Did Goethe influence the English romanticism

The relationship between war discourse and romanticism

Martina Lüke writes about depictions of war in romantic texts

By Thomas Boyken

Discussed books / references

It is often forgotten in which uncertain and warlike times writers worked. This is all the more true if the works of art do not explicitly negotiate war events. The fact that contemporary war events can very well become the subject of art is shown, for example, in the painting about the French siege of the city of Mainz (1793), which is currently on view in the Goethe exhibition "Floods of Life - Storm of Tacts" in the Goethe National Museum. During the reconquest of the city, not only the then 13-year-old and later Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz, but also, as is well known, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who accompanied Duke Karl August von Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach, was present. Goethe finally fictionalized the events of the war in the form of a diary.

With a view to this example, one can certainly ask: What influence does the specific war situation actually have on literary texts? Martina Lüke's dissertation, which was written at the University of Connecticut, is dedicated to these and other questions. She concentrates on the complex "War and Romanticism", as it is called in the subtitle of her study. The leading thesis is that the war discourse around 1800 (largely shaped by leading Prussian military like von Scharnhorst, von Gneisenau or von Clausewitz) and the texts of the Romantics influenced each other.

Lüke takes a chronological approach. First, the connections between war and literature at Novalis (Chapter II) are traced, and then via Heinrich von Kleist (Chapter III), Ernst Moritz Arndt, Theodor Körner and Max von Schenkendorf (Chapter IV) to Joseph von Eichendorff (Chapter V) reach. In the individual chapters, the author then extends her period of investigation, with the focus on the time of the Napoleonic Wars and the Wars of Liberation.

In the structure of the individual chapters, Lüke follows a recurring pattern: Before going into the individual text analyzes, the "armed conflicts and military influences in the biography" of the respective writer are worked out. One of the main merits of this work lies in the fact that it highlights the concrete personal lines of connection not only from Kleist but also from other writers to influential persons in the military. Nonetheless, these biographical references often make an effort when Lüke repeats three times (certainly in variations) that “Novalis had a fundamental interest in military events through family and friends”. However, this is followed by more fundamental questions: Since Lüke does not discuss her choice of texts and writers, the criteria she uses for her selection remain unclear. Why is Novalis given preference over Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder, why is Eichendorff and not E. T. A. Hoffmann or Ludwig Tieck moving into focus? Why are there no women writers? It can be assumed that the biographical connection to military personnel was an (indirect) selection criterion. If the fundamental aim of the study is to work out “representative ideas and processing of the war in works of German Romanticism”, then it is quite questionable whether the selection here is generally representative or only meaningful for a certain group of romantic writers.

Methodologically, the study makes use of the approaches and concepts of the New HistoricismThe author is based on Stephen Greenblatt's idea of ​​a flexible framework that is less a closed theory than a “conglomerate of questions and hypotheses”. What, according to Lüke, is an advantage of this method, namely its fundamental openness, could also be disadvantageous.

And in fact, Lüke is very vague in the execution of her interest in knowledge. Lüke cites the following key questions as a guide: “How was war experienced and interpreted by writers and military-political leaders during the Romantic era, as far as this can be inferred from their fictional and non-fictional texts? Which aestheticizations and representations of war can be found in your works? Which constructions and projections of war and the military are conveyed in contemporary literary works? What influence do the personal experiences of the poets and those around them have on the representations of war? Which correspondences can be proven between personalities in the state and the military and writers of the Romantic era? What influence do the authors try to exert themselves through their texts? Are mentalities renewed and transformed? What changes and developments can be identified in the works of individual Romantics and over the period from 1789, the early works of Novalis, to 1818, the publications of Ernst Moritz Arndt's late liberation war poems? "

Here, Lüke raises fundamentally important and exciting questions, which she also partially differentiates for the respective analysis chapter. However, this compilation seems rather unsystematic. Do the individual questions build on one another or is this a kind of 'brainstorming'? How does the question of the representations of war in a poet's literary work relate to his personal experiences in acts of war? If the author also asks about the "changes and developments" in the portrayal of the war in the works of the individual writers and assumes a development, then on the one hand the conditions of success of such a comparison and on the other hand the resulting specific interest in knowledge should have been discussed in a more differentiated manner.

