Friday, October 5, 2007

E.T.A. Hoffmann

I just recently started reading E.T.A. Hoffmann and I love it. Well, I haven't read that much by now though, just the story “The golden pot”. It's about a guy who has bad luck in general and one day gets cursed by a witch. Afterwards he sees golden snakes falls in love with one of them and ..., well I don't want to tell it all, go read it for yourself. It's basically a romantic/fantasy story with strange things happening where the the main character Anselmus is always struggling to face the real world and vice versa.

E.T.A. Hoffmann was a writer of the Late Romanticism. His stories differ from other poets of the time as they are partly gloomy and there's always an inner struggle in the main characters that tears him apart. An ongoing discontented skipping between the real and the fantasy. I have to admit that I feel a real sympathy for Hoffmann and can relate to his characters too. At least as far as I read him by now. During his whole lifetime he had trouble getting along with being a jurist on the one side and wanting to be an artist on the other. He not only was good in writing but also in fine arts and music. This trouble found is way into the stories as an element of grotesque. Basically his stories can be brought down to 3 levels. There is the reality or bourgeois life, the fantastic-romantic level and the grotesque-demon like.(1) The first one is representing the wish for safety and material wealth. Also at this level the irrational is not accepted. The second level is a romantic one, where smells become visual, beautiful colorful flowers start to grow and to spread out and everything is very passionate and emotional. Nature like fantasy scenes are being described enthusiastic and always come along with an intoxicant swing. The grotesque builds a kind of bridge between the two other levels.(2) For example, when, in the story of “the golden pot”, the door knocker of the house, that is representing the entrance to“fantasy” (second level) becomes the witch. As soon as you would feel to comfortable in one level or accept it as the only, the grotesque comes into the scene and acts as a demon like reminder that this is not possible. Escaping into fantasy is no way and neither is concerning with reality all by itself. You have to suffer facing the duplicity of life. In the moment when the main character recognizes the ambivalence of the world he falls into unconsciousness letting him no chance to comprehend or process it.

There is a certain kind of humor or irony in Hoffmanns writing. In each of the levels the grotesque is always mirroring the opposite. And so shows the disaffirmation of one-dimensionality. Another interesting point is that the grotesque always appears out of the subjective perception of the actor. It's not so much that the world has changed but the view on it.(3) Reality and fiction don't exist side by side. They're mixed up. For Hoffmann understanding of the world is not possible by just rational thinking or pure lyrical romanticism. His ambivalence is a more real one. Irrational happenings find their way in to everyday life.

1 – Georgi, Olliver (2003): Das Groteske in Literatur und Werbung. S.60, Stuttgart, ibidem Verlag

2 - ebd. S. 73

3 - ebd. S. 80

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