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Orienting the Self

Orienting the Self: The German Literary Encounter with the Eastern Other

Debra N. Prager
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Orienting the Self
    Book Description:

    For centuries, Europe's eastward gaze has been wary if not hostile. Medieval man envisaged grotesque beings at the world's edge and scanned the steppes and straits on the immediate horizon for the Asian or Arab hordes that might swarm across them. Through the Crusades, the early modern era, and the age of imperialism, Europeans regarded the Eastern subject as requiring both "discovery" and conquest. Conveniently, the "Oriental" came to represent fanaticism, terrorism, moral laxity, and inscrutability, among other stereotypes. The list of German literary works that reinforced negative clichés about the East is long, but Orienting the Self argues for the presence in the German literary tradition of a powerful perception of the East as the scene of desire, fantasy, and fulfillment. It follows the evolution of the Orient as a literary device and demonstrates how it was used to explore subjectivity and the possibility of wholeness. The five works treated in this study - Parzival, Fortunatus, Effi Briest, Heinrich von Ofterdingen, and The Magic Mountain - are narratives of development in which the encounter with the East is central to the progression toward selfhood and the promise of fulfillment. Debra Prager is Associate Professor of German at Washington and Lee University.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-343-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-28)

    As with any intellectual endeavor, the idea behind this book was born in a question. It was actually a series of questions that came to me one night many years ago as I walked out of a small movie theater in San Rafael, California. I had seen a special screening of the Disney cartoon feature filmAladdin. It was a tale set in the Orient, and was thus filled with images of colorful, bustling bazaars, palatial interiors, gleaming jewels and the chink of gold, duplicitous thieves, beautiful, sequestered women, cruel villains, a genie, and, naturally, a flying carpet. As I...

  5. 1: The Vision of the Eastern Other in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival
    (pp. 29-73)

    The penultimate book of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s courtly romance,Parzival(written at the turn of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries), relates the encounter between the questing hero and his half-brother Feirefiz, the powerful king of vast territories in the East. In the fourteen preceding books Wolfram describes in detail Parzival’s trials and tribulations during his journey of maturation on the way to becoming the Grail King. The poet begins book 15 by telling the audience that Parzival’s journey will end soon, but that he must first engage in a final battle, one so fierce that all those that preceded it...

  6. 2: Mapping the World and the Self: Fortunatus and the Age of Discovery
    (pp. 74-118)

    The story of Fortunatus (1509)¹ begins and ends in Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean and a nexus of trade and travel between West and East. From this pivotal space, the narrator maps the protagonist’s development as he travels first to Europe and then, again from Cyprus, to the Arab world and Asia. Strangely, however, the fact that this southern GermanProsaromanhas a Cypriot as its protagonist has piqued the curiosity of only a few critics. And yet the choice to make Cyprus the center point ofFortunatus’sgeographical—and psychological—space isthecritical narrative strategy behind the...

  7. 3: Discovering the “Great Orient within Us”: Novalis’s Heinrich von Ofterdingen
    (pp. 119-188)

    Friedrich von Hardenberg’s experimental novelHeinrich von Ofterdingenis an attempt to realize the theoretical program of the Early Romantics in literary form.¹ Although Hardenberg (known by his pseudonym Novalis) died before he could complete the novel, it remains one of the most significant texts of the German Romantic period. A fusion of genres, part fairy tale, partBildungsroman, poetic and at the same time philosophical, it introduced to the movement its quintessential symbol, the blue flower, which signified the spirit of poetry, the never-ending quest for self-realization, and the restoration of a golden age. Hardenberg envisioned the novel in...

  8. 4: The Oedipal and the Orient in Theodor Fontane’s Effi Briest
    (pp. 189-219)

    Effi Briest(1895) is a novel of development that tells the story of a young woman’s emotional coming-of-age. The spirited daughter of Prussian landed gentry, Effi is seventeen when she is maneuvered into a marriage with the much older Baron von Innstetten, a high-ranking official under Bismarck and her mother’s former suitor. As Effi’s hopes for marital happiness are stifled by her distant and unsympathetic husband, she becomes increasingly obsessed with the figure of a Chinese ghost, who, Effi believes, haunts their home. Bored and disillusioned, she eventually engages in an illicit affair with the charming and persistent Major von...

  9. 5: “The Asian Principle” in Thomas Mann’s Der Zauberberg
    (pp. 220-282)

    Thomas Mann’s Der Zauberberg opens in 1907 with its protagonist’s arrival at the Berghof, a sanatorium in the mountains above the alpine village of Davos.¹ Hans Castorp, a young ship’s engineer-in-training from Hamburg, has traveled to Switzerland to spend three weeks with his cousin, Joachim Ziemssen, who is being treated there for tuberculosis. The three weeks eventually turn into seven years, and Castorp remains on the mountain long after his cousin has left for the “Flatlands.” Under the tutelage of various mentors, Hans becomes a student of both life and of death, far removed from the practicalities and responsibilities of...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 283-296)

    In the introduction to this book I recount how the convergence of experiences—watching the late twentieth-century movieAladdinand reading the early thirteenth-century masterpieceParzival—initiated this study. The potency of the Oriental stereotypes they mobilized and the similarity of the clichés presented in the two works, despite the hundreds of years that lay between them, led to the question of whether these stereotypes are indeed immutable, as Edward Said’s work suggests, and why they continue to inhabit the symbolic landscape of the Western imagination with such vibrancy and evocative power. Despite some controversy over the negative representation of...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 297-310)
  12. Index
    (pp. 311-327)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 328-328)