02 January 2012

The Marquise of O and Other Stories, by Kleist

Completely amazing. The introduction to the book describes the stories as a "negative expression of the ideals of the Enlightenment" (7), "he constantly presents situations and characters which are disturbingly paradoxical and intractable to rational analysis; they point towards the 'absurdity' of life" (15). My own take on it was rather different (and I aim, in the coming weeks, to investigate whether others have arrived at a similar conclusion): to me, these stories were a kind of anguished yet devout attempt to understand the ways of God. They have a Scandinavian quality to them (this sense was quite possibly heightened for me by the fact that I read them at the same time as I was reading Isak Dinesen's Winter Tales), a dark, fairy tale like style that unflinchingly depicts some of the more vicious sides of life, and presents man as this tragi-comic miniature in a massive cosmic order, inflated with a sense of self-importance that is never entirely misguided, despite the magnitude of that cosmos, because after all, isn't each of us the center of our own universe? 

The stories describe people struggling against a cruel world; victims of nature, God, and other people. Kleist was apparently a big influence on Kafka, and it shows (Michael Kohlhaas in particular has a fantastically Kafka-esque quality, or should I say that it reveals that Kafka had a Kleist-esque one). I'm not going to discuss them story in detail (though I want to), because I refuse to deprive you of the pleasure of discovering them yourself. They are incredible.

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