Beyond this fundamental fuzziness in the approach of the dissertation, Lüke makes good observations in the individual analysis chapters. In particular, the profound knowledge of military history is impressive, which is also shown in the register. Lüke explains and contextualizes every battle and every battle, no matter how small. This then leads to an informative, but also extensive footnote apparatus. A critical revision would have done well here.

Of course, the various texts that Lüke examines with regard to depictions of war are of different yield. Her statements on Kleist's “Hermannsschlacht” or the propaganda poems of Arndt, Körner or Schenkendorf are convincing, but Eichendorff's “In the Night”, for example, can only be described as a poem of “warlike content” with a great deal of argumentation. The fact that Eichendorff himself took an active part in the Wars of Liberation as a soldier between 1813 and 1816 does not mean that every poem that was written during this period refers to this biographical situation.

The extensive analysis chapters lead to a conclusion in which Lüke highlights a total of four aspects of dealing with the motive of war in the romantic texts: (1) War is an ambivalent motive. It acts as both a connecting and a separating element. At the same time, depictions of war in the early romantic writings also serve as a “creative intersection in the apparent opposition of past and future, annihilation and creation”. Lüke emphasizes this particularly for Novalis and Kleist. (2) In the context of the romantic image of the Middle Ages, armed conflicts are aestheticized and act as a film for comparison with contemporary wars (Napoleonic Wars and Wars of Liberation). (3) The depictions of war have a function within the triadic history model, since they refer to a utopia of peace. According to Lüke, depictions of war always convey “hopes for peace and liberation”, although here - as Lüke plausibly shows in Kleist's “Hermannsschlacht” and “Prince Friedrich von Homburg” - contemporary military discourses are also negotiated in the literary texts. (4) At the end of the Romantic period, Lüke recorded relatively fewer works that deal with depictions of war. It is precisely in Eichendorff's works that the destructive character of the war is pointed out, which Lüke attributes to the political developments after the Wars of Liberation.

Lüke's understanding of the relationship between non-literary reality (war discourses around 1800) and literary texts is convincing. Literature and poetry are not understood here as a repository for contemporary war discourses. Rather, literary texts are "an active part in the politico-military discourse of the time" and can consequently also influence contemporary military discourses. The discursive connection of fictional texts with non-fictional (military) texts, which Lüke argued, remains undefined overall. How do the literary texts affect contemporary military and war discourse? How is this a specialty of romantic writers? Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz also thematizes in his drama “The Soldiers” problems that are genuinely part of contemporary military discourse. And Ernst Jünger also represents a concept of war and soldiers in “In Stahlgewittern”, which in many aspects seems to coincide with the relationship between war and literature discussed here.

In addition to these questions of content, there are some formal aspects to be criticized: On the one hand, the author tends to use a more complicated style. The stylistic device of relativization is used extensively by Lüke. Lüke sums up, with a view to a demand made by General Neidhardt von Gneisenau, that the diplomats should not gamble away the success of the military: “After the 'unity' of the military and (diplomatic) literature, the 'sword' and the ' Feder ', during a war in the sense of the romanticized totality of a war described in this work, it is now, after this war, through the word, if not the poet, but the diplomat, to secure the peace achieved or the rule. “The facts could certainly be presented in a more understandable and pointed manner. On the other hand, the flow of reading is disturbed by orthographic and editorial carelessness.

It is astonishing how the ideas and representations of war by Kleist, Arndt, Körner or Schenkendorf coincide with the contemporary war concepts of Gneisenaus or Scharnhorst. Whether this, as Lüke suggests, is genuinely due to romantic poetology, would certainly have to be examined in more detail: on the one hand, because Lüke's selection brings together writers who come from an officer's family or who were actively involved in the war; on the other hand, because the results then appear to be quite general and also seem to apply to other times.

Martina Lüke: Words like weapons: war and romance. Writings from the Erich Maria Remarque archive.
Edited by Thomas F. Schneider.
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2013.
371 pages, 39.90 EUR.
ISBN-13: 9783847100713

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