by this term we understand nothing but the formless content of time.” (§6) Could not “intoxication” correlate to the “formless content of time?” Nietzsche declares that when the Apollonian Veil of Maja is ripped asunder “man feels like God” (Tragedy, §1). One sees here a problem with the Dionysian, because a man is engaged in a wrongful representation of God. Man finds himself in the Dionysian state, no longer as an “artist” but, “has become a work of art: the artistic power of all nature, to the highest rhapsodic satisfaction of primordial unity, which reveals itself for Nietzsche in the transports of “intoxication” (Tragedy, §1). This necessarily reflects on Schiller’s assertion that sense drive seeks “absolute reality” (Letters, §1) attempting to “destroy” anything that is “mere world” (ibid., §5) For Nietzsche, Nature rejoices in its celebration (ihr Versöhnungsfest) with mankind, her lost sons. This occurs in the magic (Unter dem Zauber) of the Dionysian, as it determines actions in the physical realm and points to a broader understanding of life. A problematic begins to emerge for Nietzsche and Schiller, when one recognizes that intoxication can be dreamlike, and that a dream is in fact a sort of intoxicating phenomenon. This notion embodies the idea that the two drives exist in one another, but for Nietzsche the problem is that the Dionysian emerges as favourable over the Apollonian. Where is Apollo in this exalted satisfaction of primal unity?[31]

Nietzsche then describes Dionysus as a mystical feeling of collective unity[32] (Tragedy, §2). Greek tragedy, however, is an especially beautiful art form because it is made up simultaneously of intoxication and dreams[33]. Nietzsche separates the Dionysian Greeks from the Dionysian barbarians, who drink more than their fill of the witch’s brew (Hexentrank). In the Greek festivals, such excess will not be found. Nietzsche writes of Dionysian music,

“In the Dionysian dithyramb man is aroused to the highest intensity of all his symbolic capabilities: something never felt forces itself into expression, the destruction of the veil of Maja, the sense of oneness as the presiding genius of form, in fact, of nature itself.” (Tragedy, §2)


How is it here, that the veil of Apollo is destroyed? Is Apollo not always at play with the Dionysian?

Nietzsche writes that the dithyrambic servant of Dionysus will only be understood by someone like Dionysus himself. The Apollonian Greek senses with terror that his consciousness was, “like a veil, merely covering the Dionysian world in front of him” (Tragedy, §2). It is not the other way around – the Dionysian Greek has no room for “realization” that his consciousness is withholding the Apollonian existence from him. He likens this naivety to a “complete victory of the Apolline illusion” (Tragedy, §3), but suggests that Apollonian and Dionysian share in the common presence of naivety as the hidden ground of suffering (Tragedy, §3). Nietzsche points directly to Schiller’s understanding of naivety, “that unity of man with Nature, for which Schiller coined the term.” (Tragedy, §3)

Mapping Duplicities: The Tragic Chorus

The Apollonian and Dionysian binary owes greatly to Schiller’s On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry. Published two months earlier than Letters in 1795, Schiller set the stage for his dissection of form and sensuous drives. By departing from Kant’s “intractable oppositions” through a symbolic resolution of poetic form as a duplicity, Schiller organizes poetry by subject-relationship[34]; in naïve poetry, the poet will describe directly what is going on, while in sentimental poetry, the author reflects on himself. Though transporting us back to the Grecian poetics as those of direct description (in the naïve mode), we see a parallel with Niethzsche’s “Mythos”, which Martin describes as a “naïve harmony of the ancients” (Schillerbild, 36). Schiller shapes the aesthetic theory used by Nietzsche to explain his term ‘Apollonian’[35]. Martin claims that this connection is “identical”, and quotes Nietzsche’s acknowledgement of Schiller as the “originator of the term”:

“Wherever we encounter “naïve” in art, we have to recognize the highest effect of Apollonian culture, something which must always come into existence to overthrow the kingdom of the Titans, to kill monsters, and through powerfully deluding images and joyful illusions so emerge victorious over the horrific depths of what we observe in the world and the most sensitive capacity for suffering… Homeric “naiveté” is only to be understood as the complete victory of the Apollonian illusion. It is the sort of illusion which nature uses so frequently in order to attain her objectives.” (Tragedy, §3)


