An Aesthetics of Injury exposes wounding as a foundational principle of modernism in literature and film. Theorizing the genre of the narrative wound—texts that aim not only to depict but also to inflict injury—Ian Fleishman reveals harm as an essential aesthetic strategy in ten exemplary authors and filmmakers: Charles Baudelaire, Franz Kafka, Georges Bataille, Jean Genet, Hélène Cixous, Ingeborg Bachmann, Elfriede Jelinek, Werner Schroeter, Michael Haneke, and Quentin Tarantino.
Violence in the modernist mode, an ostensible intrusion of raw bodily harm into the artwork, aspires to transcend its own textuality, and yet, as An Aesthetics of Injury establishes, the wound paradoxically remains the essence of inscription. Fleishman thus shows how the wound, once the modernist emblem par excellence of an immediate aesthetic experience, comes to be implicated in a postmodern understanding of reality reduced to ceaseless mediation. In so doing, he demonstrates how what we think of as the most real object, the human body, becomes indistinguishable from its “nonreal” function as text. At stake in this tautological textual model is the heritage of narrative thought: both the narratological workings of these texts (how they tell stories) and the underlying epistemology exposed (whether these narrativists still believe in narrative at all).
With fresh and revealing readings of canonical authors and filmmakers seldom treated alongside one another, An Aesthetics of Injury is important reading for scholars working on literary or cinematic modernism and the postmodern, philosophy, narratology, body culture studies, queer and gender studies, trauma studies, and cultural theory.
Young Hans arrives with one suitcase in a squalid village on the eastern edge of empire—a surreal postwar Austria. His uncle has died, and according to the tradition required by his people—the Bieresch—Hans must assume his uncle’s place for one year. In a series of interactions with the village’s tragicomic characters and their contradictory stories and scriptures, the reluctant Hans must face a world both familiar and alien.
Among the Bieresch is Hans’s story—one of bizarre customs, tangled relationships, and the struggle between two mystical sects. The novel, translated by Isabel Fargo Cole, is a German cult favorite and a masterwork of culture shock fiction that revels in exploring oppressive cultural baggage and assimilation. Readers will encounter here an amalgam drawing from Kafka, Borges, and Beckett, among others, combining to make Klaus Hoffer’s novel a world utterly its own.
“One of the few works that will loom from the dust of this century one day.”—Urs Widmer
Bodily Desire, Desired Bodies examines the diverse ways that literary works and paintings can be read as screens onto which new images of masculinity and femininity are cast. Esther Bauer focuses on German and Austrian writers and artists from the 1910s and 1920s —specifically authors Franz Kafka, Vicki Baum, and Thomas Mann, and painters Otto Dix, Christian Schad, and Egon Schiele—who gave spectacular expression to shifting trends in male and female social roles and the organization of physical desire and the sexual body.
Bauer’s comparative approach reveals the ways in which artists and writers echoed one another in undermining the gender duality and highlighting sexuality and the body. As she points out, as sites of negotiation and innovation, these works reconfigured bodies of desire against prevailing notions of sexual difference and physical attraction and thus became instruments of social transformation.
The antifascist exile beginning in 1933 led to a cooling among the émigrés of the artistic and literary modernist experiments of the Weimar Republic and to a return to realism and the traditional novel form. Epic and Exile examines the Popular Front– oriented cultural initiatives of the 1930s less in terms of their political strategy than in their function as a cultural and literary program for the exiles, implying a specific relationship to questions of artistic form, historical conceptions, and indeed the political as such. A popular front aesthetics is, Bivens argues, realist and modernist at once, and, in its focus on the opacities and contradictions of everyday life as a historical formation, it is particularly concerned with problems of the epic form.
