Nr. 02/2000

The Nation and its founding myths

Figures of the Other and the national Self: Romans, Frenchmen and other colonialists against victims and freedom fighters: Kleist's The Battle of Hermann (Die Hermannsschlacht).

Peter Horn (University of Cape Town)

History itself sometimes seems to relieve us of the work of interpretation: After the period of National-Socialism in Germany we are tempted to see Hitler and Göbbels as the authoritative interpreters of Kleist's The Battle of Hermann. The historical development of Germany between 1933 and 1945 seems to be the gruesome translation of theatre into historical reality (cf. Burckhardt 1970, p. 116). Kleist's belated elevation to the classic dramatist of National-Socialism, and the fact that this play suddenly performed ten times as often as before 1933, are not simply a misunderstanding of Kleist. The drama contains sufficient ambiguous elements which made such an appropriation possible. It is the ending above all else which contradicts the apparently merely defensive concept of the popular war against the foreign oppressor in that it now proclaims an aggressive war against the Romans: "And then to depart for Rome itself! We or our grandsons, my brothers! Because before this robber's nest is entirely eradicated and nothing but a black flag unfolds on top of its desolated ruins the circle of the world will not have any rest from this murderous brood" (3/211). Kleist does attempt to legitimise the counterattack by the fact that the Roman empire is still threatening from across the Rhine even after its defeat in Germany, and that freedom of the Germans is only secure when the carriers of the colonial and imperial idea are finally defeated; but this argument could and was used to create an apology for the aggressive wars of Germany against France in 1870/1, 1914/18 and 1939/45.

Even more problematic is Kleist's inability to conceive the liberation war as a popular war from below: thus his play was easily adapted to a play about the charismatic leader, in which Hermann plays the role of the all-knowing and all-directing Führer who for security reasons cannot take the people into his confidence and must therefore manipulate the people by war propaganda for their own good. Kleist's Hermannsschlacht was thus used by the Nazis - by identifying Hermann with Hitler (just as the Wilhelminian era had identified Hermann with Bismarck) - to portray Hitler as the great saviour on whose singular genius the entire nation was dependent.

The adulation of the pragmatic politician of power who is said to use his power entirely for the good of the people is prefigured in Kleist's Hermannsschlacht. (Cf. Busch 1974, p. 228ff.) Such re-interpretation of the Hermannsschlacht as a ritual of affirmation for national socialism has frightened away anti-fascist critics from Kleist. Lukács, for example is of the opinion: "In the confused time which followed during which the national insurrection against Napoleon's France was prepared Kleist's politically and socially reactionary instincts appeared in full strength. Kleist's reaction to the developments is a grim fury against everything French, a blindly furious nationalism." (Lukács 1953, p. 208.) Ernst Fischer criticises in a similar vein: "The lack of a German national consciousness provoked an unlimited nationalism as counter tendency which was fed more by hatred against other people than by love for one's own." (Fischer 1961, p. 820.) Hans Mayer thinks: "Kleist separated himself with barbarian harshness from all remnants of his Rousseauism ... Thus he arrives a total negation of everything French ... The German patriotism to which Kleist subscribes from now on with unlimited fervour is fed above all by the contradiction, the anti-French negation." (Mayer 1962, p. 45.) Few come to a more adequate but still one-sided judgement like Streller (1962, p. 560), when he maintains that the Hermannsschlacht contradicts Kleist's previous Rousseauism, but admits that it presents an image which can be argued with some consistency from the idea of the social contract, if one accepts like Kleist that the masses are naive and blind, that the masses need a Führer who is invested with the full sovereignty of the people, a popular leader who derives his power from the acclamation of the masses themselves.

