The death instincts in the life and works of Heinrich von Kleist

Friedrich, Steffen (2019) The death instincts in the life and works of Heinrich von Kleist. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The thesis is based on a psychological interpretation of the life and works of Heinrich von Kleist. The basis of the interpretation is the death instincts as formulated by Sigmund Freud in Jenseits des Lustprinzips (Beyond the Pleasure Principle) and is extended with the work of Melanie Klein, D.W. Winnicott and other authors who subscribe to the psychoanalytic school: use is made too, of C.G.Jung's analytical psychology.
Part I discusses Freud's paper, which deals principally with the repetition compulsion, pathological aggression, sado-masochism and the biological basis of programmed cell death. The thesis then extends the concept of the death instincts to those psychological paradigms which inhibit authentic life such as psychosis, narcissism and unresolved oedipal issues. It examines the belief in the Romantic ethos of the corporeal afterlife which makes death both a fearless state which also provides the possibility of reuniting with one's love object. I argue that Kleist's confrontation with the subjectivity of Immanuel Kant's philosophy provides a fulcrum in Kleist's life which freed him from the idea of the perfectibility of his own life but also, for him destabilised language as an adequate means of achieving the symbiotic closeness he needed.
Part II of the thesis discusses the congruence of Freud's theories with Kleist's stories, plays and letters. The sources of psychosis are examined which lead to cannabalism in Penthesilea and hate and repetition compulsion in Verlobung in St. Domingo: both result in death. This, too, is the fate of the eponymous hero of Michael Kohlhaas. He descends into pathological narcissism and his only recourse at the nadir of his life, to satisfy his sense of self and grandiosity, is to resurrect the revenant of his deceased wife to provide satisfactory supernatural assistance. By contrast, more positive themes are found in Prinz Friedrich von Homburg and Das Erdbeben in Chili. IN the former, a resolution of the oedipal issues leads to a satisfactory outcome for the Prinz and in the latter, the citizens of St Domingo are offered a Christ figure, the Divine Child, to counter endemic sadism. Kleist's last story, Der Findling, provides a nihilistic criticism of social and religious mores which reflect his own attitude to his times.
The thesis concludes with a summary of its themes and a discussion of Kleist's meeting with Henriette Vogel, his partner in suicide into whom he projected his achievements and failures, which facilitated a longed for symbiotic closesness in hs passage to becoming todesreif (ripe for death).

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Psychoanalysis, death Instincts, Oedipus complex, psychosis, aggression, hate, sado-masochism, narcissisim, repetition compulsion, Doppelgaenger.
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PD Germanic languages
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Modern Languages and Cultures > German
Supervisor's Name: Bishop, Professor Paul
Date of Award: 2019
Depositing User: Mr Steffen Friedrich
Unique ID: glathesis:2019-39049
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 17 Jan 2019 08:32
Last Modified: 05 Mar 2020 22:18
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.39049

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