Redeeming Words: Language and the Promise of Happiness in the Stories of Döblin and Sebald (Suny Series, Intersections: Philosophy & Critical Theory)

Redeeming Words: Language and the Promise of Happiness in the Stories of Döblin and Sebald (Suny Series, Intersections: Philosophy & Critical Theory)

David Michael Kleinberg-Levin

Language: English

Pages: 384

ISBN: 1438447809

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Probing study of how literature can redeem the revelatory, redemptive powers of language.

In this probing look at Alfred Döblin’s 1929 novel Berlin Alexanderplatz and the stories of W. G. Sebald, Redeeming Words offers a philosophical meditation on the power of language in literature. David Kleinberg-Levin draws on the critical theory of Benjamin and Adorno; the idealism and romanticism of Kant, Hegel, Hölderlin, Novalis, and Schelling; and the nineteenth- and twentieth-century thought of Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Derrida. He shows how Döblin and Sebald—writers with radically different styles working in different historical moments—have in common a struggle against forces of negativity and an aim to bring about in response a certain redemption of language. Kleinberg-Levin considers the fast-paced, staccato, and hard-cut sentences of Döblin and the ghostly, languorous, and melancholy prose fiction of Sebald to articulate how both writers use language in an attempt to recover and convey this utopian promise of happiness for life in a time of mourning.

“Redeeming Words is an elegant, highly learned, and incisive exploration of how language—and thus the greatest literature of our time—both registers the experience of the loss of utopia and affirms hope by making the loss more clear. It takes as its theme the most profound reflections on the role of words in a time of abandonment and disenchantment. Kleinberg-Levin argues not only that words communicate this sense of loss but constitute it by failing to achieve total mastery and transparency and self-consciously thematizing the corruption and also affirmative power of words. At the deepest level, this study analyzes words and what the very existence of words can confer to individuals and communities.” — Peter Fritzsche, author of The Turbulent World of Franz Göll: An Ordinary Berliner Writes the Twentieth Century

On Form: Poetry, Aestheticism, and the Legacy of a Word

Gesammelte Schriften

L'Œuvre de l'art, tome 1 : Immanence et trancendance














only their passage into transcendence, but even their material reality, their power to touch our lives.22 Benjamin unfolds this thought, asserting that the epoch in which man could believe himself in harmony with nature has expired. [But] the storyteller keeps faith with it, and his eyes do not stray from that dial in front of which there moves the procession of creatures of which, depending on circumstances, Death is either the leader or the last wretched straggler.23 But the time of the

attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption. Knowledge has no light but that shed on the world by redemption: all else is reconstruction, mere technique. Perspectives must be fashioned that displace and estrange the world, reveal it to be […] as indigent and distorted as it will appear one day in the messianic light. The note continues, beautifully articulating the very problems with which Sebald's writings constantly struggle: the tension

is absurd, for the moral transformation of the world depends solely on us. The ending of history as a story of suffering, of violence, destruction, and guilt, is our task, our responsibility. As long as we are doing nothing but waiting, the messianic transformation will not happen. But once we have worked to transform ourselves and have made the redeeming reconciliation of the world our task, the intervention of a Messianic figure will no longer be needed. However, since that transformation is

deutsche Literatur der 20. Jahrhundert (Königstein: Athenäeum, 1985), 156–65. 22. Marcuse, op. cit., 125. 23. Ibid., 127. 24. Roland Dollinger, Totalität und Totalitarismus im Exilwerk Döblins (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 1994), 149, 151. My own translation. 25. See Benjamin, “Krisis des Romans: Zu Döblins Berlin Alexanderplatz,” in Gesammelte Schriften, vol. III (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1972), 230–36. 26. Döblin, Briefe (Olten: Walter-Verlag, 1970), 165–66. 27. Adorno,

undecidability, forgetfulness, and deception. His writings, like those of Montaigne and Sir Thomas Browne, wander and drift, undertake long digressions, bound to no fixed center, no ruling origin, no ruling end, no settled boundaries. Even the border between fiction and factual document, a founding axiom for both literature and science since the time of Plato, is repeatedly breached, called into question. In a note for his “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” Benjamin records his intention to

Download sample