The Selected Prose of Heinrich von Kleist

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The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book, The Selected Prose of Heinrich von Kleist by Heinrich von Kleist, English translation © 2009 by Peter Wortsman, reprinted with the permission of Archipelago Books. Archipelago Books is a Brooklyn-based, not-for-profit press devoted to publishing excellent translations of classic and contemporary world literature.

Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811), one of Germany’s most enigmatic and celebrated authors, was an aristocrat by birth, a rebel by inclination and a Romantic by temperament. He was a stylist of uncompromising rigor who wrote in multiple genres, including drama, fiction and expository prose.

Kleist’s stories take the reader into a visceral virtual reality. His novellas, The Marquise of O. and Michael Kohlhaas, and short stories like “The Earthquake in Chile” and “St. Cecilia or the Power of Music,” influenced Franz Kafka and Thomas Mann, among other notable German writers. Kleist shot himself in a suicide pact at the age of thirty-four, leaving behind a startling body of work.

In the following essay, “On the Theater of Marionettes,” Kleist, with a luminous sixth sense, delves into illusion, transcendence and the uncanny in art. The essay points out the prison of man’s self-consciousness. Kleist wrote this influential piece in 1810, one year before his death.

On the Theater of Marionettes by Heinrich von Kleist

translated by Peter Wortsman

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