Suddenness and suspended moment: falling in Heinrich von Kleist's Penthesilea




Allen, Colleen

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In the literary works of the early nineteenth-century German writer Heinrich von Kleist there is little certainty. Kleist’s characters experience catastrophic natural and social disasters – earthquakes, revolution and war – and, as if this were not trauma enough, are subject to extreme behaviours and repeated mishaps. Characters leap from windows and break legs, stumble, faint or fall; incidents which lay bare inner psychological states that are as precarious as the external circumstances in which they find themselves. Yet into these violent events Kleist invariably interjects a suspended moment – a moment that might be considered one of intolerable exposure. Although sudden moments and momentary suspension define almost all of Kleist’s novellas and dramas, nowhere is this phenomenon so visible as in Kleist’s tragedy Penthesilea. Taking into account German critic Karl Bohrer’s concept of ‘suddenness’ (Der romantische Brief: Die Entstehung ästhetischer Subjektivität and Suddenness: On the Moment of Aesthetic Appearance), secondary literature on Kleist, scholarship on gender as well as Kleist’s biography, this project will focus on falling and suspended moment within Penthesilea, paying particular attention to vulnerability.



suspended moment, falling, vulnerability