Napoleon's subjugation of the various German states before the year 1806 - like any subjugation and colonisation of a technologically and politically "backward" country by a more "advanced" one - had a number of consequences which one could term "progressive": the breakdown of clerical and profane feudal structures, the abolition of the bondage of serfdom and socage, the end of compulsory membership of a guild for all artisans, the end of torture and corporal punishment as legal forms of judicial punishment. He certainly helped to transform Germany into a more modern state. Napoleon also reduced the number of small states considerably and thus facilitated the later transition to a unified German nation-state. While the indigenous elite in Germany experienced this process as disruptive - as did the indigenous elites in many of the colonised countries of the Third World later on - and while this process was not experienced as liberating by the artisans and even by the serfs, who very often found themselves as unemployed rural and urban proletariat after their "freeing", the legal and political framework of the Napoleonic code provided a first step towards a bourgeois, more egalitarian society. Very few Germans, however. experienced this process which Kleist described as the "colonisation" of Germany, as progressive: the French bourgeoisie appeared as the oppressor of the people whose territory the French army had occupied (Streisand 1972, p. 143).

The complete defeat of Prussia which was sealed by the peace treaty of Tilsit made it clear to the reluctant Prussian nobility, if not to the rather stupid King of Prussia, that the political and economic organisation of Prussia needed a complete overhaul, if they were ever to shake off this "colonial" rule. While they were reluctant to create a people's army which could easily have led to a popular revolution against the king and the aristocracy amongst the masses who were already being agitated by the ideas of the French revolution, and to the complete defeat of the old feudal and absolutist order, some of the more intelligent advisors of the king were systematically working towards a new order of things, and were promptly labelled 'Jacobins' (radical revolutionaries) by the more conservative strata in the state administration (Samuel 1961, p. 72). Even in 1813, when Napoleon had been defeated in Russia, the Prussian king had to be forced to sign the order which created a popular army of resistance. Wars, to his mind, were affairs of the princes and their professional armies, not the "people". The idea of a national war of liberation, which Kleist propagated in his play The Battle of Hermann therefore was not directed to save the bankrupt monarchy of Prussia or the minor nobility. The writing of the play coincides with Kleist's appointment (in 1808) to a state department under the reformers Stein, Hardenberg, Scharnhorst und Gneisenau. His play reproduces fairly closely the plans for a national insurrection against Napoleon. The ideological concepts of Kleist do not arise out of the discredited ideas of the absolute monarchy of the 18th century, when the state was the private property of the monarch, and the "German nation" an unknown concept. Kleist's ideas were much nearer to the national philosopher Fichte, who disputed that the people were the property of princes. While Kleist's concept of the German nation state was abstract, it owed its existence to the bourgeois concept of the nation state (Mayer 1962, p. 112ff). But then few of the ideologues of the bourgeois nation state in the 18th and 19th century argued the economic and material advantages of such a state. Kleist's radically idealistic ideology does not differ all that much from bourgeois ideology of the time in general, which could not express the material interests it had in a unified and protected market other than as an irrational ideal of nationhood.

Neither the figure of Hermann nor his actions could be translated into reality in a Germany where the princes acted out of a most limited egoism: Hermann thus is a dream image, an image of the theatre, of art, the ideal type of the nationalist politician, as he would be, if nationalism were not founded in economic and political reality.

Art, and more specifically theatre, for the bourgeoisie therefore is a necessity, not a luxury, as long as the material advantages of the free market are a vision, not a reality. The more idealistic the presentation of its goals are, the more they need the visual embodiment (personification) of these ideals in a human figure - at least on the stage. Kleist therefore is unable and unwilling to portray in his play the disparity between the ideal type and the rather more miserable reality of Prussia in 1808, and instead of analysing the real and material contradiction of interests of the various social groups, he has to pretend that such contradictions simply do not exist, even that classes do not exist, that there is a unity of purpose between the leader and the masses. Despite this idealisation, however, Kleist saw his drama as one which was "calculated alone for this moment in time" (Kleist 7/75) and which "fell right into the centre of the historical moment" (Kleist 7/71). His first readers, accustomed to a classical drama which veiled its relationship to present day political concerns very effectively, recognised this and were shocked by the open reference to the politics of the day (C. G. Körner in Kleist 8/229).

