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Finally, it is rational, individualist and sceptical.


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These are the qualities which have encouraged recent critics to identify Heine as a precursor and ally of modern intellectual critique. Habermas sees him, perhaps more importantly, as presenting the form in which critical distance and political commitment to questions of German identity can be established. Modernity in turn made its own historic claims on Heinrich Heine.

He acknowledges the power of urban experience in his critical prose and in his decisively modern poetry. Friedrich Nietzsche hailed Heine as his greatest predecessor in the art of German style — and in Thomas Mann emphasized that judgement. This came as a surprise since the scholar in question had no trouble writing about difficult poets like Paul Celan.

In the present study I attempt to follow the logic and implications of his writing as closely as possible, and to assess it in the light of strong readings in the twentieth century.


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  • The first part of the discussion traces the critical debate about Heine in a polemical tradition which Kraus initiated. My purpose, however, is not simply to document this aspect of a difficult reception. This argument provides a framework in which the poetry of Das Buch der Lieder The Book of Songs can be reconsidered as a text directly addressing the possibility of lyric subjectivity.

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    Heine himself plays a kind of hide-and-seek with the expectations of autobiographical reference to make his collection a compendium of forms for supposed self-expression. Heine finds many ways of dismantling the poetic language of selfhood. In a further investigation of the forms in which he refracts modernity for the twentieth century, I examine the serious problems his ironies and cynicism presented for the German poets who established a durable symbolist aesthetic from the turn of the century.

    Ein Sommernachtstraum Atta Troll. The political journalism of Lutetia exploits the destabilization of metaphor, begun in Buch der Lieder, in order to set in play a stylish political emblematics. Tradition disrupted continues to define the experience of modernity for the older generation of German poets writing at the moment. Heine emerges as a poet confronting modernity because he engages so profoundly with history, and does so at the point where he is most vulnerable and most exposed — in the secular defeat of poetry itself.

    Such claims have been treated to a mixed reception, however; and Karl Kraus provided one of the most intelligent and influential readings. His status within the canon in is not a matter of great interest to Kraus, though he is well aware of recent new editions. The spatial metaphor soon shifts towards a geographical one in which Germany and France stand at opposite 3 4 Reading Heinrich Heine poles. The Romance tendency, on the other hand, finds aesthetic qualities in the substance of experience already, prior to the work of form.

    Taking up a theme already touched on in , he identifies in contrast to such values the corrosive force of the commodity. Whatever else his Franco-German terms may intend, they have little to do with differing national allegiances. The French preference, the ornamentalization of life, however, dissolves these relations: the relocation of the aesthetic in the sphere of the material itself simply abolishes the mimetic relation.

    Reading Heinrich Heine (Cambridge Studies in German)

    Every Jack becomes a gentleman, and both life and art are equalized in relations of homogeneity. There can no longer be a platform for art because life itself has ceased to exercise any privilege as content. Art ceases to be art because the mimetic distance which makes possible the criteria of adequacy in relations of form and content is closed. Heine is presented as the symptom and origin of this condition. Kraus is much more exercised by the immediacy of the connection between them. Kraus objects to a levelling out of strict distinctions: form and content, in such writing, are merely contiguous and perspicuous — but where there is no conflict, art cannot create true unity either.

    Stylistic facility is evidence of the absence of conflict between content and form. Kraus does not believe that the relationship between the two, in language, is obvious or given. French is simply lazy in matters of thought. In fact Heine is implied in each of these images.

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    From this biographical detail Kraus extends the sexual force of his polemic to a systematic comparison of the French and German languages. Here a new element has appeared in the sexual metaphor, perhaps derived from the earlier image of the parasite. It is now clear that the French linguistic and cultural principle is ultimately unproductive. It can produce only phantom pregnancies.

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    Since Heine, Kraus tells us, German-language journalism, at least in Vienna, can dispense with creativity. The phantom pregnancies engendered in the French language cannot be the result of truly fruitful intercourse between writer and language. They are the result of a trick. In describing it, Kraus introduces the second of his two metaphors.

    Reading Heinrich Heine (Cambridge Studies in German) - PDF Free Download

    The great trick of this linguistic racket, which pays a lot better than the greatest achievement of linguistic creativity, continues through successive newspaper generations, and provides anyone and everyone who thinks of reading as a pastime with the most agreeable pretext for avoiding literature. The image of clothing to the body as against flesh to the spirit stresses the idea of an assumed appearance, an inauthentic surface, hollowed out and lacking real interiority. This inauthenticity is now focussed in the notion of linguistic fraudulence.

