Heinrich von Kleist. Das Erdbeben in Chili The Earthquake in Chile. Kant Crisis.
Heinrich von Kleist
Das Erdbeben in Chili
The Earthquake in Chile
The great and eccentric German writer Heinrich von Kleist, famous for his enigmatic dramas and novellas, read the Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant in 1801. A series of letters written around this time speak of the distress he felt as he absorbed the implications of Kantian thought. This sense of distress — long considered important to understanding Kleist's subsequent works — has become known to Kleist scholars as the 'Kant crisis, ' and marks Kleist's abandonment of the hope of gaining metaphysical certainty about his life. But it has never been established which texts of Kant Kleist actually read, how well he understood them, and why they precipitated such despair. Kleist himself — aside from one paraphrasing of Kant in a letter of 1801 — was never explicit about what he called this 'sad philosophy.' Yet the distress seems never to have left him and remains an abiding preoccupation throughout his dramas and stories. This collection of essays, all in German language, represents the most recent work of prominent scholars in the field. It takes the pervasive sense of metaphysical crisis in Kleist's works as a starting point. In the context of Kleist's response to Kant, the essays deal with his subversive treatment of the literary motifs and genres of his day, and with the ambiguity of truth in his works — for his characters and readers alike.
For six months Kleist had edited the daily newspaper Berliner Abendblätter, of which the contributors included Adam Müller, Achim von Arnim, and Clemens Brentano. When it ceased publication, he lost his means of livelihood. He obtained an audience with the king, petitioning to be reinstated as a military officer, and in September 1811 visited his relatives in Frankfurt to ask them for a loan to cover the expenses related to that reinstatement. In response to his request for financial help he was called "einganznichtsnutzigesGlied der menschlichenGesellschaft" (an absolutely useless member of society). Disappointed in life and embittered by the lack of recognition accorded him by his contemporaries, particularly Goethe, he came to know a terminally ill woman, Henriette Vogel, who begged him to kill her. This gave Kleist the final incentive to end his tragic life, and on Nov. 21, 1811, he shot Henriette and himself on the shore of the Wannsee.