Kleist very carefully worked out the parallels between the Germanic tribes of Hermann's time and the present situation in Prussia. The decisive battle against the coloniser had been lost (Jena and Auerstädt - the battle of Ariovist), every hope of resistance had been dashed (Samuel 1961, p. 65). The South and West German states were unified by Napoleon in the Rheinbund, and thus became pure client states of the French empire, Prussia was occupied by the French, the only exception was Austria (Marbod and the Sueves are the analogy in the play). In the summer of 1808 everybody expected a war of Austria against France, and Kleist had close links to a Prussian secret society which planned an insurrection in Prussia, should this war come off. The hope that Napoleon could be defeated was fuelled by the guerilla war of the Spanish people which started on the 1 May 1808, where for the first time a revolutionary national force became visible, which seemed to be able to overcome Napoleon: the insurrection of the people. General Dupont was forced to capitulate with 22,000 soldiers near Baylen (22.7.1808), on the 31 July Madrid was captured, and king Joseph Bonaparte had to flee, in August general Junot had to capitulate near Cintra with 21,000 soldiers. Kleist was probably aware of these events by August 1808 though French censorship tried to suppress these news, and there is evidence that The Battle of Hermann makes use of the experiences of the Spanish guerilla war. The battle in the Teutoburg forest, as portrayed by Kleist, has strong similarities to the battle of Baylen in Spain (Samuel 1961, p. 75f).

Despite the experience of a series of decisive battles in which the opponents of the French revolution and later of Napoleon were defeated there were still those who believed that the old form of warfare could finally defeat Napoleon. In Kleist's play it is Thuiskomar who argues that new tactics were not really necessary (Kleist 3/131). But Hermann relentlessly explains the desperate situation of Germany, their birthright is lost, the division of the empire amongst the Romans merely a formality, the army of Varus, the Roman general, impossible to defeat by soldiers untrained in the new kind of warfare which defeated them before. The situation is made worse because the princes are fighting among themselves for territory and power, completely oblivious that they are about to lose it all to the colonialists (Kleist 3/125).

The solution is obviously not with the German tribal chiefs or princes nor with their traditional way of fighting: a new force and a new way of fighting are needed, and that new force must have a real interest in the freedom they are fighting for. It is interesting to note here that Kleist, despite this ruthless analysis of the defeat of Germany (at the time of Varus and at the time of Napoleon), does not dare to think in the direction of a popular revolt, that he sees the "people" not as the subjects of their liberation, but as the instruments which the "leader", Hermann, uses. They appear as a manipulated mass who can be induced to fighting only by a propaganda which magnifies the effects of colonialism far beyond the reality. The peasant's of Kleist's times, who could not conceivably believe that their status under Napoleon was worse than it was under the absolutist regime of Prussia's king, had to be recruited by horror stories about the atrocities of the French troops to risk their lives in a "liberation war", just as Hermann in the play multiplies the atrocities of the Romans to bring his Germans to fight Varus. He even fabricates stories about religious persecution to make the Germans fight this "oppression": the Romans had felled a sacred oak and forced the population to pray to the foreign god Zeus. Like the Nazis later he puts his own people into Roman uniform to commit a few more atrocities to make his horror stories more real and to intensify the hatred of the locals against the Romans (3/150ff). Implied in these actions is the belief that the masses don't really care all that much for "freedom", and that it is the great individual, the hero of liberation, who in his purity of purpose creates the conditions for a successful war of liberation. The battle against an all powerful opponent can only be successful if everyone, following the lead of the hero, rejects all thoughts of material gain. But since the "people" cannot act out of the full sovereignty of a developed consciousness of the ultimate value of freedom, Hermann has to use their emotions rather than their rationality to achieve, what he knows is best for them.

