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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"Zuwachs unsrer existenz" : the quest for Being in J.M.R. Lenz O'Regan, Inge Brigitta


Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz (1751-1792), whose plays have been acclaimed as the prototype of the modern drama of Brecht and Durrenmatt, is a controversial figure who rose to prominence on the German literary scene in the early seventeen seventies. Among Lenz's theoretical writings is the influential essay "Anmerkungen ubers Theater," in which he introduces his innovative dramatic theories and describes the independent protagonists he envisions for the German stage. In the same essay, he demands "Zuwachs unsrer Existenz" (a heightened awareness of existence) from contemporary drama. However, in marked contrast to the "Anmerkungen," the protagonists of his two most prominent plays, Der Hofmeister (1774) and Die Soldaten (1776), are self-alienated, ontologically insecure individuals who seem victims of the socio-political realities of their times. Not surprisingly, critics are divided in their opinion as to what the contradictions in Lenz's oeuvre signify. Lenz was a student of Immanuel Kant's between 1768 and 1770, a time when the latter was formulating ideas that would find their full expression years later in his critical philosophy. In 1770, Kant presented his inaugural address "de mundi sensibilis atque intelligibilis forma et principiis" (On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World) to the assembled faculty and students of KCnigsberg Academy, among them J.M.R. Lenz. It is in the inaugural dissertation that Kant introduces his thesis of the individual as an inhabitant of two "worlds," the noumenal and the phenomenal, a central concept in his first critique, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, which would be published in 1781. This study examines Lenz's thoughts as they surface in his theoretical essays and his major plays and puts forward the thesis that it is Kant's division of the self into an intelligible and a sensible realm which prompts Lenz's call for "Zuwachs unsrer Existenz." Lenz's quest is fuelled, furthermore, by his acute awareness of the ontological insecurity of the individual self, an awareness which seems to anticipate the thought of Kierkegaard. The overriding purpose of this thesis is, through a reevaluation of Lenz's theoretical and dramatic works, to elucidate this eighteenth-century writer's quest for authentic being, a quest that he considered to be the individual's most urgent task.

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