Academic journal article German Quarterly

Reading Heinrich Heine

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Reading Heinrich Heine

Article excerpt

Phelan, Anthony. Reading Heinrich Heine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 307 pp. $105.00 hardcover.

Amid the numerous publications on Heinrich Heine in recent years, the ambitious aim and scope of Anthony Phelan's Reading Heinrich Heine stands out. His aim is nothing less than "to reassess Heine's relation to and articulation of modernity" (x). He approaches this goal through readings that cover a large share of the Heine corpus, and combines them with studies of the tumultuous reception of his work by critics and poets throughout the 20th century.

Karl Kraus's and Theodor Adorno's infamous essays on Heine are pivotal to Phelan's understanding of modernity and Heine's relation to it, and he devotes the first two chapters to carefully unpacking their arguments. In Phelan's reading, Kraus, in "Heine und die Folgen," charges Heine with initiating the industrial production and com modification of literature, with the result that Heine's work lacks authenticity (11). According to Phelan, Adorno's essay, "Die Wunde Heine," largely subscribes to Kraus's view, particularly regarding his poetic output (24) . Each of these influential critics thereby reinforces the critique of Heine launched by his contemporary, Ludwig Börne, who in Phelan's words portrayed Heine as "merely a talent, lacking the moral substance oí character" (7).

One of Phelan's key contributions lies in separating Kraus's and Adorno's acute analyses of Heine's "inauthentic" style from their acerbic value judgments, and using their analyses to inform close readings of a wide range of Heine's texts. In his chapter on Das Buch der Lieder, Phelan shows how Heine's early poetry repeatedly invokes the Romantic discourse of inwardness, only to reveal it to be "a saleable commodity" (63). His chapter on the Reisebilder displays how Heine came to treat the commodifica tion of experience in a more explicit manner; thus, Nordsee III addresses how the "pure gold of intuition" has been ' effort fully changed into the paper money of book definitions" (95). If this quote of Heine's betrays his residual nostalgia for a purportedly more immediate and authentic mode of life, his late polemic against Börne, as read by Phelan, revels in the absence of authenticity, in the freedom afforded by talent to subvert "the ethical universal of character" (169). …

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