The "spontaneous" insurrection of the people plays a role in Hermann's plans, but is not at the centre of his strategy. The key to his success is the unification of the German tribes under Marbod (just as some of the Prussian reformers tried to unite Prussia and Austria, past and future arch enemies, against the common threat of Napoleon). What he plans is a liberation war guided from above by the reconciled tribal chiefs of Germany. In Kleist's time there were similar attempts to reconcile the two German great powers - both the Prussian reformers and the Austrian count Stadion attempted to bring about the basis for a common action against the aggressor - but the struggle for hegemony in German and past wars over the possession of Silesia made this impossible. The subjection of Marbod-Austria under Hermann-Prussia or viceversa was thus an impossible Kleistian dream. Nevertheless, even hard-boiled military practitioners like Scharnhorst developed a plan of action which was dependent on the coordination of movement of the regular armies of Prussia and Austria, as well as their newly conscripted people's armies. The idea was to encircle Napoleon and the French army in the triangle between Oder and Vistula (in present day Poland), similar to Hermann's plan to wipe out the Roman army in a guerilla ambush in the Teutoburg forest and swamps, while the general rebellion of German tribes make it impossible for the auxiliary armies to come to the assistance of the main army (cf. Samuel 1961, p. 432ff). The many correspondences between the ideas, plans and expectations of the Prussian reformers and the play of Kleist seem to point to the fact that Kleist had a fairly clear idea about the plans of the reformers (Samuel 1961, p. 444 ff).

In his Speeches to the German Nation (1807/8) Fichte, like Kleist uses the example of Arminius (= Hermann), to make a point about the current threat of Germany succumbing to the new colonial power, France. Fichte admits the Roman civilisation had much that was superior to that of the Germans, and that the Romans were even prepared to let the Germans take part in this superior civilisation. He points out the Germans admired this civilisation, and that even Hermann was willing to learn from the Roman army the art of war, that he even considered that the Germans should later, "as soon as they could do it without losing their freedom, acquire the education of the Romans, insofar that was possible without giving up their own characteristic way of life" (Fichte o. J., p. 123).

Nevertheless, so Fichte, they had to defend themselves for several life times against the Romans in bloody battle, because, so they asked: "What else could they do than either retain their freedom or die before they became slaves." (Fichte o. J., p. 123.) If one compares Kleist's drama and its main assumptions one realises that it is this uncompromising, absolute concept of freedom which is in the center of Kleist's drama. Everything else, property, power, even the life of the individual and the existence of the nation are subordinated to this concept. For Hermann there is no alternative to freedom: as a slave he cannot live. Freedom, Kleist had learned from Rousseau, is the very essence of humanity, and who ever allows his freedom to be alienated, betrays the very humanity in himself. To give up freedom is to give up moral responsibility. One becomes guilty of the injustice which one is forced to do. Like Rousseau Kleist opposes the right of property as it nullifies the right to freedom. One can dispose of one's property, but not of one's freedom (cf. Vossler 1963, p. 80; and Kleist 3/134). The drive to freedom is not rational. It is the consequence of the absolute value of freedom that the hero who defends freedom wagers himself and thus the substance of freedom, in order to retain freedom. Wisdom, on the other hand would be to submit and thus to retain life and property - even if only as long as the coloniser allows you to retain them. But even the colonisers do not really appreciate this "wise" gesture of submission, although it of course makes their exercise of power easier: they see Aristan as the worst of the German princes. Nevertheless it would be wrong to see merely the "irrationality" of Kleist's concept of freedom: if freedom is the precondition of every real human decision, then even rationality as the ability to make decisions is impossible without freedom. Being unfree I can know what I should do according to my conscience, but I cannot act according to my decision. While subjected to power my ethical rationality is shortened by the practical dimension, and thus remains without effect in reality. The "rational" decision to allow oneself to be subjected in order to stay alive is at the same time the decision to end rationality in its practical dimension. For this very reason everything is allowed against the one who attempts to take away my freedom: the one who destroys the very basis of my humanity, excludes himself from all humanity.

