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10 - Economic Concepts and Authorial Self-Design in Heinrich von Kleist's Letters

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 May 2022

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Summary

THE RELEVANCE OF economics to literary studies can be manifold, such as in the study of representations of the economic sphere in literary texts, the use of economic metaphors by literary authors, the pertinence of literary texts to a historical understanding of economic concepts, or the study of economic texts by means of their literary analysis. To the extent that the following considerations deal with any of these concerns, they do so only indirectly and to a different end. Instead, they focus on the professional self-conceptions of a prominent poet from the turn of the eighteenth to the nineteenth century and the ways in which he responds to concurrent changes of the economic system of the time. These selfconceptions are reflected in a body of texts that are not literary exercises proper, but documents of the emergence of a new form of authorship marked by the economic language (metaphors, comparisons, references, etc.) in which they are couched. Such language is informed by the political, societal, and economic circumstances that it portrays, as well as by the economic “knowledge” of the time. These historical circumstances are as little unique to the author in question, Heinrich von Kleist (1777–1811), as is the authorial self-fashioning to which they correspond: The historical circumstances were in fact shared by many young men of his generation, social standing, and family background, while his self-understanding as an author bears a historical watermark that at the same time does not diminish the originality of the individual case at hand.

Kleist's letters—and some of his thematically related texts—make for an ideal source to discuss these questions, since they not only trace his decision to take up the “Geschäfft des Dichtens” (business of writing poetry). They are also part and parcel of the creation of an “Ideen- magazin” (magazine of ideas) by which Kleist prepared for his later literary workmanship by forging and testing the linguistic and motivic supply system that was meant to maintain it. Hence, his references to economic subjects and his use of economic language will matter to the present argument insofar as they highlight aspects of an economic roleplay through which Kleist explores different professional and authorial identities for himself.

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Heinrich von Kleist
Literary and Philosophical Paradigms
, pp. 254 - 286
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2022

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