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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Grotesque in the works of Ernst Barlach Anderson, Bernard Reed


This thesis attempts to demonstrate the manner in which Barlach used the phenomenon of the grotesque in his prose and dramatic writing. The concept of the grotesque has been examined in the light of a number of the more significant attempts to define it. Particular attention has been paid to the recent studies of the grotesque by Wolfgang Kayser and Lee Byron Jennings, but extensive reference has also been made to the definitions of George Santayana and John Ruskin, as well as to the 1929 dissertation of Ernst Schweizer and the 1940 discussion of the grotesque by Robert Petsch. The paper attempts to demonstrate that Barlach made use of the grotesque to mystify reality and to point to otherwise hidden mythological aspects of the world, as well as to give expression to what he called a "Panik vor dem So-Sein," i.e., a panic which he felt whenever he compared the temporal existence to the potentiality of some higher realm of being. To demonstrate the universality of the grotesque experience, reference has also been made to the concept of the demonic as described by Goethe, and the grotesque is related to it. Representations of the divine in Barlach's works appear grotesque from a human vantage, because man, in his struggle to maintain his identity and to perpetuate his own trivial world has no eye for higher values or higher modes of existence. Man interprets the intrusion of the divine into his world.as a threat to his existence, not as an act of grace. The influence of Theodor Daeubler and Albert Kollmann is considered with respect to Barlach's concept of the "high lord", and an attempt is made to come thereby to an understanding of Barlach's relationship to deity. The divine is represented by Barlach as not an extension and perfection of the human, but supra-human and hostile to man in his closed little world. To demonstrate the manner in which the elements of the divine intrude into man's world and threaten his orientation, a study has been made of Barlach's use of grotesque metaphors, objects, and situations, with special reference to Barlach's novel Seespeck and his early dramatic works. The phenomenon of the grotesque is seen to be related to that of the absurd as presented by modern playwrights, and Barlach is shown to have anticipated the Absurd in many respects. But it is pointed out that Barlach refused to accept the idea of an absurd universe, despite his admitted incapacity to resolve his doubts. Barlach's later plays and correspondence are considered, to establish that he became resigned in his mature years to a state of "not-knowing" as a way of life in which the panic of the earlier years, and with it the grotesque, diminished.

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