Cover: A New History of German Literature, from Harvard University PressCover: A New History of German Literature in HARDCOVER

A New History of German Literature

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Product Details


$52.00 • £41.95 • €47.00

ISBN 9780674015036

Publication Date: 02/15/2005


1032 pages

6-1/2 x 10 inches

12 halftones, 4 maps

Belknap Press

Harvard University Press Reference Library


A New History of German Literature is large: In just over a thousand pages it winds its way over a thousand years of history, across different genres, disciplines, and cultures, from the tenth-century magical formulas written in alliterative Old High German to W. G. Sebald’s 2001 novel Austerlitz… [A] stunning intellectual achievement… One can only wish that its absorbingly fresh account of literature and the interpreting process—‘here and now,’ as Wellbery puts it with infectious enthusiasm in his essay on Goethe’s Faust—will reach the broadest possible audience.—Mark M. Anderson, Bookforum

A New History of German Literature actually delivers far more than its title suggests. It consists of some 200 short essays by an international team of contributors, including not only literary but also political and social historians, critics of art, music, and film, philosophers, theologians, and many others. Each essay takes a significant date in the last thirteen centuries—publications, conjunctions, revolutions, catastrophes—and offers an exegesis that illuminates a major figure or phenomenon. The result adds up to a series of dazzling glimpses of transcendence, a sequence of microcosms, tantalizingly brief but almost always to the point. It is a monument to American scholarship. No review could do justice to the richness of this encyclopedic work, which is presumably not intended to be read from beginning to end, but to be dipped into and sampled at leisure… This book is a veritable banquet… By insisting that each essay be highly selective, capturing only the essential physiognomy of its subject with minimal biographical or critical ballast, the editors have accomplished the seemingly impossible: to make a book of a thousand pages seem effortlessly concise… [A] celestial feast of the mind… The moment has surely come for European intellectuals to set about reviving European culture before it is too late. Europeans need books like A New History of German Literature to remind us of what we have already lost, and Americans need them as an example of what can and must still be preserved.—Daniel Johnson, New Criterion

This attractive thousand-page volume serves up 1300 years of German literary history like tapas. A New History of German Literature makes for compulsive browsing, and it will entertain and engage readers from a wide array of backgrounds. All quotations from German are accompanied by translations. Each entry comes with a short bibliography listing primary texts, published English translations of the primary texts, and a few choice items of scholarship… The book is comprehensively indexed. All in all, it’s an instructive and delightful feast.—William Waters, Literary Imagination

Compelling reading… [A] most impressive volume.—Henry Pickford, Harvard Review

What is truly extraordinary about this collection of 200 essays is that it succeeds masterfully in distilling the essence of the German literary and intellectual legacy, spanning well over 800 years. Each only several pages long, the essays limn not just the great names, such as Hegel, Kant, Goethe, Beethoven, Freud, and many more but also literary works, themes, historical moments, pieces of music, etc. Leading specialists, scholars, and critics offer a wide variety of contributions covering, from the 13th century onward, such varied topics as early German sagas, Nazi cinema, theatrical premiers, and the Yiddish Renaissance. The coverage actually stretches all the way to the 21st century with a single piece, an essay about W. G. Sebald, who died in 2001.—Ali Houissa, Library Journal

The table of contents reveals about 250 short chapters, each located in a specific year. This was done to facilitate what Walter Benjamin described as a ‘tiger’s leap into the past,’ in which the singularity of a literary event is decisive while what is typical is left to one side. The consequence is the fracturing of the received canon into a kaleidoscope of magical moments… As an editorial achievement, this volume sets uniformly high and innovative standards.—Osman Durrani, The Times Higher Education Supplement

[A New History of German Literature] carries a powerful charge of enthusiasm, even of proselytizing commitment to the things it presents… In arguing for German literature vis-à-vis an imagined audience of receptive nonspecialists, it argues for literature as such.—T.J. Reed, The Times Literary Supplement

Monumental… The book is a treat, arranged chronologically and vigorously cross-referenced, allowing the intrepid to jump among Thomas Bernhard’s rejection of an inherited past, vegetarian utopias, Wilhelm Busch’s comic precursors, ‘rubble literature,’ the rather emo reception of The Sorrows of Young Werther, Elfriede Jelinek, and The Easter Play of Muri.—Brandon Stosuy, The Village Voice Literary Supplement

The essays making up this new history of the literary and philosophical culture of the people of the German lands (and of Germans abroad) are of an unfailingly high standard. Many are noteworthy contributions to scholarship and criticism. The ingenious plan of the book permits a variety of style and approach, while strong editing has resulted in exemplary clarity and pithiness of expression. Well conceived, eclectic, lively, and informative, this New History gives us a model overview of what German literature and thought looks like from the twenty-first century.—J.M. Coetzee, author of Elizabeth Costello and Doubling the Point

An enticing and authoritative review of German literature from its most splendid high points to a most horrible nadir and its aftermath. This book well documents how—in a remarkable post-war process of moral regeneration—German literature struggles to come to terms with what happened.—Amos Elon, author of The Pity of It All

The range spanned by the essays included in this volume is unusual, both in mere chronological terms and thanks to the diversity of approaches chosen by the authors; the best of scholarship has been made easily accessible even to the non-specialized reader by the contributors themselves and the highly innovative presentation of their texts. This volume is a brilliant achievement.—Saul Friedlander, author of Nazi Germany and the Jews and Probing the Limits of Representation

How German is German literature? The New History gives us a fresh and unconventional picture of the main figures and movements of a literature which remained in the church and cloister longer than Italian, French, and English literature, and became revolutionary in the middle of the 18th century. It is very encouraging that in a period of isolationism of culture and society such an ambitious project is possible.—Michael Krüger, author of The Cello Player

This New History of German Literature is simply the best overview of the subject available to the English-speaking reader. Selecting as its stepping-stones not a canon of biographies or a mere literary chronology but key dates chosen with intelligence and originality, it covers a dozen centuries of writings in German, from some of the earliest babblings in the language (the charms of Fulda) to the last accomplished works of a modern classic (W. G. Sebald). Erudite, quirky, vastly informative and hugely entertaining, it makes one wish for a bevy of forthcoming companion volumes.—Alberto Manguel, author of Stevenson under the Palm Trees

Harvard’s New History of German Literature is an encyclopedic browser of incomparable quality for Germanophiles and Germanophobes alike. In a series of brief, penetrating essays, it retells thirteen centuries of German history through a broad spectrum of literature by both obscure and famous authors. For modern readers ready to tackle the riddle of modern Germany with real hope of solving it, here is the guide.—Steven Ozment, author of A Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People and The Bürgermeister’s Daughter

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