Acts of Narrative

Acts of Narrative: Textual Strategies in Modern German Fiction

PATRICK O’NEILL
Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442670600
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  • Book Info
    Acts of Narrative
    Book Description:

    O?Neill applies the principles of structuralist and poststructuralist narratology to a selection of narratives from both modernist and postmodernist German authors: Mann, Kafka, and Hesse, and Canetti, Grass, Johnson, Handke, and Bernhard.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7060-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-15)

    This book has a straightforward aim: to apply the principles of modern narratology to a selection of twentieth-century German narratives, with a view to generating readings that will have something to say both to those whose primary interest is in the intersection of narrative theory and critical practice and to those whose primary interest is in modern German (or comparative) literature. The approach adopted rests on three assumptions: first, that all stories are storiestoldin particular ways; second, that these particular ways of telling stories are interesting objects of study in and for themselves; and third, that modern German...

  5. 1 Death in Venice: Narrative Situations in Thomas Mann’s Der Tod in Venedig
    (pp. 16-38)

    One of the most fundamentally important implications of the gap between narrative discourse and the story it presents is that narrative isalwaysimplicitly both a producer and a product of irony.¹ Some writers naturally make considerably greater use of this latent discursive potential than do others – and few do so more than Thomas Mann, ‘the ironic German,’ as Erich Heller dubbed him in a classic study. Mann’s early masterpieceDer Tod in Venedig(1912), translated into English asDeath in Venice, allows us to examine one particularly interesting textual strategy employed by an exemplarily ironic narrator.

    The story...

  6. 2 The Trial: Paradigms of Indeterminacy in Franz Kafka’s Der Prozeβ
    (pp. 39-56)

    There are several modern German writers whose work has been the subject of intense critical attention both in German and in English – Thomas Mann, for example, and Hermann Hesse, and Günter Grass. None, however, has been subjected to more intense scrutiny than has Franz Kafka, and none has produced a body of work that has been read in so great a variety of disparate and even openly conflicting ways.¹ Clearly, the most immediate reason for this multiplicity of readings is that Kafka’s oeuvre is structurally characterized by a systemic indeterminacy that is unique in its range and pervasiveness. His...

  7. 3 Harry Haller’s Records: The Ludic Imagination in Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf
    (pp. 57-75)

    Hermann Hesse’s novelDer Steppenwolf(1927) has been the object of a great deal of critical attention over the years. By and large, however, critics have concentrated on its proper place in the overall development of Hesse’s thinking and its relevance to his troubled biography. Thomas Mann’s praise of the novel as being just as bold a formal experiment as Joyce’sUlyssesor Gide’sFaux-monnayeursis indeed regularly rehearsed, but remarkably few critics have taken him at his word with any degree of rigour.¹ In an attempt to do so, we shall limit ourselves here to a resolutely formalist consideration,...

  8. 4 Auto da fé: Reading Misreading in Elias Canetti’s Die Blendung
    (pp. 76-96)

    To read is also, always and necessarily, to misread. Few novels demonstrate the consequences of this interpretive maxim so graphically as Elias Canetti’s remarkable novelDie Blendung(1935) – translated into English asAuto da fé– whose central character is the professional (and obsessional) reader Peter Kien, forty years old, ‘Gelehrter, Sinologe von Hauptfach’ (8) / ‘man of learning and specialist in sinology’ (12), perhaps even the greatest living scholar of ancient Chinese philosophy.¹ ‘Unzählige Texte verdankten ihre Herstellung ihm’ (14) / ‘Countless texts owed their restoration to him’ (20). Revered and envied by his peers as the unchallengeable...

  9. 5 The Tin Drum: Implications of Unreliability in Günter Grass’s Die Blechtrommel
    (pp. 97-116)

    Günter Grass’s extraordinary novelDie Blechtrommel(1959) – translated into English asThe Tin Drum– is without any doubt one of the most impressive German literary texts of this or any other century, and has gradually assembled around itself an entire army of analysts, interpreters, and exegetes who have variously illuminated and occluded the object of their scrutiny according to their particular critical lights. In the present chapter I will limit myself to the central role played in the reading experience of this narrative by the flaunted unreliability of its narrator.¹ Few narrators, as almost all critics of Grass’s...

  10. 6 Two Views: The Authority of Discourse in Uwe Johnson’s Zwei Ansichten
    (pp. 117-137)

    Uwe Johnson’sZwei Ansichten(1965), translated into English asTwo Views, has to date fallen very definitely in the shadow of his longer narratives.¹ Published criticism of Johnson’s work has overwhelmingly focused on hisMutmaβungen über Jakob(1959), onDas dritte Buch über Achim(1961), and, above all, on the massive four-volumeJahrestage(1970–83). From the writer of the highly sophisticatedMutmaβungen über Jakob– who had himself moreover moved from East Germany to West Berlin in 1959 –Zwei Ansichteneven seemed to early readers to be almost embarrassingly simple-minded as to its plot: a selfish and irresponsible...

  11. 7 The Goalie’s Anxiety: Signs and Semiosis in Peter Handke’s Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter
    (pp. 138-155)

    Like many of Peter Handke’s texts, narrative or dramatic,Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter(1970) – translated into English asThe Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick– is conspicuously short on plot in any traditional sense. Josef Bloch loses his job as a construction worker in Vienna, strikes up a chance acquaintance with a cinema cashier, and immediately takes her to bed. Next morning he abruptly strangles her and then takes a bus to a remote village on the southern Austrian border where an ex-girlfriend of his lives. There he rambles about aimlessly for several days, idly reading...

  12. 8 The Lime Works: Narrative and Noise in Thomas Bernhard’s Das Kalkwerk
    (pp. 156-174)

    The inevitability of failure is central to Thomas Bernhard’s novelDas Kalkwerk(1970) – translated into English asThe Lime Works– from its opening sentences: Konrad, the aging and misanthropic owner of a disused lime works, hovering on the verge of mental collapse after decades of entirely fruitless attempts to complete a scientific study on the nature and mechanics of hearing, is arrested for the murder of his crippled wife, a brutal act that definitively terminates both a very unhappy marriage and the ill-fated treatise. The murder and arrest are described (to use the term, as we shall see,...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 175-178)

    Since the eight texts chosen for analysis here span most of the twentieth century, it is conceivable that there are readers who might expect some attempt at a historical summary at this point, showing the larger patterns I see as governing the development of German narrative across the century. Since the focus throughout the book has been analytical rather than historical, however, foregrounding individual texts rather than the relationships among them, let me conclude not with any foreshortened attempt at literary history but rather with a brief reflection on the chosen methodology and on the relationship between formalism and historicism...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 179-188)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 189-200)
  16. Index
    (pp. 201-205)