Between Complicity And Critique: The Limits Of Satire In Karl Kraus, Elias Canetti And Else Lasker-SchÜLer

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This dissertation addresses the discourse of twentieth-century German-language satire in three representative dramas: Karl Kraus's Die letzten Tage der Menschheit (1915-1922), Elias Canetti's Komödie der Eitelkeit (1934) and Else Lasker-Schüler's IchundIch (1940-1941). Using a wide range of theoretical approaches - from critical theory to contemporary theories of satire, laughter, parody and irony - and situating these dramas against the background of the two World Wars, this dissertation isolates a particular historical moment (1915-1941) in order to illuminate the ethical problems raised by modernist satire and the related phenomenon of the laughable. It asks: what are the stakes involved in producing a satire without the guarantee of an Archimedean point of authority, and what is entailed in laughing at historical catastrophe? Guided by the observations of Walter Benjamin, Chapters 1 and 2 analyze Kraus's "absolute" satire (Hermann Broch), and specifically the use of quotation and repetition in his dramatic lampoon of World War I, in order to show how the central figure of the text - the Nörgler - must be understood dialectically: his ability to critique the war is a direct function of his recognition, consumption and subsequent reproduction of its "language." Chapter 3 shows how Canetti's allegorical drama attempts to abandon the Krausian mold and produce a less annihilating satire of totalitarianism, only to expose the ambiguity of its laughter. Such laughter mimics the structures of power it aims to negate, similarly evoking the hermeneutic predicament introduced by Kraus. Chapter 4 shows how Lasker-Schüler's grotesque parody of National Socialism and "high" German culture alike invokes a different form of laughter altogether. Writing from the perspective of exile - which also manifests itself in the drama's aesthetics - Lasker-Schüler's laughter is not the embittered, authoritative laughter we find in Kraus and Canetti, but rather one that both embraces and is informed by an expression of subjectivity not bound to the single, ostensibly exterior authorial position. IchundIch thereby provides a model of how the comic disposition can maintain its legitimacy in times of terror without formally capitulating to its object of critique, while still pointing to a key internal aporia that lies at the core of twentiethcentury satire.

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satire; Kraus; critique


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McBride, Patrizia C.

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Waite, Geoffrey Carter W
Schwarz, Anette
Fleming, Paul A.

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Germanic Studies

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Ph. D., Germanic Studies

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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