Though Nietzsche idealizes naivety within the Homeric, pre-Socratic era, he defines like Schiller defines the difference between “naïve” and “sentimental” forms of poetry. Instead of poetry, Nietzsche is discussing tragedy in these terms and focusing on the “naïve”, which for Nietzsche existed in the Homeric Era. He elicits Richard Wagner’s “The Ring of the Niebelung” in describing the achievement of the naïve, which helps us realise the departure from Schiller’s ‘idyll’ of aesthetic education. Though Nietzsche considers naivety “purely Apollonian” (Wagner, §3) and interprets the sentimental as emerging alongside it, both born in tragedy, Nietzsche does not consider Dionysian as “sentimental”. Though Apollo was created with regard to Schiller’s naivety, I think that Nietzsche’s use of Schiller’s form-sense duplicity in Letters is more relevant to the function of Apollonian and Dionysian together, and better depicts the red thread of the ethical aesthetic.

Era notwithstanding[36], consideration of form and sense as a balanced depiction of Apollonian and Dionysian drives sheds light on the common idea that through beauty, the ethical will emerge. Nietzsche quotes Schiller: “With me, feeling first lacks a defined and clear object; the latter develops for the first time later on. A certain musical emotional state comes first, and from this, with me, the poetic idea then follows.” (Tragedy, §5) Nietzsche’s attention to Schiller’s de-temporalizing of the technique of poetry leads him to discuss that the basis for tragedy, poetry, is a combination of “the lyricist and the musician, in fact, their common identity” (§5). Likening the lyrical poet to a Dionysian artist, Nietzsche constructs a duplicity with Apollonian as the goal of primordial oneness[37]. But, Nietzsche exclaims, he could not live without Dionysus[38]. Contradictorily, Nietzsche writes that they mutually intensify each other (sich gegenseitig steigernd) (Tragedy, §4). This duplicity can be cleared up by reflecting on Schiller’s conception of form and sense drives as “a reciprocal action of such a kind that the activity of one both gives rise to and sets limits to the activity of the other, and in which each itself achieves its highest manifestation precisely by reason of the other being active.” (Letters, §14)   and how they react when in perfect balance to create the play drive.

In the Attic Tragedy and the dramatic dithyramb, the two are in a more or less equal unity because they combine the Apollonian elements of dialogue, character and action with the darker, Dionysian essence of being (Urgrund), projected by the chorus and fall of the tragic hero. Nietzsche writes on how our view here is directed to these two drives who share a common goal, a secretive marital connection, and a child that is both at once: “whose secret marriage partnership, after a long antecedent struggle, glorified itself with such a child—at once Antigone and Cassandra.” (Tragedy, §4) Though untouched by Martin, this mention of Antigone’s Cassandra resonates with claim of being able to see the future, but killing herself when she is unheard. It emphasises the “untimeliness” of Nietzsche’s idyll, much like Schiller’s, but also marks the decay of society in a post-Socratic world. The truth was available, but it did not progress.

For Nietzsche as well, this Apollonian-Dionysian unity is that of mystery (Einheitsmysterium), however, the lyric poet is Dionysian who is “completed” by the primordial unity, “To understand the tragic myth we must see it as Dionysian wisdom made concrete through Apollonian artifice” (Tragedy, §6). The sublime Dionysian is a merging of the self and the other as a universal and passionate art, and it must react with the sober Apollonian, which represents the imperatives of “knowing thyself” and “nothing to excess!” (Tragedy, §6) Together they create an ethical evolution of the self, which is Nietzsche’s point of departure for the ethical aesthetic. Most importantly here is the difference in understanding of the ethical aesthetic between Nietzsche and Schiller. Both propose movement by an aesthetic piece of Grecian history in order to reach the “primordial oneness”, but Nietzsche’s path to this aesthetic takes a modern turn.

