Romance and the Languages of Distance in Piontek, Hermann, and Kehlmann
Three contemporary writers in German chart their respective literary journeys from the perspective of distance. Daniel Kehlmann in his critically acclaimed Measuring the World recreates the oddly serendipitous meeting and subsequent fictional relations between Alexander Humboldt and Carl Friedrich Gauss. While Kehlmann toys with the idea that romance is a matter of measurement and scientific appropriation, he leavens serious claims to romanticism by plying his text with postmodern fictional vignettes that cast a kind of postmodern jokiness over the august claims of classical German romanticism. Judith Hermann in Nichts als Gespenster (Nothing but Ghosts) also explores the romance of distance and discovery but in an altogether different literary venue. She sets out to explore the interior emotional distances of her desperate yet somehow consequentially depleted characters, whom she sets adrift in a sea of romantic ambiguity. Her characters experience romance as emotional recession. They float helplessly away both from romance and significance in an archipelago of ever increasing distances and ever widening isolation. Susanna Piontek’s Rühlings Erwachen explores similar distances as does Hermann. Her emotional scatterlings, however, experience what might be termed the romance of displacement. Piontek loosely strings together a series of distorted and diminished romantic “miniatures” that measure the scope and breadth of unremarkable characters fleeing from a larger and distant romantic catastrophe, one that leaves them little more than emotional refugees traversing a world whose romantic topography seems to have become flat and dull. In comparing these three works, I hope to bring to light the distance romance has traveled from the tradition of German romanticism to the redefinition and re-presentation of that tradition as seen in the works of Kehlmann, Hermann, and Piontek.
Keywords: Romanticism, Contemporary Writers in German, Judith Hermann, Daniel Kehlmann, Susanna Piontek
Dr. Steven James Joyce
Associate Professor of German, The Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, The Ohio State University-Mansfield