Heinrich von Kleist Das Erdbeben in Chili The Earthquake in Chile
Kant Crisis 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.
Letter to Wilhelmine, 1801 • In Kleist’s own words taken from a letter to Wilhelmine in 1801: “Truly, considering that we need a lifetime to learn how we ought to live, that even in death we still have no idea what heaven wants with us, if nobody knows the purpose of his existence nor what he is intended for, if human reason is not adequate to comprehend us, our souls, our lives, the things around us, if even after thousands of years we are still doubtful whether there is any such thing as right -- can God ask of such creatures that they be responsible? Let nobody tell me there is a voice in us that whispers clearly what is right. [. . .] And then what does it mean, to do something evil, judging by its effect? What is evil? Absolute evil? The things of the world are connected and intertwined in a myriad ways, every act is the mother of a million more and often the worst begets the best -- Tell me who on this earth has ever done anything evil?”
Censorship: Berliner Abendblätter 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.
Earthquake, Characters • Jeronimo Rugera - A Spaniard, the lover of Josephe • JosepheAsteron - Daughter of the richest nobleman in the city, the lover of Jeronimo • Philipp - The son of Jeronimo and Josephe • Don Fernando Ormez - An acquaintance of Josephe, husband of Donna Elvira • Donna Elvira - Don Fernando's wife • Juan - Donna Elvira and Don Fernando's son • Don Pedro - Donna Elvira's Father • Donna Isabel - A relation of Don Fernando • Donna Constanza - Sister of Donna Elvira • Master Pedrillo - A cobbler • Don Alonzo - An acquaintance of Don Fernando and Josephe, a naval officer
Ideas • Discrepancy between the idea of a benevolent God and the ubiquitous and random destruction • Dichotomy between destruction and salvation • The institution of “judgment” are destroyed: Archbishop, Prior, Monastery • Reversal of the Ideals of Christianity