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The Nightwatches : an English translation of the anonymous German novel Die Nachtwachen des Bonaventura, 1804, with an introduction Theissen, Elmar Theodore

Abstract

The Nightwatches deserves an attempt at translation into English because it anticipates some of modern literature's preoccupation with meaninglessness and nothingness and elucidates the evolution of this attitude toward life both in form and in content. Written in 1804, The Nightwatches portrays a position opposed to the transcendental idealism that characterized the philosophical basis of the European Romantic Movement, and instead demonstrates that the indefinite longing for an unknown truth and the emphasis on the self and on the intuitive faculties of man's mind - all hallmarks of this movement which distinguished it from previous literary trends - led as easily to dissolution and nothingness as to certitude and the concept of a living, organic universe. Turning away from the objective world and placing emphasis largely on the mind with its dangerous dichotomy of intellect and intuition, The Nightwatches presents the result of the Romantic failure to combine the transcendental with the real, a failure that removed the mind's inner foundations of certitude and faith, resulting in a loss of religion and a negative view of existence. Life becomes a delusion, and knowledge mere hypothesis, and The Night-watches mirrors this new awareness with the help of masks, theatre imagery, and satire. Thus, The Nightwatches charts a world-view which was developed considerably by nihilistic writers of the latter half of the nineteenth century and which has culminated, in our own times, in the work of playwrights of the absurd, notably the work of Samuel Beckett, which demonstrates great similarity to the content of The Nightwatches.

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