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Lenz, Georg Büchner’s visionary exploration of an 18th-century playwright’s descent into madness, has been called the inception of European modernist prose. Elias Canetti considered this short novella to be one of the seminal reading experiences of his entire life, and writers as various as Paul Celan, Christa Wolff, Peter Schneider, and Gert Hofmann have paid homage to it in their works. Published posthumously in 1839, Lenz is a taut case study of three weeks in the life of a schizophrenic, perhaps the first third-person text ever to be written from the “inside” of insanity. An early experiment in docufiction, Büchner's textual montage draws on the diary of J.F. Oberlin, the Alsatian pastor who briefly took care of Lenz in 1778, while also refracting Goethe's memoir of his troubled friendship with the playwright. English versions of both of these historical source texts here accompany Lenz for the first time in this bilingual presentation. Based on the recent edition of the text, this fresh translation will allow readers to discover why Heiner Müller pronounced Lenz the inaugural example of "21st-century prose."
Listen to a radio interview with Richard Sieburth: episode #59 at PENNSound
Like a jewelry chest, the covers of this book open on a gem of German prose, brought to its full radiance by Richard Sieburth’s splendid translation, accompanied by the German original as usually befits only poetry, and set among extensive notes and additional texts which allow the reader to appreciate its historical importance as well as its present powerful effect. I’d like to call Lenz a score, a score to go mad over..."
—William H. Gass
Richard Sieburth is one of handful of magnificent literary translators among us—witness his Hölderlin, Nerval, Scève, and Gershom Scholem’s poems. His extraordinary rendition of Büchner’s Lenz is both a superb version and a startling interpretation of a great and vital work. The beautifully produced little volume is amazingly rich, giving us Büchner’s 'source' in Oberlin, Goethe’s reflections upon Lenz himself, and crucial commentary."
Büchner’s Lenz represents a brilliant and widely influential prefiguring of the modernist narrative imagination. For the first time, thanks to Richard Sieburth’s astonishing skills, we have a version in English that respects and communicates the radical inventiveness and stylistic singularity of the original. It is a work that fully breathes in the present."