Crafting Flesh, Crafting the Self: Violence and Identity in Early Nineteenth-Century German Literature

Crafting Flesh, Crafting the Self: Violence and Identity in Early Nineteenth-Century German Literature

Crafting Flesh, Crafting the Self: Violence and Identity in Early Nineteenth-Century German Literature

Crafting Flesh, Crafting the Self: Violence and Identity in Early Nineteenth-Century German Literature

Synopsis

This book analyzes wounded human bodies in early nineteenth-century German literature and traces their connection to changing philosophical models of the self. It argues that literary representations and metaphors of violence against the body not only offer powerful physical referents for a concept of self, but that they also define violence as an integral component of the self.

In contrast to the rational models of the self found at the end of the eighteenth century, the literature of the early nineteenth century Germany turns away from the body as object and towards the body as subject. This turn reflects the shift in philosophy from transcendental idealism towards materialism, from the rational to the embodied self. The four close readings of literary texts that comprise the main chapters of the book highlight four moments along this philosophical trajectory. Individual chapters analyze Holderlin'e Hyperion, Brentano's Godwi, Kleist's The Broken Pitcher, and Buchner's Danton's Death and draw on theoretical insights from Freud, Benjamin, and Zizek to situate these nineteenth-century texts within modern and postmodern debates about the self, the body, and violence.

This study does not trace a linear, sequential development of the concept of self; instead it highlights four alternative reactions to the transcendental idealist notion of the self, alternatives that strive to ground the self in physical experience and that resonate with contemporary notions of self and the body. It argues that binding the self to physical experience through the metaphor of the wound also binds the definition of the self to violence. The wound becomes not only a mediator, but also a fundamental constituent of the embodied self.

The book contributes both to nineteenth century scholarship and to current debates on the relationship of violence and philosophy. Studies on the body in culture have favored the eighteenth century, an era that privileged bodily wholeness. Until recently, the early nineteenth century has occupied a secondary spot in debates on body and the self, yet it is during this era that thinkers turn away from the abstractions of transcendental idealism and towards the materialism that characterizes our modern era. This study argues that early nineteenth century German literature enacts a dramatic, even violent, turn towards the modern understanding of the embodied self.

In addition, it connects the literary interest in the fragmented body to philosophical rather than aesthetic themes. Many recent studies address violence in literature of the late eighteenth century in the context of aesthetic theories of wholeness and only indirectly in relation to philosophies of the self. Other philosophical treatments trace the role of the body in philosophical texts of this era, but focus predominantly on philosophy and less on literature. This study highlights literary instances of wounding as they relate to philosophical themes.

This book will appeal not only to scholars of German literature, but also to a cross disciplinary audience interested in the role of the body within culture and the relation of violence to both the formation of meaning and philosophical conceptions of the self.

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