Academic journal article German Quarterly

Trauer und Identität: Inszenierungen von Emotionen in der deutschen Literatur des Mittelalters

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Trauer und Identität: Inszenierungen von Emotionen in der deutschen Literatur des Mittelalters

Article excerpt

Koch, Elke. Trauer und Identität: Inszenierungen von Emotionen in der deutschen Literatur des Mittelalters. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2006. 319 pp. euro98.00 hardcover.

Elke Koch's study of sadness and its functions in medieval German literature, already crowned as the best dissertation for 2005 from any Berlin university-not just in German Studies but in any field of scholarship-begins by situating itself at the inter section of the leading issues in literary interpretation in German Medieval Studies today. These include the theory and history of emotion, in which Koch weighs various contemporary and pre-modern methodologies and rejects as inappropriate to her study both medieval ecclesiastic discourses and modern psychological approaches based on universal reactions to death and loss. Instead, Koch bases her analysis on concepts of performance and ritual, which implicate notions of bodiliness and embodiment. The body as site of emotional performance has further implications for the concept of gender and social relationships in the Middle Ages.

Koch's primary thesis is that sadness in medieval German literature is not a spontaneous expression of psychological distress, but rather a performance of social identity or belonging, particularly when that identity is threatened or questioned. She extends and refines her thesis by examining the function of sadness in key scenes of three canonical works, Wolfram von Eschenbach's Willehalm, Hartmann von Aue's Erec, and Gottfried von Strassburg's Tristan. One of several convincing readings Koch offers concerns Gyburc's laments in Willehalm. As the wife of the title figure and a convert to Christianity, Gyburc's identity as a Christian in European aristocratic society is threatened when her father, the heathen Terramer, leads an invasion to reclaim her, resulting in massive loss of life for Christians and heathens alike. Koch shows how Gyburc's laments for fallen kinsmen on both sides of the conflict are not outpourings of loss, but rather carefully constructed performances intended to reaffirm her social relationships with respect to her Christian husband and to her chosen society when that identity is subject to suspicion or violent disruption. In contrast, Enite's lament in Erec is a gender performance of a female identity that has been reduced solely to the marital relationship, and accordingly it re-enacts on Enite's body her corporeal identity with her husband. …

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