Kleist's Hermann is not one of the conventional, liberal, humanist heroes of liberation like Goethe's Egmont: he is an extremist, a radical, who is prepared to face the ultimate consequence of the insight that freedom is the highest good and the existence of the slave the worst of all evils. It is from these (Rousseauistic) principles that Kleist derives his "ethics" of revolution and of the war of liberation, an ethics which must shock those who have been educated in the fold of classical humanism. Ruth Angress went so far as to say that it was Kleist who introduced the modern terrorist and guerilla leader into literature in his Hermann and in Congo Hoango in his novella Verlobung in St. Domingo (Angress 1976). Rolf Michaelis called the Battle of Hermann a pessimist didactic play of political morals: "Lies make the weaker one strong. Honesty, justice do not count, only deception, cheating" (Michaelis 1968, p. 72). Just as the party in Brecht's Measures taken, Hermann has no use for anybody who does good deeds within an evil system: the violence which enslaves human beings can only be destroyed by counter violence, and if the counter violence is too weak to overthrow the evil system then the freedom fighter has to use all means, even the dirtiest, to change the world in such a way that human beings can act morally again, i.e take their own decisions again in freedom. One may sink into the dirt, one may embrace the butcher, as long as one can change the world through these dirty maneuvers. It is precisely the unheroic qualities in Hermann which make him the only consistently political character in Kleist's oeuvre (Angress 1976).

It would be a serious misunderstanding therefore to read this play merely as the play of a fanatic who preaches hatred against foreigners (cf. Böckmann 1956, p. 373). The hatred which Kleist portrays is not demonic hatred as such (cf. Gundolf 1922, p. 118) neither hatred against the foreigner (the Romans, the French), but hatred against the foreigner as colonialist and oppressor. The orgies of violence, the mutilated corpses, the horror scenes of the Battle of Hermann (Claude David 1954, p. 44) are not an end in themselves, nor an early form of the theatre of cruelty, they are the effect of an attempt to make a free people a people of slaves by means of military violence. Kleist's play is conceived as an attempt of self-defense in view of overwhelming power of the opponent, and hatred is the necessary emotional fuel of this nearly hopeless undertaking (cf. Linn 1972, p. 160f). Hermann himself is not driven by emotions at all: if he were, he would be unable to make history. From the first to the last scene of the play he never loses control over himself or his surrounding. His wife Thusnelda's accusation that his hatred for the Romans makes him blind to the goodness of individual Romans (3/144) does not touch him: he is seeing more clearly than her vague humanism which is blinded by the personal qualities of individual Romans and therefore unable to understand their treacherous Machiavellian game.

Hermann is just as awake and rational as the Roman generals Varus and Ventidius, he takes account of all eventualities, lets nothing interfere with his planning, and in the end wins, because they cannot conceive of the possibility that the apparently rational and honest Hermann could deceive them: too late they recognise that one can have blonde hair and blue eyes and yet be as deceptive as a Carthagenian (3/191). Fischer's opinion (Fischer 1961, p. 817) that Kleist appeals to all emotions, but not to rationality, is only partly correct. Certainly Kleist uses the pre-rational concept of freedom of Rousseau, and certainly Hermann uses and deliberately fans the emotions of the people like a wild fire brand in a dry forest (3/133), but the emotions which he consciously calls up serve the establishment of freedom, which is the only mode of existence in which human beings can not only think rationally but also act rationally.

