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    Büchner and real presence: a reading of the Kunstgespräch in Lenz

    Walker, John (2017) Büchner and real presence: a reading of the Kunstgespräch in Lenz. In: Gillett, R. and Weiss-Sussex, G. (eds.) Buchner Today. Amsterdamer Beiträge zur neueren Germanistik. Munich, Germany: Iudicium Verlag, pp. 281-292. ISBN 9789004341630.

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    The passage known as the Kunstgespräch in Lenz is one of the best known in Büchner’s work, and often read as both an anticipatory statement of the particular character of nineteenth-century German realism and one of the most remarkably “modern” of early nineteenth-century German narrative texts. In this chapter I pursue two theses about this famous passage and its sequel. First, that it exemplifies George Steiner’s thesis in his book Real Presences that literature can be a manifestation of God’s real presence in language and, second that it also manifests, when read in the context of Büchner’s Novelle as a whole, what Steiner calls ‘the break of the covenant between word and world’ which he sees as characteristic of European modernism that began around 1870, about thirty-five years after Büchner’s text was written. This divine covenant establishes the connection between Logos and word - what Steiner calls ‘the saying of Being’ - and can therefore be read in a theological context for which the idea of art as a mode of incarnation is meaningful. However, it also insistently reminds us of the difference between the theological and aesthetic modes of truth and should warn us against their critical identification. In particular, several moments in this text strongly suggest that we should not read Lenz through the prism of the German idealist aesthetics of Hegel and Schelling, especially their implicit claim that all art is concerned with beauty as the appearance of spiritual truth in sensuous form and can therefore be approached via a critical vocabulary more appropriate to the visual and plastic arts than to realist narrative. This last point is especially relevant because the reception of visual art and its dramatic effect on the protagonist are central themes in Lenz.


    Item Type: Book Section
    School: School of Arts > Cultures and Languages
    Depositing User: John Walker
    Date Deposited: 08 Aug 2018 10:03
    Last Modified: 29 Jun 2020 20:56


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