Five Portraits: Modernity and the Imagination in Twentieth-Century German Writing

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In Five Portraits, one of the most acute critical thinkers of our time presents essays on five of the most important writers of the past hundred years: Rainer Maria Rilke, Paul Celan, Robert Musil, Martin Heidegger, and Walter Benjamin. The result is a remarkable examination of a moment when these writers, caught between the dream of creating an abiding masterpiece and the reality of a brutal culture fascinated by apocalyptic catastrophe, deliberately put themselves and their work at the center of the storm. ...

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Overview

In Five Portraits, one of the most acute critical thinkers of our time presents essays on five of the most important writers of the past hundred years: Rainer Maria Rilke, Paul Celan, Robert Musil, Martin Heidegger, and Walter Benjamin. The result is a remarkable examination of a moment when these writers, caught between the dream of creating an abiding masterpiece and the reality of a brutal culture fascinated by apocalyptic catastrophe, deliberately put themselves and their work at the center of the storm. Written in elegant and jargon-free prose, Michael Andre Bernstein's essays create a vivid image of an epoch whose aspirations and torments continues to shape the world we inhabit today.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This slim volume of deftly written essays is sure to knock many a full-length study of any of the five German writers under discussion off the shelf."
Library Journal

"It is always welcome to have a new book that reaches out beyond the academic field of German studies, and encourages a wider readership to engage with the work of German-language writers. . . . These five essays (written originally for the New Republic) represent an admirable attempt to engage with the work of complex thinkers."
Times Literary Supplement

"Five Portraits represents the work of one of our leading critics of modern literature writing at the peak of his powers. What unites these essays is above all Bernstein's shrewd and eminently sensible perceptions of the moral dangers in a propensity to the cultivation of dramatic extremes in the modern German imagination."

—Robert Alter, University of California, Berkeley

Library Journal
This slim volume of deftly written essays is sure to knock many a full-length study of any of the five German writers under discussion off the shelf. With these acutely drawn portraits of Rilke, Musil, Heidegger, Benjamin, and Celan, which originally appeared in abbreviated versions in The New Republic, Bernstein also clears up common misconceptions of Rilke as a redemptive poet, Celan as a pious spokesman for Holocaust suffering, and Benjamin as a politically shrewd messiah for history's downtrodden. Bernstein, who teaches English and comparative literature at Berkeley and is a prolific cultural and literary commentator, occasionally takes conceptual shortcuts to return to his introductory theme of the political risks inherent in Germany's fascination with artistic genius and inwardness. But the somewhat brittle conceptual frame rarely curbs the gleaming insights of these remarkably synthetic, lively, and probing profiles, which irrefutably demonstrate the contemporary relevance of each of these writers. This highly useful and knowledgeable introduction is recommended for all collections in literature and European intellectual history and for all academic libraries.--Ulrich Baer, NYU Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
In the introduction, Bernstein (English, U. of California, Berkeley) describes what he calls the "modernist masterpiece as a distinct and historically circumscribed form." In the five essays that follow, he analyzes the work of Rainer Maria Rilke, Paul Celan, Robert Musil, Martin Heidegger, and Walter Benjamin. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780810117747
  • Publisher: Northwestern University Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/2000
  • Series: Rethinking Theory Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 150
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Andre Bernstein is a professor of English and comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley. His books include Foregone Conclusions: Against Apocalyptic History; Bitter Carnival: Ressentiment and the Abject Hero; and The Tale of the Tribe: Ezra Pound and the Modern Verse Epic. his work regularly appears in the New Republic, the Times Literary Supplement, and other publications.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction
Five Portraits and the Modernist Masterpiece

Chapter 1
Rainer Maria Rilke: The Book of Inwardness

Chapter 2
Robert Musil: Precision and the Soul

Chapter 3
Martin Heidegger: Judgment Terminal and Interminable

Chapter 4
Walter Benjamin: Apocalypse and Memory

Chapter 5
Paul Celan: Radiance That Will Not Comfort

Notes
Index

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