ABOUT THIS BOOK
At the Limit of the Obscene: German Realism and the Disgrace of Matter examines the fear of materiality in German-language realist and postrealist literature. The book argues that with German literature’s turn in the mid-nineteenth century to the depiction of the profane, sensual world, anxiety emerged about the terms of that depiction—with consequences not only for the formal development of realist poetics but also for the conception of profane physical matter itself.
Erica Weitzman analyzes works by Adalbert Stifter, Gustav Freytag, Theodor Fontane, Arno Holz, Gottfried Benn, and Franz Kafka to show how efforts to represent the material world in human terms led to an idea of the obscene as an excess of sensual appearance beyond human meaning: the very obverse of the anthropocentric worldview that realism both propagates and pushes to its crisis. At the Limit of the Obscene thus brings to light the troubled and troubling ontology underlying German realism, at the same time demonstrating how it shaped—and continues to shape—our ideas about materiality, alterity, perception, knowledge, representability, and the relationship of human beings to the nonhuman world.