Primitive Renaissance: Rethinking German Expressionism

By David Pan | Go to book overview

8
FROM FANTASY TO SACRIFICE
IN BEBUQUIN OR THE
DILETTANTES OF WONDER

Originating out of a search for the new, Carl Einstein's Bebuquin or The Dilettantes of Wonder stages an expressionist reenactment of the primitive. Though the novel's prose was conceived and written as a revolt against nineteenthcentury realist forms of narration, this reaction did not lead to further progress toward an intensified modernization. Rather, Einstein's prose enacted a critique of progress and demonstrated a new interest in tradition. Einstein's rejection of an aesthetics of representation and realist description resulted in narrative forms whose logic resembles that of “primitive” prose forms such as myth, parable, and legend. This return occurred in spite of his own selfunderstanding as a creator of the “new.” In fact, it was perhaps this conscious attempt to create the new that allowed Einstein to reenact the old and to “become” primitive rather than to create a romantic idealization of a past or exotic culture.

As we have seen, the interpretation of the relation between the real and the fantastic is crucial to the development of a primitivist aesthetic. While a scientific perspective affirms the validity of the distinction between real and ideal, a primitivist aesthetic does not. Rather, it combines the two in order to mediate the exigencies of an outside reality with the desires and goals of the individual psyche. Einstein worked to formulate such a mediation between the real and the ideal on the level of prose by dissolving the boundary between the real and the fantastic.

Tzvetan Todorov describes this dissolution as the primary characteristic of twentieth-century prose as opposed to a nineteenthcentury prose in which the distinction is constantly being tested but

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