Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Depressing, yet salacious: Heinrich von Kleist

The Marquise of O-- and Other Stories
Heinrich von Kleist

Although I didn't enjoy Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer as much as others, one good thing did come from my reading it: through it, I found Heinrich von Kleist, a German writer-philosopher of the late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth century whose despair ultimately culminated in his suicide in 1811. In a kind move, he took out Henriette Vogel, dying of cancer, first. Now THAT’S thoughtfulness.

The eight texts (some novellas, some short stories) contained in this collection illustrate several of Kleist’s philosophical ideas: primarily, his distrust in appearances; for him, reality is never as it seems. Kleist’s reality is ambiguous and unpredictable — just when you think you’re safe is right about when the rug will be pulled from beneath your feet. Furthermore, true happiness is impossible to attain — unless, of course, you are either insane or dead. I cannot tell from these stories whether he ultimately believed in God; at best, his is a capricious and whimsical one who enjoys watching his subjects suffer. Far worse than God, however, is his church, which Kleist presents as hypocritical and untrustworthy. Perhaps worst of all is society as a whole, which is harshly judgmental: even in the face of one’s innocence, society remains cold and unmoving, preferring to believe a lie if it means punishing a sin. No wonder the man killed himself.

Cheer up, dog

That’s not to say there is no enjoyment to be gained from reading Kleist. On the contrary, his stories are a testament against complacency, for we never know when the next disaster will strike. More importantly, his stories are fun and even scandalous. The Marquise of O-- (my favorite of the collection) tells of the plight of said Marquise, who, oddly enough, happens to find herself pregnant, despite the fact that she cannot remember doing the deed with anyone. Even better: she ADVERTISES IN THE NEWSPAPER to find the father! Slut!

Better than advertising, and someone gets to dance

In a nutshell: Well written, philosophical, and scandalous.

Bibliolatry Scale: 5.5 out of 6 stars

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