Though Schiller reflects on poetics as the bridge to play, Nietzsche regards Dionysian tragedy as the vehicle. His concern with tragedy holds an ethical aesthetic concern for Nietzsche’s own time, that is, his concern with the Wagnerian opera. The folk song can also be woven between the two as the “perpetuum vestigum [the eternal mark] of a union between the Apollonian and Dionysian… a magical mirror of the world, as the primordial melody… [which] gives birth to poetry from itself.” (Tragedy, §6) Nietzsche concludes that lyrical poetry can’t have the same impact as music because it consists of language, which is an illusion. This primordial melody, the child, the Mythos that Nietzsche intends to restore, is at once apparent as the play drive, where form and sense are intertwined but the imposed truth drops away, giving way to man’s freest will. Schiller says that words are acceptable for common speech, but man is “only fully a human being when he plays,” (Letters, §8) because this has lifted him out of the necessity to communicate, quite like Nietzsche’s conception of lyrics as limiting for the tragic chorus[39].

In Schiller’s twenty-fourth letter, he outlines the three-stage cycle to achieve a full potential both individually and societally. He bolsters his argument by suggesting that truth may be achieved through attaching value to semblance (Schein), in this case, allowing aesthetic value to supersede logical value. Here we approach Nietzsche’s idea that through tragedy, value is illuminated, but it must proceed also through three stages, which end in the acceptance of an aesthetic education (Bildung) (Tragedy, §15-22) .These stages are different, because Nietzsche focuses on a whole-cultural reversal or upheaval, where a new wisdom (Weisheit) would readily replace the Darwinean and Comtean trajectory of scientific determinism (Tragedy, §25) and Schiller considers the stages to represent a passage from individual understanding towards the whole-cultural. (Letters, §25). The ethical aesthetic in both works focuses on aesthetic education as an antithesis to the perceived barbaric and savage culture of the times.

Aesthetic Antitheses to Rationalism

Though the resolution of the play drive seems the Schillerean answer to Nietzsche’s “primordial oneness”, and they use a similar appropriation of Grecian history, the point of Nietzsche’s Tragedy is to inform us about tragedy, while Schiller wants to inform us about education. Schiller seeks to expose the benefits of aesthetic education in the face of rationalism and Nietzsche seeks to reveal rationalism’s product – the aesthetic “plague” of decadence. They are both aesthetic responses to free will, but diverge at the site of the ‘idyll’; Schiller prescribes that man develop as if he were not burdened by modern “truth”, while Nietzsche intends for man to be enlightened by aesthetics forms of the past. This is reflected by their differing intentions about what the reader should learn. Both teachers, Schiller and Nietzsche substantiate their conversations about education and tragedy by suggesting society use them to move toward an aesthetical antithesis to rationalism. They use the ethical aesthetic as a means to achieve the primacy of their arguments.



Works Cited

Bernheimer, Charles, T. Jefferson Kline, and Naomi Schor. Decadent Subjects: The Idea of Decadence in Art, Literature, Philosophy, and Culture of the Fin De Siecle in Europe. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 2002. Print.

Boyle, Nicholas. Revolution and Renunciation: (1790-1803). Oxford: Clarendon, 2000. Print.

Burnham, Douglas, and Martin Jesinghausen. “Nietzsche’s “The Birth of Tragedy”: A Reader’s Guide” Hunter College, CUNY. WorldCat. 1995. Web.

Cahn, Steven M., and Aaron Meskin. Aesthetics: A Comprehensive Anthology. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2008. Print.

La-Rouche, Helga. “A Reader’s Guide to “Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man”” Schiller Institute. Fidelio, Volume 14., June 2005. Web.

Martin, Nicholas. “Nietzsche’s Schillerbild: A Re-Evaluation.” German Life and Letters 48.4 (1995): 516-39. Web.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. The Birth of Tragedy, Ecce Homo, The Case of Wagner and Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1967. Print.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. The Case of Wagner. Place of Publication Not Identified: Allen & Unwin, 1924. Print.

Nordau, Max Simon. Degeneration. New York: H. Fertig, 1968. Print.

Prange, Martine. “Valuation and Revaluation of the Idyll.” Nietzscheforschung 13.JG (2006): Web.

