Hostile Reception

Observations on the Gutzkow Revival from the Periphery

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The invitation to contribute to the symposium about „Gutzkow and His Contemporaries“ I found quite astonishing, for I have had little to do with Gutzkow for about thirty-five years. As I looked anew into the topic, I began to feel like Rip van Winkle, so much has happened in the interim. I come from a time when it could be authoritatively stated: „Eine Gutzkow-Renaissance wird es nie geben“ (Therese von Bacheracht und Karl Gutzkow. Unveröffentlichte Briefe 1842-1849. Herausgegeben von Werner Vordtriede. München 1971), and not long after that: „er hat an der Weiterentwicklung der Aufklärung im neunzehnten Jahrhundert keinen wesentlichen Anteil.“ (Volkmar Hansen: „,Freiheit! Freiheit! Freiheit!‘ Das Bild Karl Gutzkows in der Forschung; mit Ausblicken auf Ludolf Wienbarg“. Herausgegeben von Alberto Martino, Günther Häntzschel und Georg Jäger. Tübingen 1977) Somewhat earlier an editor had declared: „Er ist von der Misere des deutschen Schriftstellers nicht zu trennen.“ (Karl Gutzkow: „Deutschland am Vorabend seines Falles oder seiner Größe“. Herausgegeben von  Walter Boehlich. Frankfurt am Main 1969) Sometimes, during the brief flurry of concentration on the Young German movement, the obligation to read Gutzkow seemed to make scholars angry, such as Walter Hof, fuming that his expression „krankt, wie Gutzkows Gedanken meist, an seiner miserablen Formulierung, die auf einem seltsam schleimigen Denken beruht. “ (Walter Hof: „Pessimistisch-nihilistische Strömungen in der deutschen Literatur vom Sturm und Drang bis zum Jungen Deutschland.“ Tübingen 1970. The complaint is directed to „Wally, die Zweiflerin.“) More resigned, Rainer Funke complained of „dem vielfältig changierenden Vexierbild zwischen genialer Innovation und platter Banalität, poetischer Dichte und Kitsch, originärer Leistung und Ideen aus zweiter Hand.“ (Rainer Funke: „Beharrung und Umbruch 1830-1860. Karl Gutzkow auf dem Weg in die literarische Moderne.“ Frankfurt a. M. 1984)

Style and Narrative Perspective

Complaints about Gutzkow’s style are legion, from his own agonized self-criticisms to René Wellek’s „fuzzy, flabby, diffuse“ (René Wellek: „History of Modern Criticism 1750-1950.“ New Haven, London 1955-92). Gutzkow seems to lack inhibition; everything just all comes out. He even admitted to Karl August Varnhagen that he was proud that people thought he wrote down the first thing that came into his head because it certified his candour (Karl Gutzkow to Karl August Varnhagen von Ense, 7 October 1835. Heinrich Hubert Houben: „Gutzkow-Funde. Beiträge zur Litteratur- und Kulturgeschichte des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts.“ Berlin 1901). At the same time there are compensations, moments when an adroit formulation leaps out from the page, especially when he is in his satirical and comic modes, such as in „Die Ritter vom Geiste“, where he remarks of Frau von Trompetta that she „plätscherte je wie ein Meerufer-Fisch in beiden Elementen, im Süßwasser der sozialen Richtung, wie im Salzwassser der Politik“ (Karl Gutzkow: „Die Ritter vom Geiste. Roman in neun Büchern“. Herausgegeben von Thomas Neumann. Frankfurt a. M. 1998), or in „Die neuen Serapionsbrüder“, where it is said of Wagner writing his opera libretti that he has become his own Schikaneder, or that he had harmonized Wolfram von Eschenbach with George Sand (Karl Gutzkow: „Die neuen Serapionsbrüder. Roman“. Herausgegeben von  Kurt Jauslin. Gutzkows Werke und Briefe. Erzählerische Werke. Band 17. Münster 2002). However, with these latter passages one runs into a familiar characteristic of Gutzkow’s manner, that they are placed not on the narrator’s account, but on that of one of his many fictional voices. As Gerhard Friesen has put it in connection with „Die Ritter vom Geiste“, „[t]he general preponderance of direct discourse over the actual narrative imparts to the narrator the role of an unobtrusive director of dialogues who simply sets the scene but otherwise seems withdrawn. “ (Gerhard Friesen: „The German Panoramic Novel of the 19th Century“. Bern 1972) The effect is one of Bakhtinian heteroglossia, contrary and almost systematically inconsistent, so that determining the author’s position on anything is like trying to fix quicksilver.

Comparison with Editing Heine

My march into this topic has left me with the awareness that I am only a beginner, sorting out first impressions. But I am reminded of another program to recover and reassess a weakened and damaged reputation, that of Heine, a project that has now been going on for about half a century and to which I have been more attentive. There appear to me to be some parallels, some contrasts, and perhaps one or another caveat. The most urgent imperative in both cases has been the establishment of a usable philological base. This has been a great labour in Heine’s case, itself taking about a quarter of a century. Yet it has been easier than it will be for Gutzkow. For one thing, for Heine we already had respectable critical editions; the base situation for Gutzkow is more haphazard. For Heine there had been a hundred years of substantial critical and interpretive reception, though much of it was no longer in current memory. The first conference devoted to Gutzkow took place in 1997 („Karl Gutzkow: Liberalismus – Europäertum – Modernität“. Herausgegeben von Roger Jones und Martina Lauster. Bielefeld 2000). Secondly, Heine’s corpus is much smaller. He was a meticulous, constantly revising author, as compared to one who seems to have written faster than most people can read. In both cases an initial resource has been exhaustive bibliography, very necessary for Gutzkow. The editorial work accomplished so far has been impressive in its quality, but the way forward will be long and hard, requiring sustained effort and resources.