Lukács has accused Kleist of being barbaric. It is interesting to note that this accusation appears in the play itself when Septimius calls Hermann a barbarian when he does not keep to the rules of the game of war as defined by the Romans, e.g. that one is not allowed to kill a prisoner of war (3/195f); this accusation is repeated in the play several times; Varus calls Hermann a "savage" and his people a "horde" (3/205), the language of the Germans is called a "horror-system of words" (3/185), incapable of distinguishing two such things as day and night, invented by a deaf person, and reproduced not by listening but by looking at each others mouths (3/185). The accusation of barbarity is never explicitly contradicted in the play. Hermann, however, accuses Varus of being a "tyrant's slave" (3/206). This establishes the Rousseauistic field which explains the actions of the characters of the play: the "free barbarian" against the "civilised slave". Rousseau's opinion that the "barbarian does not bend his head under the yoke which the civilised bear without complaint, and that he prefers a stormy freedom to the rest of serfdom" (Rousseau 1964, vol.. III, p. 181) is the basis of the constellation Hermann - Varus. With all their civilized, technical and military superiority the Romans lack precisely the dimension which makes humans human: that is freedom. Thus Hermann can subvert the Roman framework that the barbaric Germans are not much more than wild animals, and state in turn that the Romans are not much more than subhuman vermin. Because the Romans see not much more in Germans than "a beast which walks on four legs through the forests! An animal that is worth just one shot with an arrow wherever the hunter finds it, and then is disemboweled and skinned" (3/156), although the Germans have retained the only distinctive mark of humanity, freedom, whereas the Romans have sold themselves into slavery; because the Romans are thus traitors of the essentially human attribute, they have become a danger to humanity, an illness which threatens all humanity, which must be eliminated like the plague, before it touches all of humanity. It is the fact that unfree want to take the freedom of the free, and not the fact that they are foreigners, Romans or Frenchmen, which justifies Hermann in his dubious comparison with vermin which must be eliminated (3/177). On the one hand it is easy to see that Kleist's simplified model - freedom-loving barbarian = Prussian in the year 1808 - civilised slave of a tyrant = French under Napoleon - does not really work, that Kleist's model is utopian and completely disregards vast regions of his contemporary reality; it is equally easy to see that it can be used without much change to support feudal and absolutist regimes in Europe against relatively progressive forms of the state in France; that it could later be easily exploited to justify aggressive German wars against France (1870, 1914, 1940); nevertheless it remains a radical anti-colonialist and anti-imperial didactic play, precisely because it denounces all sentimentality, because in itself it is ruthlessly following the dialectic of national freedom like no other work of art I know, the problem of exploitation by a foreign rule and dialectic of the national resistance struggle against the colonizer. While it has been used to make propaganda for the imperialist wars of Bismarck, William II and Hitler, it could be used in this way only by disregarding or glossing over important elements of the play.

Of course one could, like Fischer, be of the opinion that the Napoleonic wars and his occupation of Germany was an important agent of transformation: the German mini-states, unviable in a Europe developing towards national capitalism, had to be torn out of their medieval dreams and be forced towards a modern bourgeois state. But then that kind of argument also justifies the colonisation and subjection under modern capitalism of the third world countries, and the rejection of Kleist's concept in the Hermannsschlacht would mean a rejection of the anti-colonial wars, which were not by chance modelled on the Spanish guerilla wars and Kleist's very similar concept of the war of those unable to match the military power of a super-state (Rome, France). One must also not overlook that the promise of the French revolution to transform neighbouring states were never realised, and patriots like Sinclair and Hölderlin were left in the lurch by the generals of Napoleon in their attempt to revolutionise Germany. Instead of a free and democratic Germany the forces of the erstwhile French revolution merely enlarged the territory of the more significant German princes who were prepared to support Napoleon: amongst others Margrave Friedrich von Baden and his grandson Karl (whom Napoleon personally detested as common and decadent) and Friedrich von Württemberg who even while occupied by the "revolutionary" forces of Napoleon eliminated the estates of Württemberg, increased oppression and introduced a pure police regime with its own secret judiciary. Napoleon supported any corrupt German regime as long as it supported the French war effort, just as the USA for all its talk about human rights and democracy after 1947 supported any corrupt and undemocratic dictator as long as he was anti-communist.

In turn Kleist and other patriots had to work under the flag of the Hapsburgs, the Hohenzollern and similar "bringers of liberation" against Napoleon because of the hopeless situation of Germany where the concept of a Jacobin unification from below and a really revolutionary war of liberation was unthinkable, so unthinkable that even the most progressive Germans - except perhaps Hölderlin - did not even contemplate the possibility (Fischer 1961, p. 817).

