Anatomy and Trends of 20th Century German Literature- Karl August Horst

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Conceptions are used in the interests of general comprehension. When we say
‘German literature’ what we mean for the moment is simply the subject of this essay.The expression is merely provisional, however, for the general
conception which enters our minds when we hear the words ‘German literature
will be progressively dispelled as we become more familiar with the matter
we are investigating. German literature has, for instance, never attained
perfection of a system to the same degree as ever sought to achieve an independent system. To put it still more plainly: the sociable character of French literature has never existed in Germany but as an exception to the rule. A system can only evolve if the different elements to be embodied therein come to terms and subordinate their individual charac-
teristics to a whole. This implies that interposed between the co-ordinating
French literature, neither has it
system and its multifarious manifestations there lies an intermediate zone in which the smooth transition of the individual element into a wider context is facilitated. It is no metaphor to speak of the social function of this intermediate zone, for the human being also is neither a mere cipher in a social system, nor on the other hand identical, as an individual, with his assigned role in society.Consideration of the milieu is, of course, required, but this does not exclude him from achieving individual recognition in his role and maintaining the position he has gained, without for that reason necessarily displaying egocentric obstinacy.Stendhal’s novel Lucien Leuwen describes a bourgeois salon which at the time of Louis Philippe vied with the aristocratic salons of the day as ambitiously as Madame Verdurin’s vied with that of the Duchess of Guermantes in Proust’s
A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. One evening, in that rather insipid company,
Lucien makes the acquaintance of a German scholar who, in spite of his youth,possesses a vast range of knowledge in the field of comparative theology. How ever, it is precisely his ruthless exploitation of this universal erudition that makes a painful impression on benumbed listeners without tact or restraint. The young man is so full of his
own knowledge that he violates tacit taboos at every step and brutally refutes
the weak objections raised by his hostess. His triumph defeat. By refusing to allow his listeners access to his knowledge he excludes himself from their company.

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