Religion, Power and the Instability of Performance in Heinrich von Kleist’s Stories

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Starting with an analysis of Kleist's early letters, this article examines scenes of performance in his literary œuvre. In particular it draws attention to religious settings as a privileged site for Kleist's investigation of human self-representation in a social context, but argues that Kleist's religious officials behave little differently from his other figures. It argues that while his early letters are inspired by Rousseau's critique of the inauthenticity of social life, Kleist's mature works focus on the unavoidable nature of performance. Within Kleist's œuvre as a whole, it is not only the powerless who are forced to perform, since the representatives of authority are just as much subject to the power of the spectator. In both cases it becomes apparent that attempts at performance do not prove to be a reliable means of asserting or subverting the exercise of power.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)421-36
Number of pages16
JournalGerman Life and Letters
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2011