The humanist voice which counters Hermann's radical and unsentimental will to freedom which does not refrain from any deception or lie if he can thus overcome a Machiavellian and militarily stronger opponent, is the voice of his wife Thusnelda. She is neither, as Muschg thinks, "the flowerlike representative of the Germanic people" nor as Fischer thinks simply a "blonde goose which becomes a bloody boar" (Fischer 1961, p. 819). She finds Hermann's plan to exterminate the Romans like vermin "horrifying", the thought that all Romans, good ones and bad ones alike, should be murdered seems to her inhuman, and she reminds Hermann that he owes thanks to some individual Romans; one of these is the young Centurio who recently in danger of his own life saved a child from the flames (3/178). She also pleads for the life of Ventidius, and Hermann agrees to save him in response to her beautiful humanity. The development of Thusnelda from this humanist position to the Thusnelda who will allow Ventidius to be torn to shreds by a bear, the most abominable scene which the cruel phantasy of Kleist has invented, a horrifying parody of his Penthesilea (Fischer 1961, p. 819), is a key to his play: the same experience which she undergoes here belatedly had been the experience of Hermann himself much earlier, the development of a human being who is as humane as they come towards a person who, wounded in his very human dignity, is now prepared to use any deception or violence against the oppressor. Until the moment when Hermann hands her the letter of Ventidius to empress Livia, Thusnelda lives in world of spontaneity and trust, who takes what someone appears to be as his innermost being. In the world of "nature", of the "barbarian", such a behaviour was not only right, but the only honourable one. But the attack of the Romans and their intention to enslave the Germanic tribes has added a new dimension to a world which hitherto was very simple. From now on appearance and true being no longer coincide. It is only because she doesn't and cannot recognise this change for what it is that she is somewhat naive "just like the girls today who are impressed by the French" (8/248). The recognition that the world is not as simple and as immediately recognisable, that being and appearance differ, nearly destroys her: "Well then, I no longer want to see this sun" (3/181), exclaims Thusnelda, and "Hateful is everything / The world, you and I myself: leave me alone!" (3/182.) Hermann who has gone through the same disillusionment earlier, has full understanding for Thusnelda's pain and trauma, but he cannot spare her the experience. This breakdown of Thusnelda shows the full tragedy of imperialism and colonialism: the individual may be good and do good deeds; but precisely because he behaves like that he gives an evil system which in its totality destroys the humanity of the victors and their victims an appearance of humaneness. While Hermann can show the apparent humanity of the colonisers to be no more than well hidden egoism, he must admit that the deed of the young Centurio is truly humane. But when Thusnelda asks him whether this deed has not aroused a feeling of love in him, he answers: "May he be damned if he has done that to me! He has for one moment embezzled my heart, made me a traitor to Germany's great task! Why did he set fire to Tuiskon? I will not love the sneering brood of demons! As long as they defy us in Germany, hatred is my office and revenge my virtue!" (3/179.) The personal feeling for the lifesaver who despite his humane act takes part in the destruction of the freedom of the Germans, who because of this threatens what for Hermann has precedence even over the life of the child, only disturbs the ability to make decisions in the cause which is now preeminently important.

Even after her breakdown Thusnelda is incapable to lift herself from the level of personal relations; her revenge remains fixated on one person, Ventidius. The point of view from which Hermann's actions are fully understandable, the political, which does not understand enslavement as a personal fate but as the destruction of the foundations of life for the whole of society, remains inaccessible to her. Even her revenge remains private. The framework in which she overlooks the political function of a person as oppressor allows her to perceive a "human core" even in the enemy, but when she has been deceived and feels insulted, she is unable to rise to the same "objective" stance which allows Hermann to hate the Romans, only as long as they defy the resistance of the freedom-loving Germans. (3/179).

The fact that the bourgeois and nationalist writing of literary history could not understand a phenomenon like Kleist or that they could only assimilate him by falsifying him, cannot be interpreted simply from the distance of the nationalist bourgeoisie after 1848 or after 1870 from the national movement of 1808 and 1813. The repression of the revolutionary roots of the bourgeoisie in the great works of the philosophical and literary Enlightenment and the political developments of the French Revolution, the consequential positive evaluation of the irrationalist trends in the Romantic movement from the period of the Storm and Stress to the Late Romantics of the 19th century as the truly "German" movement has blocked the access to Kleist's work, and simplified the re-interpretation of Kleist as a camp-follower of the reactionary Dresden and Berlin Romantics.

It is a pity that Marxist writers like Lukács took over this falsification without differentiation and merely subverted the value attached to Kleist. To rediscover the constellation of this work would be to rediscover one of the crucial moments of not only European significance: the nation state as colonizer and the revolutionary reaction of the colonized state.



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