Kleist said of himself, ‘everything in me is confusion’. His characters say the same. Their confusion is legendary. Their patterns fail them; playing familiar roles they discover that the lines no longer make mush sense. The usual categories collapse. Things it would be comfortable to keep apart – tenderness and sadism, filial and sexual love, chivalry and rape, angels and devils – run into one another. Kleist’s characters surprise themselves and everyone else.
One of the comments to my last post compelled me to reread David Constantine’s stellar introduction in my edition of Heinrich Von Kleist’s Selected Writings. These two excerpts I quote above and below encapsulate just why I love Kleist’s enigmatic writing so very much. Firstly there is the sheer unexpectedness of his stories; you never know quite where they are going. Secondly is the vulnerability that flows, even in translation, through Kleist’s prose.
Even whilst asserting, if never wholly believing in, the effective power of the mind and the will, Kleist kept open another and contradictory (because irrational) option, as a last resort when the world confronts us unintelligibly and the mind admits defeat. That option is trust (Vertrauen), blind faith, a thing which passeth all understanding. Trust and the lack or failure of it is a central issue in the stories and the plays …
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