In Ethics and the Dynamic Observer Narrator: Reckoning with Past and Present in German Literature, Katra A. Byram proposes a new category—the dynamic observer form—to describe a narrative situation that emerges when stories about others become an avenue to negotiate a narrator’s own identity across past and present. Focusing on German-language fiction from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Byram demonstrates how the dynamic observer form highlights historical tensions and explores the nexus of history, identity, narrative, and ethics in the modern moment. Ethics and the Dynamic Observer Narrator contributes to scholarship on both narrative theory and the historical and cultural context of German and Austrian literary studies. Narrative theory, according to Byram, should understand this form to register complex interactions between history and narrative form. Byram also juxtaposes new readings of works by Textor, Storm, and Raabe from the nineteenth century with analyses of twentieth-century works by Grass, Handke, and Sebald, ultimately reframing our understanding of literary Vergangenheitsbewältigung, or the struggle to come to terms with the past. Overall, Byram shows that neither the problem of reckoning with the past nor the dynamic observer form is unique to Germany’s post-WWII era. Both are products of the dynamics of modern identity, surfacing whenever critical change separates what was from what is.
Matthew Miller’s The German Epic in the Cold War explores the literary evolution of the modern epic in postwar German literature. Examining works by Peter Weiss, Uwe Johnson, and Alexander Kluge, it illustrates imaginative artistic responses in German fiction to the physical and ideological division of post–World War II Germany.
Miller analyzes three ambitious German-language epics from the second half of the twentieth century: Weiss’s Die Ästhetik des Widerstands (The Aesthetics of Resistance), Johnson’s Jahrestage (Anniversaries), and Kluge’s Chronik der Gefühle (Chronicle of Feelings). In them, he traces the epic’s unlikely reemergence after the catastrophes of World War II and the Shoah and its continuity across the historical watershed of 1989–91, defined by German unification and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Building on Franco Moretti’s codification of the literary form of the modern epic, Miller demonstrates the epic’s ability to understand the past; to come to terms with ethical, social, and political challenges in the second half of the twentieth century in German-speaking Europe and beyond; and to debate and envision possible futures.
Thomas Bernhard Seagull Books, 2019 Library of Congress PT2662.E7G6413 2016 | Dewey Decimal 833.91
This collection of four stories by the writer George Steiner called “one of the masters of European fiction” is, as longtime fans of Thomas Bernhard would expect, bleakly comic and inspiringly rancorous. The subject of his stories vary: in one, Goethe summons Wittgenstein to discuss the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus; “Montaigne: A Story (in 22 Installments)” tells of a young man sealing himself in a tower to read; “Reunion,” meanwhile, satirizes that very impulse to escape; and the final story rounds out the collection by making Bernhard himself a victim, persecuted by his greatest enemy—his very homeland of Austria. Underpinning all these variously comic, tragic, and bitingly satirical excursions is Bernhard’s abiding interest in, and deep knowledge of, the philosophy of doubt.
Bernhard’s work can seem off-putting on first acquaintance, as he suffers no fools and offers no hand to assist the unwary reader. But those who make the effort to engage with Bernhard on his own uncompromising terms will discover a writer with powerful comic gifts, penetrating insight into the failings and delusions of modern life, and an unstinting desire to tell the whole, unvarnished, unwelcome truth. Start here, readers; the rewards are great.
In the Congo
Urs Widmer Seagull Books, 2020 Library of Congress PT2685.I24
Kuno, a male nurse in a Swiss retirement home, has a new inmate: his father. In the confines of their new home, the pair does something surprising—they finally begin to talk. Kuno had always regarded his father as a boring man without a history or a destiny, until they are thrust together and he learns that his father risked his life in the war. Stunned, Kuno embarks on a journey into his own psyche, taking him to the depths of the Congo. Here, longings awaken and dreams come true—rays of light in the darkness, meetings with kings, seductive women, and the songs of the jungle. This alluring far-away place he once regarded as the heart of darkness suddenly becomes an exciting locale of lunacy, wildness, and tests of inner strength.
In Urs Widmer’s characteristic style, In the Congo is a riveting yarn, threading through not only the relationship between a father and son, but that of Africa and Europe. Translated by Donal McLaughlin, this novel will delight Widmer fans the world over and will turn our notions of colonialism on their heads.
The King of China
Tilman Rammstedt Seagull Books, 2019 Library of Congress PT2662.E7G6413 2016 | Dewey Decimal 833.91
When Keith Stapperpfennig and his family give their grandfather the trip of a lifetime—an all expenses paid holiday to any destination in the world—the eccentric old man arbitrarily chooses China, and he asks Keith to accompany him. But when Keith loses all the money for the journey at a casino, he goes into hiding—mostly under his desk—and his grandfather—equally uninterested in actually traveling to China—heads down the road to engage in a similar subterfuge.