A significant difference will be in the use being made of the author. The reception of Heine during the last decades has been quite different from the scholarly treatment of other writers. Within Germany’s historical dilemmas there was a need to find a redemptive alternative in the cultural tradition: oppositional, socio-political, persecuted, and revolutionary. Who better to fill this role than the exiled, censored, banned, neglected Heine, relentless opponent of German nationalism, critic of Goethe, friend of Karl Marx, intermediator with the French, partisan of revolution, militant intellectual?

Until recently Heine has been shaped and selectively interpreted to suit contemporary notions of things – he has not been permitted to have held any opinions contrary to our own – and there have been efforts to draw him into the larger public sphere with drummers marching down streets in memory of Le Grand and other spectacles. Such an appropriation of Gutzkow is not likely and probably not even possible. To be sure, there is always a tendency to cant judgment in favour of one’s own author. Houben was inclined to defend Gutzkow against Heine (H. H. Houben: „Jungdeutscher Sturm und Drang. Ergebnisse und Studien“. Leipzig 1911). Eberhard Galley, before Heine’s apotheosis had fully taken hold, gently chided Houben for this and took Heine’s part (Eberhard Galley: „Heine im literarischen Streit mit Gutzkow. Mit unbekannten Manuskripten aus Heines Nachlaß“. In: „Heine-Jahrbuch“ 5 [1966]). Heine’s victory has been so thorough that even a partisan of Gutzkow can write that he failed to understand Heine’s purpose in the Börne book and missed Heine’s revolutionary philosophy of culture (Martina Lauster: ,Nachwort‘ zu Karl Gutzkow: „Börne’s Leben“. Herausgegeben von Martina Lauster und Catherine Minter. Gutzkows Werke und Briefe. Schriften zur Literatur und zum Theater. Band 5. Münster 2004). My view of this is that there are elements of justice in Gutzkow’s critique of Heine’s „Börne“ and that he did understand some part of Heine’s intention. Elsewhere in the current Gutzkow discourse there are judgments in his favour. These leanings are probably harmless, but they point to a problem that is endemic in the Vormärz.

Searching for Fairness in Judgment

The policies of the Metternichian regime, the censorship, the sanctions, the threats to the earning potential of writers, were intentionally designed to splinter incipient solidarity among them, to sever them from their bourgeois public – quite evidently the purpose of the prosecution of Gutzkow for „Wally“ – to turn them against one another, isolate them and encourage an attitude of sauve qui peut. In my opinion, when we take sides in these disputes we do Metternich’s work for him. Much of the acrimony and polemic excess may be exasperating for the reader, but we should remember who is ultimately at fault here and weigh the contending positions with as much fairness as we can muster. This has been conspicuously absent from the Heine discourse. The effect of obliging him to be our ally in all things has made him exempt from criticism. All the objects of his many polemics are in the wrong and have no rights. When another writer who is all but immune to criticism, Karl Kraus, comes into conflict with him, the consequence among the critics is cognitive dissonance. An unfortunate consequence of the exclusive partisanship for Heine has been the diminishment of Ludwig Börne, surely a figure of the Vormärz deserving of admiration and attention from today’s perspective, a genuine democrat, as Heine was not. Only recently has it been quietly suggested from within the Heine camp that we might begin to see Börne more sympathetically (Joseph A. Kruse: „Der große Judenschmerz. Zu einigen Parallelen wie Differenzen bei Börne und Heine. In: „Ludwig Börne 1786-1837.“ Herausgegeben von Alfred Estermann. Frankfurt a. M. 1986). Gutzkow, too, has suffered from Heine’s hostility, not least as an ally of Börne. […]

I will conclude with two observations, one of my own, the other cited from one of my betters. Gutzkow’s self-contradictory affects, his unstable principles, his nervous zigzagging from one point to another may not be advantageous to his ambitions for cultural philosophy, analysis of his times, or literary criticism, but they may not be disadvantageous to the complexity and intensity of imaginative writing, so that he may be best appreciated as a fiction writer, a Schriftsteller in the commonplace sense, though I am aware that this is not the view among experts. Secondly, there has always remained in the back of my mind a judgment of E. M. Butler’s eighty-five years ago, formed more in sorrow than anger: „that a man should undergo all the worst fortunes of the unknown great; that he should imagine himself one of them, know their dark despairs and their spiritual isolation; that he should be their blood-brother in sorrow, yet not their fellow in joy; and akin to them by temperament should not rank with them by achievement, this is a refinement of cruelty against which one’s sense of justice rebels. And this was Gutzkow’s fate.“ (E. M. Butler: „The Saint-Simonian Religion in Germany: A Study of the Young German Movement“. Cambridge 1926)

Anmerkung der Redaktion: Der vorliegende Text ist ein abgewandelter Auszug aus dem Beitrag von Jeffrey L. Sammons, in: Karl Gutzkow and His Contemporaries / Karl Gutzkow und seine Zeitgenossen. Beiträge zur Internationalen Konferenz des Editionsprojektes Karl Gutzkow vom 7. bis 9. September 2010 in Exeter. Hg. Gert Vonhoff in Zusammenarbeit mit Beke Sinjen und Sabrina Stolfa. Bielefeld: Aisthesis, 2011. [= Forum Vormärz Forschung. Vormärz-Studien XIX], S. 19-51; hier S. 19-24, 50-51).