[1] Martin, Nicholas. Nietzsche and Schiller: Untimely Aesthetics. 1996. (17)

[2] ibid. (19)

[3] Martin, Nicholas. “Nietzsche’s Schillerbild: A Re-evaluation”. German Life and Letters. 48:4. October, 1995.

[4] Ibid. (2)

[5] Martin, Nicholas. Nietzsche and Schiller: Untimely Aesthetics. 1996. (97)

[6] Over half of Nicholas Martin’s publications have Nietzsche in the title.

[7] Ibid. (202)

[8] Kant, Immanuel. “The Critique of Judgement”. (1790)

[9] Watkins, Evan. CRI 200C. UC Davis, Fall 2016.

[10] Referring here to Longinus, On Sublimity: “The effect of elevated language upon an audience is not persuasion but transport.” (§1)

[11] Wertz, William F. Jr. “A Reader’s Guide to Letters on the Aesthetic” Fidelio. Volume 14, Number 1-2. Spring-Summer, 2005.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Nietzsche, Friedrich. “The Case of Wagner”. 1888. (2)

[14] Rather than the German Dekadenz. Bernheimer also finds Walter Kaufmann’s translation to disrespect this usage of the French word.

[15] The fin-de-siecle is framed by Max Nordau in his book Degeneration (1892) as a time when society was in danger of reverting back to a pre-Enlightenment civilization.

[16] Nietzsche’s works both slant and promote Wagnerian opera.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid. (15)

[19] The spirit of the times.

[20] Schiller intends to express a state of violence in which the leadership is overthrown.

[21] Using proletariat in the same sense as Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto.

[22]Schiller on freedom in appearance’ is in the chapter ‘Post-Kantian Germany to 1793’ (61)

[23] Rather than Kaufmann’s translation that they are woven together, or zusammen, they are woven ineinander (Tragedy, §12), which also eclipses his translation’s use of “duality”.

[24] Nietzsche acknowledges the irreconcilable connectivity of the two drives at the beginning of The Birth of Tragedy. Throughout the text, Nietzsche seems to either forget or ignore this assertion.

[25] In The Critique of Judgement, Kant asserts a negative view of experiencing beauty by suggesting that we feel the sublime purposefully, but without any ulterior purposes. This is ‘purposeless purposiveness’.

[26] The tradition of substantiating philosophy in its inexplicability is exactly the thread that Nietzsche follows by leaving phenomenon up to art and philosophy, but is most frankly described by Heidegger in Being and Time (1927): “Making itself intelligible is suicide for philosophy.”

[27] Using ‘creative destruction’ in the sense of Joseph Schumpeter

[28] Though the Kulturkampf would typically represent Otto von Bismark’s attempt to gain Catholic authority in a Protestant Germany, I think Boyle is alluding to Nietzsche and Schiller’s injections of myth into the otherwise scientific ethos at the turn-of-the-century.

[29] Here I am referring to Erich Fromm’s “The Authoritarian Personality” (1957) which depicts a German society that birthed fascism due to strict normatization of institutions such as education, literary circles and the church.

[30] In his later texts including Ecce Homo, he describes those who are “superhuman”, including Zarathustra, as purely Dionysian.

[31] I am staging these questions to answer later.

[32] This spurs the same question: how is Dionysus a feeling of unity without an equal presence of the Apollonian?

[33] The art is beautiful precisely because it is a harmonious combination of Apollo and Dionysus.

[34] It seems important to note here that Friedrich Schlegel, the ‘father’ of the German Romantic movement, wrote one of his earliest pieces Vom äesthetischen Werte der griechischen Komödie (1794) in response to Schiller’s assumption that poetry can be categorized by subject. Schlegel promoted a more materialistic, secular understanding of poetry as defined by era.

[35] Martin, Nicholas. Untimely Aesthetics. (150)

[36] The implication of this distinction from Schiller is discussed in the previous section, Graecization.

[37] In section 38 of The Anti-Christ Nietzsche writes about what “miscarriages of duplicity” modern people are.

[38] In Ecce Homo, page 78, Nietzsche writes that he has never taken sides against himself, but has he not taken sides against the Apollonian half of the unity?