Academic journal article German Quarterly

German Orientalisms

Academic journal article German Quarterly

German Orientalisms

Article excerpt

Kontje, Todd. German Orientalisms. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2004. 316pp. $35.00 hardcover.

German Orientalisms is distinguished on many accounts, not the least of which is the author 's ability to read history and literature as a complex set of relations that participate in the formation and development of German national identity. The unique contribution of this book lies in the conjunctions that his analysis puts into play. He brings together the traditions of colonial and post-colonial inquiry with readings of canonical works of German literature. He moves between the macro and micro by conjoining historical overviews with close readings of literary texts. Kontje investigates a broad range of works from the early modern pre-national to the post-national present. The volume's title underscores the central focus of Kontje's study, making a clear reference to Said with a critical exploration of the peculiarities of German Orientalism. The Orient here is broadly defined as the East (from the Turkish Ottoman Empire, to India, and even Poland). As an imagined geography, Kontje shows how central it has been in the symbolic shaping of German national identity.

The book has four long chapters and a conclusion. For the most part chronologically presented, each chapter discusses a period of German literary history, focusing on how the figure of the "East" participated in the birth and development of German national identity. His discussion highlights historical continuities and discontinuities with respect to the ideological configuring of the East, which he shows to be a highly ambivalent term, sometimes produced as a source of wonder and civilization, other times as an enemy and temptress. His discussion of this imagined place begins with readings of Parzival, Simplicissimus, and Lohenstein's Arminius. As he shows, the 16th and 17th centuries gave birth to the national at a time of increasing global awareness generally and an increasing knowledge of Asia specifically. Symbolic geography is the "province of the literary imagination" for Kontje, and as such often complicates political configurations of the Orient. For example, his reading of Parzival shows how Wolfram created, via Islamic and "heathen" characters, especially Feirefiz, a space from which to both create and ironize his vision of Christianity, allowing in that double gesture a respect for religious difference. The next chapter, the longest of the volume, treats Germany's status as a non-colonizing nation (though not state) in the Age of Empire and thus engages German Studies' long-standing debates about the colonial imagination. From Herder to Wieland, to Novalis and Goethe, the authors and texts Kontje discusses show that although Germany was not actively colonizing, the East as exotic Other actively participated in literature's positioning of itself toward monarchy, democracy, revolution, and developing nationalism. In Chapter Three, "Fascist Orientalism and its Discontents," modernity's development of racial and biologistic categories in texts by Baeumler, Bachofen, Thomas Mann, and Botho Strauss are the focus. …

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