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December 4, 6.30
In this extraordinary and unpredictable cross-section of the work of one of the most influential free spirits of German letters, Peter Wortsman captures the breathlessness and power of Heinrich von Kleist’s transcendent prose. These tales, essays, and fragments move across inner landscapes, exploring the shaky bridges between reason and feeling and the frontiers between the human psyche and the divine. From “The Earthquake in Chile,” his damning invective against moral tyranny; to “Michael Kohlhaas,” an exploration of the extreme price of justice; to “The Marquies of O. . . ,” his twist on the mythic triumph-of-love story; to his essay “On the Gradual Formation of Thoughts While Speaking,” which tracks the movements of the unconscious decades before Freud; Kleist unrelentingly confronts the dangers of self-deception and the ultimate impossibility of existence in a world of absolutes. Wortsman’s illuminating afterword demystifies Kleist’s vexed history, explaining how the century after his death saw Kleist’s legacy transformed from that of a largely derided playwright into a literary giant who would inspire Thomas Mann and Franz Kafka. The concerns of Heinrich von Kleist are timeless. The mysteries in his fiction and visionary essays still breathe.
Includes fictional classics such as 'The Marquise of O'; 'Michael Kohlhaas,' one of the greatest tales of revenge and justice; and what might be considered one of the great pre-Freudian essays, 'On the Gradual Formulation of Thoughts While Speaking.'
—The Bloomsbury Review
Michael Kohlhaas. . . . a story I read with true reverance."
As a storyteller, he ranks most naturally with Kafka, who admired him and learned from him."
—Sigurd Burckhardt, The Hudson Review
What makes Kleist truly 'modern' is his insistence on the aesthetic significance of the world around which we must journey."
—Paul Bishop, Journal of European Studies
The stories do not pause for breath; even less so in Wortsman's translations, which seek to convey the intricately enmeshed patterns of Kleist's syntax, so that, for example, the hundred or so pages of Michael Kohlhaas seem almost a single sentence. Once one engages with Kleist's narration, its peculiar urgency forces attention even as the plot spins into unforeseen byways."
—Geoffrey O'Brien, Bookforum
A gift to fans of German literary history. . . . Wortsman preserves much of Kleist's difficult sentence structures and punctuation, and succeeds at modernizing Kleist's sometimes antiquarian prose. The selection is streamlined, yet carefully balanced, thus giving readers all of Kleist's necessary lunacy and narrative brilliance."
—Christopher M. Ohge, The World
Dazzling. . . . Mesmeriz[ing]. . . . A collection of superbly crafted stories and essays that span cultures and centuries but deftly exposes the universality of human tragedy."
Exploiting to the full the rigors of German syntax, he uses language to impose order and meaning on a profoundly disordered world. Clause follows clause in a stately, dispassionate procession of appalling events, commas marking time, paragraphs and even single sentences stretching on inexorably for line after line. Catastrophes unfold in a subclause. Idiosyncrasies of word order defer full, terrible understanding to the last possible moment."
—Ian Brunskill, The Wall Street Journal
This collection of short stories, novellas and literary fragments . . . is impressive not only for its content but for its relevance centuries later. . . . A dark, charming collection of twisted fairy tales for grownups."
Kleist’s narrative language is something completely unique. It is not enough to read it as historical—even in his day nobody wrote as he did. . . . An impetus squeezed out with iron, absolutely un-lyrical detachment brings forth tangled, knotted, overloaded sentences painfully soldered together. . . and driven by a breathless tempo."
Kleist left behind a corpus of works that, while small in quantity, were and still are among the finest German texts."
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