    An economic metaphor is deployed from the moment this con trick in language is formulated. The journalistic trick substitutes a forgery for real literary value. Once more Kraus returns to Heine as the origin of all this corruption. Millions are kept in work by the rapid turn-over. The element of the modern in this process, then, is not a local question of style so much as a matter of the economic and historical conditions of its production. Kraus hence explicitly rejects the modernizing tendencies in industrial society.

    In a rather precise metaphor, Kraus identifies usury as the root cause of the corruption he attacks. In this corrupt ornamentation of the banal and inauthentic, even aesthetes undertake the metaphorical journey to Paris, world capital of the easy and seductive turn of phrase. Relying on Loos, Kraus develops this view in relation to the connection between a particular kind of writing, in the press, and the development of consumer society.

    In this context the structure of the commodity is of interest not only because, as in Marx, it conceals the alienated labour of its producer and, in circulation, occludes the actual nature of social relations. Kraus realizes that commodity relations have already affected consumer perceptions, and stimulated a new kind of discourse in the press. First, and most simply, the feuilleton is perceived to be in a relation of equivalence with the remainder of the advertising section of the Sunday supplement — the paper itself is a commodity and is marked as belonging to the discourses of and about commodities by proximity.

    Secondly, language takes on a function separate from any direct communication through a concentration on phrase-making for its own sake, which involves a commodification of language itself. It need not exist. Walter Benjamin 10 Reading Heinrich Heine was among the first to recognize the importance, in Kraus, of this sense of the phrase: The empty phrase. It, however, is an abortion of technology. But for this very reason the liberation of language has become identical with that of the empty phrase — its transformation from reproduction to productive instrument.

    The connoisseur-value to which he refers indicates a sense of specificity conferred by the ornamental distinction of the catch-phrase. Once again Heine is cited to take the blame for having prostituted language so that every salesman can have his say.

    An Annotated Bibliography

    The metaphor of prostitution does not itself occur, though it clearly lies close to hand in this mixture of sexual and economic metaphors. The creation of a personal note in journalistic writing since Heine, Kraus claims, in reality masks an appalling similarity. In each case the dignity of the real is undermined or obliterated, drowned out by an excess of interiority.

    The coda of this passage crystallizes the sense of the pre-formed and ready-made nature of such experiences. The replacement is total: the very possibility of mimesis falls to the forces of repetition unleashed in commodity production. As Kraus remarks bitterly, everything always fits everything else.

    And in this way experience itself is stripped of its authenticity and becomes part of a generalized series of repetitions. Kraus illustrates this depletion of experience by comparing reports of a tram-accident in Berlin and in Vienna. The commodification of language in the aesthetics of the phrase entails a parallel process in experience itself, of our knowledge of it and hence of the world. At every level the effects of commodity production are apparent: in the form of the feuilleton as a literary artefact, in its linguistic medium, and in its experiential content. Kraus went to great lengths to guarantee absolute independence from commercial publishing, to the point indeed of ensuring that his paper made less money than it might otherwise have done.

    Indeed, Pfabigan suggests that Kraus developed anachronistic forms of production derived from the early 12 Reading Heinrich Heine nineteenth century rather than the early twentieth. B 2, Yet for Kraus it is still Heine who not only happened to originate this transformation in writing, but who is also still directly implicated in the processes of repetition he is supposed to have unleashed. In two respects, however, Heine is genuinely central to the argument Kraus puts forward; and this argument is itself consonant with the ahistorical forms of his critical procedure.

    His fiercely guarded economic and ideological independence also projected and asserted a total separation from the social or psychological forces which constituted its actual context. The authors against whom Kraus took up a position, including Heine, are also judged in the context of this aesthetic continuum, and are therefore, in this absolute sense, timeless contemporaries. In the sphere of aesthetic judgement the rules of sequence, consequence, and causality are disturbed and paradoxical.

    The original is thrown into the shade by the copy. His supposed qualitative identity with his successors effectively abolishes any sense of originality. Heine is timelessly implicated in the mechanisms of journalism because he had himself destroyed the very structures — whether they be psychological, epistemological, or aesthetic — which made the authentic representation of reality possible.

    The poetry too has its imitators, and so also falls foul of the implication of repetition and repeatability. Kraus suggests that the poems provide an experience of youthful passion artificially preserved, like bottled fruit. The poems continue to present to their readers experiences and values they should long since have recognized as worthless.