And it is here that the novel opens, two men in hiding, mere miles apart. But when his grandfather dies unexpectedly, Keith is left to continue the farce alone. With the aid of a guidebook, Keith writes a series of letters home to his brothers and sisters, detailing their imaginary travels and the bizarre sights they see. These start off harmlessly, but before long he starts adding invented details: non-stop dental hygiene shows on television, dog vaccinations at the post office—and the letters get longer and longer. Engaging, strange, and ultimately moving, this hilarious novel from Tilman Rammstedt won him the prestigious Ingeborg Bachmann Prize in 2008 and confirmed him as one of Germany’s most compelling writers.
Eberhard Happel, German Baroque author of an extensive body of work of fiction and nonfiction, has for many years been categorized as a “courtly-gallant” novelist. In Mediating Culture in the Seventeenth-Century German Novel, author Gerhild Scholz Williams argues that categorizing him thus is to seriously misread him and to miss out on a fascinating perspective on this dynamic period in German history.
Happel primarily lived and worked in the vigorous port city of Hamburg, which was a “media center” in terms of the access it offered to a wide library of books in public and private collections. Hamburg’s port status meant it buzzed with news and information, and Happel drew on this flow of data in his novels. His books deal with many topics of current interest—national identity formation, gender and sexualities, Western European encounters with neighbors to the East, confrontations with non-European and non-Western powers and cultures—and they feature multiple media, including news reports, news collections, and travel writings. As a result, Happel’s use of contemporary source material in his novels feeds our current interest in the impact of the production of knowledge on seventeenth-century narrative. Mediating Culture in the Seventeenth-Century German Novel explores the narrative wealth and multiversity of Happel’s work, examines Happel’s novels as illustrative of seventeenth-century novel writing in Germany, and investigates the synergistic relationship in Happel’s writings between the booming print media industry and the evolution of the German novel.
Any new book by poet, essayist, writer, and translator Hans Magnus Enzensberger, one of the most influential and internationally renowned German intellectuals, is cause for notice, and Mr. Zed’s Reflections is no exception. Every afternoon for almost a year, a plump man named Mr. Zed comes to the same spot in the city park and engages passersby with quick-witted repartee. Those who pass ask, who is this man? A wisecracker, a clown, a belligerent philosopher? Many shake their heads and move on; others listen to him, engage with him, and, again and again, end up at the same place. He doesn’t write anything down, but his listeners often take notes. With subversive energy and masterful brevity, Mr. Zed undermines arrogance, megalomania, and false authority. A determined speaker who doesn’t care for ambitions, he forces topics that others would rather keep to themselves. Reluctant to trust institutions and seeing absolutely nothing as “non-negotiable,” he admits mistakes and does away with judgment. He is no mere ventriloquist dummy for his creator—he is too stubborn for that. And at the end of the season, when it becomes too cold and uncomfortable in the park, he disappears, never to be seen again.
Collected in this thought-provoking and unique work are the considerations and provocations of this squat, park-bench philosopher, giving us a volume of truths and conversations that are clear-cut, skeptical, and fiercely illuminating.
Accounts of rape, murder, mutilation, and torture run like a bloodred thread through modernist literature in the German language. Previous accounts of German literary modernism have linked its fascination with violent destruction either to the militant avant-garde on the left or to fascist modernism on the right. Critics have noted that high modernists depicted violence through its impact on their own victimized protagonists. But by minimizing and ignoring the often disturbing attraction to aggression in the works of Franz Kafka and others, these prevalent readings have filtered out much of the provocative and productive potential of German modernism.
Kai Evers’s Violent Modernists: The Aesthetics of Destruction in Twentieth-Century German Literature develops a new understanding of German modernism that moves beyond the oversimplified dichotomy of an avant-garde prone to aggression on the one hand and a modernism opposed to violence on the other. Analyzing works by Robert Musil, Franz Kafka, Karl Kraus, Walter Benjamin, Elias Canetti, and others, Evers argues that these authors are among the most innovative thinkers on violence and its impact on contemporary concepts of the self, history, and society.