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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

HUMORISTS,   SATIRISTS,   SATANISTS,   VISIONARIES      5)

pre-War society; but one asks whether the circus-proprietor who
offered Karl Hetman, the hero of Hidalla> obviously intended by
Wedekind as a portrait of himself, a post as clown, was radically
wrong in his estimation; the only objection is that his clowning is
too vile for laughter. His influence on literature, however, both
as regards form and substance, cannot be minimized. With Strind-
berg he provided a new eroticism; but whereas Strindberg repre-
sents woman as subjugating man by the patient exercise of low
cunning, to Wedekind she is a scintillating snake who fascinates
and poisons but can be tamed by brutality, which is the best thing
for her (in the famous prologue to "Erdgeist man is the tamer with
the whip). To Wedekind as to Strindberg woman, 'dasschone, mlde
Tier\ is the source of all suffering, but while Strindberg hates her,
Wedekind sadistically adores her and paints her as irresistible,
even when she is (literally) smeared with the blood of her victims.
She is the "earth-spirit7 who draws down the mind of man to the
dust; but in the dust man is happy, for 'this bliss of the senses is
the beam of light that pierces the night of our existence'. It is the
cosmic urge, and it is holy, for it serves 'the morality of beauty';
regeneration of the race should come from this love - resistless
and therefore mystical - of the beautiful body of soulless woman.
Even a prostitute is divine, for she is flesh; copulation in a brothel
is, in the sulphurous light of Wedekind's hallucinations, a unio
mjstica.

With this apostolic preaching of sex goes a corrosive criticism
of institutions and cherished ideals. Fruhlings Erwachen (1891) ini-
tiates a long series of works by other writers in which parents and
teachers are accused of keeping children at the critical stage in
ignorance of the facts of life. During a storm a schoolgirl of four-
teen takes refuge with a schoolboy in a barn; she is to have a baby
- to her great surprise -, but dies of means used to procure abor-
tion - of anaemia according to her decent gravestone. It is the
fantastic atmosphere of the play which counts in literary history:
a schoolboy who fails in his examination commits suicide and,
with his head under his arm, meets, in the churchyard, the boy
who is responsible for the baby; the latter, instead of following
him into the grave, follows a vermummter Herr (=Wedekind), who
comes along to explain the idiocy of existence. Erdgeist (1895) is
the very shrine of Wedekind's eroticism; round the heroine Lulu,
a symbol of soulless woman, a mixture of vampire and vegetable,