Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

'Eine Immerwahrende Umwandlung der Ansichten': Narrators and Their Perspectives in the Works of Adalbert Stifter

Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

'Eine Immerwahrende Umwandlung der Ansichten': Narrators and Their Perspectives in the Works of Adalbert Stifter

Article excerpt

In the 'Vorrede' to Bunte Steine, Stifter makes his preoccupation with perspectives, views, and interpretations plainly evident. Particularly striking is the way in which he posits a 'right' perspective from which humans will be able to make sense of their existence. To this end, he draws a clear distinction between the 'Blik des Unkundigen und Unaufmerksamen', which is attracted to the ostentatious but ephemeral 'Ergebnisse einseitiger Ursachen', and the 'Geisteszug des Forschers', which is concerned with the world-sustaining 'Ganze und Allgemeine' (2,2: 10). (1) Significantly, he does not merely apply this distinction to any one individual; instead, the development towards Reason through a particular manner of seeing is related to the development of humankind as a whole:

Da die Menschen in der Kindheit waren, ihr geistiges Auge von der Wissenschaft noch nicht beruhrt war, wurden sie von dem Nahestehenden und Auffalligen ergriffen, und zu Furcht und Bewunderung hingerissen: aber als ihr Sinn geoffnet wurde, da der Blik sich auf den Zusammenhang zu richten begann, so sanken die einzelnen Erscheinungen immer tiefer, und es erhob sich das Gesez immer hoher, die Wunderbarkeiten horten auf, das Wunder nahm zu. (2,2: 11-12)

The same rationalist, even scientistic, perspective is evoked when he speaks of 'das geistige [Auge] der Wissenschaft' (2,2: 11), an echo of the earlier 'Abdias', in which 'Vernunft' is offered as the 'right' perspective: it is said to be 'das Auge der Seele' (1,5: 238). 'Abdias' is, in fact, a particularly revealing text in this respect, as the theme of the 'right' perspective that leads to ultimate understanding is broached in the exordium. Here, Stifter has the narrator ponder on the fact that quite out of the blue, some individuals suffer a deluge of extreme misfortune ('eine [...] Reihe Ungemach'), whilst others become the target of equally extreme good fortune ('Gluck', 'Heil' (1,5: 237)). This process is beyond human understanding: the laws of nature bestow 'Segen' one day, 'das Entsetzliche' the next, and we can only stand bemused and suppose that some supreme but invisible entity is responsible: 'Uns ist, als lange ein unsichtbarer Arm aus der Wolke, und thue vor unsern Augen das Unbegreifliche' (1,5: 237). Through the ages, men have sought to comprehend the incomprehensible by making essentially the same supposition: that there is a metaphysical or godly design behind the apparently random visitations of Fortune and Misfortune. The ancients saw this as grim Fate, 'Fatum, furchtbar letzter starrer Grund des Geschehenden' (1,5: 237-38); the moderns, more benignly, see it as 'Schicksal, also ein von einer hohern Macht Gesendetes, das wir empfangen sollen' (1,5: 238). Through his narrator, however, Stifter proceeds to offer a radically different explanation: an infinite concatenation of cause and effect. This is a 'heitre Blumenkette' that man's 'Vernunft' is capable of tracing right through to the implicitly divine hand that holds and controls it:

eine heitre Blumenkette hangt durch die Unendlichkeit des Alls und sendet ihren Schimmer in die Herzen--die Kette der Ursachen und Wirkungen--und in das Haupt des Menschen ward die schonste dieser Blumen geworfen, die Vernunft, das Auge der Seele, die Kette daran anzuknupfen, und an ihr Blume um Blume, Glied um Glied hinab zu zahlen bis zuletzt zu jener Hand, in der das Ende ruht. (1,5: 238)

In other words, Stifter puts forward the idea that there is a sovereign perspective whereby we shall ultimately gain access to the workings of the universe. This is precisely what we find in Bunte Steine as well. Here, Stifter posits the notion of an 'Uberblik uber ein Grosseres' (2,2: 15), a panoptic, essentially God-like view of the world that all can ultimately achieve. A volcano may kill thousands of people, but once we have achieved this God-like perspective that comprehends all such events as part of a 'greater whole', we can see such an eruption as the merest blip within the overall context of human history, a fleeting ripple on the surface. …

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