Professor Ricarda Schmidt

Dr Seán Allan

Dr Steven Howe

Kleist, Education and Violence

The Transformation of Ethics and Aesthetics


Professor Ricarda Schmidt (University of Exeter)

I have long been interested, both in my teaching and research, in exploring violence, gender and agency in Kleist's work in the context of discourses in Kleist's own time, and to look at Kleist's reception in other media (film, painting, music) and other periods. I published a chapter on the representation of violence in Kleist's story 'Die Marquise von O' and in a recent film inspired by Kleist's story; a chapter on '"Odd bodies": Kleists Körperdarstellungen im Kreuzpunkt widersprüchlicher Diskurse', in which I explore contradictions between cause and effect in Kleist's presentation of bodily functions and try to explain them by linking them to historical discourses on the body; a chapter on the reception of Penthesilea in classical modernity . Furthermore, I published a journal article on gender in Kleist's work which is conceptualised as both performance and essence, and I ask what implications these apparently contradictory concepts have for a notion of agency. I gave papers on Kleist's Penthesilea as seen by visual artists, on Kleist and the Dark Side of Antiquity, and on violence as a product of education in Penthesilea and Die Herrmannsschlacht. A chapter on autobiographical aspects of Christa Wolf's view of Kleist inKein Ort. Nirgendsis forthcoming.

Dr Seán Allan (University of Warwick)

Throughout my research career I have been interested in German literature of the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth centuries, and in the work of Heinrich von Kleist in particular. I have written two full-length studies on Kleist's work. The first of these, Ideals and Illusions – the Plays of Heinrich von Kleist (CUP, 1996) focuses on the difficulties that arise when human beings are blinded to the realities of human behaviour by a misguided preoccupation with allegedly 'transcedent' concepts of 'perfect' justice, feminine virtue, patriotism, and military discipline. In my second full-length study, The Stories of Heinrich von Kleist – Fictions of Security (Camden House, 2001), I focus on Kleist's letters and prose fiction, and explore the themes of justice and revenge, revolution and social change, the nature of evil, and the relationship between art and religion. My most recent project is a special number of German Life and Letters (co-edited with Elystan Griffiths) entitled Heinrich von Kleist. Performance and Performativity which was published in July 2011. My own contribution explores the ways the radical politics of the late 1960s and student movement are viewed through the lens of Kleist's Michael Kohlhaas and Die Verlobung in St. Domingo in the films Kohlhaas – Der Rebell (Volker Schlöndorff, 1968) and San Domingo (Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, 1970).

Dr Steven Howe (University of Exeter)

My research to date has principally focused on Kleist, with a particular emphasis on setting his work in perspective in relation to the intellectual and political contexts of his time. I recently completed a monograph study re-examining his investment in the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Heinrich von Kleist and Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Violence, Identity, Nation. Rochester, NY 2012 [forthcoming]): where previously critics have tended to trivialise this as but a temporary interest borne of personal kinship, I have attempted to re-establish Rousseau's specific importance as a political thinker whose theories remained a lasting, fertile source of inspiration and reflection for the constellations of Kleist's fiction and drama, particularly as they relate to the nexus of violence and identity as it takes shape in the Spannungsfeld between the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. I have published further articles on the representation of education and self-realisation in the tale Der Findling, on the portrayal of war and terror in the nationalist drama Die Herrmannsschlacht, and on the early reception of the same work in the Vormärz period. I am also currently working on a paper on Penthesilea, focusing on how Kleist relates in the drama to Friedrich Schiller's Ästhetische Briefe and re-works his concept of barbarism in relation to the structures of the Amazon state.