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The German Classics - Volume 4

Book Overview: 

Michael Kohlhaas is an 1811 novella by Heinrich von Kleist, based on a 16th-century story of Hans Kohlhase. Both the theme (a fanatical quest for justice) and the style (existentialist detachment posing as a chronicle) are surprisingly modern. They resonated with other writers more than a century after it was written. Kafka devoted one of only two public appearances in his whole life to reading passages from Michael Kohlhaas. Kafka said that he "could not even think of" this work "without being moved to tears and enthusiasm." (Introduction by Wikipedia)

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .I would readily undertake to do the same for all the pieces of Shakespeare's maturer years, but to do this would require a separate book. Here I am reduced to confine my observations to tracing his great designs with a rapid pencil; but still I must previously be allowed to deliver my sentiments in a general manner on the subject of his most eminent peculiarities.

Shakespeare's knowledge of mankind has become proverbial: in this his superiority is so great that he has justly been called the master of the human heart. A readiness to remark the mind's fainter and involuntary utterances, and the power to express with certainty the meaning of these signs, as determined by experience and reflection, constitute "the observer of men;" but tacitly to draw from these still further conclusions and to arrange the separate observations according to grounds of probability into a just and valid combination—this, it may be said, is to know men. The distinguishing property o. . . Read More

Community Reviews

[ vol 4 - Kleist and Hoelderin ]
I read this in preparation for Zweig's book "Struggling with the Daemon (Kleist, Hoelderin, Nietzsche)." It reinforces a feeling that I seem to find in all my favorite German works: love not as the opposite of reason, but as the result of daring to stick fiercely to i