Karl Heinz Bohrer: ‘Kohlhaas’s Revenge. Not a Moral Dispute, but Imaginative Intensity’.
Delivered at our Einstein Forum Saints and Madmen conference. (Listen to/download mp3)
- Henrich Von Kleist, Michael Kohlhaas
* An online printable English translation is can be downloaded here. For those with e-book readers or Kindles, a free e-book version is available here.
We’re reading Kleist’s *Michael Kohlhaas* this month. There’s no introduction for this one — we are expert-free this month — but you’ll find a recording of a lecture ‘Kohlhaas’s Revenge. Not a Moral Dispute, but Imaginative Intensity’ by Karl Heinz Bohrer from our *Saints and Madmen* conference posted on the meeting page.
Please do post comments, questions, or suggested further reading on the meeting page over the coming weeks.
Finally, as we haven’t done so yet, Charlotte and I thought it would be nice to go for an early dinner after the meeting. Let me know if you’d like to come so that I can book a table.
Two weeks to the Kohlhaas meeting. Quick warning on the text. I found that many libraries only have copies of this in German, so if you need an English copy you may have to buy it. You can get a copy for around £5; let me know if this is prohibitive and we may be able to lend you one.
For those with e-book readers or Kindles, there’s a free e-book version of Michael Kohlhaas on Project Gutenberg, as part of ‘The German Classics of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Volume 04’: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/12060
I know it’s meant to be farce, but I’m actually finding it quite depressing reading *Michael Kohlhaas*. I am struck by how much the plot follows pretty exactly Jonathan Shay’s analysis of moral harm and particular kind of trauma. He worked with Vietnam vets with PTSD and discovered a consistent pattern of events, which is likewise prominant in the *Iliad*, that leads to traumatic moral harm: first, the betrayal of ‘what’s right’ by someone in a position of authority, someone on whom one is dependent – in this case, not the abduction of the horses, but the letter from the court dismissing his grievance is what pushes Kohlhaas over the (first) edge; and, following this, there is the loss of someone particularly dear (Kohlhaas his wife; Achilles, Patrocles). With foreboding, I anticipate another cycle of betrayal and loss, as Kohlhaas has his case heard in Dresden. It is this pattern that triggers ‘bezerker’ behaviour.
I’m not sure yet what any of this has to do with integrity – except perhaps in thinking about the particular kind of harm done Kohlhaas, that makes out of a perfectly ordinary, upright, decent, reasonable man an unhinged, obsessive thing.
I only realised after the fact that the model for Kohlhaas is Socrates (Socrates through a glass darkly, of course). It was something about the prominence of his two young boys he was carrying around with him.