This volume focuses specifically upon the literature of German Expressionism, rather than the arts of painting, sculpture, music, or even architecture. Especially in the United States, the term German Expressionism first calls to mind those arts, rather than the literature of the period, and that circumstance reflects in a very positive manner the increased general familiarity with the German contribution to artistic modernism in the early twentieth century. This volume relies to some degree, necessarily, upon that familiarity, while trying to underscore the interconnectedness of the arts in this period, their shared intellectual debts and sources, and their shared general aesthetics, as suggested by the introduction. Though that very interconnectedness calls into question the notion of genre, as the one borrows from or emulates the other, genre still remains a useful organizing principle for tracking and understanding that interrelatedness. This volume thus traces a trajectory from the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche in its influence upon the Expressionist generation, and as literature itself; through the principal literary genres (in a less common sequence of prose, poetry, and drama), to an interdisciplinary section that first addresses the gender politics of Expressionism, and then the visual genre (of film) that most visibly absorbed the narrative impulses, visual imaginary and experimental spirit from the literature of German Expressionism. The sequence of the essays, arcing from philosophy to film, through the literary genres, would like to suggest both the centrality of the literature — the verbal artifacts related to Expressionism in this period — as well as the constant and necessary dialogue of each art with its others in this period, indeed the migration of elements of each art into the other, either under the Wagnerian rubric of Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) or more recently, of intermediality.
Throughout the volume, the term Expressionism has been capitalized to indicate the specific historical phenomenon of that “movement” between the years 1905 and 1925, as opposed to any sort of general expressionistic (lower case) tendency in the arts before or after that period.
The movie poster illustrations for Caligari (design Ledl Bernhard) and Genuine (design Josef Fenneker) appear in this volume courtesy of Deutsche Kinemathek Berlin.
For their generous permission to reprint Edvard Munch's portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche (1906) I would like to thank the Thielska-Galleriet in Stockholm, Sweden, and Karin Meddings in particular.