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The Awakening Child: Re-reading Kleist

2014

Paperback, 952 pages

ISBN 194081300X

ISBN-13 9781940813004

Compared with Kleist, Goethe and Hegel are old men," Gilles Deleuze notes about the three contemporary "Dichter und Denker." Heinrich von Kleist's novellas are more "raw" and immediate, expressionistic and explosive, than the more formal dramas he is best known for. Often written in a state of frenzy, in periods of great distress, financial and emotional, these incomparable novallas are in fact carefully constructed, highly complex works of genius. The present book attempts several experiments. First, it develops a set of simple analytical tools and deploys them in a hermeneutic reading--rather, an archaeology--of the selected texts. Second, it correlates the affects and percepts produced in the literary texts with philosophical--most prominently, Nietzschean and Deleuzean--concepts in order to expose meaning in (or impose meaning on?) the characters' affections and perceptions. Third, it juxtaposes Kleist's early 19th century novellas with an early 21st century novel--The Possibility of an Island--by another notorious literary outsider, the novelist and poet Michel Houellebecq, to show that what makes Kleist appear so "modern" are not so much the timelessness of his themes but the underlying Spinozan outlook on life he shares with Houellebecq: life as pure immanence, as material, corporeal fluctuations of intensity, as interplay of difference and repetition, as (auto)poiesis. Roll over Goethe, Hegel: here comes Kleist.

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