Academic journal article German Quarterly

The Look of Things: Poetry and Vision Around 1900

Academic journal article German Quarterly

The Look of Things: Poetry and Vision Around 1900

Article excerpt

Strathausen, Carsten. The Look of Things: Poetry and Vision Around 1900. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.321pp. $49.95 cloth.

For all the discussion about what German Studies means in the early 21st century, Carsten Strathausen's book manages to address the field in many of its various instantiations. Strathausen "contests the language crisis circa 1900" as a response to traditionalist ways of thinking "aesthetic difference between literature and visual media around 1900" (10). His central claim is directed first of all to literary scholars when he asserts early on that "[a]estheticism must not simply be equated with early German Romanticism or German Idealism" (12). According to Strathausen and in contradistinction to dominant literary historical categories, text and image were not engaged in a battle for exclusivity but rather negotiating a more profound and precise communication based on an ambivalent interdependence. Key to understanding this problematic in the poets Strathausen presents is the reciprocal gaze. His readings expose the reader to contemporary theories of spectatorship and their intellectual history in 20th century German philosophy. Strathausen understands the conundrum of "seeing" in German philosophy and literature as a key conundrum in spectatorship itself: to see is to be seen. He prepares his reader in the first section of the book for a particularly evocative reading of Rilke on this point. The first two chapters survey philosophical investigations of visuality with specific attention to Bergson and Husserl. Contributions by Heidegger, Kittler, and Adorno are woven throughout these first chapters and Strathausen's use of the material is confident and provocative. Readers of Kittler in particular-as the title of the book suggests-will find him one of the most significant interlocutors for Strathausen. He announces the imperative of close readings to his method early on and delivers chapters devoted to readings of Hofmannsthal, Rilke, and George in the second section of the book. Here he is concerned to demonstrate that the concept of the visual with which these authors were preoccupied pivoted on the "reality effect of photographic images" (13). …

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