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A New History of German Literature (Harvard University Press Reference Library) [Hardcover]

David E Wellbery , Judith Ryan

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Book Description

7 Jan 2005 Harvard University Press Reference Library (Book 15)
The revolutionary spirit that animates the culture of the Germans has been alive for at least twelve centuries, far longer than the dramatically fragmented and reshaped political entity known as Germany. German culture has been central to Europe, and it has contributed the transforming spirit of Lutheran religion, the technology of printing as a medium of democracy, the soulfulness of Romantic philosophy, the structure of higher education, and the tradition of liberal socialism to the essential character of modern American life. In this book leading scholars and critics capture the spirit of this culture in some 200 original essays on events in German literary history. Rather than offering a single continuous narrative, the entries focus on a particular literary work, an event in the life of an author, a historical moment, a piece of music, a technological invention, even a theatrical or cinematic premiere. Together they give the reader a surprisingly unified sense of what it is that has allowed Meister Eckhart, Hildegard of Bingen, Luther, Kant, Goethe, Beethoven, Benjamin, Wittgenstein, Jelinek, and Sebald to provoke and enchant their readers. From the earliest magical charms and mythical sagas to the brilliance and desolation of 20th-century fiction, poetry, and film, this illuminating reference book invites readers to experience the full range of German literary culture and to investigate for themselves its disparate and unifying themes. Contributors include: Amy M. Hollywood on medieval women mystics, Jan-Dirk Muller on Gutenberg, Marion Aptroot on the Yiddish Renaissance, Emery Snyder on the Baroque novel, J. B. Schneewind on Natural Law, Maria Tatar on the Grimm brothers, Arthur Danto on Hegel, Reinhold Brinkmann on Schubert, Anthony Grafton on Burckhardt, Stanley Corngold on Freud, Andreas Huyssen on Rilke, Greil Marcus on Dada, Eric Rentschler on Nazi cinema, Elisabeth Young-Bruehl on Hannah Arendt, Gordon A. Craig on Gunter Grass, Edward Dimendberg on Holocaust memorials.

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'Literary history is essentially a German invention and this newest form of it is eminently attractive." -- The Spectator, 26 March 2005

'No dry reference work. It carries a powerful charge of enthusiasm, even of proselytizing commitment to the things it presents.' -- TLS, 22 July, 2005

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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Invaluable Collection, but not a History 6 Nov 2005
By Tiresias - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is the second of the Harvard University Press' avowedly "new" versions of literary history, having been preceded by a "New History of French Literature." It stands in marked contrast to the traditional banal historical surveys, which often read like annotated bibliographies rearranged in chronological order, which give the reader no flavor for actual literature. It is also different from an ideosyncratic synthetic history which presents the viewpoint of one critic, glossing over certain periods and authors in order to dwell on others, merely because the author finds them more interesting or in better conformity with his thesis. Instead, this book is a compilation of essays written by over 150 specialists in different periods and aspects of German literature, each essay concentrating upon a particular work, or a particular moment in German literary history.

In some respects, it works amazingly well, seeing 1200 years of Germanic literature through a series of epiphanies. The quality of the essays is extremely high, and there are enough of them that the reader does get a notion of the richness and breadth of literary creation in the German language. Best of all, the essays are such that they tend to create a hunger to read many of the works reviewed. The reader can browse through the book, following one of the many threads provided by the diverse assembly of critics, jumping from one essay and epoch to another, noting along the way many works of which he may never have heard, accumulating a rich mine of future reading.

But the History's chief success is also its chief failing: such a book can never be catholic enough to serve as a reference with which to place in its historical or literary context any book which one has read, or of which one has heard. Some significant minor authors are omitted altogether, as well as a few major ones, and especially as we approach more recent times the selection has to become ever more arbitrary and limited. The greatest names in German literature are inevitably slighted due to the format, as they are given only slightly greater treatment than the lesser figures which each also command at least one essay. Goethe's Faust, most notably, does not really loom as the immensely important monument which it is, nor does it receive the kind of elaborate explication it deserves. To those tired of grazing solely on the highest treetops who might be tempted to say 'Good riddance,' one must point out that this is supposed to be a general history, and not an eclectic selection of good books the uninitiated might not otherwise have read. Another defect is that by focusing exclusively on individual works, and on the moments in history which have witnessed their birth, there are no general essays which cover the broad and pervasive literary movements such as Romanticism or Expressionism, nor are there any extended discussions of such recurrent literary genres and themes as the Bildungsroman, or the fantastic novel. In short, this is a superb anthology of essays, which deserves to be put on the shelf next to a more traditional history. The inclusion of some thematic essays, and an extended narrative to bridge the gaps and tie the essays together would partially remedy this defect at the expense of making a fat book even fatter, but I am afraid that without turning it into an encyclopedic reference of at least two volumes, a book of this structure cannot fully realize its ambition to become a "new history" which transcends the traditional model. Nonetheless, for its sheer readability, and especially given the ignorance which even most educated English-speaking readers now have of literature in German, it is a worthy acquisition for any lover of literature.
7 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Dubious Work 1 Aug 2009
By Helmut Schwarzer - Published on Amazon.com
No matter what the editors' & contributors' intent was or wasn't with this "New History", it has failed and disqualified itself by ignoring the following writers, to name only those that loom largest: Angelus Silesius, Johannes Beer, Hoffmann v. Hoffmannswaldau, Hebel, Lenau, Platen, Morgenstern, Lasker-Schueler, Robert Walser, Tucholsky, Arno Schmidt, Wolfgang Koeppen, Doderer, Erich Kaestner, Strittmatter, Aichinger, Bobrowski. Women writers are largely absent, as well as the literature of exile.
Is one to find solace for these omissions by noting 26 references for Hitler in the index? No, this is not a 'new' history, this is not a 'history' at all.
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