Academic journal article German Quarterly

Georg Buchner's Woyzeck: A History of Its Criticism

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Georg Buchner's Woyzeck: A History of Its Criticism

Article excerpt

Richards, David. Georg Bachner's Woyzeck: A History of Its Criticism. Rochester, NY. Camden House, 2001, xiv + 167 pp. $55.00 hardcover.

Woyzeck ranks among the most heatedly debated texts in German literature. When Buchner died in 1837, he left four drafts containing various sequences of scenes: a final version of this powerful, aesthetically highly complex play does not exist. From its first publication by Karl Emil Franzos (1878) in a badly flawed rendition to the most recent editions by Henri Poschmann (1992) and Burghard Dedner/Thomas Michael Meyer (1999), the controversy about questions of textual evidence and about the construction of a reading and performance arrangement has not been put to rest. Today's editions display an amazing degree of refinement and approximation to Buchner's writing, but a consensus is still lacking in some areas. Yet at the same time Woyzeck has had an enormous, lasting impact on generations of writers from the outset, beginning with the Naturalists and reaching into postmodernism, as well as on the reading public and on international theater audiences. Literary critics have proposed a great variety of readings of the text. These readings are, as can be expected, not only a reflection of the shifting paradigms of criticism itself and the discourses of the given time period, but they are also often intricately bound to the respective status of the numerous editorial projects. In brief: Woyzeck criticism-up to the 1970s and sometimes beyond-is a series of frustrating, at times absurd trials and errors. As a case history of the evolution of critical methods, it is well worth chronicling from today's vantage point.

Richards has published substantial contributions to Buchner and Woyzeck in the past and thus appears to be eminently qualified for the task. If the book under review falls somewhat short of expectations, this is due to a certain lack of focus and stringency and to the author's reluctance to take a decisive stand on various issues discussed. The first two chapters provide an instructive survey of criticism from the beginnings to 1962. Already in the second chapter, devoted to the fertile post-war period, Richards' inclination in favor of apolitical readings (Martens, Biittner, Mautner, Knight et al.) becomes apparent. The truly gound-breaking study of the "Marxist critic" (27) Hans Mayer is dispatched swiftly: Buchner research owes much to Mayer-he died recently at age 94-and little is given due credit here. …

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