EXPRESSIONIST MYTH AND
In 1925 Carl Einstein published Afrikanische Legenden, a collection of African stories that he gathered and translated into German from French transcriptions. One of these stories, “The Wanderer of the Plain” (“Der Gaukler der Ebene”), originated as a southeast African legend of the Thonga people that had been collected and translated into French by Henri Junod in 1898.1 Though Einstein's version cannot be designated as a true myth or legend belonging to an oral tradition passed down through several generations, it is a German expressionist attempt to imitate a mythic performance and reenact it in literature.2 Einstein carries out this project by continuing the process initiated by Junod of transcribing and translating orally transmitted African tales into European languages, thus attempting to reproduce the structure of a traditional oral tale. The result is that the story demonstrates the essential characteristics of his ideal prose: a firm connection between action and consequence leading to a “simultaneity” of events and a fatefulness of the plot, a parabolic structure composed of a “staircase” of parables, and an emphasis on the importance of sacrifice for defining and maintaining a community.
“The Wanderer of the Plain” leads a double life because of its translation out of an African context and into a German one. On the one hand, this translation demonstrates the centrality of cultural context in determining the meaning of the story. The actions and decisions of the figures in the story only make sense in terms of the specific marriage rituals normally observed by the Thonga people, and Einstein's decision to exclude this context from his presentation of the story prevents the story from being the mediator of any cultural exchange. Rather, Einstein's omission of information about the cultural context (which was available to him in the same volume