As German-language literature turned in the mid-nineteenth century to the depiction of the profane, sensual world, a corresponding anxiety emerged about the terms of that depiction—with consequences not only for realist poetics but also for the conception of the material world itself. At the Limit of the Obscene examines the roots and repercussions of this anxiety in German realist and postrealist literature. Through analyses of works by Adalbert Stifter, Gustav Freytag, Theodor Fontane, Arno Holz, Gottfried Benn, and Franz Kafka, Erica Weitzman shows how German realism’s conflicted representations of the material world lead to an idea of the obscene as an excess of sensual appearance beyond human meaning: the obverse of the anthropocentric worldview that German realism both propagates and pushes to its crisis. At the Limit of the Obscene thus brings to light the troubled and troubling ontology underlying German realism, at the same time demonstrating how its works continue to shape our ideas about representability, alterity, and the relationship of human beings to the non-human well into the present day.
Acknowledgments Introduction: “Scenes that do not belong in the light of day” 1. Against Nature: Adalbert Stifter 2. Base Matter: Gustav Freytag 3. Iconoclasm and Iconolatry: Theodor Fontane 4. Presence as Profanation: Arno Holz 5. Dead Ends: Gottfried Benn 6. Filth: Franz Kafka Coda: "As if she were saying something shameless" Notes Bibliography Index
ERICA WEITZMAN is an associate professor in the Department of German at Northwestern University. She is the author of Irony’s Antics: Walser, Kafka, Roth and the German Comic Tradition, also published by Northwestern University Press.
“A masterful study of the concept of obscenity in nineteenth-century German realist literature and its afterlife. Weitzman moves with enviable grace through the German intellectual tradition from Kant forwards. And her readings of the individual literary works are themselves major contributions to the scholarship on German realism.” —Eric Downing, author of The Chain of Things: Divinatory Magic and the Practice of Reading in German Literature and Thought, 1850–1940
“Mandatory reading for all those interested in nineteenth-century German prose and, more generally, in questions of materialism and literature.” —Eva Geulen, author of The End of Art: Readings in a Rumor after Hegel
“By weaving together poetic realism and an aesthetic of the obscene, Weitzman has produced a definitive study with the potential to reorient the research on realism: away from poetic realism’s epistemological aporias and towards the ethical and political implications of realist discourse, which indeed reach all the way into the present day.” —Roman Widder, Zeitschrift für Germanistik
“The publication of Erica Weitzman’s theoretically sophisticated At the Limit of the Obscene: German Realism and the Disgrace of Matter should finally dispel the persistent belief in the inferior status of German realism relative to that of its European counterparts. It is a book to share unreservedly with scholars and avid readers of nineteenth-century literature, as well as ecocritics, for whom names like Stifter, Freytag, and Fontane fail to awaken even a glimmer of recognition. Expertly building on previous book-length studies of German realism as a poetics of norming and excluding, Weitzman pursues these situations of othering into sordid depths . . . It is a pleasure to immerse oneself in this text and its unrelenting uncovering of the intricacies of various realist projects . . .” —Jason Groves, German Quarterly
“Investigating texts by six major German writers, Weitzman traces the evolution of the literary representation of unpleasant objects of material culture from realism to naturalism by tracking perceptions of the obscene—asking how much and what kinds of reality can be tolerated . . . Recommended.” —J. M. Jeep, Miami University, CHOICE
“Weitzman’s study [deserves] a full round of applause for its results.” —Svend Erik Larsen, Orbis Litterarum
“The book is intelligently written and meticulously researched and will challenge those who were trained to regard realism as a simple mimetic interpretation of the world. Weitzman’s study truly breaks new ground, expanding and complicating our understanding of realism and the task of literature to represent the material world.” —Alyssa Howards, Journal of Austrian Studies
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